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The Green Bay Packers get 'important' win over the Rams as they head into a much-needed bye week looking to get healthy for the stretch run


GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers probably weren’t thrilled to see a Week 13 bye when the NFL schedule came out last spring.

But now that it’s finally here, they have to be happy with how things have turned out.

By the time the weekend hit the Packers were 1½- to 2-point underdogs against the Los Angeles Rams even though they were playing at home, but coach Matt LaFleur’s team came out with a 36-28 win. So now the Packers hit their bye having just beaten one of their rivals for top seeding in the NFC playoffs and still in the thick of the battle for home-field advantage.

At 9-3 they’re tied with Tampa Bay (8-3) in the loss column for second place despite ranking among the two or three clubs worst hit by the loss of key players to long-term injuries. Their earlier win over the Arizona Cardinals (9-2) also gives the Packers the tiebreaker over the team ahead of them, if it comes down to that.

“This was an important one,” Aaron Rodgers said after the game.

The Packers also are looking at decent odds of getting back one or more players from among David Bakhtiari (knee), Jaire Alexander (shoulder) and Za’Darius Smith (back) in December or early January for the stretch run of the season. This team is 9-3 even though each of those three has missed most or all of the season.

That’s a potentially big talent infusion at premium positions for when the money is on the line.

BOX SCORE: Packers 36, Rams 28

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Rodgers can use this week’s break as much as anyone on the roster. He’ll get 1½ weeks for treatment and rest for the broken toe that has plagued him since his return from the COVID-19 list two weeks ago. Only two weeks? Seems more like a month. Things change quickly in this league.

Rodgers showed Sunday he has worked off the rust from his 10-day quarantine and lack of practice to rest his pinky toe since returning. In their last 15 possessions going back to the end of the first half at Minnesota last week, the Packers have put up six touchdowns and three field goals. On Sunday they gained 399 yards in total offense playing without their two best linemen – Elgton Jenkins, who won’t be back this season, and Bakhtiari – against a defense that came in No. 7 in the league in yards allowed.

Rodgers said he’s undergoing tests on his toe Monday morning to determine if he needs surgery that, if necessary, probably wouldn’t keep him out of a game. But in describing what his bye week will be like – “I’ll get treatment every single day,” he said – Rodgers sounded like a guy who thinks surgery is unlikely. The nearly total rest from not practicing last week left his toe feeling better Sunday than a week ago.

He’ll have through the middle of next week to rest his toe if he’s going to be back practicing in some capacity again.

“The most important thing is healing and taking care of my toe,” Rodgers said.

LaFleur and offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett have struggled to get a feel for their offensive talent this year – they ranked No. 17 in scoring coming into Sunday after leading the league last year. But the last six quarters have made it clear: Their strength is their backfield, and the way to get the most out of Rodgers is to run the ball.

AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones didn’t put up big numbers (92 yards rushing combined), but LaFleur fed them the ball consistently (30 carries total) against a team that has the best defensive lineman (Aaron Donald) in the league. That no doubt helped Rodgers when it was time to pass. With Yosh Nijman, the No. 3 choice (behind Bakhtiari and Jenkins) at left tackle, Rodgers was sacked only once and had a solid 97.2 rating and 307 yards passing.

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This should be the Packers’ identity. Run to set up the pass in a league where most do the opposite.

“We controlled the clock for almost 40 minutes,” Rodgers said. “This is what makes it so difficult (for opponents) to play in Lambeau.”

Things have set up favorably for the Packers’ home stretch. Three of their last five games are at home, including in two weeks when the Chicago Bears come to town. Only two of the Packers’ remaining games are against teams that are .500 or better (8-3 Baltimore and 6- Cleveland).

“We talked about emptying the tank,” LaFleur said, “and I think we’re at a point where everybody is pretty exhausted. It definitely feels good going into the bye week on a win.”

Of course, having things set up well guarantees nothing. Last year couldn’t have been better staged for them with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, yet the season ended with a loss in the NFC championship game to Tampa Bay.

So yes, LaFleur and his team should benefit from the break. They’ve earned it. But when they come back things really start getting serious.

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