Alexander playing major role in Packers’ late-season surge

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers enter their regular-season finale controlling their playoff fate in part because their lone Pro Bowl selection has cemented his status as one of the league’s top cornerbacks.

Jaire Alexander already had a career-high five interceptions this season before delivering one of his top performances yet Sunday in a 41-17 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Alexander helped the Packers limit Vikings star Justin Jefferson to one catch...

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers enter their regular-season finale controlling their playoff fate in part because their lone Pro Bowl selection has cemented his status as one of the league’s top cornerbacks.

Jaire Alexander already had a career-high five interceptions this season before delivering one of his top performances yet Sunday in a 41-17 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Alexander helped the Packers limit Vikings star Justin Jefferson to one catch for 15 yards.

The Packers (8-8) will earn their fourth straight playoff berth if they beat the Detroit Lions (8-8) at home Sunday night for their fifth consecutive victory.

“It’s playoff football from here on out, and it’s been that way for weeks,” Alexander said after the Vikings game. “It shouldn’t change.”

Alexander received a four-year, $84 million contract extension in the offseason even after a shoulder injury caused him to play just four games in 2021. Alexander said during the offseason that the “sky’s the limit” for Green Bay’s secondary because “the general’s back.”

After a slow start to the season, that secondary finally is playing to that level. The Packers picked off Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins three times Sunday and have nine interceptions during Green Bay’s four-game winning streak.

Alexander shut down Jefferson, who had caught nine passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns in a season-opening 23-7 victory over the Packers.

The Packers began that Sept. 11 matchup in zone coverage rather than simply lining Alexander up against Jefferson all game.

Alexander called Jefferson’s performance in that game a “fluke” last week. Alexander acknowledged his coaches weren’t happy with that comment.

“But that’s just the confidence I have in myself, and the people around me,” Alexander said. “So, hey, it is what it is.”

With more opportunities to guard Jefferson on Sunday, Alexander delivered.

The Packers will need a big game from him again as Green Bay’s secondary deals with Detroit’s Amon-Ra St. Brown.

St. Brown had eight catches for 109 yards and a touchdown when the Lions beat the Packers 37-30 in the final week of the 2021 regular season. In the Lions’ 15-9 victory over the Packers at Detroit this season, St. Brown had four receptions for 55 yards.

“This guy, he is a tough competitor,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Monday. He is a dog. His ability to win his one-on-ones, to make tough catches, to get YAC (yards after catch), he’s a scrappy dude.”

Alexander has many of those same characteristics. He wants to prove Green Bay’s secondary is as good as his preseason comments suggested.

“The secondary all year, we always say, like, we’re the best,” Alexander said. “We’re the best in the league. It’s about longevity in this league, so you can start off hot, but some people tail off in the end. But it’s like we just keep rising.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The Packers have had 12 takeaways over their past four games. That matches their total number through their first 12 games of the season. The Packers had a minus-5 turnover margin in their 4-8 start, but are plus-9 over their past four games.

WHAT NEEDS WORK

The Packers had a punt blocked that gave the Vikings first-and-goal at the 1, setting up a field goal that gave Minnesota an early 3-0 lead. That blocked punt came one week after the Packers had an unsuccessful fake punt attempt in Green Bay’s 26-20 victory at Miami.

STOCK UP

CB/KR Keisean Nixon scored on a 105-yard kickoff return a week after his 93-yard return set up a field goal. … S Darnell Savage, who was benched earlier in the season, regained a featured role on defense last week and scored on a 75-yard interception return Sunday as he returned to the starting lineup. … RB Aaron Jones has been playing through ankle and knee injuries, but still rushed for 111 yards on 14 carries. … K Mason Crosby made a 56-yard field goal — the longest ever by a Packer at Lambeau Field — while playing his 257th consecutive game to overtake London Fletcher for the fourth-longest streak in NFL history. The only players with longer streaks of consecutive games played are Jeff Feagles (352), Brett Favre (299) and Jim Marshall (282).

STOCK DOWN

WR Christian Watson couldn’t keep up that torrid midseason pace forever. After scoring eight touchdowns (seven receiving, one rushing) in a four-game stretch that ended Dec. 4 at Chicago, the rookie second-round pick has 11 catches for 106 yards and no touchdowns over his past three games. He had one reception for 11 yards Sunday while playing through a hip injury.

INJURED

K Ramiz Ahmed was activated from the practice squad to handle kickoffs Sunday, but suffered a groin injury in pregame warmups.

KEY NUMBER

105/75 — Nixon and Savage made the Packers the first team ever to score on a kickoff return of at least 105 yards and an interception return of at least 75 yards in the same game, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The previous team to score on a kickoff return of at least 100 yards and an interception return of at least 75 yards was Minnesota in 2016.

NEXT STEPS

The Packers reach the playoffs as the NFC’s No. 7 seed if they beat the Lions. If the Seattle Seahawks lose at home to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, the Lions could get to the playoffs by beating the Packers.

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