GREEN BAY — After the second of Davante Adams’ three touchdown catches from Aaron Rodgers on Sunday night, the Green Bay Packers star wide receiver and his teammates celebrated on the sideline — with a coronation.
It was only the second quarter of what would wind up being a 40-14 rout of the visiting and overmatched Tennessee Titans at snowy Lambeau Field, so plenty of football remained. And, even with the victory, the Packers weren’t able to crown themselves as the NFC’s No. 1 playoff seed and gain the lone first-round playoff bye and homefield throughout the postseason that comes with it. That will have to wait until next weekend, when they can clinch the conference’s top spot with a road victory over the rival Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
But that wasn’t stopping the fun bunch on the bench. On the Packers’ snowy sideline, Adams’ teammates placed what appeared to be a plastic, one-step-above-a-Burger-King-paper-version crown — a nod to how offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett renamed the proverbial red zone inside opponents’ 20-yard lines as the “Gold Zone” — atop his head.
“The crown, you have to ask (No. 2 receiver) Allen Lazard. He came up with that,” Adams explained with a laugh during a Zoom call with reporters after the game. “Now he’s digging up treasure, all kinds of stuff.”
In truth, there were plenty of kings on this night for the Packers, who improved to 12-3 and survived a few mid-game scares to win going away: From Adams (who finished with 11 catches for 142 yards and those three touchdowns) to Rodgers (who completed 21 of 25 passes for 231 yards with four touchdowns and one interception for a 128.1 passer rating) to rookie running back AJ Dillon (who upstaged Titans running back Derrick Henry by carrying 21 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns) to the Packers defense (which held the Titans, the NFL’s highest-scoring offense entering the game, to their lowest scoring output of the year and Henry to just 98 yards on 23 carries).
“I think it was a great measuring stick to see where we were at, what we’re capable of doing,” said Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, who spent the 2018 season as the Titans’ offensive coordinator before the Packers hired him in January 2019. “I thought our guys were outstanding. They answered the bell.
“It was complementary football at its finest, and that’s what it’s going to take for us to continue to move on and get wins and end up where we’d all like to end up.”
Despite the victory, the Packers have not yet clinched the NFC’s No. 1 seed, the result of the Seattle Seahawks beating the Los Angeles Rams just before the Packers and Titans kicked off. Although Rodgers said the team’s plan was to play its starters regardless of whether the Seahawks (11-4) had won — “Even if L.A. had won today, the plan was to play,” Rodgers said of next week’s regular-season finale — and now Green Bay’s easiest path to that top seed is to go to Soldier Field and beat the Bears (8-7), who need to win next Sunday to make the playoffs themselves.
“Just look at how we played. There’s been times where we needed help to even get us in. Being in a position where we win and we control our own destiny, that’s what everybody’s focused on,” Adams said. “We already know how this league is. We have to make sure we lock in and treat it like this game — to go out and make sure we earn that No. 1 seed.”
Added Rodgers: “We talked about it before the game. Obviously, we knew what was going on in Seattle, and it just turned into putting on a show. We had an opportunity to be in prime time against a really good opponent. I think we’ve all heard the conversation about us not beating enough good teams and not playing a complete game. And this was our response. I like where we’re at.”
The victory was especially important not only because LaFleur had acknowledged during the week that it was a “measuring stick” game for his team but also in light of what happened the previous week against Carolina. After sprinting to a 21-3 lead in that game with touchdowns on their first three possessions, the Packers offense stagnated thereafter, with its next five possessions ending in punts and the team managing just three second-half points.
Against the Titans, the Packers watched their 19-0 lead evaporate with the Titans getting a 12-yard Jonnu Smith touchdown catch just before halftime and quarterback Ryan Tannehill taking off on a 45-yard scramble for a TD to start the third quarter to pull within 19-14.
This time, though, the Packers answered — in a big way. On the first play after Tannehill’s run, running back Aaron Jones bounced outside and took off on a 59-yard run down to the Titans’ 7-yard line. Although Jones stepped out of bounds at the Tennessee 43, Titans coach Mike Vrabel didn’t throw the challenge flag, so the run stood — and two plays later, Rodgers hit Adams for their third scoring hook-up to make it 26-14.
The Packers defense then forced a three-and-out on the Titans’ ensuing possession, then rode Dillon, who broke free on a fourth-and-inches for a 30-yard touchdown to make it a 33-14 game. Dillon then added a 7-yard run to close out the scoring.
“I feel good about the response that we had,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, they doubled up with a touchdown before the end of the first half and obviously coming out of the second half, and a three-score game turned into a one-score game. (But then came a) big run by a Jonesy and then a really nice adjustment by Davante (on the touchdown) and we’re back up by 12. Three-and-out, get the ball back, go down and score and now we’re back up 19. So that was obviously a big momentum swing for us.
“Again, this is a tough place to play. The weather that we had tonight, it was beautiful laying around all afternoon on the couch watching the snow come down and just hoping that it was going to last. … Just because, these are the special ones.”
“We talked to the guys about, ‘There’s going to come a point somewhere in the game where you’re going to face some adversity. We’ll see how you respond to it,’” LaFleur said. “But what I loved was how our guys responded. Nobody panicked, everybody focused on doing their job, doing their 1/11th. And we were able to close the game out. That’s the type of effort we’re going to need going forward.”
Photos: Packers crush Titans at snowy Lambeau Field
Photos: Green Bay Packers crush Tennessee Titans at snowy Lambeau Field
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Packers wide receiver Davante Adams gets past Titans' Adoree' Jackson for a touchdown during the first half of Green Bay's 40-14 victory over Tennessee Sunday night at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Adams had 11 catches for 142 yards with three scores as the Packers improved to 12-3.