Three degrees against a five-win team from Houston?
This game seemed to be served up on a silver platter for the underachieving Green Bay Packers to jump-start their last-gasp run to the playoffs.
Instead, on a 40-yard field goal by Kris Brown on the last play of the game, the Texans stomped the life out of the Packers' season with a 24-21 victory in front of 70,245 frosty and frustrated fans.
The now-irrelevant NFC North standings have the Packers (5-8) trailing the Minnesota Vikings (8-5 after edging winless Detroit) by three games with three games remaining.
Other than forcing the sloppy Texans (6-7) into four turnovers, the Packers did almost nothing to a standard necessary to win a football game. They could neither run the ball for most of the game nor stop the run. Because the Texans' Steve Slaton ran the ball with such effectiveness (120 yards), they were befuddled by Matt Schaub's magicianlike play-action fakes. And on third down, when games are won and lost, the Aaron Rodgers-led offense was downright pathetic and the defense couldn't get off the field.
Rodgers and the offense had one play to show for their first three quarters. Rodgers' perfect bomb to Greg Jennings into double coverage on the final play of the third quarter covered 63 yards. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Ryan Grant rumbled off right tackle for a 6-yard touchdown. Suddenly, the Packers led 14-13.
But has been the case almost all season, when the defense needed to make a stop, it couldn't deliver. The Texans, who amassed a franchise-record 549 yards, marched right down the field to retake the lead on Schaub's 11-yard touchdown pass to Andre Johnson with 10:05 remaining. Schaub, who threw for a franchise-record 414 yards against what used to be a strong Packers secondary, connected with Johnson for the two-point conversion to make it 21-14.
"A lot of production by the opponent, there's no question about that," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "The big plays are something that's been there of late. We're making big plays with the turnovers but it hasn't offset the explosive gains.
The Packers went three-and-out on their next possession – falling to 0-for-10 on third down – but got a huge break when new punter Jeremy Kapinos' knuckleball of a punt bounced off of Houston returner Jacoby Jones and was recovered by snapper Brett Goode near midfield.
Green Bay finally converted a third down when, on third-and-1, Grant took a toss around the left end for 22 yards to the Texans' 20-yard line. On second-and-goal from the 9, Jordy Nelson beat Fred Bennett on a fade and Rodgers hit him for the tying touchdown with 5:56 to go.
With the season hanging by a thread, the Packers' defense finally made a stand. Intentional grounding, created by Brady Poppinga's late pass rush, led to a Texans punt, and the Packers got the ball at their 16-yard line with 4:37 to play.
On first down, Donald Driver made a brilliant leaping catch, and thanks to Ruvell Martin's block, ran it to the Texans' 25 for a 59-yard gain. But the drive stalled when Tony Moll was flagged on a questionable holding call, which wiped out an 8-yard run by Grant that gave the Packers a first down at the Houston 14. Instead, Rodgers had no chance on second-and-17 and was sacked, and he was rushed again and managed only a short completion to Donald Lee on third-and-26.
"Donald made a great catch and run," Rodgers said, "and I think everybody on the offensive side of the ball was thinking, ‘All right, let's punch this in for seven and get this win.' And then all the rest of that stuff happened."
With the wind and cold making a 55-yard field goal impossible, the Packers were forced to punt at the two-minute warning. Kapinos hit a beauty, and it was downed by Spencer Havner at the Texans' 3-yard line.
With a chance to be the heroes – after the game, Texans coach Gary Kubiak said he was just hoping to get to overtime – Green Bay's defense let the Texans escape. Schaub's play-fake turned fullback Vonta Leach loose, and a dump-off pass turned into a 22-yard gain. Poppinga, perhaps thinking it was a running play, let Leach run free in the flat.
"That was the play of the game, in my opinion, because it gave us the opportunity to go on that two-minute drive to get that field goal," Schaub said.
Schaub followed with a 17-yard completion to David Anderson, a 5-yard completion to Anderson and, the killer, was a 26-yard connection to tight end Owen Daniels. The Packers blitzed, and linebacker Desmond Bishop, starting for the injured Brandon Chillar, was matched one-on-one against the dangerous Daniels.
On the final play of the game, Brown booted a 40-yard field goal.
The game started horribly for the Packers. On the third play from scrimmage, Schaub hit receiver Kevin Walter for a 58-yard touchdown pass. Bishop and A.J. Hawk blitzed and Aaron Kampman hit Schaub, but Walter adjusted to the underthrown pass and caught it against cornerback Tramon Williams. Safety Nick Collins tried to make the play, but in the process, took out Williams. With both defenders lying on the ground, Walter waltzed the final 30 yards for a touchdown just 1:30 into the game.
Meanwhile, Green Bay's offense continued its nasty habit of starting the game like it was an offseason minicamp. The Packers got the ball three times in the first half and managed just 60 yards and two first downs. Three penalties for 30 yards, including a ticky-tack offensive pass interference penalty on Driver that wiped out a 41-yard gain, didn't help matters.
The Packers were staring down the barrel of a 14-0 deficit early in the second quarter. After Steve Slaton's 34-yard run and a 19-yard completion to Johnson, the Texans had it to the Packers' 10-yard line. On second-and-8, Schaub hit Daniels on a crossing route. Daniels seemed set to score but Bishop stripped the ball and Williams recovered.
Williams turned the tide of the game midway through the second quarter when he jumped a route to Andre Davis for an interception. One play later, Rodgers hit Donald Lee for a 20-yard touchdown. That interference wasn't called on Lee was a big break for the Packers, considering Lee shoved safety Brandon Harrison aside just before catching the ball.
Williams, however, was beat by Walter deep again on the next play from scrimmage for a 46-yard gain to set up a go-ahead field goal with 1:50 remaining in the half.
Bill Huber is the Lead Analyst for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.
Late field goal gives Packers the boot
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