By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Fourth and short decision backfires, again, in Green Bay’s 24-17 loss at Minnesota
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Maybe this is how it feels to be a Lions fan, rooting for a team whose results and play-calling seem predictable, and ruing in late November yet another season misspent.
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The Packers’ 24-17 loss to the Vikings Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium dimmed Thanksgiving’s afterglow, to be sure.
And while it’s true the Packers (4-6-1) can still make the playoffs, it’s also true there’s a chance Big Foot may exist (by the way, if Bigfoot does exist, here’s hoping he is an unrestricted free agent as the Packers have lots of roster holes to fill with the rash of new injuries).
Mathematically, the Packers have a 15-percent chance to make the playoffs, according to ESPN’s FPI. Realistically, a 5-0 run seems doubtful for a team that’s 1-4 in its last five.
Here’s the good news:
Given Green Bay’s schedule, it could be a smooth ride to the finish line, with perhaps a bump on the road at Chicago, where fans will receive one of of two pieces of news: An unlikely playoff berth has been secured or a new head coach is on the way.
Should the Packers hire a new head coach if they don’t make the playoffs? I’ll leave that for you to decide and surely that topic has been bantered around the office water cooler at your place of work, but if you believe the sports scribes locally and nationally, that’s a foregone conclusion.
After 12-plus seasons, a Super Bowl title and 125 wins, that is what it comes down to for the Packers, their fans and head coach Mike McCarthy.
“We clearly understand where we are in the season, we clearly understand the importance of this game,” McCarthy said. “We’re focused on the next five. It’s exactly the facts – we know we have to win all five.”
The Packers’ pattern of playing a strong first half, followed by a weak second half, continued against the Vikings. Tied 14-14 at the half, the Packers managed just a field goal the rest of the way. In fact, Green Bay has scored just six points – two field goals – in its past two second halves combined. Leading 21-17 at half in Seattle, they lost 27-24 last Thursday.
After a 31-17 loss at New England earlier this season – a game that was tied 17-17 going into the fourth quarter – McCarthy said the offense’s problem was its inability to finish games.
While trying to fix the fourth-quarter blues, McCarthy’s offense went into second-half hibernation. It’s almost surreal watching Green Bay’s offense become second rate in the second half.
Aaron Rodgers acknowledged the obvious lack of offense after the intermission. “We had a couple good drives, we’re rolling there,” he said. “Then we hit our unfortunate, typical lull (and) couldn’t get it going again.”
The Packers ran just 51 plays.
They were 2-for-10 on third down. Minnesota was 7 of 14.
Rodgers was sacked four times.
He finished 17 of 28 for 198 yards, one touchdown and a 94 passer rating. He had zero rushing attempts, perhaps a concession to caution given his history at U.S. Bank Stadium.
At any rate, it wasn’t one of Rodgers’ better performances. “The way our defense played tonight, and with the injuries they have to hold them to 24 points, we have to win this game,” Rodgers said. “I have to play better. We all have to play better.”
Early on, McCarthy seemed to infuse life in the offense. A nifty reverse to Equanimeous St. Brown gained 5 yards. A counter toss to Aaron Jones netted 11 yards. It looked fresh. It felt like the Vikings’ defense might be in trouble. Jones had eight touches in the first three series. He rushed seven times for 35 yards and a touchdown. He caught a pass for another 8 yards. In turn, Davante Adams was targeted three times in the first two series. He had two catches for 21 yards and a touchdown. The Packers’ offense was rolling.
And then it wasn’t.
McCarthy got away from Jones, the running game and the short passing game. Essentially, he crossed his fingers and put the game in Rodgers’ hands, for better or worse.
Clearly, McCarthy’s decision-making can be called into question. After failing to go for it on fourth-and-2 late in Seattle (the Packers never got the ball back), he elected to go for it on fourth-and-inches at midfield midway through the third quarter. It backfired. Vikings’ safety Harrison Smith burrowed in from the defense’s left and corralled Jones in the backfield to snuff it. And this was after the Packers were forced to take a time out before running that play, because they couldn’t get the play call in time. A precious time out, which turned out to be critical at the end, was squandered. This has happening too frequently this year.
“I say it a lot but it’s the execution, you know?” Rodgers said. “The difference is in the details. And there’s just a few plays that happened that we’re just not as detailed with our assignments at times, and it’s often crunch time, or a time where if we do everything exactly right there’s a chance for a big play. But instead I’ve got to throw it away. We’re just not making the right plays at the right time. Third down, like I said, we’ve been pretty bad in comparison to how we’ve been over the last 10 years.”
The Packers incurred significant injuries during the game. It’s a credit to them that players such as David Bakhtiari, Kentrell Brice and others toughed it out. Injured guys came back into the game. There’s no doubt that they understood the urgency of this game and acted like it.
Still, it wasn’t enough.
Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins outplayed Rodgers by completing 29 of 38 passes for 342 yards, three touchdowns and a 129.5 passer rating. Cousins completed 26 of 30 passes to his top four weapons, including Adam Thielen’s eight catches for 125 yards and a touchdown.
Now, Green Bay doesn’t have the luxury of looking back. If they miss the playoffs for a second straight year it’ll be the first time that’s happened since Rodgers became the starter in 2008. “We’ll see what we’re made of the last five weeks,” he said. “Are we going to stick together in these tough times, or are we going to start splintering? I’d like to think the leadership is in place that we can stick together through whatever happens, but these five weeks will show it.”
And we’re all waiting to see. Let’s hope we get a glimmer of the team that we all know and love, and the one we expected to see this season.