The Green Bay Packers had their wildest and wackiest stretch of the year this week.
Running back A.J. Dillon tested positive for COVID-19, while both running back Jamaal Williams and linebacker Kamal Martin were deemed “high-risk close contact” to Dillon and placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
The Packers drew the ire of their fan base after refusing to make a move at the NFL trading deadline. Then on a short week, Green Bay had to fly 2,200 miles west to meet a San Francisco team that was decimated by injury and COVID issues.
The Packers had a happy ending, though, dominating play on both sides of the ball and routing the host 49ers, 34-17.
Green Bay improved to 6-2, and for the time being, has the second-best record in the NFC behind only Seattle (6-1). San Francisco slipped to 4-5.
Here’s the good, bad and ugly from Green Bay’s victory.
AARON RODGERS: Sure, Rodgers was playing against the 49ers’ JV team, one that was missing defensive linemen Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Solomon Thomas and Ziggy Ansah, plus cornerback Richard Sherman.
That’s not his fault, though. Instead, Rodgers picked apart a San Francisco defense that’s been annihilated by injury.
Rodgers finished the night 25-of-31 for 305 yards, had a 147.2 quarterback rating and had three completions of 35 yards, or more. He also finished with almost as many touchdown passes (four) as incomplete passes (six).
Rodgers grew up a 49ers fan and longed to be drafted by San Francisco in 2005 when it held the No. 1 pick in the draft. Instead, the 49ers went with Alex Smith and Rodgers slipped to 24th overall before Green Bay broke his fall.
The 49ers have gotten the best of Rodgers through the years, too. Rodgers entered Thursday with a 4-6 career record against San Francisco and an 0-3 mark in the postseason.
For one night, though, Rodgers got the better of San Francisco.
THE DEFENSE: San Francisco was missing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo running back Raheem Mostert, tight end George Kittle, wide receivers Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and Kendrick Bourne and left tackle Trent Williams. So take this performance with a grain of salt.
Still, the Packers had to be encouraged that their defense played fast, had multiple players around the ball all night, and tackled extremely well. Green Bay held San Francisco to 55 rushing yards and just three points through the first 55 minutes.
Safety Raven Greene had a second quarter interception, which was Green Bay’s first pick since Week 2. Za’Darius Smith had a strip sack and recovered the fumble in the third quarter.
Ty Summers and Rashan Gary stopped 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens for no gain on a fourth-and-1 from Green Bay’s 5-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
“When you have more hats to the ball, there’s less missed tackles,” safety Adrian Amos said earlier this week. “It’s a lot harder to tackle when it’s one-on-one in the open field. We need more guys getting off of blocks and more guys running to the ball. We’ll see that in film study. But I think more hats to the ball makes tackling a lot easier.”
For one of the few times all year, the Packers had that.
WIDE RECEIVER(S): Yes, plural.
Green Bay’s Davante Adams has been a one-man show since Allen Lazard (core muscle) went down after Week 3. Adams was brilliant again with 10 catches for 173 yards and a touchdown. Adams now leads the NFL with eight receiving touchdowns.
For the first time in what had to feel like forever, though, Adams got some help. Inconsistent third-year man Marquez Valdes-Scantling caught just two passes, but both went for touchdowns.
MVS got behind San Francisco’s defense late in the first half and hauled in a 52-yard TD to give Green Bay a 21-3 lead. Then midway through the third quarter, Valdes-Scantling made a nifty route adjustment against standout cornerback Jason Verrett for a 1-yard TD to make it 28-3.
MVS entered the game with a drop percentage of 11.8% according to ESPN Stats & Information. Valdes-Scantling had a costly drop early in the game, but made up for it later on.
FAST STARTERS: Green Bay’s offense has been terrific at the start of football games. On the Packers’ eight opening possessions this year, they’ve scored all eight times — four touchdowns and four field goals.
On Thursday, quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit Davante Adams with a 36-yard touchdown on Green Bay’s opening drive. Green Bay joined the 2007 New England Patriots as the only NFL teams since 2000 to score on their opening drive in each of the first eight games of the year.
“There’s a lot of time that goes in throughout the course of a week in everything we do,” LaFleur said of opening drives. “Putting the openers together is a tedious process. It’s really a credit to our players because it doesn’t really matter what you call, it’s their ability to go out there and execute the play that was called. Not everything happens the way you draw it up. We’re lucky and fortunate that we have a lot of great players that are able to make plays when they present themselves.”
INJURIES?: Green Bay entered the game banged up and left in much worse shape.
No. 1 cornerback Jaire Alexander suffered a second quarter concussion and didn’t return. Right tackle Rick Wagner (knee), inside linebacker Krys Barnes (calf) and running back Dexter Williams (knee) were also lost for the game.
With Wagner out, Elgton Jenkins moved from left guard to left tackle, Billy Turner went to right tackle and rookie Jon Runyan stepped in at left guard. Slot corner Chandon Sullivan replaced Alexander on the outside, while Oren Burks and Ty Summers stepped in at inside linebacker.
ODD DECISION: Green Bay running back Aaron Jones returned from a calf injury and was outstanding. Jones finished with 15 carries for 58 yards and caught five passes for 21 yards.
For some reason, though, Jones was still in the game deep into the fourth quarter with the Packers up four scores.
Yes, Green Bay was short running backs. But exposing their No. 1 running back to several hits with the game already well in hand was a curious coaching decision, to say the least.