Aaron Rodgers, Packers remain atop NFC playoff race with win over Panthers

Ryan Young
·3 min read

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers look determined to secure the top seed in the NFC.

The Packers, behind a near-perfect first half from Green Bay at Lambeau Field on Saturday night, cruised past the Carolina Panthers, 24-16, to grab their fourth straight win — which keeps them in the driver’s seat to claim the lone playoff bye.

Panthers struggle to slow Green Bay early

The Panthers couldn’t seem to find a way to slow the Packers’ offense down in the first half. Green Bay scored a touchdown on each of its first three drives of the game, quickly amassing a 21-3 lead.

After the Packers forced a Panthers punt instantly, Rodgers led a big 81-yard drive he capped with a one-yard touchdown toss to tight end Robert Tonyan to put them on the board first. That touchdown throw marked his 40th of the season, which officially made him the first quarterback in league history to accomplish that feat three different times.

Rodgers then brought back the classic discount double-check celebration after scrambling for a six yard score himself on their next drive.

Teddy Bridgewater and the Panthers had a shot to find the end zone to start the second quarter, too, after running a 65-yard drive down to the 1-yard line.

Yet when Bridgewater ran a quarterback sneak to try and dive in for a score, the ball was swatted out of his hands and ran back 48 yards by Kevin King.

With great field position in hand, running back Aaron Jones converted an eight-yard run for a touchdown just minutes later to give them an 18-point lead — which they carried into the break. Jones racked up 114 yards on the ground in the first half while averaging 9.5 yards per carry.

Though the Packers’ offense stalled in the second half, and the Panthers cut it to just single digits after a field goal and a 13-yard Bridgewater touchdown run, it was too late. A 51-yard field goal from Mason Crosby and a defensive stand that limited the Panthers to a field goal of their own secured the eight-point win for Green Bay.

How the Packers can claim NFC playoff race

With a new playoff format this year, only one team in each conference can claim a first-round bye in the postseason.

The Packers are in a tremendous position to do that in the NFC — and, if they continue like they did on Saturday night, they should have no issue pulling that off.

Green Bay entered this week holding the tiebreaker atop the NFC standings with the New Orleans Saints, and simply need to win out. They will host the Tennessee Titans next week before traveling to Chicago to close out the regular season with the Bears on Jan. 3.

The Saints will square up against the 12-1 Chiefs on Sunday, too, where a loss would help the Packers gain some separation from New Orleans.

While three other teams can still sneak in to grab the first-round bye — the Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers — a lot would have to break right in order for that to happen.

But as long as Rodgers and Co. play like they did in the first half on Sunday night, they should have no issue.

If the second-half team shows up — Rodgers said they played “ugly football” on the NFL Network and was extremely disappointed with the win — it could be a very different story.

Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers
The Packers cruised to a quick 21-3 lead on Saturday night, and never looked back. (AP/Mike Roemer)

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