Sunday School: What We Learned

The Green Bay Packers were the class of the NFC North last season, cruising to a division title with a 13-3 record. But after falling to 5-7 on Sunday at Lambeau Field, getting back to the playoffs looks impossible. Here are five things we learned about the Pack after a tough 35-31 loss to the Panthers.

1. The Packers couldn't cover a kick wih a blanket
The Packers atrocious kick coverage was arguably the biggest reason they lost to the Panthers. And it wasn't just the 45-yard return that Mark Jones ripped off with 1:57 left after the Packers grabbed a 31-28 lead. Jones knifed through Green Bay for 42 yards early in the second quarter and 51 yards to start the fourth. He finished with four returns for 155 yards and a 38.8 average. Carolina, which entered the game tied for 24th in the league in kickoff returns, started drives at their own 40-yard line on average. Will Blackmon, meanwhile, had 85 return yards on four kicks as Green Bay started at their own 23-yard line on average. The total difference in starting field position yards over the course of the game was a whopping 231 yards.

"I thought the biggest negative [Sunday] was field position," head cach Mike McCarthy said. "It's two weeks in a row we're playing on a football field that's 200 yards longer than our opponent. It's tough to overcome that."

QB Aaron Rodgers
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

2. Stats, not wins, are defining Rodgers' season
Aaron Rodgers threw for 298 yards and three touchdowns Sunday. He completed 64 percent of his throws and had a 96.3 passer rating. He's got the best stats of any first-year starting Packer signal-caller and is one of the better quarterbacks in the league. He has shown poise, toughness and leadership. Yet the one thing that's eluded him is the dramatic, late-game heroics that propel his team to victory. Down 21-10 at halftime, Rodgers led Green Bay on four scoring drives that resulted in two field goals and touchdown passes to Donald Lee and Greg Jennings. But when a big return and even bigger reception helped Carolina take a 35-31 lead, Rodgers had one final chance with 1:48 left in the game. His first play was an incompletion deep to Jennings. The next was an interception on an underthrown ball intended for Donald Driver.

It may seem ridiculous to ask Rodgers to do more than he did. But against Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Minnesota and now Carolina, Rodgers had an opportunity to get his team in position for a win. It just hasn't happened.

3. Driver can still get it done
Jennings may have led the Packers with eight catches for 91 yards. He may be among the league leaders in yards, touchdowns and explosive plays. But don't write off that guy across from Jennings just yet. Driver may not be putting up numbers that will get him to another Pro Bowl, but against the Panthers, his stretching 46-yard grab in the third quarter was the spark the Packers needed to march 95 yards down the field and tie the game at 21.

At 33 years old, Driver can still hit the thrusters and get behind defenders much younger than he is. He also maintains his signature toughness with grabs over the middle and an ability to fight through first contact for extra yards. Driver's five catches for 83 yards trailed Jennings versus the Panthers. But the threat Driver poses is a definite contributor to Jennings big year, and together they form one of the league's most explosive duos.

RB Brandon Jackson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

4. Jackson needs to get the rock more often
Entering Sunday's contest, Brandon Jackson was averaging 4.9 yards on 33 carries. Ryan Grant was averaging 3.9 on 216. But when Grant injured his thumb after rushing 12 times for 39 yards in the first half, Jackson took over. On 11 second-half carries, he racked up 80 yards (7.3 yard average) and busted off runs of 24 and 32 yards that led to 10 points.

Jackson has shown more ability to break tackles and gain yards after contact than Grant, and Jackson's clearly better as a featured runner than a third-down back, where he's struggled with blitz pickups. While it's not a fair comparison when Grant has carried the ball almost seven times more than Jackson, the Packers need to get Jackson more carries to see just how good he can be.

5. Big plays and short runs are equally effective against this struggling D
The trouble started on the first play of the game. Carolina ran a flea-flicker, and Jake Delhomme hit Mushin Muhammad for 44 yards. But when Tramon Williams stripped the ball and Charles Woodson recovered, you thought maybe the Packers defense was making a statement. Turned out the catch was the statement, not what happened after. The Panthers were going to make big plays on Sunday. That was just the first. Later in the quarter, DeAngelo Williams ripped off a 27-yard run. Early in the second, rookie Jonathon Stewart blasted through a hole for 43 yards. Credit Woodson for chasing him down and causing a fumble, but Carolina recovered and went on to score on Delhomme's 1-yard run. It would only get worse.

By game's end, Green Bay had given up four 1-yard rushing touchdowns to Williams and five total – both tied team records. But it was the big plays setting up the 1-yarders that hurt the most. None were more painful than two fourth-quarter passes that accounted for more than half of Delhomme's yards on the day. First, Delhomme hit 5-9 receiver Steve Smith down the middle for 36 yards to set up Williams' third score that tied the game 28-28. After Green Bay jumped out to a 31-28 lead with two minutes to play, Delhomme hit Smith for a 54-yard bomb that he somehow caught over the 6-1 Woodson, who was filling in at safety.

"I take full responsibility," Woodson said. "I would take myself 100 percent of the time, especially with the ball in the air, being able to go get the ball, and I didn't make it happen."

Williams scored on the next play for the 35-31 final.

W. Keith Roerdink is a Staff Writer for Packer Report and E-mail him at

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