Turnover margin turnaround has Packers back in playoff hunt
By STEVE MEGARGEE AP Sports Writer
The Green Bay Packers have moved back into playoff contention by regaining one of the traits that helped them win three straight NFC North titles from 2019-21.
Green Bay posted a combined plus-32 turnover margin in those seasons that led all teams during that stretch, but the Packers were at minus-5 during their 4-8 start this season. They forced only 12 turnovers through their first 12 games.
The Packers kept saying those takeaways eventually would come in bunches. Sure enough, the Packers have six interceptions and two fumble recoveries during a three-game winning streak in which they've produced a plus-5 turnover margin.
That pattern continued Sunday when Green Bay intercepted Tua Tagovailoa passes on each of Miami's final three series in the Packers' 26-20 road victory over the Dolphins.
"That's how it is," Packers cornerback Rasul Douglas said after the game. "You get one pick, more are going to come."
Green Bay (7-8) returns home for its final two regular-season games against the Minnesota Vikings (12-3) and Detroit Lions (7-8). Although the Packers still aren't in total control of their destiny, they don't need all that much help to earn a fourth straight postseason bid.
The Packers reach the playoffs if they win out and either the New York Giants (8-6-1) drop their two remaining games or the Washington Commanders (7-7-1) lose at least once more.
"I think it speaks to the character of the men in that locker room and our coaches, just everybody sticking together," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Monday. "You see it get sideways in a hurry in this league."
Green Bay's defense had underachieved for much of the season, but the Packers are allowing just 17 points per game during this win streak. The Packers were giving up 23.6 points per game beforehand.
Douglas picked off a pass to seal Sunday's victory, a callback to his breakthrough 2021 season when he had a game-clinching interception in the end zone at Arizona and had a pick-6 in consecutive games. Douglas has picked off a pass in each of the past two weeks.
"He reminded me of Rasul last year," said Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander, who also had an interception. "I called him 'Prime Time' last year because he was always making prime-time plays."
The Packers have erased double-digit deficits in three of their past four wins. They've outscored opponents 45-9 in the second half during their three-game win streak. Over their past six games, they've outscored teams 51-13 in the fourth quarter and overtime.
WHAT NEEDS WORK
The Packers scored just two touchdowns on five trips to the red zone Sunday, settling for field goals the other three times. ... A second-quarter decision for a fake punt on fourth-and-2 from their 20-yard line backfired and set up a Dolphins field goal that extended Miami's lead to 20-10. ... Aaron Rodgers threw his 11th interception, his highest total since the Packers' Super Bowl-winning season of 2010.
TE Marcedes Lewis caught a 1-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal and had a 31-yard reception that led to the tying touchdown in the third quarter. The 38-year-old Lewis, normally used as a blocker, entered Sunday with just four catches for 34 yards. His 31-yard reception was his longest since 2020. ... DL Jarran Reed forced and recovered a fumble when the Dolphins led 20-10 and were near midfield late in the second quarter. Reed also had a sack. ... OLB Preston Smith has five sacks over his past five games — including three in his past two — to increase his season total to a team-high 8½.
OL Royce Newman was penalized for holding and a false start after taking over for an injured Yosh Nijman at right tackle. Newman started Green Bay's first five games — one at right tackle and four at right guard — but had played just one offensive snap in an eight-game stretch before getting pressed into duty Sunday.
Nijman (shoulder), WR Christian Watson (hip), CB/KR Keisean Nixon (groin) and DL Dean Lowry (calf) all left Sunday's game. Asked specifically about Nijman, Watson and Nixon, LaFleur said Monday that all three players were day to day. ... OT David Bakhtiari missed a third straight game as he recovers from an appendectomy.
256 — Kicker Mason Crosby played his 256th straight regular-season game to break Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre's franchise records for consecutive games played and total games played. Crosby, 38, hasn't missed a game since the Packers selected him in the sixth round of the 2007 draft.
The Packers will try to gain revenge in each of their final two regular-season games as they host the Vikings and Lions. The Packers lost 23-7 at Minnesota on Sept. 11 and fell 15-9 at Detroit on Nov. 6.