Why Packers' win-and-get-in game may be different this time

MINNEAPOLIS -- The loudest, most celebratory moment after Sunday's win over the Minnesota Vikings came on the way into the visitors locker room when Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson mobbed Bo Melton, the most unlikely of the Green Bay Packers' pass-catchers to have the team's first 100-yard receiving game of the season.

But for as long as the memory of Melton's six-catch, 105-yard, one-touchdown performance will live in his mind, things quickly turned more serious.

After the normal locker room rah-rahs that follow a win, coach Matt LaFleur offered a reminder of what's to come and what could happen if his 8-8 team doesn't follow up this 33-10 domination with something similar in Sunday's season finale against the Chicago Bears at home (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS). A victory puts the Packers in the playoffs.

"It really means nothing unless we take care of business next week in Lambeau," LaFleur said. "We were in a similar situation a year ago and couldn't get it done. So, we know it's going to be a tremendous challenge. I think Chicago is as improved as any team when you look at them from Week 1 to where they are now.

"Obviously they've done a really, really good job the last few weeks in particular, kind of gotten on a roll, so we know it's going to be a great challenge, we know we're going to get their best shot, and I'm sure they'd love nothing more than to knock us out of the playoffs."

The Lions reveled in that a year ago, when they kept the Packers out of the playoffs with a 20-16 Week 18 win at Lambeau Field in what was Aaron Rodgers' final game in Green Bay.

Now it's Jordan Love's turn. What better way to cap his first season as a starter than to beat the Bears and make the playoffs. One of Love's best games -- a four-touchdown (three passing, one rushing) outing that knocked the Vikings out of the postseason picture -- set all this up.

What was unfathomable in late October when the Packers were 2-5 now is just one game away from reality.

"It hasn't been easy all year," said Love, who became just the fourth Packers quarterback to throw 30 touchdowns in a season. "There's been a lot of highs and lows, a lot of adversity, and we didn't know what to expect coming into the year. We didn't have any expectations, so I think everybody's just continued to work, continued to find ways to get better, and we're controlling our destiny right now. So, I'm excited to go handle business next week."

Love has, in part, Melton to thank for that. The Packers entered Week 17 as one of only two teams that didn't have a player with a 100-yard receiving game this season. The receiver was elevated from the practice squad on Saturday after it became clear that Watson and Dontayvion Wicks would be unavailable. Before the Vikings game, he had five catches for 51 yards in his entire pro career.

Melton's performance could offer a glimpse into why this Week 18 game might turn out differently than last season's. While the Packers might not have a star receiver, they've proved time and again that they're not dependent on one player.

They have Jayden Reed, who, before he left with a chest injury Sunday, caught six passes for 89 yards and two touchdowns to break Sterling Sharpe's franchise record for rookie receptions (55 set in 1988).

They have Doubs, and perhaps they'll have Watson and Wicks back Sunday.

They have rookie tight end Tucker Kraft, who has become as reliable as anyone in the absence of fellow rookie Luke Musgrave, who also could be back from a lacerated kidney.

And they have running back Aaron Jones, who now has consecutive 100-yard rushing games.

It was Jones who summed up the feeling among those who experienced last season's disappointment in the finale.

"We know what it felt like last year to come up short -- it was one of the worst feelings," he said. "You're right there and you lose to a team who can't get into a playoffs, so we're not going to let that happen again."