Facing the Cincinnati Bengals, an AFC doormat a year ago and a loser to the Denver Broncos a week ago, the Packers looked more like the 6-10 team they were a season ago instead of one pegged to contend for NFC supremacy. The result was a stunning 31-24 defeat at Lambeau Field, dropping the Packers to 1-1.
Sunday's performance raises a number of questions that Packers fans may have been blind to entering the game -- the biggest one being, "Are these Packers as good as advertised?"
After just two games, the answer would have to be a resounding "No." Only a last-minute comeback vs. the Bears has saved the Packers from being 0-2 with one hand on the panic button.
The nature in which the lowly Bengals beat the Packers is a more disconcerting manner. The Bengals smothered quarterback Aaron Rodgers. They ran over the Packers' defense. And they exploited the Packers' supposedly strong special teams.
Oh, yeah, the Packers were flagged for penalties 11 times, too, a total topped by the Bengals (13 penalties for 100 yards), yet the Packers still lost.
It was an all-around dreadful performance, no worse than in the trenches.
The Packers' offensive line has to rate as the league's worst unit over the first two weeks. Not only was the running game a mere side note again -- Ryan Grant gained just 46 yards on 14 carries -- but the pass protection went from bad to awful. Rodgers was on the run all day, and many times it appeared he could not find an open receiver. Greg Jennings dropped a pass early and was held without a catch, snapping a 44-game streak with at least one reception.
The Bengals recorded six sacks, led by defensive end Antwan Odom's five -- the most the Packers have given up to any one individual. Said Odom: "I still think it's a dream. I'm wondering when I'm going to wake up. We worked together as a defense and I was coming free on a lot of one-on-ones and getting to the quarterback."
Odom registered four of his five sacks after Packers left tackle Chad Clifton left the game early in the second half with an ankle sprain. With no backup tackle active on the depth chart (Breno Giacomini was a game day inactive), the Packers remedied the situation by moving starting left guard Daryn Colledge to left tackle. Starting center Jason Spitz then moved to left guard and Scott Wells took Spitz's spot at center.
The shifting of offensive linemen was exactly what McCarthy said he wanted to avoid this season, when he set his "starting five" midway through training camp. While Clifton's injury complicated matters on Sunday, the Packers' backup plan seems to offer little hope. Clearly, players shifting positions during a game puts the team at a competitive disadvantage, and should Clifton miss significant time, there could be additional problems.
Fair or not, Colledge will be pegged this week for poor play -- as Barbre was last week vs. Chicago. Colledge was ill-prepared at left tackle on Sunday and it showed. That falls as much on the Packers' coaching and personnel staff as it does Colledge, who was particularly hard on himself after the game.
"It shouldn't be as hard as I made it look," he said of shifting from guard to tackle in the third quarter. "I've played left tackle here. I had the opportunity today and for whatever reason I didn't play my technique and I didn't play well enough. And when you're moving positions and you're playing a good defense, you fall back on your technique, and today I didn't do that.
"I let a lot of guys down today. I didn't play well enough. When you fill in for a guy, you need to step up your game, and I didn't do that."
Defensively, the Packers continue to show promise with their new 3-4 scheme. Again, they got two big first-half interceptions, and they adjusted well without Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins, who left with a chest injury midway through the second quarter and did not return. But, one week after stuffing the Bears' sensational Matt Forte, they took a step back in stopping the run. What was the sorest of sore spots on defense a year ago crept back into play against the Bengals.
"They ran right into our grill," said Packers linebacker Brady Poppinga. "They didn't do anything fancy. It was the stuff that we prepared, but we didn't execute to the highest level. And you have to give them credit. They did. They obviously executed better than we did, and that was the difference in the game."
Added McCarthy: "You've got to line up and stop them every week. You can't come out with and play with tremendous emotion, passion and fly around against one opponent on a Sunday night football game and think it's going to show up again next week. It doesn't work that way."
Running back Cedric Benson ran for 141 yards on 29 carries (a 4.9-yard average) and all but wore out the Packers' defense. In the final quarter, the Packers tried to keep their defense fresh by rotating linemen (Michael Montgomery and Jarius Wynn saw action in crunch time), but Benson made some key runs down the stretch. The decision to deactivate first-round pick B.J. Raji against because of an ankle injury hurt the defense. Raji said the last two weeks he has been ready to go, yet the coaches have kept him on the sideline.
And where would the Packers be without an opportunistic defense? After intercepting Jay Cutler four times last week, the Packers used two Charles Woodson interceptions just to stay in the game on Sunday. Woodson's second pick was returned 37 yards for a touchdown to give the Packers a 21-14 lead at the 7:46 mark of the second quarter. It was the Packers' last lead of the game.
To make matters worse, the Packers gave up a 60-yard punt return to rookie Quan Cosby in the second quarter that set up a tying touchdown. The breakdown came against a unit comprised of players that the Packers' personnel staff based several close rosters decisions on, not to mention matching an offseason contract offer from the Tennessee Titans to keep Jarrett Bush. The Packers were penalized four times on special teams, with Bush being benched temporarily after a second false start.
Though the Packers have plenty of promise, Sunday's flat-out failure against the Bengals is a huge wake-up call and a sign that maybe the Packers might be more hype that substance. Woodson, one of the team leaders, is hoping and thinking that is not the case.
"I'm not concerned," he said. "The game happened. It wasn't a good game by any stretch, but I just think we have the guys in this room to get it done. You're going to get beat some games. We've got 14 games left, so we've got a lot of time, a lot of room for improvement."