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On Monday as the Green Bay Packers began their preparations to play the Chicago Bears, the team made a notable personnel move to bolster the depth on the offensive line. This move came as little surprise, but it is notable nonetheless as the Packers get ready to face a tough slate of pass-rushers in the coming weeks as they run the NFC North gauntlet.

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The move was to activate offensive tackle Jared Veldheer from the commissioner’s exempt list, placing him on the 53-man roster. To make room for Veldheer, the Packers waived another reserve lineman, Adam Pankey.

The Packers claimed Veldheer on waivers last week, a day after the New England Patriots cut him loose following his decision to come out of retirement. Veldheer had signed with the Patriots in May, but retired only a few days later. The Packers received a roster exemption to bring him onto the team as he re-acclimated to a normal practice schedule over the past week.

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Veldheer will likely be a top candidate to back up both of the Packers’ veteran offensive tackles, Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari. Alex Light and Billy Turner are other options, but Veldheer provides a proven veteran down the depth chart. Interestingly, however, the Packers list Veldheer as the primary backup at left tackle and left guard, while Light appears as the second-stringer at right tackle.

For Pankey, this is the fourth time that the Packers have waived him off the active roster. He failed to make the initial 53 at final cuts each of the past three years, landing on Green Bay’s practice squad in 2017 and 2018 while signing with the Titans’ practice squad this September. However, the Packers signed him to their 53 each of the past three seasons as insurance and he has spent a total of 30 game weeks on the roster. But despite that tenure, he has been active on the gameday 46-man roster just twice, once each in 2017 and 2018.

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Pankey’s jobless term lasted just one day, however; on Tuesday, the Miami Dolphins claimed him on waivers.

With the Packers remaining largely healthy, the Packers would seem unlikely to make any other significant roster transactions this week as they get ready to host the Bears in week 15. However, the team did host a workout for at least one player on Tuesday, according to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky. That player was former first-round pick Joshua Garnett, an interior lineman who was drafted 28th overall by the San Francisco 49ers in 2016.

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Stanford G Garnett will “run through your soul”
Acme Packing Company profiled Garnett, who became known as a “legendary eater” at Stanford, at the 2016 NFL Combine prior to his selection. Garnett played in 15 games as a rookie, starting 11 for Chip Kelly’s 2-14 squad. However, after the 49ers hired Kyle Shanahan was hired to coach the team in 2017, Garnett missed his second year on injured reserve with a knee injury, and he played in just seven games in 2018 before being released at final cuts this August.

Following some lackluster weeks, the Green Bay Packers found ways to get the ball in the hands of their backfield playmaker, Aaron Jones. He got over 15 carries for only the third time this season, and added six receptions for a total of 22 touches. His touch numbers need to be similar to that every week from now on if this team wants to keep winning.

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On his 16 carries, he gained 134 yards, an average of an absurd 8.4 yards per carry and a touchdown. His six catches netted him 58 yards, giving him 192 total yards from scrimmage on the day. His biggest catch of the day was a 25 yard reception on 3rd and 14 to pick up a huge first down deep in Green Bay territory. He’s become a certified go-to guy and should get the touches of one every week for the rest of the season.

The Green Bay Packers have three games to go against the NFC North. Can they win each one?
Three games are left. All of them are against division opponents. The Green Bay Packers lead the way in the NFC North with a game against all of their rivals, and an opportunity to close out their first division win in three years. They enter Week 15 with a 10-3 record, sit in second position of the NFC and are close to securing a playoff berth.

Everything seems to be going well, right? Well, the wins are continuing to pile up, so yes. The Packers have lost three times, but bounced back each time with a victory the following week. Despite that, this doesn’t have the feel of a team about to turn it on in time for the playoffs.

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The Packers made a fast start against the Washington Redskins, but as they often have this season, fell away after the opening quarter and ended up having to hold on late in the game. It’s one thing for that to happen against the Minnesota Vikings, a division rival on course for a playoff berth and still competing for the NFC North title. But against a three-win team at home? Then there’s some cause for concern.

But, a win is a win. And the Packers already have 10 in the bag, putting them in a strong position ahead of three games against familiar opponents.

They have one win over each NFC North team so far this season. Can they complete the sweep?

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What if Mike Trout was drafted #1?

Defensive MVP – Adrian Amos
Contrary to what you’ve heard from any Chicago Bears fans, Adrian Amos is a playmaker. He has had clutch pass knock-downs in big spots in multiple games and has been a sure-handed tackler stopping the run up in the box or in the open field. This week he took it to another level.

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Amos had the second most tackles on the team with seven, six of them solo. That’s just scratching the surface, though. He had an interception to stamp out a Redskins drive at the end of the half that may have saved a field goal and a big sack earlier in the game. He also totaled two passes defended for the game. He has been a reliable leader for the back-end of this Green Bay Packers’ defense and on Sunday he was the guy making the big plays, all while wearing his purple cleats for his I’m Still Here Foundation, raising awareness of Alzheimer’s disease.

Special Teams MVP – Tyler Ervin
The Green Bay Packers have positive punt return yards! After an absolutely atrocious first 12 games in the return aspect, Tyler Ervin brought some much-needed stability to the position. He did what most fans always scream at the punt returner to do, run forward. He didn’t do any dancing around and returned four punts for 51 yards, an average of 12.8 yards per return with a long of 18 yards.

Ervin did his job well, but something that might have been lost in the shuffle was that Jaire Alexander was playing on punt coverage. One of the best corners in the league at shadowing a receivers movements was out there for the purpose of shadowing a gunner and not letting him get past him and to the returner. Alexander hadn’t played a special teams snap since week eight, and having him out there showed, as Ervin consistently had much more space than any Packer punt returner has had all season.

Blocks of the Game – Mercedes Lewis and Jake Kumerow
Mercedes Lewis has made a career as a great blocking tight end, but Jake Kumerow has made multiple impressive blocks on the interior this year to open up holes for the running backs. On this play, Aaron Jones was sprung free for a 42-yard gain by the guys both doing their jobs very well.

Kumerow motions behind the tight ends and, when the ball is snapped, attacks Landon Collins, one of the best run stuffing safeties in the league. He shows no fear of a physical guy like Collins and drives him about three yards up the field and completely out of the play. Lewis also goes up to the second level to get an inside linebacker and pushes him back as well, and Jones runs right between the two men and explodes for a huge gain.

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In the fourteen Packers games to date, Green Bay’s star running back Aaron Rodgers has rushed for 90 or more yards four times: Vikings (Week 2); Cowboys (Week 5); Panthers (Week 10); and Redskins (Week 14).

Jones has been held to under 40 rushing yards six times: Bears (Week 1); Broncos (Week 3); Eagles (Week 4); Chargers (Week 9); 49ers (Week 12); Giants (Week 13).

Jones is averaging 59.3 yards per game. We all know that number should be at least 80, which would project to a 1,280-yard regular season.

Let’s pause right here for a moment. The disparity in these numbers is disturbing. Assuming that Jones himself delivers a steady performance each week – and I think he does – he should not have such up-and-down results.

Take a look at Mr. Steady, the Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey – who is similar to Jones in size and running style, but maybe a bit speedier. His games of under 40 rushing yards: two; His games of 90 or more rushing yards: 7. This is the consistency one would expect of a great running back and ground attack.

The stats might suggest that McCaffrey has been overused and is suffering fatigue, as he has failed to rush for more than 87 yards in each of his last five games; on the other hand, his receiving yardages during that stretch have been better than ever: 121, 69, 58, 82, and 88.

Christian projects to finish the season with 1,494 rushing yards. He has 265 carries on the year, fifth most in the league. Jones has 188 carries, tied for 15th.

Packers RB Aaron Jones runs against the Bears in Week 15
Dec 15, 2019; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) fends off Chicago Bears safety Eddie Jackson (39) to score a touchdown in the third quarter at Lambeau Field. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Jones’ Opponents
You’d probably assume that Aaron’s best games would come against teams who are weak against the run, and vice versa – but that picture is murky.

The current defensive ranking against the run of the teams that Jones did best against are: Vikings, 8th; Cowboys, 12th; Redskins, 28th; and Panthers, 30th. The teams he was least successful against were: Eagles, 3rd; Bears, 6th; Chargers, 17th; Broncos, 20th, 49ers, 21st; and Giants, 22nd. Though there’s not much of a pattern here, something definitely went very wrong against weak opponents such as Denver (19 yards in 10 carries), and the Giants (18 yards in 11 carries).

Aaron Jones Lambeau Leap
Sep 15, 2019; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Home Versus Away Games
Yes, teams and players play better at home. Of Jones’s four biggest rushing totals, all except the Cowboys game was played at Lambeau. Of Jones’s six poorest totals, only the Eagles and Broncos were home games.

No Consecutive Successes
Looking back at Jones’s four most productive rushing games – in Games 2, 5, 10, and 14 – you’ve got to wonder why they are so spaced out. It’s perplexing – how do you follow up a 116-yard game against a good Minnesota defense with a 19-yarder against the weak Broncos (both were home games)?

Is Jones Being Targeted?
I do recall hearing, around mid-season, and especially after the win over Kansas City – in which Jones had a good day running (13 for 67), but a spectacular day receiving (7 for 159), that Packers’ opponents were starting to game plan to stop Jones, and trusting that Rodgers and the passing game would not be enough for the Packers to prevail.

I’m sure that one or two opposing defenses were fully focused on stopping Aaron Jones, rather than Aaron Rodgers. It’s been a factor, but it’s not a sufficient explanation for Green Bay’s off-and-on run game.

Packers’ Run Game Vs. Vikings Defense
On the year, Minnesota has yielded an average of 99 yards per game on the ground, ranking 8th in the NFL. They rank tied for 20th, however, in passing yardage given up, at 239.9. Like the Packers, the Vikings are an opportunistic group – though they rank 14th in total yards surrendered per game, they are 6th lowest when it comes to points given up per game (Green Bay is ninth).

In Week 2 against the Vikings, Aaron Jones had a career-high 23 carries (his previous high was 19) for 116 yards and a touchdown – along with 4 catches for 34 yards and another touchdown. To Jones’s 150 yards of production, add in Jamaal Williams’ 28 rushing yards and 13 receiving yards, and the running tandem accounted for 191, or 57.7%, of Green Bay’s 335 total yards. The Green Bay pass attack was good for only 191 net yards back on September 15.

Heavy usage of Aaron Jones was the deciding factor in Green Bay’s narrow 21-16 victory. Will this again be true on Monday night? Put another way, has Matt LaFleur learned anything over the past three months?

Future Prognosis
It’s probably too late in the year for Coach LaFleur to initiate any major changes in the way he calls plays, or who he plays, and how much, on offense. But in a month or so he’ll have the next half year to contemplate how a team with a great running back just coming into his prime, a number two back who exceeded all expectations, a solid O-line, and a strong and heavily used group of blocking tight ends – and with everyone amazingly healthy – produced such uneven run game results. I hope he also thinks about how, in fourteen games, Jones caught one or zero passes in six of them.

The Packers should have produced a top-10, if not a top-5, rushing attack in 2019. Instead, they currently rank in the bottom half of the league, 17th, in yards gained on the ground.

Postscript
The official choices for the 2020 NFL Pro Bowl came out a few days ago. Pro Football Focus, which increasingly prides itself on grading many NFL players vastly different from most others, just released their would-have-been choices for the team.

Regarding the Packers and the National Football Conference team, PFF passed over Aaron Rodgers, and went with Drew Brees (NO), Russell Wilson (SEA), and Kirk Cousins (MIN). PFF also bypassed David Bakhtiari, and instead chose Lane Johnson (PHI), Ryan Ramczyk (NO), and La’el Collins (DAL).

Two Green Bay players who were not selected did make the PFF’s would-be team. On special teams, the choice for punter was the Packers’ J. K. Scott. As the three running backs, their choices were (in order of PFF’s ratings system): Christian McCaffrey (CAR), Aaron Jones (GB), and Dalvin Cook (MIN).

Finally, Aaron Jones gets some love!

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There was a moment during the 2018 season in which Mason Crosby’s future as a Green Bay Packer was second-guessed.

A week five trip to Detroit was devastating for Crosby, who missed four of his five field goals that Sunday in addition to his lone extra point attempt. While he finished 21 of 22 the rest of the way, Crosby’s spot on the team still carried some doubt heading into his contract season of 2019. The Packers brought in Sam Ficken, a kicker with ties to Matt LaFleur in his previous stint with the Los Angeles Rams, and the battle went throughout camp. Ultimately, Green Bay decided to keep Crosby for his 13th season with the team and released Ficken on August 31.

With just two remaining games in the 2019 season, that decision appears to have been a wise one.

Crosby has made 16 of his 17 field goal attempts this season, while knocking home all 38 extra point attempts. He has not missed since a 45-yard field goal against Denver in the third week and has been solid despite the elements at home this season, including a perfect snowy outing versus the New York Giants.

His field goal percentage of 94% ranks third in the league behind Josh Lambo and Justin Tucker, the other two kickers who have missed just one field goal in 2019. While Crosby may finish with the fewest field goal attempts of his career this season (his lowest was 19 in 2017), never has he finished with a percentage of 90% or higher.

Ficken, on the other hand, has appeared in 13 games this season for the New York Jets, but has not been nearly as automatic. Although he has made all seven of his field goal attempts under 40 yards, he has been just 7-for-13 on longer attempts and has missed three of his 24 extra point opportunities. While Ficken did win the game for the Jets on a 44-yard field goal as time expired two weeks ago against Miami, he has not been as steadily reliable as Crosby.

Another widely-speculated aspect of the kicking battle in training camp was that the loser would wind up on the roster of a divisional rival – Chicago or Minnesota. While neither team chose to sign Ficken, one could reasonably believe that the proven Crosby would have been a more tantalizing option on the open market.

But after severing ties with Cody Parkey following his playoff misfortune last season, the Bears decided to move forward with Eddy Pineiro. Like Ficken, Pineiro has been up-and-down from 40 yards and beyond in 2019, but has improved since a mid-season slump. Still, his position on the Bears’ roster in 2020 is far from guaranteed.

The Vikings have had much more luck with Dan Bailey, who has drilled 22 of his 24 field goals this season and was NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for the third time of the year last week. But the veteran Bailey has still missed four of his extra points.

As the Packers enjoy the warm indoors of Minnesota this week, Crosby and Bailey will face off in a kicking duel. But as the regular season nears its conclusion, Green Bay has to be comfortable with its decision to retain Crosby’s services another year, especially when looking around the division and the results of his closest camp competitor.

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GREEN BAY – Mason Crosby has kicked 426 field goals, played in 222 games and now enters the final leg of his 13th NFL season.

More importantly, he’s a father of five, a husband to Molly and a brother to Rees. With family at the forefront of his mind dating back to training camp, the Packers’ veteran kicker has been tested like never before in 2019.

A season that began with Molly having a cancerous tumor removed from her lung in August took another swerve last Friday when Crosby’s sister-in-law, Brittany, passed away following a three-year battle with ovarian cancer.

Crosby traveled home to Texas to be with family after receiving the news Friday morning before rejoining the team in New York for Sunday’s eventual 31-13 win over the Giants.

Nobody would’ve blamed Crosby if he chose to not play given everything he and his family have dealt with. Instead, he boarded a plane, made all five kicks he attempted and then flew back to Texas immediately after the game.

“Obviously, we weighed all the options,” said Crosby on Wednesday. “I don’t know if my brother or Brittany would have wanted (me not to play). How they live their lives, Brittany lived life to the fullest and she went on every adventure and did everything she could and lived every day on purpose. So I did my best to try and represent this team, and be a good team member, but be a good family member first.”

As he did in training camp in the midst of Molly’s diagnosis, Crosby bottled his emotions and came through again for his team in what’s shaping up to be the best statistical year of his career. With four games left in the regular season, Crosby has made 14-of-15 field goals (93.3%) and all 33 of his extra points.

Against the Giants, Crosby made all four of his extra points and drilled a clutch 47-yard field goal in the second quarter despite snow layering the field turf inside MetLife Stadium.

Afterward, in recognition of Crosby’s performance in the face of adversity, Head Coach Matt LaFleur awarded the 35-year-old kicker with the game ball in the postgame celebration.

Locker Room Pass: Packers at Giants

Look inside the Packers’ locker room as Mason Crosby receives the game ball after the snowy Week 13 win.

A day later, LaFleur added more context to the story when he acknowledged the 47-yarder was actually a few yards out of the range they previously discussed with the deteriorating conditions.

Crosby, entering a one-score game at the time, felt he could get his solid footing since the snow actually had loosened the turf. There was no change in cleats. Just the same operation and process Crosby has trusted for the better part of two years with long snapper Hunter Bradley and holder JK Scott.

“Pregame we had a little bit longer distance going that direction because the field wasn’t covered with snow and the wind wasn’t swirling as much, so we had to adjust a little bit,” Crosby said. “There’s always a range. ‘This is the yard line’ I feel really solid with all the time and then just kind of situationally what I feel in that moment. It was a moment in the game with how things were looking, it was within a couple yards of where we felt good about.”

Coincidentally, Crosby’s strong year has coincided with kicking accuracy being down league-wide. Through 12 games, NFL kickers are a combined 589-of-736 on field-goal attempts (80.03%) compared to 778-of-928 (83.83%) in 2018.

Crosby would be looking at possibly two back-to-back years of converting on at least 90% of his field goals had it not been for a nightmare in Detroit last year, when he missed four field goals and an extra point.

Since that Week 6 game in 2018, Crosby has converted 33-of-36 field goals and 59 consecutive extra points.

“I feel like my ball-striking is some of the best it’s been in my career,” Crosby said. “I feel really good with how I’m approaching every week and how I’m balanced as I’m hitting the ball. Just the mind and the body being in sync there. You see it across the league all the time; guys get in grooves.

“There are ebbs and flows, but as I gain more experience all the time, I feel like I get more and more consistent and just continue to try to find ways to improve in that.”

Crosby will practice with the team again on Thursday before flying back down to Texas for Brittany’s funeral. He’ll then fly back either Friday night or Saturday morning for Sunday’s game against Washington at Lambeau Field.

On the eve of Wednesday’s practice, LaFleur texted Crosby Tuesday night “to make sure I was doing all right and my family was taken care of.” Crosby appreciated the gesture, along with everything the Packers organization has done over the past week to support him and his family.

“That means the world to me,” Crosby said. “Whatever I need, they’re there. I’m just trying to make the best decisions for my job and for my family. Obviously, they’ve just given me that leeway to go and meet with my brother and Brittany’s family as much as possible.”

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GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers referenced Cal-Stanford, of course.

All the Packers, including Rodgers, were certainly glad the play didn’t make the historical archives like the famous 1982 lateral-filled college kickoff return did.

But boy, was it close.

“It looked like they had something,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “I ain’t gonna lie to you, it looked like they had something.”

Chicago definitely did. On the final play of the Packers’ 21-13 triumph on Sunday, the Bears eschewed a Hail Mary from the Green Bay 34-yard line and decided to complete a short pass and try to lateral their way to the end zone instead.

It very well could have worked, partly because the Packers were expecting the Hail Mary, so the change-up caught them off-guard.

Running back Tarik Cohen grabbed Mitch Trubisky’s pass around the 30-yard line, ran another 10 yards, and pitched the ball back to Trubisky. He dropped it, scooped it up off the frozen Lambeau Field turf, avoided Kyler Fackrell to stay alive for a few yards, and lateraled to tight end Jesper Horsted around the 15.

As Horsted started angling to his right toward the pylon, suddenly the Bears did indeed have “something,” like Williams said. Receivers Anthony Miller and Allen Robinson were both to Horsted’s right, and they might have had the Packers outflanked.

“I think we’ve all seen clips of the play in the ‘Big Game’,” Rodgers said, drawing on his alma mater Cal’s immortal finish to beat rival Stanford 37 years ago, one year before the Packers QB was born. “Just finish the play.”

It was almost too late for the defense to do so. Had Horsted lateraled the ball to Robinson around the 10, with Miller in front of him to block, Robinson might have scored. But Horsted took a step or two too many, and by the time he tried to pitch it, he was being dragged down by Chandon Sullivan, and the lateral was low and forward, caroming off someone’s leg toward the end zone.

At that point, only Horsted, by rule, could have recovered the ball for the play to be legal. Williams recovered it for the Packers inside the 5, and the sighs of relief were exhaled.

“That last play, that was scary,” defensive lineman Kenny Clark said.

Robinson could be seen begging for the ball and was clearly upset when it didn’t come to him sooner. Horsted, an undrafted rookie from Princeton, is going to kick himself when he sees the film. Chicago was eliminated from playoff contention Sunday.

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Green Bay Packers defensive back Chandon Sullivan produced a standout performance over 56 snaps during the Packers’ 21-13 win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

Sullivan showed up in every aspect of playing in Mike Pettine’s secondary. He fearlessly played the run in the box, confidently covered downfield and continued to blitz effectively.

It’s becoming less and less difficult to figure out why 2018 second-round pick Josh Jackson isn’t playing much for the Packers defense. Sullivan, who was claimed off of waivers in May, is the more complete player.

Evidence can be found in a half-dozen plays from Sunday’s win.

Early in the first quarter, Sullivan entered the game as a nickel linebacker. The Bears, sensing how light the Packers were playing in the box, ran the football. Sullivan was up to the task. He played his run fit, filling the gap to the left of Kenny Clark, and he stepped into the hole and helped Clark make the run stop at the line of scrimmage.

He made another impressive play in the run game in the second quarter. Playing slot cornerback, Sullivan brushed off the block attempt from receiver Anthony Miller and made a perfect form tackle on David Montgomery in the open field after only four yards.

The Bears tried to take advantage of him once again a few plays later with an end-around pitch to Cordarrelle Patterson. But Sullivan got wide, won leverage against the receiver, held the edge as the outside contain and helped stop the play after a minimal gain.

Later in the half, he made two big plays in the passing game to help the Packers get off the field.

On the first, Sullivan stuck with Miller in a scramble drill situation on 4th-and-7. His blanket coverage didn’t result in a pass breakup, but he recovered deep, crowded the space along the sideline and didn’t allow Miller to make the catch in bounds. Turnover on downs.

Sullivan nearly created an interception in the red zone on the next series. On third down, Sullivan came unblocked off the right side of the line, moved Mitchell Trubisky off the spot to the left and hurried his underneath throw, which was almost intercepted by rookie Darnell Savage, who undercut the route and had a legit chance to catch the pass.

The Bears’ last gasp play to end the game nearly ended in a touchdown, but Sullivan saved the day. He chased down tight end Jesper Horsted in the open field and wrestled him down before he could pitch the ball to his right to Allen Robinson. The resulting fumble was recovered by Tramon Williams to end the contest.

One small knock on the performance: Sullivan had a chance to intercept a prayer from Trubisky on fourth down in the fourth quarter, but he couldn’t corral the ball as he slid to his knees. It didn’t really matter. The Packers took over near midfield, and Sullivan likely would have been tapped down inside the 30.

Overall, Sullivan was the primary player in coverage on five different passing attempts from Trubisky on Sunday. Only one of those passes was completed.

Quarterbacks are completing just 39.1 percent of passes into Sullivan’s coverage this season. He’s allowing 4.8 yards per target and a passer rating of 36.5, both best among Packers defensive backs this season.

Pettine is trusting Sullivan to play a variety of roles. He’s been used mostly at slot cornerback, but he’s also played snaps at inside linebacker, safety and perimeter corner.

Jackson is the high draft pick and Tony Brown had a great summer, but Sullivan has solidified his status as the Packers’ fourth cornerback behind Williams, Jaire Alexander and Kevin King. Sunday’s effort showed why Pettine and the Packers have so much faith in him.

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GREEN BAY – When the Packers made Darnell Savage the first defensive back off the board during the 2019 NFL Draft, the organization was hopeful it had found a first-round pick who could play right away as a rookie.

Eleven games into his NFL career, the 5-foot-11, 198-pound safety’s progression has matched his promise.

Only 21 years old at the time he was drafted, Savage has amassed 44 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in 673 defensive snaps played over his 11 NFL starts.

He’s been part of a potent one-two punch on the back end with veteran Adrian Amos, one of the Packers’ four marquee free-agent signings this past offseason who also has been off to a strong start in Green Bay thus far.

Every rookie goes through his process and Savage has been no different. While an ankle injury cost Savage two October games, the rookie safety has continued to settle into his role at free safety alongside Amos.

“I definitely think I’ve improved,” Savage said. “Just as far as the mental side of it and taking care of my body throughout the week, having to battle back from the ankle, which is feeling a lot better now. I think I’ve improved in all aspects. My approach the game, I’ve got a routine now. Once you kind of settle in, then everything is a lot smoother.”

Savage started 37 of the 46 games he played at Maryland, recording 182 tackles, 22 passes defensed and eight interceptions. He rose rapidly up the projections leading up to April’s NFL Draft after clocking a 4.36 in the 40-yard dash and a 39½-inch vertical at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.

After being selected at No. 21, Savage was thrown into the Packers’ starting secondary from the start of organized team activities. When the Packers opened the season against Chicago, Savage became the first rookie safety to start for Green Bay in Week 1 since Morgan Burnett in 2010.

Savage made his share of plays this year, with a forced fumble and interception in back-to-back weeks against Minnesota and Denver to start the year. Since shaking off the midseason ankle injury, Savage has returned to form and made an impact in solid defensive performances the past two weeks.

On Dec. 1, Savage picked off Giants quarterback Daniel Jones early in the fourth quarter and returned it 28 yards to the New York 38, which led to an eight-play Green Bay series that culminated in quarterback Aaron Rodgers hitting tight end Marcedes Lewis on a 1-yard touchdown.

This past Sunday, Savage forced a fumble of Washington running back Chris Thompson at the start of the second half. Terry McLaurin managed to recover the ball but Washington wound up going three-and-out one play later.

It should come as no surprise Amos also has shined as of late. Back in a traditional role after filling in as a box safety in sub-packages, Amos had an interception and sack in the first half against Washington. Amos’ 849 defensive snaps played currently lead the entire Green Bay defense.

“(Him) just taking that big brother role to me; half the time I don’t have to say anything or ask anything,” Savage said. “I can just kind of watch him and take notes off that just being observant. He’s meant a lot to me, my locker’s right next to him, so I can ask questions whenever I need to, watch film with him. His house is always open to me. He’s been a great role mode and just leader.”

The stakes don’t get much higher for Savage and the Packers with three NFC North games remaining in the 2019 regular season. Green Bay, sitting at 10-3 and seeking its first playoff appearance since 2016, will play host to the Chicago Bears this Sunday.

The game is rematch of the Packers’ 10-3 win in Chicago on Sept. 5, a game in which the defense allowed only 213 total yards, and stopped the Bears on 12-of-15 third downs and two fourth-down attempts.

“We’re just going to have to come out there and focus,” Savage said. “(Secondary) coach (Jason Simmons) always tells us just breathe. Sometimes you can be a little too excited and then just be all out of whack, so just breathe and just continue playing and just play in good technique, use your eyes, and just stuff like that, reading your keys.”

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The Green Bay Packers will be without one of their starting cornerbacks on Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

Kevin King, who was listed as questionable with a shoulder injury, is included among the Packers’ inactives on Sunday.

The Packers also made Tony Brown and Ka’dar Hollman inactive, so they’ll be light at cornerback against the Redskins. Jaire Alexander and Tramon Williams will start, with Chandon Sullivan, Josh Jackson and even safety Will Redmond available as backups.

The Packers will have starting right guard Billy Turner, who was added to the injury report with an illness on Saturday. He’s active.

The Packers’ inactives:

WR Ryan Grant
CB Kevin King
RB Dexter Williams
CB Tony Brown
OL Adam Pankey
CB Ka’dar Hollman
OT Yosh Nijman

The Redskins made receivers Pail Richardson and Trey Quinn inactive. They’ll be joined by former Packers edge rusher Chris Odom, cornerback Aaron Colvin and quarterback Colt McCoy.

The Packers and Redskins kick off from Lambeau Field at noon CT.

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Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur sounded optimistic about cornerback Kevin King returning from a one-game absence and playing Sunday against the Chicago Bears.

King missed last Sunday’s win over the Washington Redskins with a shoulder injury, but LaFleur expressed confidence in where his starting cornerback is at in the recovery process.

“He’s in a good spot right now. We’ll see how he progresses. Still has another day, and then still three days until game time, but I like where he’s at right now,” LaFleur said Thursday.

King started the first 12 games of the season, tallying 13 pass breakups and four interceptions. The Packers gave him until Sunday to get ready last week but decided to make him inactive against the Redskins. Veteran Tramon Williams started in his place opposite Jaire Alexander.

Like last week, King has been a limited participant at practice. It’s possible he’ll be listed as questionable to play against the Bears, with an official decision on his playing status coming Sunday morning.

In Week 1, King had a pass breakup (on a dropped interception) and five tackles during the Packers’ season-opening win over the Bears at Soldier Field.

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GREEN BAY – Packers cornerback Josh Jackson had just come off the practice field on Friday when his brother called with the news no child ever wants to hear.

Their father, Paul, had passed away at 77 after a series of illnesses. While the news was somewhat expected – he recently suffered two strokes and had fallen ill with pneumonia – it still hit Jackson hard regardless.

Jackson considered flying home to Texas to be with his family, but with his father’s funeral scheduled for this Thursday, he chose to play Sunday against Washington. That turned out to be key for Green Bay’s secondary, with both Kevin King (shoulder) and Tony Brown (heel) ruled out after being listed as questionable.

In their stead, Jackson wound up playing 26 defensive snaps in the dime sub-package.

“Once I found out, it definitely broke my heart,” said Jackson on Monday. “It was definitely really tough because we were really close. We talked every day on the phone. He was a big part of my life. Just to lose him was definitely something that was pretty sad. I know he’ll be with me, watching over me. Just trying to play for him and stay strong for him. I know that’s what he wants me to do.”

Paul was diagnosed with cancer when Jackson was in college at Iowa, which he successfully beat. Despite what he was facing, Paul told his son to keep his focus on football.

On the field, Jackson’s patience has been tested this season. After starting 10 games as a rookie, Jackson has played mostly special teams this year after a foot injury landed him on the non-football injury list at the start of training camp.

Given an opportunity to play Sunday, Jackson held his own in the secondary. He was hoping Dwayne Haskins would throw one his way, but the Washington quarterback targeted his coverage only once (a 1-yard pass to Chris Thompson).

Jackson said he read the Bible before the game and said a long prayer before taking the field Sunday. He played in memory of his father, who played a role in getting Jackson started with football in fourth grade. Jackson said his dad was involved with all his sports, helping him work out and setting up drills.

“He’d always tell me – don’t worry about me. Just make sure you’re finishing your season strong and focus on that,” Jackson said. “I know he was strong. I know he wanted me to play. So I just tried to go out there and give it my best.”

Speaking with reporters Monday, Head Coach Matt LaFleur praised Jackson’s performance, adding the former second-round pick has “been coming along well” in a deep secondary and has had a positive impact on special teams.

Jackson will fly home to Texas on Wednesday for the funeral before returning to the team in preparation for Sunday’s game against Chicago. As emotional as Sunday was, Jackson said he tried to stay positive and focus “on the good things in life.”

“It was pretty emotional. I just tried to hold it all in,” Jackson said. “I was really just trying to be thankful for every play I was out there, every snap that I got. More just of gratitude. There’s a lot to be thankful for. That’s kind of how I felt.”

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The Green Bay Packers (8-3) look to rebound against the New York Giants (2-9) on Sunday. Follow along with updates, with the latest at the bottom of the story, and join the conversation.

Inactives
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who exited last week’s loss at San Francisco with a knee sprain, was back in his customary spot in the startling lineup. He was listed as questionable on Friday after his second consecutive limited-participation practice.

Green Bay’s inactives: safety Will Redmond (foot), CB Tony Brown (heel), running back Dexter Williams, receiver Ryan Grant, cornerback Ka’Dar Hollman and offensive linemen Adam Pankey and Yosh Nijman.

The Giants were without their two leading pass-catchers, tight end Evan Engram (foot) and receiver Golden Tate (concussion) and safety Jabrill Peppers (hip), who leads the team in tackles and forced fumbles.

First quarter
Packers 7, Giants 0 (8:43 remaining)

The score: Aaron Rodgers hit wide-open Davante Adams for an 8-yard touchdown. Two defenders followed tight end Marcedes Lewis, leaving Adams alone at the 1. He caught the ball and reached the ball across the goal line. Aaron Rodgers was 5-of-5 on the drive for 66 yards, including three catches by Adams.

Key play: On the second play from scrimmage, Rodgers completed a 43-yard bomb to Allen Lazard, who made a diving catch. Rodgers threw a nice ball just before being drilled in the midsection by Leonard Williams.

The score was set up by a three-and-out stop by the defense to open the game, with Kenny Clark blowing into the backfield and dropping Saquon Barkley for a loss of 3 on third-and-1. On the punt, Tremon Smith had a return of 3 yards – the team’s longest of the season. Fittingly, he fumbled but the ball dribbled out of bounds.

Video: Rodgers on confidence after loss to Niners

Packers 7, Giants 7 (3:16 remaining)

The score: With snow blanketing the playing surface, rookie quarterback Daniel Jones threw a strike to Sterling Shepard for an 18-yard touchdown. Shepard got just enough separation with a double move to beat cornerback Kevin King. Shepard made a diving catch in the end zone.

Key play: On fourth-and-5 from the Packers’ 33, Giants coach Pat Shurmur kept the offense on the field. The gamble paid off, with Jones having a month of Sundays in the pocket before finding receiver Darrius Slayton for a gain of 8.

Packers 14, Giants 7 (1:15 remaining)

The score: Aaron Rodgers threw one of the easiest touchdown passes of his life, a 37-yard strike to Allen Lazard. Lazard ran a post and got safety Antoine Bethea to turn his shoulders the wrong way. That got Lazard wide open for an easy score.

Key play: The Packers went 0-for-13 on third down with Rodgers at the controls last week at San Francisco. On Green Bay’s first third down of the day, a third-and-5, Rodgers ran for 15. He found an alley created by right tackle Bryan Bulaga and right guard Billy Turner, and a downfield block by Geronimo Allison gave Rodgers extra yardage.

Second quarter
Packers 17, Giants 7 (12:02 remaining)

The score: Mason Crosby improved to 14-of-15 on field goals with one of his more impressive of the season, a 47-yarder through the snow.

Key plays: The drive started at Green Bay’s 47 after cornerback Kevin King stepped in front of Daniel Jones’ third-and-10 pass. It was King’s team-leading fourth interception of the season. A couple plays later, on third-and-4, tight end Jimmy Graham made a nice grab of a low throw from Aaron Rodgers for a gain of 16 and a first down.

Packers 17, Giants 10 (2:31 remaining)

The score: Aldrick Rosas, dealing with a new long snapper and a bad field, made a 27-yard field goal to cap an 18-play drive that took 9:31 off the clock.

Key plays: Quarterback Daniel Jones converted a third-and-6 with a completion and a pair of fourth downs on runs. The first of those fourth downs was a fourth-and-1 made possible when outside linebacker Preston Smith jumped offside on third-and-6. The Packers limited the damage to a field goal, though, when Adrian Amos made a last-moment deflection of a third-and-goal pass.

Halftime
The Packers lead 17-10 and will get the ball coming out to start the third quarter. Aaron Rodgers, coming off one of the worst games of his career, was 9-of-13 passing for 129 yards, two touchdowns and a 140.7 passer rating. Allen Lazard had two catches for 80 yards and one touchdown. The Giants had a 12-7 edge in first downs and nearly a 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession but Green Bay had a 185-162 lead in yards.

Third quarter
Packers 17, Giants 10 (11:48)

Green Bay got the ball to start the second half, giving it a chance to extend its lead, but failed to do so because of the Giants’ strong run defense. On the first play after intermission, Aaron Jones was dropped for a loss of 3. The Packers overcame that with a third-and-13 completion to Allen Lazard that gained 23, but Jones was dropped for another loss of 3 on the next first down. On five runs apiece by Jones and Jamaal Williams, the Packers gained 31 yards.

Packers 17, Giants 13 (6:37 remaining)

The score: Aldrick Rosas, who hadn’t made a kick from 40-plus yards all season, nailed a 45-yarder.

Key plays: On third-and-12, quarterback Daniel Jones hit Cody Latimer for a gain of 43 yards against veteran Tramon Williams. That put the Giants into scoring position but a big pass rush by Za’Darius Smith on third-and-10 forced a field goal.

Fourth quarter
Packers 24, Giants 13 (14:22 remaining)

The score: A second-down screen to Aaron Jones lost 3 yards, setting up third-and-goal from the 17. The Giants tried to sub and Aaron Rodgers made them pay. He got the snap with 12 defenders on the field and found Davante Adams open for the touchdown.

Key plays: The Packers couldn’t move the chains to save their lives against San Francisco but got four key conversions on this drive. First, cornerback Sam Beal was flagged for interference on a pass to Adams on third-and-6. On fourth-and-10, Rodgers stood firm in the pocket and hit Geronimo Allison for a gain of 15 while getting hit by the Giants’ top rusher, Markus Golden. On third-and-2, Rodgers used a quick bootleg action and connected with Adams for 6 to make it first-and-goal at the 6. The touchdown was Adams’ 400th career reception.

Packers 31, Giants 13 (7:05 remaining)

The score: Aaron Rodgers threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Marcedes Lewis. Rodgers escaped a sack and hit “Big Dog” in the flat for the clincher.

Key plays: The drive was set up by the second career interception by rookie safety Darnell Savage. On third-and-5, Rodgers hit Geronimo Allison at the sticks for a first down. Later, on third-and-9, Davante Adams toasted defensive back Grant Haley for what would have been a touchdown if not for the pass-interference penalty. That gave Green Bay a first-and-goal at the 2.

FINAL: Packers 31, Giants 13
It didn’t take a deep dive through the stats to see why the Packers rolled. Aaron Rodgers threw four touchdown passes with a 125.4 passer rating for Green Bay. Counterpart Daniel Jones threw three interceptions with a 49.4 passer rating for New York.

The Packers improved to 9-3 with a bounce-back victory. They lead the NFC North by a half-game over Minnesota, which plays at Seattle (9-2) on Monday night.

Cornerback Kevin King, safety Darnell Savage and nickel Tramon Williams had interceptions against Jones, who had 11 touchdowns vs. one interception his past four starts.