Make no mistake about it: The referees were not the reason why the Green Bay Packers lost to the Houston Texans at frigid Lambeau Field on Sunday.
But make no mistake about this, either: The referees were a reason why the Packers didn't beat the Texans.
The Packers, thoroughly outclassed for much of the game by the mediocre Texans, were in a 21-21 tie and had a chance to win at the end.
Moments after Donald Driver's brilliant 59-yard catch and run, Ryan Grant took a zone run to the right on second-and-7 for an 8-yard gain to the Texans' 14-yard line with about 3 minutes left. Right tackle Tony Moll, playing for an injured Mark Tauscher, turned Texans star defensive end Mario Williams to the outside on the play. The textbook-perfect block, however, was deemed holding.
So, instead of first-and-10 at the 14, the Packers faced second-and-17 from the 32. Rodgers was sacked when the offensive line couldn't handle a stunt on second down and was pressured into a dump-off on third down. The Packers went from possibly scoring the winning touchdown to punting.
"Next question. Next question," Rodgers said when asked about the holding penalty.
Coach Mike McCarthy wasn't in the mood to talk about it either after the game. He apparently had said enough to referee Pete Morelli during the two-minute warning.
"I think if you watched the game, you know how I felt about it," McCarthy said. "It's disappointing when you're in that position. I didn't see the replay, but that was a big play in the game."
Big, indeed. Based on the time remaining and the Texans having only one timeout, the Packers could have run the clock down to about 1:10 before kicking the go-ahead field goal.
"It's a crucial call. It came at a bad time," Grant said. "We felt like we were going into score. We had momentum."
But like how much of this season has played out since a 2-0 start, the situation deteriorated from bad to worse. The Packers pinned the Texans at their 3-yard line on the first play after the two-minute timeout, but allowed them to not only escape but to drive to the winning field goal.
"It's disappointing," Rodgers said. "We had a chance to win. It's kind of gone by the same script. We start slow, wait for somebody to make a play. Somebody does, then we start turning it on on the offensive side of the ball. Get the ball in a good position, have an opportunity to win the game and we don't."
Maybe in the end, the Packers got what they deserved. After allowing 86 points in the previous two games — the most points allowed by the Packers in a two-game period since the one-win 1958 team — they yielded a stunning 549 yards.
The latest loss sends the Packers to 0-5 in games decided by four points or less. In all five games — including the last three — the defense had a chance to win the game but failed.
"We have been in some tight situations where things haven't gone our way, but we need to find a way to make them go our way," Grant said. "I don't know what the answer is to that. The only thing I can say to that is we've got to make more plays. At some point in time, you've got to find a way to get it done."
Houston piled up a whopping 284 yards in the half – including 122 total yards by Steve Slaton – and converted 4-of-7 third downs. The Packers, whose only touchdown was set up by a turnover, had merely 168 yards and were 0-for-5 on third down.
Penalties – one problem that had improved a bit during the Packers' losses to Carolina and New Orleans — were especially costly in the first half. On one first-half possession, pass interference on Driver wiped out his 41-yard reception. The Packers almost overcame that 10-yard penalty, but a third-and-10 conversion to Jordy Nelson was called back on a hold against Chad Clifton.
After the Texans took a 10-7 lead, Will Blackmon returned the kickoff for a 99-yard touchdown, but the key block on the return – a pancake by Jason Hunter of Jesse Nading – was ruled holding by two officials.
Starting safety Atari Bigby (shoulder) and backup defensiveend Jeremy Thompson (ankle) were deactivated, as was running back DeShawn Wynn (calf).
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com, and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Holding call wipes out chance for win
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