GREEN BAY – When it comes to the Packers’ motivations over these final two weeks of the season, different players have spoken up about what’s driving them now with an inevitably disappointing finish line ahead.
Left tackle David Bakhtiari said it’s simply about being a professional football player, performing under the contract terms you signed up for, and representing yourself and the organization the right way.
For right tackle Bryan Bulaga it’s a tad more personal, given all those around him who were a part of his second career ACL rehab this past offseason, doing what they could to help him return to the field.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers made very valid comments about leadership, and how he wants and needs to be viewed by the locker room now and going forward, not as a highly paid superstar who’s going to “cash it in,” but as a “super competitive” leader who should be followed.
Receiver Davante Adams has a couple of franchise records within reach, outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell has a shot at double-digit sacks, and the list goes on.
But Clay Matthews might have given the best reason of all.
“Losing sucks,” he said.
That’s as good a motivation as any for not wanting to go through the motions these last two games. The Packers are facing two teams just like them – the Jets and the Lions – who have endured disappointing seasons and will not be playing beyond Week 17.
Both opponents should be plenty motivated as well, so if the Packers want to get at least some sour taste out of their mouths, they’ll need to fight to the end.
The Jets, like the Packers, appear headed for a coaching change, which puts a large portion of the roster in limbo for the future. The only piece the players can control is put as much good film of themselves out there as possible, because the personnel department and future coaching staff will be evaluating all of it heading into 2019.
The Lions will be going through a similar personnel evaluation as first-year head coach Matt Patricia, and the GM who hired him in Bob Quinn, look to mold the team they have in mind going forward.
New York also has a rookie quarterback in Sam Darnold who in no way looks at these last two games on a 4-10 team as meaningless. Darnold is out to prove the franchise’s investment in him with the No. 3 overall draft pick was the right one, that he’s the guy to lead the team into the future, and he put together one of his best games last week in a close loss to playoff-bound Houston.
Statistically, there are two easy things to point to for how the Packers win this game. First is Darnold’s passer rating, which when above 80 this season has meant a 3-1 record for the Jets, with the only loss coming last week to the Texans with an impressive 100.0 rating (24-of-38, 253 yards, two TDs), the kind of effort he’d like to start stringing together. Below 80? 0-6. So give the rookie QB a rough time with pressure, disguised coverages and, better yet, turnovers.
Second is on the other side of the ball. In a year marred by stumble after stumble on third down by the Packers, who rank 22nd in the league in conversion rate, it’s only fitting that even while playing out the string, they’d get the No. 2 defense in that category in the Jets.
Yes, a Jets defense that is middle to latter half of the pack in most major stats is second in the league on third down at 32.6 percent conversions allowed. That’s even better than last week’s stout defense in Chicago (34.5 percent).
Interim head coach Joe Philbin noted how the Jets employ diverse pressure packages on third down and play a variety of coverages behind them. The Packers’ biggest weakness offensively is going to be tested in this game, as it should be.
Speaking of tests, it’s the Packers’ last one on the road in 2018 with no passing grades thus far. In addition to not wanting to go down in history with the last Packers’ winless road team from 60 years ago (historical note: the year after that 1958 season Vince Lombardi was hired as head coach), the Packers have an important rookie class that will be a big part of the future that shouldn’t go into its second pro season not knowing what it takes to win on the road in the NFL.
“We’ve played some pretty good games on the road this year and been in some tough environments and haven’t won any of them,” Rodgers said. “That’s disappointing, it’s frustrating. It would be good for our confidence for the young guys to feel what that post-win locker room, bus ride, plane flight back feels like and take it with us in the future.”
Because, well, yeah. Losing sucks.