MIAMI — The Green Bay Packers pulled off a big comeback to beat the Miami Dolphins 26-20 on Christmas Day. Miami jumped to a 20-10 lead, but the Packers’ defense registered three fourth-quarter interceptions to give Miami its fourth loss in a row after winning five straight from Weeks 7-12.
Miami receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle both had big days, but it was the picks by Packers defenders Jaire Alexander, De’Vondre Campbell and Rasul Douglas that made the difference. Both teams’ playoff hopes are still alive, with Green Bay moving to 7-8 and Miami sliding to 8-7. Let’s take a closer look at Sunday’s matchup and what comes next for both franchises.
The Packers got all the gifts they needed from their fellow NFC playoff contenders on Christmas Eve. They saved the biggest one for themselves on Christmas Day. A day after the Seahawks, Giants, Lions and Commanders all lost, the Packers did their part, pulling to within a half game of the Commanders for the final wild-card spot in the NFC. With home games left against the Vikings and Lions to close the regular season, the Packers’ playoff chances went from 17% before the game to 37% after it, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. The Packers simplest path to the playoffs is winning out and getting either (1) a Washington loss or (2) two Giants losses. Per ESPN Stats & Information, there are still possibilities at 8-9, as well.
The Packers have their defense to thank. Yes, the defense that has been a disappointment all season and let Tua Tagovailoa throw it wherever he wanted in the first half. But the unit came up with three consecutive interceptions in the fourth quarter, including the game-clincher by Rasul Douglas with 1:27 left in the game.
An aggressive game plan by coach Matt LaFleur also paid off. The Packers went for it five times on fourth down and converted three. They converted fourth downs on three of their first four scoring drives. It was the first time they’ve converted three fourth downs in the same game since Week 12 of the 2020 season. And now with three straight wins, the Packers have matched their longest winning streak of the season. It was their third win of the season when trailing by double-digits after beating the Cowboys in Week 10 and the Bears in Week 13. Before Sunday, Aaron Rodgers had never had three double-digit comebacks in the same season.
Promising trend: Keisean Nixon is for real. In case there were any doubts (even though he came into the game with a league-leading three kickoff returns of 50-plus yards), he showed his explosion again on Sunday. Days after being named a Pro Bowl alternate as a return specialist, he took one 93 yards in the first quarter against the Dolphins. To keep the ball out of Nixon’s hands, the Dolphins squib-kicked their next kickoff giving the Packers a short field that they turned into a touchdown. However, Nixon, who had been dealing a groin injury, dropped out in the second quarter and did not return.
Troubling trend: The Packers have gotten only three points out of Nixon’s past two big kickoff returns. They managed just a field goal after his 93-yarder on Sunday. The Packers entered Sunday with the worst goal-to-go efficiency in the NFL this season at 50%. After starting at the Dolphins’ 9-yard line, they lost 9 yards and settled for a field goal. That’s three more points than they got after Nixon’s 52-yard return against the Rams last week. Green Bay was two-of-five in the red zone on Sunday.
Keisean Nixon returns a kick 93 yards to give the Packers great field position on their first drive.
Promising trend, Part II: LaFleur remains undefeated as a head coach in the month of December. He’s now 15-0. The Packers had won the first 14 of those games by an average margin of 10.1 points per game. They have not lost in December since the 2018 season finale.
Troubling trend, Part II: In addition to Nixon’s injury, the Packers also lost receiver Christian Watson to a hip injury. He was off to one of his most productive starts with a season-high six catches for 49 yards in the first half. That was two more than his previous season-high in catches. They also lost right tackle Young Nijman (shoulder) and defensive tackle Dean Lowry (calf). — Rob Demovsky
Underrated statistic to know: Rodgers finished with 192 yards and a touchdown against the blitz on Sunday, his second-most passing yards against the blitz over the past five seasons. The Dolphins blitzed Rodgers on 26 dropbacks on Sunday, the most times he has been blitzed in a game since Week 15 of 2017.
Next game: vs. Vikings (4:25 p.m. ET, Jan. 1)
The Dolphins’ Christmas was neither holly, nor jolly — and instead of a Yule Log, their entire month of December is burning in the fireplace. They finish the month of December winless for just the second time in franchise history. This loss coming to an NFC opponent is somewhat of a silver lining, considering it doesn’t drastically impact their playoff chances, but they will likely need to beat both the Patriots and Jets in their final two games in order to snap a five-year playoff drought.
On paper, Miami played a decent game. Its 376 yards of offense is more than its season average, it held the Packers to just 2-for-7 on third down and averaged 8.4 yards per play. The backbreaker? Turnovers. The Dolphins turned the ball over four times Sunday, including all three of Tagovailoa’s interceptions and a Raheem Mostert fumble. They’ve lost five of their six games this season in which they turned the ball over multiple times.
Tagovailoa, in particular, was uncharacteristically cavalier with the ball, and there should be legitimate concern about the Dolphins’ ability to operate when their timing is disrupted. The Jets and Patriots own the NFL’s fourth- and eighth-best defenses in terms of yards per game. So buckle up, Dolphins fans, for a potentially rocky finish.
Describe the game in two words: Lamborghini and Ferrari. Dolphins wide receiver Hill once compared himself and fellow receiver Waddle to the two luxury sports car makers, and they looked like it Sunday afternoon. Waddle and Hill were the entirety of Miami’s offense, combining for 246 yards and a touchdown on nine catches. Outside of those two, there wasn’t much to write home about from the Dolphins’ perspective.
QB breakdown: Tagovailoa thrived on the big play in the first half, completing nine of 12 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown — including an 84-yard TD pass to Waddle and a 52-yard catch for Hill. He looked sharper than he did at the beginning of December as the Dolphins continue to re-discover their offensive rhythm, but he threw a head-scratching interception deep in Miami’s territory to set up the Packers’ go-ahead field goal early in the fourth quarter. He compounded a rough second half with another fourth-quarter interception on the Dolphins’ following drive and then a third one to end the game, marking the first time in his career he has thrown interceptions on three straight drives.
Overall, Tagovailoa finished with 310 passing yards and one TD, and he seemed to build off his strong performance against Buffalo in Week 15 — but made enough mistakes to shoulder his share of the blame for Miami’s loss.
Promising/troubling trend: The Dolphins are good for at least one highly-explosive play per game as of late. Waddle’s 84-yard touchdown in the first quarter extended their streak to four straight games with at least one touchdown of 60 or more yards. These plays aren’t usually sustainable to rely upon, so it’s up to you whether you see this as a promising or troubling trend … but it’s a trend, either way. The Dolphins have only put together two scoring drives over their past four games that didn’t involve an explosive play. These plays obviously still count, but Miami is not sustaining drives and only has five red-zone trips over its past four games — one of which coming off a turnover on downs at the Packers’ own 20-yard line. —Marcel Louis-Jacques
Jaylen Waddle catches a short pass from Tua Tagovailoa and outruns the Packers’ defense for an 84-yard score.
Underrated statistic to know: The Packers slowed down the Dolphins’ play-action passing game in the second half. In the first half, Miami was 5-of-6 with 176 yards and a score. In the second half? Two-of-five for 40 yards and a pick.
Next game: at Patriots (1 p.m. ET, Jan. 1)