The Green Bay Packers lost the first 13 seconds of the game, the final 6 minutes of the first half and the final 3:30 of the game.
And they lost the game – and a golden opportunity to move into a first-place tie in the NFC North – with a disheartening 31-26 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Jordan Todman returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. That not only gave the Colts a 7-0 lead but it took the life out of the Packers and the 78,000-plus in attendance.
“We talked about the first 5 (minutes) and the last 5 (minutes) and how important it was to start this game, come out and be efficient and execute and play with a ton of energy,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. No better way to start a game than a kickoff return for a touchdown.”
And no worse a way to start a game for the Packers, who will pack a two-game losing streak for a three-game road trip that starts next week at Tennessee before prime-time games at Washington and Philadelphia.
“It’s not what you want,” receiver Jordy Nelson said of the opening kickoff. “You go out and it just zaps the emotion right out of the game and the energy level. It’s not what the crowd wants to see when they sit down and 10 seconds into it we’re down 7-0. But that’s an opportunity for us as an offense to control the game and move the ball and get points on the board and match it and put our defense back in a good situation. It’s not an excuse. You don’t want that but it’s an opportunity for us to step up and make plays as an offense and put ourselves in a situation to win this game.”
Added defensive tackle Letroy Guion: “When somebody comes out and takes the opening kickoff back, that’s pretty devastating. But you have to rally the guys up and get back on track.”
The next critical sequence came late in the first half. The Colts led 17-10 when they got the ball at their own 4-yard line with 5:44 left in the second quarter. Green Bay seemed prime to take control at that point, with the possibility of great field position to end the first half and the ball coming out to start the third quarter.
The Packers forced a third-and-9 from the 5 but Colts quarterback Andrew Luck hit receiver Phillip Dorsett for a gain of 13. That’s all the Colts needed, who not only scored but milked all but 11 seconds off the clock. Luck converted a third-and-1 with a 7-yard keeper before hitting Donte Moncrief for a touchdown and a 14-point lead.
“It hurt, man,” safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “We’ve got to find a way to be able to get off the field on third down. Dom (Capers) has been doing a great job of putting us in great calls on third down. We’ve just got to execute them.”
It was a similar situation to the loss to Dallas on Oct. 16. In that game, the Cowboys drove 97 yards for a touchdown in the final minute of the first half.
The fans serenaded the team with boos as they trudged back to the locker room.
The Colts were in control at 31-13 before Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers finally got going in the fourth quarter. Rodgers hit receiver Davante Adams for a gain of 40 to set up a Rodgers-to-Adams touchdown to pull Green Bay within 31-19. The Packers forced a three-and-out, then motored down the field for another touchdown, with Rodgers going 7-of-7 for 80 yards and a 3-yard scoring pass to receiver Randall Cobb to cut the margin to 31-26.
With Lambeau Field rocking, the Packers had 3:29 and two timeouts to get a stop. But they couldn’t get it. On third-and-10, Luck was all but sacked by safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. But Luck shook loose and hit tight end Jack Doyle for a gain of 20.
“Very close (to a sack), man,” Clinton-Dix said. “That’s a play I let get away from me. It’s a play I’ve got to make, I want to make and, unfortunately, I let it get away from me.”
The Packers then forced a third-and-2, but Luck hit receiver T.Y. Hilton for a gain of 27. Luck took a knee three times to run off the final 2 minutes to end the game.
The Packers will have to rebound. Quickly. The Titans are 4-5, the Redskins are 4-3-1 and the Eagles are 4-4. All three games are winnable. Then again, given the sporadic play of the Packers, they’re all losable.
“Just the competitors we have in this locker room, no one likes to lose,” safety Morgan Burnett said. “I can’t stand losing. It’s tough and it hurts. But this game forces you to have a short-term memory, so we have to put this one behind us and move on to the next one.”
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.