As efficient as Aaron Rodgers was — his passer rating was 104.2 on the strength of 295 yards and two touchdowns — deficiencies in the passing game were instrumental in the defeat. Green Bay didn't convert one first down in nine passing situations on third down. Rodgers' lone interception came on a badly thrown ball on a designed rollout into double coverage on third-and-3 in the 2-minute drill late in the first half, when cornerback Dunta Robinson came underneath intended receiver Greg Jennings for the easy pick.
Both sacks of Rodgers were the fault of left guard Daryn Colledge, who made a weak attempt at trying to block blitzing linebacker DeMeco Ryans up the middle on a second-and-17 play from the Texans' 32-yard line for a 9-yard loss that effectively took the Packers out of field-goal range in the closing minutes with the score tied 21-21. The previous play, right tackle Tony Moll, who came on for an injured Mark Tauscher in the first half, was called for a questionable holding penalty against defensive end Mario Williams. The infraction wiped out a 9-yard run by Ryan Grant for a first down to the Texans' 13 that would have set up Green Bay to milk some clock and possibly win the game with a touchdown or a field goal.
Rodgers completed 19 of 30 passes. He had a number of throws sail on him or fall well short of their target in the frigid conditions. Yet, he connected with nine players for completions. No one had more than three receptions — a first for the team this season. Jennings and Donald Driver were held in check until they each had one huge catch in the second half. Rodgers unloaded with a deep ball down the middle that Jennings incredibly caught between two defenders for a 63-yard gain, the club's longest of the season, to end the third quarter. Then, on the ill-fated final possession, a catch-and-go by Driver turned into a 59-yard pickup deep into Texans territory before things unraveled with Moll's penalty and the sack. Tight end Donald Lee got away with a push-off in the front of the end zone on a 20-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus
Packers running back Ryan Grant runs through Texans safety Eugene Wilson.
Morry Gash/AP Images
Grant was one of the few Packers who had a fiery disposition during the game and wasn't going to be stopped on a 6-yard touchdown run that started right and was turned back inside to start the fourth quarter. Grant later ground out 22 yards on a deep toss to the left that he was able to peel back into a vacant lane, thanks to blocks by fullback John Kuhn and left tackle Chad Clifton. Throw in a 4-yard scramble by Rodgers, the Packers averaged 5.4 yards in their 20 rushing attempts. Third-down back Brandon Jackson didn't have a carry, a week after running like gangbusters in the featured role as Grant's injury replacement.
PASS DEFENSE: D-minus
Two takeaways kept this aspect of the game from being a total failure. They occurred in back-to-back Houston possessions in the second quarter. First-time starting linebacker Desmond Bishop, manning the weak-side spot for an injured Brandon Chillar, was Johnny-on-the-spot by coming up from behind and getting his arms around tight end Owen Daniels to force a fumble just as Daniels was about to score a touchdown on a short pass play in the flat. Then, cornerback Tramon Williams, who recovered the fumble at the Packers' 3, jumped the route of Andre Davis on a quick out for an interception. Green Bay cashed in the latter Texans miscue for a touchdown.
Otherwise, the Packers' pass defense was a train wreck, allowing Matt Schaub in his first game back from a significant knee injury to throw for 414 yards — the first 400-yard passing performance against Green Bay since Joey Harrington had the same output while with the Miami Dolphins in October 2006. Williams was beat on the third play of the game for a 58-yard touchdown on a catch-and-run by Kevin Walter, who starred with six receptions for 146 yards. It was the first of eight explosive pass plays of at least 18 yards for Schaub and his receiving corps.
Bishop was overmatched in pass coverage, allowing Daniels (six catches, 65 yards) to gain separation over the middle and break away for a 27-yard gain in the final minute to put the Texans in position for the game-winning field goal. The backfield tandem of Steve Slaton and former Packers fullback Vonta Leach also had their way with a combined six receptions for 88 yards, as Schaub routinely burned Green Bay on play fakes and rollouts.
Cornerback Al Harris held Andre Johnson, the league's most productive wideout, to four catches for 55 yards, but Johnson was left open for an 11-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. The pass rush, as usual, was practically nonexistent, save for a first-half sack by Bishop.
RUSH DEFENSE: D
Missed tackles by cornerback-turned-safety Charles Woodson on Houston's first two run plays were ominous for how the day would go for the Packers' vulnerable run defense.
Slaton darted past Woodson for 12 yards on the first run. The diminutive rookie bowled over veteran Woodson for 13 yards later in the first quarter. The quarter ended with Slaton making a hard cut to the inside on a run play right and finding daylight with defenders out of position for 34 yards. Slaton was well on his way to gashing Green Bay for 120 yards in 26 carries, an average of 4.6 yards per rush. The Texans finished with 141 yards on the ground, thanks in part to an 18-yard jailbreak run by punter Matt Turk on a would-be punt that broke down.
Not all was bad for the Packers in defending the run. Bishop was unblocked in a gap up the middle and brought down fullback Cecil Sapp in the backfield for a 3-yard loss on a third-and-inches call in the first quarter. Defensive end Michael Montgomery pried the football from a Slaton on a run into the line in the third quarter, and tackle Johnny Jolly made the recovery for another takeaway the Packers turned into a touchdown.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus
Punter Jeremy Kapinos received some of the loudest ovations from an otherwise disgruntled Lambeau Field crowd when he quickly made people forget about struggling predecessor Derrick Frost. Kapinos heard a chorus of boos initially when he shanked his first punt with the team out of bounds for 25 yards. Kapinos was solid after that, kicking seven more times for an average of 41.6 yards amid the frigid temperatures. Kapinos' net average was 34.5 yards, including the shank. He placed three inside the Texans' 20, highlighted by a high kick that hit at the 2 and was downed by Spencer Havner at the 3 to pin Houston's offense before it went on its game-winning march to the field goal that ended the contest.
The atypical spin of the football off the left foot of Kapinos caused a fumble by punt returner Jacoby Jones earlier in the fourth quarter. Long snapper Brett Goode's recovery in a scrum at midfield set up a touchdown drive for the Packers to tie the score 21-21.
Green Bay had a special-teams touchdown taken off the scoreboard. Will Blackmon's 99-yard sprint to the end zone on a kickoff late in the first half included a holding penalty on Jason Hunter back at Green Bay's 27. Blackmon was otherwise ineffective on returns, averaging all of 18.3 yards on kickoffs and 4 yards on punts. The punt-return unit somehow allowed Turk to run free out to the right side for the 18-yard gain for a first down on fourth-and-6 in Texans territory after Korey Hall busted through up the middle for what would have been a block had Turk not pulled the ball down.
The Packers had no business losing to Houston on an arctic late-season day at home when their playoff aspirations hung in the balance, but they did with yet another mostly uninspired performance. Green Bay lacks a killer instinct, which doesn't reflect well on the coaching staff. Four of the Packers' five losses by four or less points have come in the last six games.
As critical as some penalties were for a team that has played undisciplined more often than not this season, defensive coordinator Bob Sanders' charges were most to blame for the loss for being out of sorts throughout the game and not being able to make key stops, especially against the pass. Head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy, meanwhile, might have been too reliant on having Rodgers throw on third down in some short-yardage situations, thus leading to the offense's atrocious 1-for-10 conversion rate.