Pa Carmen Vital
FOX Sports NFC North Writer

It’s not hard to see: Aaron Rodgers still not comfortable.

Green Bay expected to defeat the team in overtime 27-24 New England Patriots Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field, but it was stressful. Afterward, the Patriots worked with their rookie third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer left the game with a concussion. Bailey Zappe took the reins and helped the team score another 21 points, even looking more composed than his veteran counterpart at times.

“A win is a win,” Rodgers said after the game. “Ugly first half. Good second half. I felt like we got into a rhythm in the second half with some game demands. I settled in and usually there aren’t two terrible halves. I kind of got back to the form I expected for myself and we began to move football.”

The first half Rodgers talked about included actually helping the Patriots score seven of those 21 points thanks to just the fourth pick-six of his career. New England cornerback Jack Jones jumped off an outside route and ran 40 yards to the house in the second quarter to cap a bonus possession for Packers short. It came after the outside midfielder Rushan Gary sacked Hoyer, knocking him out of the game and Green Bay having the ball. Rodgers’ pass in the next series was intended for the de facto No. 1 receiver Allen Lazard, but it ended up being just the second pick he ever threw in front of his home crowd at Lambeau Field. Rodgers’ passer rating in the first half was 11.2.

From there, things got a lot better for the Packers and their QB. At the start of the second half, Rodgers had more passes than the previous two quarters combined. Green Bay improved dramatically on third down, going from one of five attempts to five of nine in the second half. ​​​​​​​Even so, Rodgers and the Green Bay staff weren’t expecting the level they expected from a team expected to make a deep run in the playoffs this season.

It speaks to the broader fact that Green Bay has yet to figure out its offensive identity this season. There are many moving and unsettled parts to this offense. Constant adjustments are needed, as we can see.

Rogers doesn’t quite trust the newcomers Christian Watson and Romeo Dub. The Packers are still soft on the tight end Robert Tonian returned from an ACL injury last season. Left tackle David Bakhtiari is on the count. And, uh, I should Elgton Jenkins continue to play on the correct tack?

If you need more proof, just look at who Rodgers threw to when he desperately needed a completion. It was Lazard who had three catches of more than 20 yards in the game. It was Randall Cobb, who converted two crucial third downs when the Packers needed them most. This wasn’t someone without a few years of NFL experience, and particularly with Rodgers under his belt.

Yes, Watson caught his first NFL touchdown on Sunday, but it wasn’t a pass. It was in the final game, giving him the Packers’ first receiving touchdown since 2016, before head coach Matt Lafleur. Dubs caught his second touchdown of the season, the 500th of Rodgers’ career. But when is the time for Oak? A 40-yarder flew beautifully from Rodgers right into Dubs’ hands, but Dubs lost the ball as soon as it fell to the ground in the end zone, leading to an incomplete pass on third-and-8 in the fourth quarter. It could have been the winning touchdown. No overtime required.

That’s why Rodgers won’t go to his rookies. That is why he limits his own possibilities. He’s just not comfortable.

And as long as Rodgers is comfortable, Green Bay is in survival mode: play good defense and run the damn ball.

It works.

The defense, and Gary in particular, did their job and more so against New England — especially considering they were missing a cornerback. Jair Alexander and saw security Adrian Amos be kicked out of the game early. Gary finished the night with two sacks, including a strip sack, and seven combined tackles, including a tackle for loss. Defensive reception Jaron Reid had another good game, recording a sack and actually leading the team in tackles. The Packers defense had five tackles before halftime, keeping Green Bay in the game as the offense sputtered.

This Green Bay offense relies heavily on its running back tandem of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. Jones had his second 100-plus-yard game this season. Dillon himself carried the ball 17 times for 73 yards. The Packers appeared to run more plays with Jones and Dillon on the field at the same time than they have all season, and Green Bay ended up rushing for 199 yards on the day. Thirty-five of their 71 offensive plays were runs.

The approach is made more sustainable by the fact that they can use each back for something different. LaFleur said after the game that they ran Dillon more at the end because they caused so much more downfield. Before that, they ran more outside the zone where Jones thrives. They can vary their play in a game, and that is undoubtedly a strength of the team in its current iteration.

There are small flashes of improvement if you look closely as well, even if they aren’t as noticeable.

“I was proud of our guys,” Lafleur said after the game. “We talk about how you respond to adversity, and I thought there was a lot of adversity throughout the game and our guys stuck together. They’re not always going to be pretty wins, and I’m fine. You can criticize us, that’s cool, but (the main thing) we found a way to win.”

They found a way to win this week. They found a way to beat arguably their biggest NFC rival in Tampa last week. And while finding ways to win each week, they may also find their offensive identity along the way.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen previously appeared with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added a Super Bowl title (and a boat parade appearance) to her resume. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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