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Dougherty: Packers' overtime win doesn't mean the season is saved, but it did lift the black cloud


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GREEN BAY − The Green Bay Packers didn’t save their season Sunday night.

After the way they looked while losing five straight, it’s going to take more than one win for proclamations like that.

But their come-from-behind, overtime win over the Dallas Cowboys did lift the sense of failure and doom that hovered over a team that came into the season with Super Bowl hopes. That palpable sense of relief was oozing from Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers at their news conferences after the game, a sense that no doubt was proxy for the team’s locker room and football staff.

It came out in LaFleur near the end of his news conference when he got a little teary eyed talking about the fight his team showed coming back from a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter. That public show of emotion was a first in his three-plus years as coach.

“It felt like forever ago since we won a game,” LaFleur said at one point.

It came out in Rodgers as he summed up his feelings of renewed confidence a week after the Packers had lost to a Detroit Lions team that had only one win going in.

“Last week was definitely a low, rock-bottomish for sure,” Rodgers said. “Not in a depressive, isolationism way, but more disappointment, and I felt like that was the bottom and it was only up from there. I think a lot of the battles that we face are between I and I, between the person that can go out there and dominate, and knows that they can, and the little voice in your head that tries to knock you off that confident perch that you’re on. I’m happy that I knocked that voice back into hell and had a good performance today.”

The Packers’ win is significant because it ended their brutal five-game losing streak and showed several things about the team. Most notably that LaFleur held things together at a dark time, and that he didn't lose his team, even down 14 points in the second half in what could have become the team’s first six-game losing streak since 1988.

Packers schedule doesn't get any easier with Titans coming to Lambeau Field on Thursday

But one of the challenges of making sense of an NFL season is to not become a prisoner of the moment. In that vein, one win does not turn the Packers’ five-game losing streak into a distant memory, either. The Packers played too much shaky football during that stretch to just dismiss it. They also still face major head winds going forward.

For one thing, their best defensive player (Rashan Gary) is out for the season. While the Packers won in this first game playing without him, his absence will show more over a stretch of games than in just one. That will be a lot to overcome.

Also, the Packers finally played a good game on offense (31 points, 415 total yards), which shows what they’re capable of with a new and different approach. But they’ll have to do it over the course of several weeks before it’s worth declaring they’ve turned the corner on that side of the ball.

Then there’s the tough next two games for a 4-6 team that can’t afford to lose many times down the stretch to have a chance at the playoffs, even in an NFC that is very much down this season. The Tennessee Titans (6-3) this week are an especially difficult matchup because of their physical, punishing defense. We’ll find out Thursday night just how willing LaFleur and Rodgers are to stick with the run, and how good that run game really is. Then the week after, the Packers travel to play the league’s lone unbeaten, the Philadelphia Eagles.

Packers lean on Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon; Aaron Rodgers has most efficient game of season

That said, the Packers have to feel better about their team after knocking off Mike McCarthy’s Cowboys. For starters, they played more to the strengths of their offense than they had all season.

Their 62% called run rate was the highest ever in Rodgers’ time as their quarterback, according to ESPN.com. This is the way they have to play, feeding the ball to Aaron Jones (26 touches, 156 yards) and AJ Dillon (13 carries, 65 yards) even when it’s not a great down and distance to run, then taking their shots in the air when that opens up. It makes you wonder why it took more than half the season to get there.

Regardless, is there any doubt the willingness to run, even into stacked boxes and on third downs, helped Rodgers play his best, most efficient game of the season? His line (14-for-20, 224 yards, 146.7 rating) reflected how sharp he was, and is the kind of line the Packers will need if they’re going to win with their personnel. If Rodgers is throwing 30-plus passes in a game, it’s probably a bad sign.

“With the question marks in protection at times and the health of our receivers, I feel like this is definitely a formula that can work for us,” Rodgers said. “We still have to throw it down field, but until people are going to give us a heavy dose of one-high (safety), we’re going to have to go run the football and then use the play-action to take some shots down the field.”

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Christian Watson shows his value to the Packers in breakout game

This game also showed just how much rookie Christian Watson’s injuries have cost this team.

General manager Brian Gutekunst took a big chance turning two premium draft picks (late second-rounders) into only one player when he traded up for Watson. Offseason knee surgery cost the rookie almost his entire training camp, and then recurring hamstring and concussion issues have cost him valuable practice time and limited him to only 30% of the Packers’ offensive snaps coming into this game.

But Watson is a big, talented, raw receiver whose speed can change games. It changed this one — among his three touchdown catches Sunday was a 58-yard bomb, and a big fourth-and-7 catch for a 39-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter that kept the Packers in the game by cutting Dallas’ lead to a touchdown.

The question now is whether he can stay on the field for the rest of the season.

Either way, the Packers’ win Sunday wasn’t a season-saver, there are more hurdles to clear before they’re really back in playoff contention.

But they did play good football, they finally won and game, and most importantly, they lifted the pall hanging over the team.

Vote:How do you think the Green Bay Packers played against the Dallas Cowboys?

Social media:Packers snap losing streak to the Cowboys. Twitter reacts to win, Mike McCarthy and Christian Watson.

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