GREEN BAY, Wis. — At the start of November, the Los Angeles Rams were 7-1 and in the hunt for a bye in the first round of the playoffs. The team’s general manager, Les Snead, built on that momentum by trading for the star linebacker Von Miller and signing wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. after his release from the Cleveland Browns.
The Green Bay Packers have taken a more measured approach even though their quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, has often said he wants the team to add more offensive weapons to its already-potent roster. Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst made no notable midseason additions despite a slew of starters missing games because of injury or testing positive for Covid-19.
On Sunday, the Packers’ temperance trumped the Rams’ win-at-all-costs strategy when the N.F.C. rivals faced off at Lambeau Field. In a rematch of their divisional round playoff game last season, the Packers once again beat the Rams, this time, 36-28.
The Packers improved to 9-3 and are a half-game behind the Arizona Cardinals (9-2) for the best record in the N.F.C. Despite their splashy acquisitions, the Rams have lost three consecutive games and have fallen to 7-4. Only the top seed in each conference earns a first-round bye, and the Packers would hold the tiebreaker over the Cardinals if the teams ended up with the same record because of their win against Arizona in Week 8.
Playing in freezing conditions, the Packers controlled the ball for much of the game and took advantage of several Rams miscues to build an early lead that they never relinquished. The Packers’ defense, which has yielded the fewest points at home in the league this season, stifled the Rams’ passing attack for much of the game.
Despite their banged up lineup that included Rodgers, who had a fractured toe, the Packers controlled the tempo of the game. Rodgers flicked passes to receivers Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Randall Cobb, all of whom had long receptions to set up scores. Cobb had been one of Rodgers’s most reliable targets in his first eight seasons with the Packers before being released before the 2019 season. Rodgers lobbied the team to trade for the slot receiver this July.
Adams, who had eight catches for 104 yards, said after the game that Rodgers had not let his injury affect his play. Rodgers said after the game that his foot got stepped on during the fourth quarter and he dealt with some pain in his injured toe.
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“On the sideline, you can see it’s bugging him based on the body language,” Adams said. But “he doesn’t let it get in the way.”
The Packers scored first after Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford fumbled the ball deep in the Rams’ half of the field. Rodgers beat Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey to the end zone to put the Packers up, 7-0, at the end of the first quarter.
Later in the first half, Rodgers connected with Cobb for 54 yards, leading to a Packers field goal.
Rodgers was 28 for 45 passing for 307 yards and two touchdowns to go with his one rushing score.
The Rams’ high-powered offense looked flummoxed for much of the game. Eager not to let the game slip away early like he did in last year’s playoff game, Rams Coach Sean McVay elected to run the ball on fourth-and-1 from the Los Angeles 29-yard line. However, running back Darrell Henderson, Jr. was stopped at the line of scrimmage. The Packers kicked a field goal four plays later.
The Rams, though, have a potent passing game, which they showed off when Stafford hit receiver Van Jefferson Jr. for a 79-yard touchdown score in the second quarter. The Rams, too, capitalized on a Packers mistake, adding a field goal after Cobb bobbled a punt that was recovered by Robert Rochell.
Stafford was 21 for 38 passing for 302 yards. He threw for three touchdowns and one interception.
But Rodgers, the league’s reigning most valuable player, looked comfortable all game, routinely throwing into double coverage. In the second quarter, he found Adams down the sideline for a 43-yard completion. Two plays later, he threw a 7-yard touchdown to Cobb to push the Packers’ lead to 20-10.
Before the half, Stafford hit Henderson with a 6-yard pass for a touchdown to narrow the score, 20-17, an achievement considering that the Packers had the ball for twice as long as the Rams.
The Packers used the same formula in the second half. Rodgers hit Valdes-Scantling for a 28-yard gain, then connected with tight end Josiah Deguara for a 12-yard completion on fourth down. Running back A.J. Dillon caught a 5-yard touchdown pass to finish off a 13-play drive that consumed more than half of the third quarter.
The Packers put the game out of reach with less than two minutes left in the third quarter when cornerback Rasul Douglas jumped in front of Rams receiver Cooper Kupp to pick off Stafford. Douglas sprinted untouched for 33 yards into the end zone.
“As soon as I got the ball, I thought about getting a Lambeau Leap,” Douglas said, referring to the tradition of Packers players jumping into the crowd after a score. “We’re a great team when we get turnovers. We feed off that.”
For all their hype, the Rams’ big-name acquisitions did not have the outsized impact that Snead may have hoped they would. Beckham was targeted 10 times, catching five balls for 81 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown.
Miller finished with five tackles.
For all his pleas for offensive help, discord with the Packers front office, and jabs at the response to his inflammatory comments about the Covid-19 vaccine, Rodgers, 37, continues to perform like a star quarterback. His production is below his torrid pace last season, but Rodgers has thrown 23 touchdown passes to four interceptions and has posted the fifth-highest quarterback rating in his 17-year career.
“It was a difficult situation for all of us, but I think that we feel good now,” Mark Murphy, the Packers team president, said before the game. “He’s obviously playing at a high level and he’s a tremendous leader for our team.”