Red Flags For These Contenders

The season certainly didn't end on Monday night at Chicago but there are a lot of nagging questions that need answers before these Packers can be called championship contenders

CHICAGO – First, the foreword: The season is not over and nothing that happened on Monday night at Chicago means the Green Bay Packers can't or won't fulfill their lofty expectations.

With that said, it's what happens going forward that matters in the wake of this bitterly disappointing 20-17 loss to the Chicago Bears.

Are the Packers' special teams as good as they played in the first two games? Or, in light of Monday's atrocious performance, were those games only a mirage that the misdeeds of the last two years haven't been cured?

Same sort of questions about the penalties. The Packers were much better in that regard but were hit with a team-record 18 penalties on Monday. What's the norm and what's the exception?

The Packers couldn't run the ball for a second consecutive week. Heck, they didn't even bother on Monday. The Colts showed last year that you can be a dominant team with the "run" section of the playbook collecting dust, but can the Packers survive on a weekly basis with a play-calling ratio of 47 passes to 13 runs? Against the Bears, the Packers moved the ball well enough to win the game but defenses are certain to adjust now that all of those quick-hitting passes have been put on film.

For a team with so much talent and such a golden opportunity to compete for a championship, there are far too many nagging questions. To be sure, it's only September and there's plenty of time to get those problems fixed. But those red flags are hard to ignore, and they cost the Packers the opportunity to put an early choke hold on the NFC North, considering they would have been a game up on the Bears (with the rematch at Lambeau) and two up on the struggling Vikings.

Let's start with the run game, which churned out 43 yards on 13 attempts once you discard Aaron Rodgers' scrambles. There was only one truly positive run the entire game, and that was a shotgun toss to John Kuhn that gained 18 yards. That means the other 12 rushing attempts gained 25 yards.

So, for anyone who thought otherwise, the Packers' badly miss Ryan Grant. And no, Brandon Jackson isn't the answer. And what on God's green earth are they going to do when that green earth is frozen over and covered in white?

"Frankly, not ever calling a game against Rod Marinelli so I was curious to see how he'd defend us and the matchups and the pass protection and how the game flows," coach Mike McCarthy said when asked about his play-calling. "We did not run the ball at all in the first half very well and I think we were able to get it going a little bit in the second half. We took what was there. I felt we moved the ball very well but we didn't score points. The penalties factored into our point (production)."

Oh, those penalties. Eighteen of them – 10 on offense, six on defense and two on special teams. One of the big ones was thrown on veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher, who was flagged for holding Julius Peppers on Rodgers' 15-yard touchdown pass to Jermichael Finley. Rodgers' moved out of the pocket, and when Peppers reacted by changing his pass-rushing path, Tauscher got a tug on Peppers' jersey.

"That's not the way we play. That's disappointing. We're not that team," Rodgers said. "We took points off the board and then we took big plays off the board, as well. I think it was 10-7 and I hit Jermichael for a touchdown and it got called back by a holding and we got the field goal blocked. That's a big, big change in points. When you lose by three points That's a big, big change in points. When you lose by three points, you point to plays like that. Unfortunately, that's what hurt us tonight."

But that wasn't the end of the penalties. Not by a long shot. After a cramping Rodgers got a calf massage and scored the go-ahead touchdown with a 3-yard run, Nick Barnett made a diving interception against Jay Cutler. Sorry, rookie linebacker Frank Zombo deposited Cutler to the turf with a helmet to the quarterback's chest. That led to the tying field goal.

And the Bears scored the winning points when rookie safety Morgan Burnett ran through receiver Earl Bennett to foil Nick Collins' interception.

"Too many. Seventeen penalties, obviously a factor in the outcome of the game," McCarthy said, and who can blame him for losing count. "The presnap penalties -- on the field, we didn't do a very good job of handling the backed-up area. We talked about them at halftime, addressed them with the football team, and we came out and had three in the first offensive series. It obviously factored in the game from our perspective. It held us back from point generation and it definitely held them, particularly on the last drive and their drives to get points. Obviously, it's a huge factor in the outcome of the game."

So was Devin Hester's first punt return for a touchdown in about three years. It was the lowlight of a horrific night by the Packers' special teams, who had played so well against Philadelphia and Buffalo to start the season. Hester almost had two returns for touchdowns, there was an illegal block, a kickoff out of bounds and a blocked field goal that ruined a 13-play drive to open the second half.

"I would have liked to have kicked the ball out of bounds, in light of what had gone on in the ballgame earlier," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "We kicked one like that and got down there and had good coverage; then we hit a poor punt and fortunately Tim made the tackle. So I wanted the ball out of bounds. They were in a six-man box (rush), had no problem on the edge. He's got to get it on the sideline."

And then there were other gaffes. James Jones' lackadaisical handling of the ball led to him being stripped by wise and savvy pro Brian Urlacher. That turned the Packers' potential game-winning drive into the Bears' game-winning drive. McCarthy stupidly challenged the ruling that the Bears recovered. That loss of a timeout prevented him from calling timeout on that final drive, so Green Bay's only hope was a Stanford-Cal series of laterals on the kickoff as time expired.

"I was standing right there," McCarthy said. "I had a pretty good indication of what happened. I could see the defensive back's foot swing out of bounds so I was just hopeful that the officials maybe saw that his foot may have hit. It was 2:18, we had two challenges left. That's obviously a huge play in the game that maybe you could swing your way."

Put it together, and the Packers lost this game in every way imaginable. It's the kind of game that can sink a season or leave a team kicking itself in January.

"We can't shoot ourselves in both feet and win a 100-yard race," Barnett said.

The race begins again on Sunday, with a home game against Detroit. Let's see if those feet have healed by then.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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