Pack­ers fail to pounce on op­por­tu­nity

Packer Plus - - News - Pete Dougherty Colum­nist

Foxbor­ough, Mass. — When the Green Bay Pack­ers saw the pregame in­ac­tives 90 min­utes be­fore kick­off Sun­day, they had to hear op­por­tu­nity pound­ing on their front door.

The New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots’ in­ac­tive list sur­pris­ingly in­cluded their best re­ceiv­ing threat (Rob Gronkowski) and best run­ning back (Sony Michel).

With the Pa­tri­ots also com­ing off a short week af­ter play­ing last Mon­day night, they were ripe to be up­set. It was the chance for a big road vic­tory, Aaron Rodgers against Tom Brady, the kind of game that can help get a floun­der­ing team like the Pack­ers on a roll.

But Bill Belichick out­coached Mike McCarthy, Brady out­played Rodgers, and that was that. What NBC and the NFL hyped as the matchup of the league’s best quar­ter­backs ended up as just an­other unin­spired road loss for the Pack­ers, their fourth in four tries away from Lam­beau Field this year.

At 3-4-1 the Pack­ers are in real trou­ble. Their sea­son isn’t over — McCarthy and Rodgers have been in worse straits (4-6 in 2016) and bounced back to make the play­offs. But half­way through the 2018 sched­ule, this team hasn’t found any kind of iden­tity or shown it can blow up the score­board the way it needs to with one of the two best quar­ter­backs in the league.

On this night, a game there for the tak­ing at 17-all in the fourth quar­ter turned into a fourth-quar­ter 31-17 rout.

“We’re not hit­ting on all cylin­ders,” Rodgers said af­ter the game. “… It’s hap­pen­ing in the worst times. When we have to play our best in those crunch times, we haven’t been play­ing our best.”

The con­trast be­tween the Pa­tri­ots (7-2) and Pack­ers showed up in ways lit­tle and big.

The Pa­tri­ots didn’t turn the ball over, and while Brady was hardly lights out (99.0 rat­ing) he had only one throw you could char­ac­ter­ize as a bad miss. He didn’t come close to an in­ter­cep­tion.

Then with Michel out and James White bat­tling a sore knee, they got a lot of mileage out of re­ceiver Cor­dar­relle Pat­ter­son at run­ning back (11 car­ries for 61 yards and a touch­down).

Be­yond that, they dug deep into their bag of tricks to help win this game.

They were in and out of a tur­bospeed no-hud­dle of­fense all game that kept the Pack­ers’ de­fense on its heels.

They also used a cou­ple of well-timed gad­get plays to great suc­cess when their un­der­manned of­fense was sput­ter­ing: Brady’s 33-yard flea-flicker that set up a field goal in the sec­ond quar­ter, and re­ceiver Ju­lian Edel­man’s screen pass to White for a 37-yard gain that set up the go-ahead touch­down in the fourth quar­ter.

McCarthy was right last week when he said the Pa­tri­ots wouldn’t beat them­selves. But they did more than not beat them­selves. They were cre­ative and re­source­ful as well.

“One thing about New Eng­land, man, they’re go­ing to empty out their tank,” Pack­ers de­fen­sive back Tra­mon Wil­liams said. “They’re here to win.”

The Pack­ers, on the other hand, did the things that lose games if you’re not putting up big points, which they aren’t.

They had the game’s lone turnover, and it came at maybe the worst pos­si­ble time. When Aaron Jones lost a fum­ble as the Pack­ers were go­ing in for a score early in the fourth quar­ter, the Pack­ers lost the chance to take their first lead of the night.

Rodgers, too, had a cou­ple of er­rors that cost points. He was hit with a big de­lay of game penalty in the first quar­ter that stalled a drive in the red zone that ended with three points in­stead of seven. He also ran a keeper on a big third and short at the end of the sec­ond quar­ter, when a hand­off to Jamaal Wil­liams would have con­verted the first down. There went an­other scor­ing chance.

And maybe em­blem­atic of the Pack­ers’ sea­son to date was the time­out they burned late in the third quar­ter com­ing out of a TV time­out, when rookie re­ceiver Equanimeous St. Brown was un­sure where to line up. How does that hap­pen?

“We’ve got to be bet­ter on the side­line there, let (St. Brown) know ex­actly what the per­son­nel is so there’s not any ques­tions for him,” Rodgers said. “… I’m not up­set about that. I’m up­set that I haven’t been as con­sis­tent and we haven’t been click­ing the way we ex­pect to click.”

At any rate, the Rodgers-Brady duel didn’t end up be­ing a great shootout, or the down-to-the-wire, last-guy-with-the-ball wins kind of game that NBC and the NFL were hop­ing for. Af­ter the Jones fum­ble, the Pack­ers ca­pit­u­lated, get­ting outscored 14-0 in the fi­nal 10½ min­utes.

The Pack­ers have now had back-to­back road tests against two of the best teams in the league — the Los An­ge­les Rams last week and Pa­tri­ots on Sun­day. While they can tell them­selves they were in po­si­tion to win both games in the fourth quar­ter, that’s hardly a ral­ly­ing cry for a team whose goal is to play in the Su­per Bowl, not just put up a de­cent fight.

New Eng­land re­ally was ripe to be beaten on this night. No Gronkowski and no Michel — well, imag­ine tak­ing Da­vante Adams and Jones away from Rodgers. When teams are down in the NFL, you have to pounce.

But the only team pounc­ing at Gil­lette Sta­dium on Sun­day was the Pa­tri­ots.

JIM MATTHEWS / USA TO­DAY

Aaron Rodgers is grabbed by his jer­sey on a scram­ble against the Pa­tri­ots. Rodgers said the Pack­ers are not hit­ting on all cylin­ders.

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