The Green Bay Packers, as Packer Report pointed out over the course of two stories on Tuesday, have had a problem closing out close games. A team that dominated in close games on the road to the championship in 2010 is 4-5 since the start of 2012 in games decided by eight points or less.
It's a troubling number and an uncomfortable problem for a team that inevitably is going to have to win a bunch of close games to reclaim the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
"Execute," said Rodgers, who is an unimaginable 0-19 for his career when trailing in the fourth quarter against teams with a record of .500 or better. "Make the plays that are there on both sides of the football."
Sunday's game against San Francisco put a bow around all of the Packers' close-game problems. After Rodgers, Jordy Nelson and Eddie Lacy put the Packers in front, the 49ers responded with two killer drives against Green Bay's defense. After the 49ers scored the go-ahead touchdown on the first of their key drives, a special-teams breakdown put the Packers in a hole, and the offense proceeded to go three-and-out. The 49ers then sealed the game with their second dominant drive.
During the Super Bowl season, the Packers were 3-6 in close games in the regular season, including losses to Atlanta, Detroit and New England in a span of four weeks late in the year. However, the Packers turned it around at the most opportune of times. During a six-game winning streak that culminated in the Super Bowl, the Packers beat the Bears by seven, Eagles by five, Bears by seven and the Steelers by six. In every instance, the Packers' defense rose to the occasion to make a key stop.
Reminded of the Packers' success in close games in 2010, defensive end B.J. Raji put the focus on his unit.
"You've got to make the critical plays in the game," Raji said. "Obviously, the offense goes out and scores a touchdown to put us up by four, there's no way we can give up critical plays on the next drive. We need to get the ball back to our offense. In my estimation, I think last week the game was too close and we didn't make the critical plays at the right time."
In 2011, the Packers dominated close games in spite of their defense. Green Bay went 6-1 in games decided by eight points or less. The one loss was a 19-14 setback at Kansas City. In the six wins, Green Bay averaged 38.3 points and scored at least 30 in every game.
In the nine close games in 2012 and 2013, the Packers scored 30 points just once – the 37-34 loss at Minnesota last year – and averaged 24.4 points per game.
"Just execute," Nelson said. "We've had opportunities and for whatever reason we haven't capitalized. If it's on offense, we had an opportunity after they came down and scored to take it right back at them and we went three and out. It's all the way across the board, coaches and players together. We've got to be able to make the right calls at the right time all the way through and execute whatever it is. Yeah, it's an issue, and the only way you're going to get better at it I guess is be more in the situation. You can practice all you want but until you get in the game situation and actually do it, you'll get better. We've had drives, too, that we've done it. So we know how to do it, we've just got to do it more often."
The next opportunity could come on Sunday against Washington. Eleven of the Redskins' 16 games last season were decided by one score, and they won games decided by seven, one, three and seven points during a six-game winning streak that propelled them to the playoffs.
"Just got to make plays," receiver James Jones said. "The close games that we've lost, those teams have made more plays than us down the stretch. We need to understand that when the game gets tight, whoever makes the most plays is going to win the game. Lately, the other team's been making more plays than us. We've got accept the challenge and go out there and when it becomes the fourth quarter, that's when we've really got to step it up and make more plays."
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.