By Tori Wittenbrock
Associate Sports Editor
GREEN BAY – Green Bay Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur said that after a season full of hard work and dedication from the players and staff, everyone is starting to see their efforts pay off.
First and foremost, LaFleur said that he was proud of his team for their performance in facing such a tough opponent.
“That was a complete football game, really in every phase, for four quarters,” said LaFleur.
Amid struggles of their own — especially early on in the season — the Packers (8-8) can relate to some of the obstacles faced by the Minnesota Vikings (7-9) in their game on Sunday, Dec. 30 — which resulted in a 33-10 victory for the Packers.
“I know they were short handed a lot of guys, but, you know, we’ve been down that road, too. We’ve had a lot of guys step up. It was great to see guys like Bo Melton, who got a hundred yards and his first touchdown. Corey Ballentine, stepping up and getting the call last minute to go in there and start,” said LaFleur.
LaFleur said that he was particularly proud of Melton for his success on the field and how he has worked to earn his spot on the team.
“From Day 1 that Bo got here, just an unbelievable attitude and an unbelievable approach. He’s been team first all the way, brings great energy, takes great pride in his work,” said LaFleur. “Just really happy for him, because he’s earned it.”
Despite his movement on the roster, Melton had six receptions for 105 yards with one touchdown in their New Year’s Eve game.
However, with one game left in the regular season, the Packers know that they have to focus on the task at hand in order to get the outcome they want against their longtime rivals, the Chicago Bears.
“A lot of great performances tonight, but we also understand what we have in front of us and it really means nothing unless we take care of business next week in Lambeau. We were in a similar situation a year ago and we couldn’t get it done, so we know it is going to be a tremendous challenge,” said LaFleur.
Though the Packers bested the Bears (7-9) handily in their first matchup of the season on Sept. 10, with the final score being 38-20, Green Bay knows that they cannot take them for granted.
“I think Chicago is as improved as any team when you look at them from Week 1 to where they are now. Obviously, they have done a really good job, the last few weeks in particular and have kind of gotten on a roll. We know it’s going to be a great challenge and we know we are going to get their best shot and I’m sure they would love nothing more than to knock us out of the playoffs,” said LaFleur.
LaFleur said that although the team has to focus on taking care of business at home on Sunday, Jan. 7th, he was thrilled to see his defense come out swinging after a series of poor performances and facing pressure from outside.
“I thought our defense came out to play. I think you’ve got to give hats off to Joe Barry and our defensive staff for coming up with a great game plan. I know he has taken a lot of heat lately. It’s one game, but I was happy for him, our staff, and our players to go out there and put on a performance against, I think, a really good offense.”
The defense, however, were not the only ones to show up on Sunday. LaFleur said that the offense took care of business with their young crew and proved their hard work is worth more than experience in the league.
LaFleur said that one offensive player in particular that he was proud of was Packers Wide Receiver Jayden Reed.
Reed had six receptions for 89 yards and two touchdowns in their game against the Vikings.
“He’s been battling all season, just fighting through. He’s had a lot of pain, I’ll put it that way. For him to go out there and put on a performance like that I thought was huge,” said LaFleur. “He’s as gritty as they come.”
At the helm of the young offense is Packers Quarterback Jordan Love, who LaFleur said has been exceptional for their team this season as a leader both on and off the field. LaFleur said that he believes Love has exceeded expectations and will only continue to show increased performance as he gains experience in the league.
“There’s a lot of hard work that’s been put in and I think we’ve evolved as an offense. I think there’s a learning curve any time you’ve got a bunch of new players and you’re trying to find out what everybody does well,” said LaFleur. “I think Jordan Love is — I can’t say enough great things about him. His ability to hang in there with some tough looks, drifting away from pressure, putting the ball in play, allowing his guys to go make plays. I think he is playing at an incredibly high level.”
LaFleur said that everyone’s hard work has been paying off at this point in the season, but he is especially proud of Love for his efforts to get the team in playoff position despite the many drawbacks this season.
In their most recent game against the Vikings, Love was 24/33 with completed passes and threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns.
“I’m super happy for him because he has put in a ton of work to get to this point and I really think the sky’s the limit for him. I think he is just showing a glimpse of what he can ultimately be. He’s been more consistent as the season has progressed with a young group around him and I think the guys around him have performed at a higher level,” said LaFleur.
LaFleur said that at the end of the day, the trust and positive relationship between himself and Love is what is to blame for their rhythm on offense in the past few games.
“I think there is a lot of good communication throughout the week, and understanding why we are calling certain things and what we are trying to get to. What I think has been the biggest difference is just the trust in terms of the trust that I have for him and when it’s not the right look to go out there and not make a bad play worse or to even get us out of a bad play,” said LaFleur.
Though the season is not over yet, the Packers have clinched a wild card spot in the playoffs where they will take the No. 7 seed as they face the No. 2 seed, the Dallas Cowboys led by Dak Prescott — provided all three phases are able to show up on Sunday, Jan. 7, as they face the Chicago Bears at Lambeau at 3:25 p.m.