Packers face grueling 3-game stretch run in playoff bid

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers realizes the easy part is over for the Green Bay Packers as they try to continue their improbable path from a 4-8 hole to a playoff berth.

The climbs are much steeper going forward.

Green Bay (6-8) maintained its postseason hopes by producing back-to-back victories over the Chicago Bears (3-11) and Los Angeles Rams (4-10). The Packers’ final three opponents are all .500 or better.

The Packers visit Miami (8-6) on Christmas Day before hosting the NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings (11-3) and Detroit Lions (7-7) in their final two regular-season games.

“They’re all good football teams,” Rodgers said after the Packers’ 24-12 Monday night win over the Rams. “Miami’s playing for the playoffs, Minnesota’s obviously division winners and coming off a big win. Detroit’s won six out of seven, they’re playing really well. So it’s going to be three difficult games.

“But two of them are at home against dome teams. It’ll be January for those two. We’ve notoriously been pretty good in those games over the years. So, yeah, this one’s really important because it’s on the road.”

Even if the Packers win all three games, they’ll need plenty of help to earn their fourth straight postseason berth. But the Packers at least have some incentive as they enter this stretch run.

Miami’s high-powered offense will test the progress of Green Bay’s defense, which has shown signs of bouncing back from its season-long struggles.

The Packers won 28-19 at Chicago by allowing just three second-half points and picking off passes to end the Bears’ last two series.

They followed that up by getting a season-high five sacks and allowing a season-low 156 yards against the Rams.

“We came in and said, ‘Let’s dominate and let’s get a win,’” cornerback Rasul Douglas said. “Now, we’re moving on to step two and that’s Miami.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The defense held Los Angeles to its lowest single-game yardage total since Sean McVay took over as the Rams’ coach in 2017. … The offense didn’t produce a whole lot of points, but it did produce some time-consuming drives. The Packers had four series that lasted more than six minutes and three scoring drives of at least 11 plays. They finished the game with a drive lasting nearly nine minutes and controlled possession for a season-high 37 minutes, 19 seconds.

WHAT NEEDS WORK

Although the Packers were flagged only four times, those four penalties consumed 80 yards. A holding penalty on Jonathan Garvin wiped out a 49-yard kickoff return by Keisean Nixon. A 40-yard pass interference penalty on Adrian Amos enabled the Rams to cross midfield while trailing 24-12 in the fourth quarter, though the defense eventually forced a punt.

STOCK UP

LB Quay Walker forced a fumble and had a sack and two passes defended. … OLB Preston Smith had two sacks. Smith has four sacks over his last four games to improve his season total to 7 1/2. … Douglas has two interceptions and a forced fumble over his last four games. … KR/CB Keisean Nixon had a 52-yard kickoff return, his league-leading third return of at least 40 yards. Nixon is the first Packer since Sam Shields in 2010 to have a kickoff return of at least 30 yards in four straight games. “In all my 18 years, I’ve never once, until tonight, seen an opposing team’s kicker kick away from one of our returners on purpose,” Rodgers said after the game. “That’s fun. That’s pretty incredible.”

STOCK DOWN

WR Sammy Watkins was released before the game. Watkins had 13 receptions for 206 yards and no touchdowns this season. His last catch had come on Nov. 13.

INJURED

After scoring two touchdowns earlier in the game, RB A.J. Dillon left midway through the second half to get evaluated for a concussion. Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Tuesday that Dillon cleared that evaluation, an encouraging sign for the running back’s potential availability against Miami.

LaFleur also indicated that running back Aaron Jones has been playing at far less than full strength. LaFleur said the Packers wanted to limit Jones’ snaps on Monday, but Dillon’s exit didn’t make that feasible. Jones’ situation could affect his practice time.

“It’ll be a day-to-day thing, I would say,” LaFleur said. “We’ve just got to make sure that he is healthy come game time. He is a guy that is going to battle through everything.”

KEY NUMBER

5,100 — Jones’ career rushing total after running for 90 yards on 17 carries Monday. He also had a 7-yard touchdown catch. Jones overtook John Brockington’s 5,024 yards to move into third place on the Packers’ career rushing list. Jones remains behind Ahman Green (8,322 from 2000-06 and 2009) and Hall of Famer Jim Taylor (8,207 from 1958-66).

NEXT STEPS

The Packers prepare for Sunday’s game at Miami, a matchup between two teams that really need a win. The Dolphins have lost three straight as they chase their first playoff berth since 2016.

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