On Thursday, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy was brimming with confidence.
“This is a good football team. We’ve got a chance to do good things,” McCarthy said.
Those seemed like empty words on Sunday.
With the Tennessee Titans scoring touchdowns on five of their first six seasons, the Packers were trounced 47-25.
The Packers are 4-5 for the first time since 2008 after losing their third consecutive game. The only saving grace is Minnesota lost for the fourth consecutive game, leaving the Vikings and Lions (bye) tied atop the NFC North at 5-4. Still, barring an improbable turnaround given the team’s downward spiral, their obituary could be written by the end of this three-game road trip, which continues next Sunday night at Washington and the following Monday night at Philadelphia.
The Titans led 35-16 at halftime, at which point McCarthy told Fox sideline reporter Laura Okmin that they “fully expect to win.”
Like McCarthy’s words from Thursday, his faith was unfounded. The first-half deficit was far, far too much to overcome.
"We dug ourselves a huge, huge hole and, frankly, it comes down to basics of football," McCarthy said. "We weren’t nearly to the standard that we expect from one another."
Pro Football Reference has quarter-by-quarter scoring data going back to 1940. The 21 points allowed in the first quarter was the fifth-worst opening period and the worst since 1986, and the 35 points yielded in the first half were the third-most behind the 44 allowed to the Rams in 1980 and the 38 allowed to the Rams in 1989.
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota threw for 295 yards and four touchdown passes (compared to seven incompletions) and DeMarco Murray had the bulk of his 123 rushing yards on a first-play touchdown. With Green Bay playing from well behind for most of the day, Aaron Rodgers threw for 371 yards and Jordy Nelson had a career-high 12 catches. Green Bay lost the turnover battle 3-0.
Titans coach Mike Mularkey dialed up an onside kick to start the game, which Green Bay’s Joe Thomas recovered. That play stood in stark contrast to how last week’s game opened, with the Colts’ Jordan Todman returning the opening kickoff for a deflating 99-yard touchdown.
So much for early momentum, though.
Green Bay went three-and-out after Thomas’ recovery and punted. On the Titans’ first play, Murray ran untouched for a 75-yard touchdown. After another Packers punt, Mariota hit tight end Delanie Walker for a gain of 41 that set up more Mularkey trickery, a pass from Murray to Walker for a 10-yard touchdown. Green Bay’s third possession ended in a three-and-out punt; Tennessee’s third possession ended in another touchdown. Mariota hit Walker for gains of 14, 13 and 19 before punctuating the drive with a 9-yard touchdown to a different tight end, Anthony Fasano, who the Packers lost on a play-action fake.
The first-quarter carnage? 21-0 on the scoreboard, 231-26 in yards, 9-1 in first downs.
Green Bay finally struck on Rodgers’ 1-yard touchdown pass to Nelson, but it did nothing to change the momentum. Mariota hit Murray for 36 yards and Rishard Matthews for 32 yards and a touchdown to make it 28-7. The Packers pulled within 28-10 and got a stop, only for Trevor Davis to muff the punt and set up a 12-yard touchdown drive that made it 35-10.
Similarly, when Green Bay pulled within 35-22 midway through the third quarter, the Titans answered in way-too-easy fashion. An unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty gave the Titans a cheap first down and Mariota took advantage of a busted coverage and ill-advised gamble by cornerback Quinten Rollins to hit Tajae Sharpe for a 33-yard touchdown.
The Packers have lost three in a row, matching last year's season-long streak. Before that, they hadn't lost three straight since 2008. But the Vikings have lost four straight so they remain squarely in the hunt.
"We’ve just got to go back and work on ourselves," Rodgers said. "I think today was definitely a winnable game. We just didn’t execute as well as we wanted to on offense and obviously in the other two phases, as well. Minnesota lost again. We’re a game back. We’re kind of right where we were last week. Obviously, we’d love to be standing up here after a win but right now we’ve got to work on ourselves and get this thing turned around."
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.