PETE DOUGHERTY

Packer Plus - - News - Pete Dougherty Colum­nist

Pack­ers fail to take ad­van­tage in NFC North show­down

Green Bay — This is one that could come back to bite the Green Bay Pack­ers in De­cem­ber.

No, they didn’t lose to the Min­nesota Vik­ings on Sun­day. But they had too many chances to put the game away to feel even OK about a 29-29 tie.

What should have been a big earl­y­sea­son win against their main NFC North Divi­sion ri­val with Aaron Rodgers play­ing one-legged, in­stead turned into a big noth­ing burger.

“Close to an ‘L,’ ” is how Rodgers de­scribed it. “Doesn’t feel great.”

Of course Min­nesota can say it should have won, too. Kicker Daniel Carl­son missed a chip-shot 35-yard field goal as time ran out in over­time. That blew the game, too.

But the Pack­ers led pretty much the en­tire game and had sev­eral chances to win this one be­fore Carl­son’s miss, so what­ever re­lief they felt walk­ing off Lam­beau Field, there’s no get­ting around that they should have been cel­e­brat­ing a 2-0 start and a win­ning ef­fort by their in­jured quar­ter­back against what fig­ures to be one of the best de­fenses in the NFL.

This league is all about of­fense, and when you get the chance to put a game away with points, you have to do it. Yet the Pack­ers and Rodgers had four great chances in the fi­nal 3½ min­utes and over­time and failed to come through.

Twice they had the ball deep in Min­nesota ter­ri­tory with the chance to put the game out of reach with a touch­down and couldn’t get in the end zone. On the first, Rodgers had to throw the ball away on third-and-6 be­cause of pres­sure from de­fen­sive line­men Ever­son Grif­fen and Shel­don Richard­son. On the sec­ond, a gifted tipped-ball in­ter­cep­tion by Ha Ha Clin­ton-Dix that gave them the ball on Min­nesota’s 13, the Pack­ers went three­and-out with a de­lay-of-game penalty mixed in.

Then with no time­outs and only 31 sec­onds left in reg­u­la­tion, Rodgers moved the Pack­ers into field goal range, only to have Mason Crosby miss from 52 yards.

And in over­time, Rodgers short cir­cuited with the Pack­ers on the cusp of Crosby’s range for the game-win­ning field goal. Rodgers lost 1 yard when he botched the keep and fum­bled on a run­pass op­tion, then held the ball against a blitz and was sacked for a 7-yard loss on third down.

“I’m def­i­nitely (run­ning for) a first down, and we’re inside 50-yard field goal range,” Rodgers said of his fum­ble.

Then there’s also the big un­nec­es­sary rough­ness against Clay Matthews in the fi­nal 2 min­utes that I’m sure has Pack­ers fans apoplec­tic. It wiped out a game­clinch­ing in­ter­cep­tion and kept alive Kirk Cousins to take the Vik­ings to the game-ty­ing score. Ref­eree Tony Cor- rente said after the game he pe­nal­ized Matthews be­cause he “lifted (Cousins) up and drove him into the ground.”

That call looked shaky on re­play, and no ques­tion, it was a big call. But re­ally, the Pack­ers can’t squawk too much or say it cost them the game. They still had their chances to get a stop or pre­vent the two-point con­ver­sion and didn’t come through.

And let’s face it, even if erring on the side of pro­tect­ing the passer hurt them in this in­stance, in the long run it works very much in their fa­vor. Rodgers is go­ing to take fewer hard hits, which should help him play both longer and health­ier. And by the way, the em­pha­sis for pro­tect­ing quar­ter­backs is there in large part be­cause of the shot he took from An­thony Barr last year that broke his col- lar­bone.

The thing the Pack­ers can feel best about is that Rodgers ap­pears to have come out of the game no worse for hav­ing played one week after in­jur­ing his left knee. There re­ally was doubt early in the week whether he’d play be­cause of stiff­ness and sore­ness in the knee, but by the time he prac­ticed Satur­day, it was clear to him and the team he would be able to play.

There were con­flict­ing na­tional re­ports about the ex­act na­ture of the in­jury — one said it was car­ti­lage dam­age but no sprained lig­a­ments, the other said it was a deep bone bruise and lig­a­ment strain. Rodgers wouldn’t com­ment after the game, so it’s still not clear what the in­jury is.

But he ap­peared to come out with­out overtly ag­gra­vat­ing the in­jury on any of the sev­eral hits he took. He also showed a lit­tle more mo­bil­ity than he had last week after re­turn­ing from the in­jury in the sec­ond half against Chicago. He an­swered a big ques­tion in the first half when he scram­bled for a first down, and the fact that he wanted to keep the ball on the RPO sug­gested that while he clearly was lim­ited, he wasn’t feel­ing that bad in the heat of bat­tle.

There’s no rea­son to think he won’t be able to keep play­ing and con­tinue get­ting health­ier week after week, though it could be a long cou­ple of months for him.

“It’s the type of thing that could linger, but we’ll see,” Rodgers said.

But if Rodgers play­ing is rea­son for the Pack­ers to feel good about the rest of the sea­son, they still blew a great chance to win this one. A tie is bet­ter than los­ing, but there were im­por­tant tiebreaker im­pli­ca­tions at stake, and the Pack­ers failed to seize them.

A win would have en­sured they could do no worse than split with the Vik­ings if they tie for the divi­sion crown and put them in po­si­tion for a huge sweep. It also would have given them a 2-0 record in the divi­sion, which is the sec­ond tiebreaker.

All in all, there was a big win for the tak­ing in tough cir­cum­stances, and the Pack­ers didn’t take it.

“We’re sit­ting up here 1-0-1,” Rodgers said. “It doesn’t sound that great.”

RICK WOOD / JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

Pack­ers cor­ner­backs Davon House (31) and Jaire Alexan­der cel­e­brate Daniel Carl­son’s missed field goal at the end of over­time.

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