Packers fall to Jaguars, 28-25

The Green Bay Packers stumbled on the tundra in an attempt to take a step closer toward clinching the NFC North Division title Sunday. As a result, the Packers will have to battle the Minnesota Vikings on Christmas Eve on the carpet for the right to a home game in the first round of the playoffs.<p>

Against the Jaguars, Green Bay simply did not reflect its glittering December record. Meanwhile, the Jaguars, in their first-ever trip to Green Bay, ignored the 12-degree weather and minus-3 wind chill to chalk up a 28-25 victory before 70,437 chilled fans.

The Packers (8-6) lost for only the fourth time in 21 games in December under coach Mike Sherman and for the first time at home in December since Dec. 12, 1999. Jacksonville (8-6) kept its playoff hopes alive and improved to 5-2 this season in games decided by three points or less and 4-3 on the road.

Green Bay travels to play the Vikings, who edged the Detroit Lions, 28-27, Sunday to improve to 8-6 in the Metrodome, where the Packers have struggled in the last 10 years.

"We certainly didn't help ourselves today, but we still have to go through Minneapolis to do it," said Sherman. "I will say this about the guys, we made a lot of mistakes tonight, but we have to get them cleaned up. We can't win football games that way."

Green Bay turned the ball over five times to the Jaguars' two, and also had five more penalties (12 for 105 yards) to Jacksonville's 7. Though the Jaguars did not score off any of the Green Bay turnovers, their three interceptions of quarterback Brett Favre killed Packers scoring drives, including four drives in the red zone. The Jaguars also benefitted from Packers penalties, especially a number of pass interference and holding calls on the secondary.

"Turnovers, penalties, mistakes ... I'm amazed we were still in the game," said Packers quarterback Brett Favre. "I don't know if that's a good thing, or a bad thing. ... You make that many mistakes and still have a chance to win. ... We easily could have been blown out."

Green Bay's fifth turnover of the game doomed its chances of another come-from-behind win, and revenge for a cheap shot by Jacksonville safety Donovin Darius on wide receiver Robert Ferguson. Ferguson was taken off the field on a stretcher after Darius clubbed him in the face with his forearm as he caught a 31-yard pass from Favre with 4 minutes, 41 seconds left in the game. Darius was penalized for unnecessary roughness and ejected from the game by referee Ed Hochuli. Favre completed passes of 14 and 10 yards to move Green Bay to the 22, but was intercepted by safety Deon Grant, who wrestled the ball away from wide receiver Donald Driver in the end zone.

After forcing Jacksonville to punt on the ensuing possession, Green Bay closed to 28-25 on Favre's six-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Antonio Chatman and two-point conversion pass to Driver.

Green Bay's onside kick was recovered by Jacksonville with 1:07 left. With no timeouts, all the Packers could do was think about the mistakes they made.

The Packers' defense struggled to contain the opponents' rushing game for the second straight game. One week after giving up 193 yards rushing to Detroit, the Jaguars piled up 197 yards behind Fred Taylor, who finished with 165 yards rushing on 22 carries and a touchdown. Taylor entered the game ranked fourth in the AFC with 1,404 total scrimmage yards (1,059 rushing and 345 receiving).

Taylor's 37-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter gave Jacksonville a 21-17 lead. His 21-yard burst to the Packers' 4 early in the fourth quarter set up Greg Jones 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down to give the Jaguars a 28-17 lead.

While Taylor hurt the Packers on the ground, quarterback Byron Leftwich did what he had to through the air, completing 9-of-20 for 121 yards and two touchdowns.

"We were able to run the ball and pass it," said Leftwich. "We did a good job of mixing it up and attacking. We made some big runs. When you have No. 28 (Taylor) back there you have to give that guy some touches because he can make some big things happen."

Jacksonville finished with 312 yards of offense to Green Bay's 444, but Green Bay's penalties and turnovers in the red zone may have doomed its chances of hosting a home playoff game.

"I think when you have opportunities to win the game and you don't ... We are down in the red zone on three occasions and don't take advantage of getting points," Sherman said. "We come out of there empty-handed. Not only do we not get the touchdown, we do not get the field goal, we do not get anything. From an offensive perspective that is most frustrating. Defensively, letting them hit two big, long runs on us, that was frustrating, and the penalties. The penalties because they've been addressed and (the players) have been talked to and scolded during the course of the week on what we can't do, and that was frustrating and disappointing."

Green Bay took a 17-14 lead on Favre's 32-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Donald Driver early in the third quarter. The Packers took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched 76 yards on 14 plays. Favre was 4-for-4 in the drive, including passes of 14 and 18 yards to Javon Walker.

Walker led Packers receivers with 11 catches for 152 yards, but was held without a touchdown for the second straight week.

Smith, Jacksonville's leading receiver this season, scored his second touchdown of the game late in the second quarter to give the Jags a 14-10 lead. The play capped a 68-yard drive in which the Packers were penalized three times for 38 yards. One of those penalties was for defensive holding on cornerback Al Harris on third-and-four from Green Bay's 21. With a first down at the 16, Leftwich found Smith in the back of the end zone for Smith's six touchdown of the season.

"For me personally, it really, really hurts," said Harris of the loss. "I didn't play well at all. Even without (factoring in) the officials, I didn't play well at all."

Darren Sharper's 15-yard fumble return for a touchdown gave the Packers a 10-7 lead with 4:44 left in the second quarter. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila sacked Leftwich from behind, forcing the ball to go forward in what appeared to be an incomplete pass. Jacksonville guard Vince Manuwai picked up the loose ball, but Sharper alertly swatted the ball away from Manuwai, picked it up, and ran untouched into the end zone as a number of players stood and watched.

"I didn't hear any whistle," Sharper said. "I just took a chance at it and said, ‘I'm going to try and go get the ball.' I could just kind of tell from the gesture of the referees that they were not blowing the whistle. I just went and grabbed it. Luckily, they gave me the touchdown."

Taylor burst through a hole on the right side of the line for a 46-yard pickup on Jacksonville's first series of the game. On the next play, Leftwich found Smith along the right side of the end zone just beyond Harris for the touchdown.

Ryan Longwell closed the Packers to 7-3 by making a 35-yard field early in the second quarter. Longwell was wide right from 31 yards out with 5:31 left in the second quarter, snapping a string of 45 straight made field goal attempts inside the 40 dating back to 2002.


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