They fell five games behind front-runner Chicago with six games to play after a disheartening 20-17 loss to Minnesota on Monday night at Lambeau Field. The Vikings' Paul Edinger kicked the Packers in the gut on the final play of regulation for the second time in a month, connecting on a 27-yard field goal.
Afterward, Green Bay players were coming to grips with a season that is all but a lost cause. The three-time-reigning division champions are 2-8 and would need to win out to avoid their first losing season since 1991 — the 13 straight years of being .500 or better is the longest active streak in the league.
The Packers last missed the playoffs in 2000, Mike Sherman's first year as head coach, but nobody is mentioning the postseason.
"Our goal has been to just get a win. That's where we are at right now — get a win," said defensive end Aaron Kampman. "That will continue to be our focal point. Hopefully, we'll get a victory (at Philadelphia on Sunday). Whenever you decide to lie down, that's just the terrible sign of a man and a team, and we'll never do that. But, it's frustrating."
While a slew of injuries to key players having compounded matters, the most disconcerting aspect of the team's unforeseen free fall this season has been a persistent inability to finish off opponents.
Six of the Packers' eight losses have been decided by no more than a touchdown — one by a point, one by two points, three by three points and one by seven points. They've still unbelievably outscored the opposition for the season, 218-204.
"It says we are a better team than what we are playing," running back Tony Fisher said of the narrow defeats. "We have to start finishing games. It's hard for us to go out and play one half and then not be able to finish in the second half. That's something we have to start doing, is finishing."
Alas, time has nearly run out for the Packers to get their finishing act together.
Gado fumbled the football on the second play of the second half of the 20-17 loss to Minnesota on Monday. Although fullback Vonta Leach recovered the ball, Sherman kept Gado on the sideline for all but two plays the rest of the game.
Gado had two fumbles in the Nov. 13 win at Atlanta, and both of those were recovered by teammates. Sherman stuck with the former practice-squad player in his first pro start, and Gado made amends by rushing for 103 yards and scoring three touchdowns.
Sherman said his reasoning for pulling Gado from Monday's game didn't solely stem from his latest mishap.
Third-down specialist Tony Fisher took over as the featured back as the Packers became more reliant on their passing attack because of an abysmal performance from the running game. They finished with a season-low 21 yards in 14 carries — Gado managed but 7 yards in 10 carries.
"Certainly, the fumble didn't help much," Sherman said. "I would have been more willing to get him back in there. But, we were in a different type of game. We were not having any success with anybody running the football. Fisher was the backup choice in regard to (pass) protection and route running and things of that nature.
"It's not a knock against Gado. There just weren't a whole lot of opportunities in there for rushing. But, certainly, he has to hold on to the football."
Fisher returned to action after missing the previous two games because of a broken rib. He picked up 14 yards in four carries.
Second-year cornerback Jason Horton, filling in for an injured Mike Hawkins as the nickel back, allowed Koren Robinson to run free behind him and haul in a 35-yard throw from Brad Johnson.
Sherman said Horton was supposed to be in single-man coverage on the play. Horton, however, claimed he heard a call in the huddle for a Cover 2 alignment and figured he would get over-the-top help from safety Nick Collins.
"If it's my fault, I'll take the blame," Horton said. "I wasn't playing man-to-man. I thought we were in zone, the same coverage as we were in the play before. If I was playing man, I would have been on him."