Sunday was one of those days for the Green Bay Packers, despite warnings all week by coach Mike McCarthy.
The Packers, immune to lethargic performances during their historic winning streak, hadn't trailed during the fourth quarter at any point during their 19-game run. On Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Packers – who were 11 1/2-point favorites -- entered the final period trailing 9-7.
Despite a late touchdown run by Aaron Rodgers, there'd be no magic comebacks this time. The Chiefs, with an interim coach and new starting quarterback, stunned Green Bay 19-14.
Green Bay's electric offense was bad without top receiver Greg Jennings and even worse when it lost two offensive tackles.
The Packers started the fourth quarter in scoring position, with a third-and-8 at the Chiefs' 39, but Rodgers threw two consecutive incompletions to Jermichael Finley. The Chiefs went for the jugular twice, with quarterback Kyle Orton settling for a 16-yard completion to Steve Breaston on the first before a great play fake got plodding tight end Leonard Pope open for a 34-yard gain to the Packers' 2. Green Bay's defense made its fourth red-zone stand, and the Chiefs wound up settling for a field goal and a 12-7 lead with 11:28 remaining.
They'd have to rally with a musical-chairs offensive line. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga suffered a knee injury on the third play of the third quarter and his replacement, first-round pick Derek Sherrod, suffered a serious injury early in the fourth. That left fill-in Marshall Newhouse at left tackle, with left guard T.J. Lang going to right tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith jumping into the lineup at left guard. Sherrod was driven off the field with a cast on his right leg after linebacker Tamba Hali, who was going against Newhouse, fell into Sherrod's leg with 10:02 to go.
On the second play after Sherrod's injury, a third-and-10 near midfield, rookie Allen Bailey whipped Dietrich-Smith and drilled Rodgers for a sack.
The Chiefs effectively put the game away with 4:53 to go. The Packers, saved all day by their red zone defense, couldn't stop Jackie Battle on third-and-goal at the 1. That gave Kansas City a 19-7 lead.
On the ensuing possession, Newhouse, who has showed so much promise at times since replacing Chad Clifton, gave up two sacks to Hali and was flagged for a false start. Still, Rodgers made a game of it, with completions of 18 yards to Randall Cobb, 22 yards to Jordy Nelson and 31 yards to Finley setting up his 8-yard scoring run on third-and-3. That cut the margin to 19-14 with 2:04 to go, with the Packers having all three timeouts.
The Packers, surprisingly, went for the onside kick, but the ball went out of bounds and the Chiefs took possession at their 44-yard line. The Packers couldn't get a stop, and their run at perfection was over.
All week, McCarthy warned his players. The Chiefs, with four first-round picks on their defensive front seven, had one of the best defenses they'd face this season. Orton gave the Chiefs a legitimate quarterback after being saddled with Tyler Palko for the past four games. Interim coach Romeo Crennel would infuse some enthusiasm after the Chiefs had basically quit on Todd Haley.
Sure enough, the Packers trailed 6-0 at halftime. Other than the Packers' red zone defense, in general, and cornerback Charles Woodson and punter Tim Masthay, in particular, it was an all-around dismal performance.
Not even McCarthy's decision to defer after winning the opening coin toss helped, with the Chiefs driving to a field goal to start the game and then stopping John Kuhn cold on third-and-inches after Ryan Grant rumbled for 13 yards on the first snap of the third quarter.
Woodson was brilliant in the first half, and the Packers would have been behind 17-0 at halftime without him. On Kansas City's first drive, a screen to Thomas Jones gained 27 yards, with Woodson shoving him out of bounds at the Packers' 4. Green Bay's defense held the Chiefs to a field goal. Then, with the Chiefs leading 6-0 and driving to a second-and-1 at the Packers' 3 late in the first half, Woodson sliced into the backfield to stop Jackie Battle for a loss of 1. On fourth-and-1 from the 2, B.J. Raji charged into the backfield and Battle never had a chance.
Offensively, the league's No. 1-scoring offense couldn't do a thing without Greg Jennings. Two dubious offensive pass-interference penalties on Nelson in the first quarter seemed to get the offense out of sorts. Two drops by Finley and one apiece by James Jones and Donald Driver didn't help matters.
The Packers, shutout at halftime for the first time all season, took a 7-6 lead early in the third quarter. Rodgers, on third-and-4, hit Finley for 40 yards to the Chiefs' 8. McCarthy called three consecutive empty sets, with Rodgers running for 6 yards to the 2 on second down and hitting a wide-open Driver on third down. It was Rodgers' 40th touchdown pass of the season, breaking Brett Favre's franchise record.
The Chiefs answered with a field goal, jump-started by a busted coverage that allowed Pope to get open for a 39-yard gain.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.