Great teams, like last year's Green Bay Packers, win games like this. Mediocre teams, like this year's Packers, don't.
If Sunday's 19-16 overtime loss at the Tennessee Titans proved anything, it was that these Packers don't have last year's magic.
The Packers accomplished most of what they needed to do to hand the Titans their first loss of the season. They rolled up 390 yards against the NFL's toughest defense. Donald Driver had a breakout performance and Ryan Grant provided a steady running threat. The defense stiffened after the offense's two turnovers and controlled the first 28 minutes of the second half to let the offense stage a comeback.
But mistakes were the Packers' undoing, and they lost on Rob Bironas' 41-yard field goal in overtime. Dropped passes by Greg Jennings and Driver. A bad read by Aaron Rodgers that resulted in an end-zone interception. Four sacks allowed by a reshuffled offensive line without Chad Clifton. Overpursuit by middle linebacker Nick Barnett. A curious fourth-down play call by coach Mike McCarthy.
All of those things conspired against the Packers, and because of them, Green Bay is 4-4, tied with Minnesota for second place and one game behind Chicago in the NFC North with a game at the Metrodome looming next week.
Still, the Packers, despite a Rodgers interception that ruined a potential scoring drive and a Rodgers fumble that handed the Titans an easy three points, were in position to win late in the game.
With the scored tied at 16, the Packers got the ball at their 18-yard line and 4 minutes, 24 seconds remaining. Rodgers hit Driver for 11 yards on the first play of the drive, and Grant ran hard for 6 yards to set up second-and-4. McCarthy went for the home run, with Rodgers rolling to his right and looking deep to Jennings the entire play. Rodgers' pass was perfect but the ball slipped through Jennings' hands. Jennings lobbied for pass interference against Cortland Finnegan, but Jennings should have caught the ball.
Nonetheless, the Packers were in business when Rodgers hit Driver on a deep in for 20 yards to the Titans' 45. On third-and-10, Rodgers dumped the ball to Brandon Jackson. If he were a more nimble open-field runner, he might have picked up enough yards to give Mason Crosby a chance at a long field goal. Instead, he was brought down after a 2-yard gain.
"I was disappointed in the third-down production, frankly, based on the defense they had called and the play that we had called," McCarthy said.
Now, it was the defense's turn to win the game. Derrick Frost's punt pinned the Titans at their 8-yard line on the first play after the 2-minute warning. Tennessee had managed all of 57 yards on its first six possessions of the second half, and the Packers had all three timeouts. Force a punt, and the Packers were likely no more than a first down away from a chance to win.
Instead, Kerry Collins completed two passes against Tramon Williams and another against Charles Woodson to put the Titans in position to win. But Bironas missed from 47 yards — his second miss of the season and the first kicker to miss against the Packers this season (not counting Johnny Jolly's block against the Colts).
The Packers were given a reprieve, but only briefly. The Titans won the overtime coin toss and drove 55 yards on 10 plays, with Collins converting a third-and-6 and LenDale White plowing through the defense on third-and-4. Moments later, Bironas booted the winning field goal and the Packers suffered a deflating loss.
"We felt good about it," McCarthy said. "We liked the position we were in and even kicking it off to them when we lost the coin toss we expected the defense to stop them. It didn't work out that way."
The Packers had won nine of their last 12 games after the bye, including 2-0 under McCarthy, and were facing a Titans team coming off of an emotional win over rival Indianapolis on Monday. Instead of the Titans coming out flat, the Packers came out rusty.
The Packers lost 5 yards on the opening drive, and the Titans drove to a field goal. On the Packers' second possession, McCarthy — like he did early against the Colts — went for it on fourth-and-1 near midfield.
While Grant rushed for the first down against Indy, McCarthy motioned Grant out of the backfield on a passing play. Rodgers' pass was perfect, but rookie tight end Jermichael Finley dropped it against tight coverage. It was a gutsy call by McCarthy, but the choice as the featured receiver — a rookie who hadn't caught a pass all season — was a strange one, given the Packers' many playmakers.
The Titans turned the good field position into another field goal and a 6-0 lead. The Packers regrouped, though, and took a 10-6 lead on Driver's 5-yard touchdown catch. Tennessee, however, needed barely a minute to recapture the lead. LenDale White's 54-yard run — through a huge cutback lane made possible by Barnett overrunning the play — set up Chris Johnson's too-easy 4-yard touchdown run.
Rodgers, two days after signing a $67 million contract extension, threw for 314 yards — including seven catches for 136 yards by Driver — but the turnovers were costly and he didn't deliver at crunch time and delivered just one touchdown in four red-zone trips.
Bill Huber is the Lead Analyst for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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