For about 50 minutes, it was the same old story for the struggling Green Bay Packers.
Of Green Bay’s first 12 possessions, seven failed to gain so much as a single first down and four went backward rather than forward.
Everything changed for the final 10 minutes. The Packers mounted a furious comeback from a 37-14 deficit but couldn’t negotiate the final 4 yards that would have given them a shot at overtime. Ultimately, the Packers lost 37-29 on Sunday.
The question is, did the course of the Packers’ season change during those final 10 minutes? With Green Bay going into “schoolyard” mode, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers it, the Packers finally showed signs of snapping out of a month-long funk that saw Green Bay ranked No. 27 in scoring and No. 30 in yards over the previous four games.
However, was Green Bay’s offensive revival an honest-to-goodness step or two in the right direction? Or was it the Panthers falling asleep, just like they did the week before against Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck?
“We can play better on both sides of the ball,” Rodgers said. “It’s a good team but we showed some things there. We can move the ball. We stopped them when we had to. We’ve got to start a little faster in the game. We spotted them 20 quick points and then we’re down 23 at one point in the fourth. I think this is a talented team.”
With all of the focus on the final sequence — with Rodgers unable to fire a pass to a wide-open Randall Cobb for a touchdown that would have put the Packers a two-point conversion from possibly going to overtime — the first half truly was the difference.
In fact, the opening 30 minutes were nothing short of a disaster. Other than Green Bay’s second possession, an impressive 65-yard touchdown drive, its opening six possessions went minus-7, minus-1, minus-1, zero and minus-7 yards.
Once again, coach Mike McCarthy lamented the team’s poor play on third down. There’s no doubt about that, with the Packers going 3-of-14 for a sixth consecutive game in which it failed to move the chains even 37 percent of the time – this from an offense that converted 47.3 percent last season.
“Our third-down production is not where it needs to be. To me, that’s probably one of our biggest issues,” McCarthy said.
However, here’s the true disconnect: Green Bay averaged 4.8 yards per first-down pass play. Toss out a pair of 21-yard gains, and the rest of the first-down plays gained a pitiful 3.6 yards. Thirteen first-down snaps either gained 0 yards or lost yardage. None of that includes a false start and two holding penalties that put the offense behind the eight-ball.
On the plus side, Rodgers busted loose in the second half. The offense finally produced some big plays. It entered the game with three gains of 36-plus yards but produced three vs. the Panthers. Davante Adams had a quiet return at Denver but had seven catches for 93 yards vs. Carolina.
However, Eddie Lacy inexplicably remains AWOL with five carries for 10 yards. His fumble in the second quarter earned him a spot on the bench for almost half the game. The pass protection was horrible. Rodgers was sacked five times, the most since 2012. He absorbed 14 hits. Rodgers had been hit just 12 times in the first five games combined. With the seven from the Denver game, Rodgers has been hit 21 times in the last two games compared to 17 in the first six. Rodgers was sacked on third down to kill the first series, on third down to kill the sixth series and on first down to kill a promising two-minute drive late in the first half. With momentum turning following a Packers touchdown and a three-and-out stop early in the third quarter, Rodgers was taken down by a safety blitz. Early in the fourth quarter, after a successful McCarthy challenge forced a punt, Rodgers was sacked and stripped on third down.
The pressure potentially prevented the Packers from forcing overtime. On fourth-and-goal from the 4, Rodgers had Cobb for what should have been a touchdown. But right tackle Bryan Bulaga was pushed back by defensive end Kony Ealy and potentially obstructed Rodgers’ vision.
Upon seeing the pictures on the sideline, Rodgers tossed the Microsoft Surface tablet onto the ground.
“There’s frustration in this game,” he said. “It’s a frustrating game. It’s exhilarating but also frustrating when you make a mistake like that. I had an easy opportunity for a pitch-and-catch touchdown and I got scared by something. I can’t explain it. It was a mistake by myself. I’ll definitely be thinking about that one on the ride home. But we’ve got to move on tomorrow and prepare for a division stretch.”
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.