Bruce Kluckhorn/USA TODAY

Self-Inflicted Wounds by Offense Cost Packers

Defensive penalties kept the Packers alive until two late turnovers doomed them in a 17-14 loss at Minnesota.

Hearing Prince’s "Purple Rain" blaring though the speakers was hardly a surprise at the new U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday night. A Minnesota Vikings purple reign on the field, however, seemed much harder to envision given the Green Bay Packers’ high-octane offense.

But a week after looking rusty in a win at Jacksonville, Green Bay’s offense looked even more out of sync in a 17-14 loss to the Vikings. It fumbled on its first play of the game --- one of four fumbles on the night. It was a sign of the times. Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times, picked off on the Packers' final drive of the game and outplayed by Minnesota quarterback Sam Bradford, who was making his first start after being acquired two weeks ago to replace injured Teddy Bridgewater.

Through the first half, the Packers’ best offense was pass interference and defensive holding calls on a grabby Vikings secondary.

“They just executed better than we did,” said guard T.J. Lang, “We were just too slow starting, and the only reason we were in it in the first half was we got some penalties go our way. We’ve got to find a way to make the plays that are there. Not try to do too much. Everybody just take ownership of what they have to do, do their job and find a way to execute.”

On Green Bay’s second drive of the game, it picked up 40 yards when cornerback Terence Newman roughed up receiver Davante Adams at the 4-yard line on a deep route. Rodgers had faked a handoff to Eddie Lacy on third-and-2 at the Minnesota 44, then rolled to his right and threw into the end zone for Adams. After a 2-yard run by Lacy, Newman was called for defensive holding, putting Green Bay on the 1. Two plays later, Rodgers connected with Jordy Nelson, who shook Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes with a hard step inside, before stepping out to his left for an easy touchdown.

That was arguably the last thing that looked easy for Green Bay’s offense.

The Packers' next drive would end when Minnesota linebacker Eric Kendricks came on a delayed blitz that led to Rodgers getting sacked by defensive end Danielle Hunter and fumbling. Center J.C. Tretter recovered, but it led to another punt, which ended the first quarter.

Green Bay’s three drives in the second quarter would end with punts, followed by a 9-yard pass to Randall Cobb that ended the half on their own 29. They were 1-of-5 on third downs through the first two quarters. Minnesota, meanwhile, put together scoring drives on the front and back of the quarter for a 10-7 lead going into halftime.

“We just didn’t pick up any first downs in the first half,” Cobb said. “If you can’t stay on the field, then it’s hard to put points on the board.”

Green Bay looked like it was finding some rhythm in the third quarter – but again it was aided by penalties. Waynes was called for pass interference on Cobb, resulting in a 13-yard gain, and then for defensive holding just three plays later.  Again, Green Bay fumbled when Rodgers was sacked by Everson Griffin and again it got a fortuitous bounce when tight end Jared Cook recovered. But the 14-yard line was as close as they’d get to a score. Rodgers threw incomplete to Nelson on third-and-2. On fourth down, James Starks was stuffed a half-yard short on an inside handoff.

“I liked the call,” Rodgers said. “They brought double edge pressure. (Andrew) Sendejo’s coming on this side, but I felt like we’d kind of beat him with the run. Had a chance to maybe throw it off to Jordy, maybe convert it. But felt good. Not sure about the spot. I don’t know, have to go back and look at it. But I felt like from where I was standing we had maybe got the ball a little farther. But I liked the call. It was an aggressive call, we were moving the ball well and we’ve got to convert that.”

Despite falling behind 17-7 after a 25-yard touchdown pass from Bradford to Stefon Diggs at the end of the third-quarter, the Packers had plenty of time to right the ship. Again, they were aided by a pass interference call on Waynes – this time for 28 yards. Unlike their previous scoring drive, that wouldn’t be their biggest gain. Rodgers went deep down the left sideline to Nelson for 39 yards, then ran it in himself from 10 yards out two plays later to make it a three-point game.

The Packers had two opportunities to tie or win the game in the fourth quarter, but on a night where few things went right, they failed to capitalize. Eight plays into a drive that took them from their own 15 to Minnesota’s 40, Rodgers was sacked and stripped by Vikings defensive end Brian Robison. This time Green Bay didn’t recover. After forcing Minnesota to punt on its ensuing drive, Rodgers led Green Bay on a nine-play drive that ended with Waynes picking off a third-down pass intended for Adams with just under 2 minutes to go.

“We had that drive there in the fourth quarter where we’re kind of telling ourselves that it doesn’t really matter how bad we’ve played up until this point, we got a chance to go down and score and either tie it up or take the lead,” Lang said. “Had a nice drive going and ended with another turnover. Which, I think we had two or three of those today and we’re not going to win many games if we keep turning the ball over like that, so yeah, it was a lot of frustration at times, but for the most part we tried to stay positive and get something going. But just couldn’t cap off on any of those last couple drives.”

For an offense featuring a two-time league MVP at quarterback in Rodgers, a P90X version of running back Eddie Lacy, newcomer Jared Cook at tight end, and returning deep threat Jordy Nelson, points are not supposed to be this hard to come by, nor drives this difficult to sustain. Even against top-notch defenses.

“We know we hit a bump in the road today but it’s Week 2,” Lang said. “We’re not going to panic about it. The season’s not over. We have to really study the film and see what we’re doing and find ways to improve. Knowing the guys we’ve got in this locker room, I don’t think we anticipate any more performances like tonight. Everybody’s got to take accountability and realize that we’ve got to play better. But we still have a lot of football left in us so we’re going to get back to work tomorrow and try to take a step forward.”


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