Although Aaron Rodgers broke the Internet again Sunday night with his last of three touchdown passes at Arrowhead — a for-the-ages, broken-play floater while on the move to his right to RB Jamaal Williams in the back corner of the end zone — it was a pedestrian throw for him that just might illustrate even more clearly what a good spot his and Matt LaFleur’s 7-1 Packers find themselves in at the halfway point.
When LaFleur was caught on the SNF telecast telling Rodgers at the two-minute warning to go win a 31-24 game on third-and-5 at the Packers’ 33-yard line, his quarterback obliged, finding NFC Offensive Player of the Week Aaron Jones for eight yards.
The Packers then lined up in the victory formation three times and, you know, celebrated a victory, as is customary in these situations. Less customary perhaps was a rookie head coach trusting his quarterback, albeit a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, rather than taking the air out of the ball and giving a Matt Moore-led Chiefs offense roughly 75 seconds to try and tie or win the game.
It was another subtle example of not just the QB-HC relationship growing, but the coach’s overall growth from a still-green leader into one who now is among the favorites to take over the mantle currently held by Matt Nagy as NFL Coach of the Year.
LaFleur’s offense will only continue to rise as it readies to welcome WR1 Davante Adams back from turf toe for the first time since the end of September — the Packers are a ho-hum 4-0 without him — perhaps as early as Sunday against the L.A. Chargers. Whether Mike Pettine’s ‘D’ can steady following another uneven performance and provide the kind of balance that the Niners and Saints currently boast remains to be seen.
Vikings are rolling, but how concerned should they be with Xavier Rhodes’ penalties?
Was their sixth win, 19-9 at home against a woeful Washington team that was forced to pivot in-game to top pick Dwayne Haskins too close for comfort? Perhaps. It was also a Thursday-nighter without their Pro Bowl receiver Adam Thielen, who gets 10 days to try and rest and rehab his injured hamstring prior to visiting the Chiefs, likely again led by Matt Moore.
The Vikings obviously needn’t apologize for dispatching Washington with the same formula they’ve used in each of their four consecutive victories — an overwhelming run game behind NFL rushing leader Dalvin Cook to set up Kirk Cousins, the league leader in yards per attempt (9.3), who didn’t throw a touchdown Sunday for the first time since visiting the Bears in Week 4 yet was as efficient as ever.
But it’s apparently a different story on defense, where former penalty magnet-turned Pro Bowler Xavier Rhodes has returned to being a penalty magnet, trailing only Tampa Bay’s Carlton Davis (8) among all NFL corners.
“Right now, I’m hurting my team,” he told reporters this week. “I feel like in coverage, I’ve been great in all the games I’ve played, but it’s the penalties that have been killing me.”
The Vikings are fortunate to have enviable CB depth thanks to spending premium pick after premium pick at the position in recent years, but it seems likely that having Rhodes at his best in the second half of the season is critical to their outlook.
Mike Zimmer said he’s “good” with where Rhodes’ play is right now, but it’s been since at least the end of the 2018 campaign since Minnesota’s most accomplished cover man has been great.
Lions fall short of another trade, need to pick it up to avoid again falling short in division
Detroit reportedly attempted to shore up its RB position at the trade deadline in the wake of Kerryon Johnson’s trip to I.R. with a knee injury by orchestrating a trade with the Atlanta Falcons for Devonta Freeman.
It ultimately was the latest close-but-no-cigar trade attempt for a franchise that’s missed out on Khalil Mack and Rob Gronkowski in addition to Freeman in the past 14 months alone.
The good news: the Lions Sunday improved to 1-0 on the season without Johnson, and they did it despite averaging 2.4 yards per carry, finishing minus-1 in turnover differential and allowing Giants rookie Daniel Jones to tally career highs in passing yards (322) and touchdowns (4).
Less ideal: Detroit lost starting S Tracy Walker, a key weapon covering opposing tight ends — and critical cog on ‘D’ after the Quandre Diggs trade — and RG Graham Glasgow, who has started the past 42 consecutive games, to injuries, which also continue to hamper Darius Slay and Mike Daniels.
Whether the balky hamstring injury that’s sidelined Slay in two of the past four games contributed to one of the buzzier potential trade chips staying put at this week’s deadline isn’t clear.
“I like our team,” said Matt Patricia, who’s 9-13-1 nearing the midway point of his second season at the helm in Motown. “We’re always trying to compete, always trying to get better — certainly so are the other 31 teams in the league. There actually wasn’t a lot of movement by anybody.”
Still, most astute observers much prefer the Packers and Vikings in the NFC North, and if the Lions are going to close the gap in a loaded conference and make a serious playoff push, they’ll need more consistency and production in every phase outside of Matthew Stafford, beginning Sunday in Oakland.