Bills Fluster Rodgers, Derail Packers

Aaron Rodgers endured the worst game of his career as Green Bay's path to the No. 1 seed hit a major road block in Buffalo. Rodgers threw 25 incompletions, including a drop of a potential 94-yard touchdown, and two interceptions. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

With Aaron Rodgers enduring the worst game of his career, the Green Bay Packers’ five-game winning streak was snapped at Buffalo 21-13 on Sunday.

It was a huge blow to the Packers’ hopes of earning home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Packers and Lions are tied for first place in the NFC North at 10-4 and, in the top-heavy NFC, Green Bay’s path to the playoffs has been muddied, as well. They have fallen to No. 2 to No. 6 with two games remaining.

Rodgers was just 17-of-42 for 185 yards and no interceptions. His passer rating of 34.3 was the worst of his career. Other than Eddie Lacy, who rushed 15 times for 97 yards, the NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense couldn’t get out of its own way for most of the day against the Jim Schwartz-coordinated defense.

Buffalo (8-6) earned its first eight-win season since 2004.

Green Bay pulled within 19-13 with 4:51 remaining but the defense, which had played so well, couldn’t get a quick stop. On third-and-4, Kyle Orton hit tight end Scott Chandler for 12 against an all-out blitz. On the next play, Julius Peppers forced a fumble but Tramon Williams couldn’t beat two Bills players to the loose ball. An offside penalty turned a second-and-8 into a second-and-3 and allowed the Bills to move the chains on the next play. Finally, the Packers forced a punt, and they took over at their 10 with 1:58 remaining.

There would be no Miami-like theatrics, though. Buffalo’s Mario Williams – rushing against right tackle J.C. Tretter, who was playing in place of Bryan Bulaga – was stripped from behind. Running back Eddie Lacy recovered in the end zone but it was ruled a safety because, by rule, only the fumbling player can recover a fumble behind the line of scrimmage with less than 2 minutes remaining. The safety made it 21-13, and Buffalo recovered the onside kick to clinch the game.

With Buffalo’s defense dominating Green Bay’s offense in a battle of elite units, the Packers’ defense kept it in the game. All of that was encapsulated late in the third quarter, when Rodgers threw his first interception in 203 attempts as safety Bacarri Rambo stepped in front of Randall Cobb on a deep corner route.

Starting at the Packers’ 29, the Bills couldn’t do anything. On third-and-7, Clay Matthews drew a hands-to-the-face penalty, then sacked Orton to take the Bills out of field-goal range.

The Packers took over at their 2 on the punt before another befuddling gaffe. On second-and-6 from the 6, Jordy Nelson burned veteran cornerback Corey Graham for what might have been a 94-yard touchdown had Nelson been able to outrun safety Duke Williams. Instead, Nelson dropped a perfectly placed pass at the 34-yard line. Green Bay kept the driving going, with Cobb lining up in the backfield (or motioning out of the backfield) on six consecutive plays. However, on third-and-3 from the Bills’ 33, Rambo recorded his second interception when a pass deflected off seldom-used No. 4 receiver Jarrett Boykin. Packers coach Mike McCarthy was furious, as it appeared cornerback Ron Brooks had his hands on Boykin before the ball got to him.

A 20-yard screen to Fred Jackson got the ball into scoring position but a sack by Matthews limited the Bills to Dan Carpenter’s fourth field goal of the day, a 48-yarder that made it 19-10 with 9:23 remaining.

Green Bay got into the red zone on catch-and-run connections to Cobb for 16, Nelson for 20 and Cobb for 17 but had to settle for Mason Crosby’s 34-yard field goal, which made it 19-13 with 4:51 to play.

The Bills took a 16-10 lead by scoring field goals on their first two third-quarter possessions. On the first, they ran it on nine consecutive plays before the drive died on a dropped pass by Robert Woods, who was wide open on a crossing route as the Packers blitzed both inside linebackers. On the second, the defense missed two tackles apiece on 13- and 6-yard runs by Jackson, then gained 40 on a completion to running back Bryce Brown against a blown coverage.

The game was tied 10-10 at halftime, with Buffalo’s defense smothering Green Bay’s offense and its special teams making two big plays against the Packers’ beleaguered units.

Rodgers was just 8-of-24 for 70 yards in the first half, with his 33.3 percent completion rate tying the worst mark of his career. Five dropped passes certainly didn’t help. The Bills had a chance for two interceptions, including what might have been a pick-six by Stephon Gilmore but Nelson ripped the ball away as Gilmore streaked by after jumping the route.

The Packers’ defense, however, stood firm, holding the Bills to 111 yards, no third-down conversions and forcing the half’s only turnover on Tramon Williams’ interception late in the first half.

With Green Bay leading 3-0, Buffalo’s Marcus Thigpen returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown. He was barely touched, with Sean Richardson overrunning Thigpen on a short punt and barely touching him after the catch, and Thigpen outrunning Demetri Goodson and punter Tim Masthay to the end zone.

The Packers responded with a touchdown, with Eddie Lacy breaking off consecutive runs of 15, 17 and 22 yards to start the drive before bulling in from the 1.

Buffalo’s offense finally got going on the ensuing possession. After getting just one first down on the first three possessions, a superb catch by rookie receiver Sammy Watkins and a great sideline grab by Woods got the ball into the red zone, but the defense stiffened with defensive tackle Josh Boyd drawing a holding penalty and recording a tackle for loss on consecutive plays. The field goal tied the game at 10.

Mason Crosby had a 53-yard field goal attempt blocked midway through the second quarter. The Packer have had six kicks blocked this season.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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