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Memories of last season's finish remind Packers they can't take anything for granted

Packers Vikings Football
Posted at 1:09 PM, Jan 03, 2024

GREEN BAY (AP) — The Green Bay Packers enter their regular-season finale in a familiar situation.

For a second straight season, a lopsided victory over the Minnesota Vikings in their second-to-last game has put the Packers in position to reach the playoffs by defeating an NFC North team at home.

They’re hoping the similarities end there.

Green Bay blew a chance to earn a fourth straight postseason berth last season when its four-game winning streak ended with a 20-16 loss to the Detroit Lions that was four-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ last game with the Packers.

The Packers (8-8) have overhauled their roster in the year since, but they still have plenty of players who experienced that heartbreaking finish. It remains very much on their minds as they prepare to host the Chicago Bears (7-9) on Sunday.

“We know what it felt like last year to come up short,” Packers running back Aaron Jones said after Green Bay’s 33-10 victory Sunday night at Minnesota. “It was one of the worst feelings. You’re right there and you lose to a team who can’t get into a playoffs. So we’re not going to let that happen again.”

The Packers have a remote chance of reaching the playoffs even if they lose to Chicago.

Disappointing finales at Lambeau Field have become all too common the past few years. The Packers have ended each of their past three seasons by losing at home. They fell to Tampa Bay in the 2020 NFC championship game and lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the 2021 divisional playoffs on a field goal as time expired before coming up short against the Lions last season.

Of course, most of Green Bay’s current players weren’t around for either of those playoff losses. Many of them weren’t even major contributors last season.

The Packers have won six of their past nine games, including two straight. In his first year as a starter, Jordan Love has been one of the league’s hottest quarterbacks the second half of the season. They already beat the Bears 38-20 at Chicago on the season’s opening Sunday.

Then again, Green Bay also entered last season's finale on a roll with four consecutive victories. The Packers understand all too well there are no guarantees at this time of the season.

“I think Chicago is as improved as any team when you look at them from Week 1 to where they are now,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “Obviously they’ve done a really, really good job the last few weeks in particular, kind of gotten on a roll, so we know it’s going to be a great challenge."

WHAT’S WORKING

The Packers have had two of their three highest-point totals of the season over the past two weeks, as the latest win followed a 33-30 victory at Carolina. The Packers had their highest scoring output since their season-opening win at Chicago. … The defense bounced back from three straight poor performances by getting four sacks and allowing just one touchdown, on a drive that began at the Green Bay 7-yard line.

WHAT NEEDS WORK

Green Bay continues to make mistakes on special teams. The Packers missed an extra-point attempt, and a fumbled punt set up Minnesota’s lone touchdown.

STOCK UP

Love has thrown 16 touchdown passes and only one interception over his past seven games. … WR Jayden Reed scored twice Sunday and has 10 touchdowns (8 receiving, 2 rushing) this season. Reed has 60 catches this season to break Sterling Sharpe's 35-year-old Packers rookie record. ... WR Bo Melton was signed from the practice squad to the active roster after catching six passes for 105 yards Sunday. … OLB Preston Smith has 2½ sacks over his past two games. Smith’s strip-sack late in the second quarter set up a touchdown. … CB Corey Ballentine had his first career interception. … OTs Zach Tom and Rasheed Walker performed well enough to prevent the Vikings from getting a single sack. … Jones has rushed for more than 120 yards in back-to-back games.

STOCK DOWN

K Anders Carlson missed an extra point for the fifth time this season.

INJURIES

WR Samori Toure went on injured reserve Monday after getting hurt late in Sunday’s game. Reed didn’t play the second half because of a chest injury. RB AJ Dillon left with a stinger in the second half. WR Christian Watson (hamstring) has missed four straight games and LB De’Vondre Campbell (neck) has been out for two consecutive games. WR Dontayvion Wicks (chest/ankle) also didn’t play Sunday.

KEY NUMBER

23 — The 23-point margin made this the Packers’ most lopsided road victory since their 48-21 NFC divisional playoff triumph in Atlanta on Jan. 15, 2011, during their run to a Super Bowl title.

NEXT STEPS

The Packers attempt to beat the Bears for the 10th consecutive time. The Bears haven’t defeated the Packers since a 24-17 decision at Soldier Field on Dec. 16, 2018.