The Green Bay blowout just about everyone had expected never materialized.
Aaron Rodgers connected with Donald Driver for a 4-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, Mason Crosby made up for an earlier miss with a 25-yard field goal and Green Bay escaped with a surprisingly tough 24-15 victory Sunday over the NFL's worst team, the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"It was definitely a grind-it-out type victory today," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
Not a real pretty one, either. Still, it gave the Packers (5-3) a third straight victory.
"It's good to be on this side of an ugly win," Rodgers said. "The way we played on offense, especially the last couple weeks, the expectations were we were going to come out and maybe blow them out. But we didn't start fast, we didn't have enough juice early on and didn't play well enough on offense to get that done."
Rodgers was 22 of 35 for 186 yards and two touchdowns, which moved him past Bart Starr into second place on the Green Bay career list with 153. Brett Favre holds the Packers record with 442 TDs.
James Jones had seven catches for 31 yards, and Green Bay's special teams chipped in with yet another score, recovering a blocked punt for a touchdown for the first time in 22 years. Davon House blocked Bryan Anger's kick in the second quarter, and the ball rolled around until Dezman Moses fell on it in the end zone.
"You never know which play is going to be the play that determines the game," Moses said. "It turned out being a lot closer game than we expected. So all those plays count, and that was definitely a big one."
The Jaguars (1-6) are the NFL's worst team even when they have Maurice Jones-Drew. With their best player out because of a foot injury and Blaine Gabbert nursing an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, Jacksonville figured to be an easy mark for the Packers.
"They're an NFL team, not to get that wrong, but the Jacksonville Jaguars stayed around in Lambeau Field," Jermichael Finley said. "They were supposed to have been under the Frozen Tundra at halftime."
Instead, the Jaguars were in it right until the end.
They put up 341 yards of offense, more than 100 above their average, and got big contributions from Cecil Shorts and Rashad Jennings, Jones-Drew's backup. Jennings rushed for 59 yards and added another 56 yards receiving. Shorts had a career-best 116 yards on eight catches, including a 24-yard reception to set up Josh Scobee's 32-yard field goal that cut Green Bay's lead to 21-15 with 6:50 left.
But Gabbert — who had his first 300-yard day, going 27 of 49 for 303 yards — came up empty on key plays of two critical drives in the fourth quarter, and the Jaguars hurt themselves repeatedly with drops and untimely penalties.
"I hate to stand up here again with another loss, but ... there's some positives that we can take from this game," Jacksonville coach Mike Mularkey said. "We came into a tough environment and some guys had to step up and make some plays for us. Including our quarterback, which I thought he did."
Green Bay's offense hadn't missed a beat without top receiver Greg Jennings, who will have surgery Tuesday to repair the torn abdominal muscle that has sidelined him for most of the season. Jordy Nelson and James Jones picked up much of the slack, and the emergence of Randall Cobb gave Rodgers yet another weapon.
Nelson was sidelined Sunday by a bad hamstring, however, and losing their two top receivers was almost too much for the Packers.
"We had some tough sledding, particularly early with the no-huddle," McCarthy said. "Our production in the run game needs to improve. We came in here to be a little more balanced run and pass. Statistically we hit that, but the efficiency was not there."
The Packers managed just 238 yards on offense, and were 5 of 13 on third down. The running game was flat, and receivers weren't finding the open spaces they had the last two weeks. Even Rodgers struggled, getting sacked hard on back-to-back drives at the end of the first half and losing the ball on the second hit.
Rodgers appeared to find his groove late in the third quarter with a drive in which he was 5-of-6, including a 9-yard pass to James Jones that put the Packers at the Jaguars 14. Green Bay has been the league's toughest team in the red zone this season, with 18 touchdowns on 25 possessions inside the 20. But the Packers failed to pick up the remaining yard on second and third down, and they were left clinging to a 14-12 lead after Crosby clanged a 32-yard field goal attempt off the right upright.
The defense shut the Jaguars down again — Jacksonville gained only 108 yards in the second half — and, this time, the Packers capitalized.
Rodgers found Jones for a 31-yard gain up the middle, then hit Randall Cobb for a short gain. A tripping penalty against the Jaguars gave the Packers the ball at the 4-yard line and, two plays later, Rodgers and Driver connected for the score.
"He's going to make the most of his opportunities," Rodgers said. "We know what we get out of Donald. We know what kind of player he is, what kind of professional. And when he gets opportunities, he's going to make the most of them."
The Jaguars marched to the Green Bay 12, only to stall on back-to-back incompletions by Gabbert. Scobee kicked his third field goal of the day, but then booted the kickoff out of bounds, giving the Packers the ball at their own 40 with less than 7 minutes left. But a quick three-and-out gave the Jaguars the ball back with a chance to make things interesting.
After Gabbert's first two passes to Blackmon from midfield fell incomplete, they finally connected on the third try for a 6-yard gain. They went for it on fourth down, but the only player who got near the ball was Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams.
"We did some good things offensively," Gabbert said. "But when you get in the red zone three times and only come away with one touchdown, you're not going to win many games."
Notes: Scobee has now made 20 straight field goals, tying Mike Hollis' franchise record. ... The blocked punt was the first by the Packers since Sept. 29, 2003, and first returned for a touchdown since Dec. 2, 1990. ... Driver appeared in his 200th regular season game, joining Favre as the only Packers to accomplish the milestone. Driver is the 22nd wide receiver in the NFL to play in 200 games. ... Packers DE Jerel Worthy left the game with a concussion. DE Mike Neal injured his ankle. ... After just five sacks in their first six games, the Jaguars got to Rodgers twice.
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