Young Packers Ready To Show They Can Handle Prosperity After Moving Into Playoff Position

Green Bay Packers tight end Ben Sims (89) celebrates his touchdown catch with fans against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023 in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
Green Bay Packers tight end Ben Sims (89) celebrates his touchdown catch with fans against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023 in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers suddenly are facing the type of challenge that would have seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago.

How will the NFL’s youngest team handle prosperity?

The Packers’ 27-19 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night gave them three straight victories, the past two coming against division leaders.

The Packers (6-6) are in the NFC’s third and final wild-card playoff spot going into Week 14.

That’s quite the transformation for a team that lost four straight games earlier this season.

“To think we were 2-5?” Packers center Josh Myers said after the game. “Good Lord. This just feels great.”

The Packers have made this surge without some of their top veteran players.

Cornerback Jaire Alexander has missed four straight games with a shoulder injury. Running back Aaron Jones was out for a second straight week with a knee injury. Left tackle David Bakhtiari played just one game before lingering knee issues knocked him out for the remainder of the season.

Yet they keep finding ways to win.

They’ve benefited from the development of first-year starting quarterback Jordan Love, who has thrown eight touchdown passes without an interception during this win streak.

The defense stopped Kansas City’s offense on its last three drives Sunday after forcing three Jared Goff fumbles in a 29-22 Thanksgiving Day triumph at Detroit.

“We’re tough, man,” said wide receiver Romeo Doubs, whose 33-yard catch on a fourth-and-1 play set up Green Bay’s last touchdown. “We’re tough as nails.”

The Packers’ schedule gives them more reason to feel optimistic. Their final five games are against the New York Giants (4-8), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7), Carolina Panthers (1-11), Minnesota Vikings (6-6) and Chicago Bears (4-8).

That provides a clear road to a playoff berth, no matter how much coach Matt LaFleur tried to avoid the subject after Sunday night’s game.

“The guys have to understand that you start winning some games and people start gunning for you now,” LaFleur said.

“So, we’re a .500 football team. That’s where we’re at. That’s the reality of it. Yeah, we’ve had two pretty good back-to-back wins, but you are only as good as your last game. I do know this. You better show up each and every week in this league. Otherwise you are going to get knocked off, because we see it every week.”

WHAT’S WORKING

A team that failed to score a first-half touchdown in five straight games earlier this season suddenly has gained a penchant for fast starts. The Packers have scored touchdowns on their first two possessions in each of their past two games. … The Packers haven’t committed a turnover during this three-game win streak. … Green Bay had three sacks against a team that had allowed just 14 sacks all season.

WHAT NEEDS WORK

This was the second straight week that the Packers couldn’t get a clinching touchdown after driving beyond midfield in the fourth quarter. They settled for two fourth-quarter field goals Sunday night.

STOCK UP

After struggling with accuracy earlier in the season, Love has completed 68.5% of his passes during this win streak. … WR Christian Watson scored twice Sunday and has four touchdowns over his past three games. He also had a season-high seven receptions. … CB Keisean Nixon picked off Patrick Mahomes to thwart a fourth-quarter Chiefs comeback attempt. Nixon’s interception led to a field goal. … K Anders Carlson went 2 of 2 on field-goal attempts, providing some insurance with a 40-yarder and 48-yarder in the fourth quarter. … TE Ben Sims had his first career touchdown. … P Daniel Whelan has landed six straight punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

STOCK DOWN

There really aren’t any candidates here. If you want to nitpick, S Jonathan Owens had an unnecessary roughness penalty that put the Chiefs in Green Bay territory on their final drive, but it was a borderline call and the Packers kept Kansas City from scoring. Owens had five tackles against the Chiefs after making 12 stops and scoring on a fumble return against Detroit.

INJURIES

Watson left with a hamstring injury after running for a first down late in the fourth quarter.

KEY NUMBER

375 — The Packers gained 382 yards Sunday, which marked the fifth straight game in which they had at least 375 yards. That’s the Packers’ longest streak of consecutive 375-yard games within a single season since 2013, when they also did it in five straight games.

NEXT STEPS

The Packers play on prime time again as they head to New York for a Monday night matchup with the Giants on Dec. 11.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL