GREEN BAY, Wis. -- This season might not be defined by how the Green Bay Packers handle the bad teams – and yes, two weeks after losing to the one-win Minnesota Vikings they waited until the final minutes Sunday to put away the one-win Jacksonville Jaguars – but rather how they fare against the class of the NFL.
So pay attention next Sunday, when the Packers play at the Indianapolis Colts.
Yes, the Packers entered the day with the second-easiest remaining schedule in the NFL, according to ESPN’s FPI -- only the Baltimore Ravens had an easier road to finish the season -- but perhaps the toughest test comes against the 6-3 Colts, who are fresh off their Thursday win over the Tennessee Titans.
To convince anyone they’re serious Super Bowl contenders -- and perhaps more importantly to convince themselves -- after barely getting by the Jaguars 24-20 at Lambeau Field -- a quality road win would do wonders, especially considering how badly they got handled in their Week 6 38-10 loss at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The teams that give the Packers (7-2) trouble seem to have at least one thing in common: a fast, active front seven. Bucs linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White gave Aaron Rodgers & Co. fits. The Colts entered the day with the NFL’s top defense in terms of yards allowed and ranked third against the run and fifth in points allowed.
If the Jaguars (1-8) had a strength Sunday, it was their defense, led by linebackers Myles Jack and Joe Schobert. They held the Packers scoreless in the first quarter for the first time all season, although Rodgers and Marquez Valdes-Scantling made up for that with a 78-yard touchdown bomb on the first play of the second quarter.
Plenty will lament why the Packers had so much trouble against a one-win team with a backup quarterback (Jake Luton) on a miserable day at Lambeau Field in the cold, rain and wind. But what might say more about the Packers and their chances for a late run could come next Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
QB breakdown: While Rodgers was on the money with his deep throw to Valdes-Scantling, he might have made one of his worst throws of the season in the third quarter, when Jaguars cornerback Sidney Jones picked off a pass intended for Valdes-Scantling. It was Rodgers’ first interception at home since Week 6 of last season. He had gone seven straight games and 263 straight attempts at Lambeau without an interception. He was on cruise control to that point. His touchdown pass to Valdes-Scantling had an air distance of 54.6 yards, and Rodgers improved 7-for-12 (58%) on throws with 50-plus distance of air yards this season. The previous three seasons, he was 11-of-52 (21%) on those throws.
Promising trend: Valdes-Scantling not only didn’t drop a ball -- although we don’t know if he was at fault on the interception -- but he also had his most productive game. He caught four passes for a career-high 149 yards, giving the Packers a second option while Davante Adams (eight catches for 66 yards and a touchdown) battled an ankle injury in the second half.
Troubling trend: On a day designed for running the ball, the Jaguars looked like the cold-weather, grind-it-out team. Jacksonville rookie running back James Robinson rushed for 109 yards on 23 carries and had a pair of touchdowns wiped out by penalties. Meanwhile, the Packers rushed 25 times for just 81 yards. Aaron Jones led the way with 46 yards on 13 carries.
Troubling trend II: The Packers, who earlier had a punt blocked by the Texans, allowed a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter. Keelan Cole was untouched, juking punter JK Scott at the end, for the longest punt return score against the Packers since 1998, when Jacquez Green returned one 95 yards for the Buccaneers.