The Green Bay Packers started bad and ended worse.
With a 31-26 upset loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at Lambeau Field, the Packers hit the season’s midpoint with a 4-4 record. They’re in third place in the NFC North, a game behind fading Minnesota and a half-game behind surging Detroit. And now they face a three-game road trip that could determine the fate of the season.
With the Packers scoring back-to-back touchdowns to pull within 31-26, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck delivered a pair of third-down daggers to clinch the victory.
Afterward, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was upset with the team’s energy – a statement perhaps more damning than the result on the scoreboard and a skid of three losses in four weeks.
“I don’t understand it,” Rodgers said. “I mean, this is what we get paid to do, is to bring it every week, and I hope the guys would say I bring it every week. I mean, I love this game and I bring energy. I’m not a rah-rah guy, but I’m a focused, enthusiastic player, and I don’t know what the lack of juice was. You kind of felt it over the entire sideline. We didn’t have the same kind of enthusiasm and encouragement that we had the previous two weeks. So we’ve got to look deep in the mirror there, because that’s just not acceptable.”
The Colts (4-5) have alternated wins and losses since starting the season 0-2. They rebounded from a blowout home loss to the Chiefs last week by jumping on the Packers from the start with Jordan Todman’s 99-yard touchdown return of the opening kickoff.
“Difficult, disappointing home loss,” Packer coach Mike McCarthy said. “Indianapolis jumped on us from the first play and we frankly never got it back. It’s the key stops is what we needed on defense and we didn’t get that. Difficult loss. That's two home losses (and) that doesn't sit well with anybody.”
The Packers (4-4) appeared to get their offense in gear the previous two weeks, but they took several steps in the wrong direction Sunday. Against an Indianapolis defense that entered the game ranked 29th in total defense, 31st in passing defense and 28th in scoring defense, the Green Bay offense sputtered until a late rally.
Rodgers finished 26 of 43 for 297 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, but he had only 169 yards through three quarters.
Green Bay's offensive problems could be summed up on a third-and-6 early in the fourth quarter, when Rodgers threw incomplete on a deep pass to Jordy Nelson against double coverage.
“Right now, we’ve got to score more than 26 points to win a game like that,” Rodgers said. “We felt comfortable that they weren’t going to be able to stop us a whole lot. We just kind of stopped ourselves. We started off with uncharacteristically low energy for whatever reason, and then didn’t really respond well early in the game for whatever reason. They obviously had the first play of the game a touchdown and then a semi-backbreaker before the half to put them up two scores. But we have to respond better, like we did to close out the game.”
The Colts all but put the game away on the ensuing possession. Luck hit Donte Moncrief for 39 yards on the first play, and Frank Gore barreled through the defense for his second touchdown of the day, this one a 4-yarder that made it 31-13 with 9:35 remaining.
The Packers made things interesting late. Rodgers' 40-yard completion to Davante Adams set up Rodgers' 2-yard touchdown toss to Adams. Cornerback Patrick Robinson broke up the two-point play, leaving the score 31-19.
After Green Bay forced a three-and-out, Rodgers went 7 of 7 on an 80-yard scoring drive, hitting receiver Randall Cobb for a 3-yard touchdown to make it 31-26 with 3:29 left.
The Colts, however, survived. On third-and-9, Luck shook off blitzing safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and threw a strike to tight end Jack Doyle for a gain of 20. Moments later, on third-and-2, Luck lofted a pass to receiver T.Y. Hilton for 27 yards to seal the deal.
“Great job up front, first of all,” said Luck, who threw for 281 yards to offset two first-half interceptions. “You know they’re bringing everybody and they blocked it up and we had enough time to get it do T.Y. and on the other play (to Doyle). Guys fought their butts off all day long. They really did a heck of a job. When we had to make a play, we did.”
The Colts took command late in the first half. Starting at their 4, they drove 96 yards in 15 plays for a touchdown and a commanding 24-10 lead. The key was a third-and-9 from the 5.
With the Packers getting the ball to start the second half, Green Bay appeared poised to swing the momentum if it could get a third-down stop. Instead, Luck hit receiver Phillip Dorsett for 13 to launch an impressive scoring drive. Luck punctuated the march with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Moncrief with 11 seconds left in the half. The fans serenaded the Packers with boos as the team went in for halftime.
It didn't get any better for the Packers to start the second half. Rodgers had the Packers driving toward the end zone but was intercepted by Darius Butler. Green Bay's next possession entered the red zone, but the Colts slammed the door. Mason Crosby's 27-yard field goal made it 24-13 with 1:46 left in the third quarter.
The Colts led 14-10 after an eventful first quarter, kick-started by Todman’s return. The Packers answered with a field goal.
Indianapolis added a touchdown, with Luck making downfield connections to Dorsett, Hilton and tight end Dwayne Allen. A misdirection pitch to Gore resulted in an easy 7-yard touchdown for a 14-3 lead.
Clinton-Dix intercepted Luck on the Colts' next possession. On the final play of the quarter, Rodgers hit Nelson for a 26-yard touchdown. Rodgers coaxed the Colts offside and threw a bullet to the corner of the end zone, with Nelson using his body to prevent Butler from making a play on the ball.
On the first play of the second quarter, Todman returned the kickoff 61 yards. Adam Vinatieri's 28-yard field goal bumped the Colts' edge to 17-10.
The Packers missed two opportunities for potential 75-yard touchdowns. On the first, Rodgers missed Nelson, who was streaking across the field and a couple steps clear of his defender at the Colts’ 30. On the next, Jeff Janis had two steps on cornerback Vontae Davis but dropped a pass at the Colts’ 15.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.