At the time, coach Mike McCarthy thought it foreshadowed a sixth consecutive victory.
“I think the way the game started, frankly, I thought we were going to win the game decisively,” McCarthy said on Monday. “That’s what I felt on the sideline.”
Three hours later, the Packers had endured one of the most disappointing losses of McCarthy’s nine years on the job. That the Packers lost wasn’t stunning — Buffalo is a rising team with an excellent home-field advantage. Instead, it was the manner in which the game played out. The NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense was held to one touchdown. The NFL’s top-ranked quarterback had the worst statistical game of his career. The struggling special teams continued their downward cycle.
Added together, the Packers lost 21-13. Their lead in the NFC North had evaporated, their chances of earning home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs had slipped away and their margin for error in the playoff race had vanished.
“I thought we matched up very well with Buffalo yesterday,” McCarthy said. “I thought we were poised for a big day and it didn’t happen. It was not our day.”
For McCarthy, the game turned on one play. Green Bay finally put together a scoring drive against Buffalo’s powerful defense, and Green Bay’s defense had allowed one first down and 12 yards on Buffalo’s first three possessions.
Then Marcus Thigpen returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown.
“I thought the punt return changed it,” McCarthy said.
Aaron Rodgers, who was in the midst of one of the great seasons in NFL history to emerge as the clear front-runner for league MVP honors, never pulled it together.
His 34.3 passer rating and 40.4 percent accuracy were the worst of his career. His 25 incompletions set a dubious career high. And, for the first time in his career, he was intercepted twice and didn’t throw a touchdown pass.
“You can make an assessment. I’m not going to talk about individual players,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said in a contentious 10-minute session.
“I’m not going to talk about his accuracy or your perceived inaccuracy of his play,” Clements said later. “It was a game where we weren’t productive as an offense. We’re looking to correct it and be better this week.”
It wasn’t only Rodgers. Jordy Nelson dropped a potential 94-yard touchdown — one of at least six drops by a typically sure-handed pass-catching corps that had flubbed only 17 passes all season, according to STATS.
“It’s hard to understand,” Clements said.
The special teams was a horror show. The Packers have had four kicks blocked in the past four games, with a field goal at Buffalo, an extra point against Atlanta and an extra point and a punt against Philadelphia. They’ve had six kicks blocked this season — he most since at least 1988, according to Packer Report’s research. And the punt coverage, an overwhelming strength this season, got gashed for the game-turning touchdown on Sunday.
“I think we know what we need to do, we know what we need to accomplish,” special-teams ace Jarrett Bush said. “We’ve just got to execute better and have a little more focus during the practice on what we need to do so we can execute the game plan on game day. Everybody’s got to look at themselves, especially myself, and play better. Hands down, that’s what needs to happen. I believe that we will do that. I’m confident. It’s a tough loss. Definitely a flame in my chest and a salty taste in my mouth. As a competitor, you look forward to the next competition to redeem yourself.”
The Packers don’t have much time to sulk. They play at Tampa Bay on Sunday and host NFC North co-leading Detroit in the season-finale. The Packers might have to win both games to get in the playoffs.
“I was confident going into the game and thought we had a good plan, we had a good week of preparation,” McCarthy said. “We hadn’t had a performance like that in a while for four quarters. I think this is something that can make us better in the end. I don’t like the timing of it, don’t get me wrong. It was not a good day for us.”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.