Dougherty: Packers will only go as far as their offense can carry them
You can pin this Green Bay Packers loss anywhere you like.
More than halfway through the season, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is still groping for a personnel grouping that actually works, and against Philip Rivers and the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday he mostly came up empty again.
On special teams, Darius Shepherd’s fumbled kickoff return blatantly violated the oath of that phase of the game: First, do no harm.
But really, the bulk of the responsibility for the Packers’ 34-31 overtime loss to the Colts falls on coach Matt LaFleur’s offense.
That might seem odd considering the Packers put up 31 points against a defense that came into the game ranked No. 4 in the NFL in points allowed.
But the NFL is a high-scoring game, and the Packers have to win with offense, offense and more offense. Ten games into the season, it’s clear that’s the mandate.
And in this game, 31 points be damned, LaFleur’s offense went dead in the second half when it could have put away the Colts. That’s even without mentioning Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s cavalier ballhandling on the fumble in overtime that handed Indianapolis the game.
“We’ve got to find a way to convert in that situation to help our defense out,” Aaron Rodgers said of the Packers’ three-point second half. “Because they were on the field a ton in the third quarter. And the fourth quarter. And then, we just can’t turn the ball over on special teams. I think we’ve got to be better in all three phases, and especially in timely spots. We’ve got to score when we get opportunities.”
In a practical sense, this Packers’ loss isn’t necessarily a backbreaker. At 7-3 the Packers are tied with Tampa Bay and Seattle for the second-best record in the NFC, behind New Orleans (8-2). There figures to be plenty of jockeying over the final six weeks for the top seeding in the NFC.
But the failure to win a game they were in good position to win (a two-touch halftime lead) against one of the few good teams on their 2020 schedule has to leave doubts in this team’s collective mind.
For starters, Pettine’s defense collapsed in the second half and held on at the end of regulation only because the Colts were called for a staggering five holding penalties. It’s not easy to win games when you give up 420 yards. The inability to stop the run was yet again a problem as the Colts jammed the ball down the Packers’ throats on a drive that resulted in a field goal to start the second half that changed the tenor of the game.
Yet, this got away from the Packers right after that. While the Colts were moving the ball up and down the field in the third quarter, LaFleur’s offense went three-and-out twice. On the first third down, Rodgers and Valdes-Scantling misread each other on a back-shoulder throw. On the second, Rodgers’ pass to Davante Adams was tipped at the line of scrimmage and fell harmlessly to the ground several yards from his target.
Those were the drives where the Packers could have kept the Colts at bay. Instead, Rivers barely got settled on the bench before he got the ball back against Pettine’s reeling defense.
LaFleur’s offense also failed on a huge fourth-and-1 down a three points later in the fourth quarter — Rodgers wanted to go to Adams, but he was doubled, and with pressure in his face he overshot the well-covered Jamaal Williams on a swing pass.
Rodgers, for what it’s worth, said he came out of this game feeling better about his team because of its strong first half on both sides of the ball.
“I did get a lot of confidence based on the way we practiced this week,” he said. “I felt like this was the first week all season where we practiced like a great team and not just a good team, so that was encouraging. I figured the performance would be really solid based on that, and that’s how it goes sometimes. The mistakes can happen, regardless of how you practice, but I was encouraged by the focus that we had, I was encouraged by the defense and the confidence that they were brimming with.”
Credit Rodgers and Valdes-Scantling for coming back in the game’s final minute with their big 47-yard bomb that got the Packers out of a hole on a third down. But then, set up on the Colts’ 47 with 1:10 to play, the Packers were in good position to score the game-winning touchdown. Instead, on third-and-3 from the 12, Rodgers basically threw an uncatchable prayer to the covered Adams in the end zone, and the Packers were left to tie the game in the final seconds rather than get the big last-second win.
That’s the kind of drive champions finish off in January and February.
“It was fun to get down there and score," Rodgers said. "Disappointing maybe that we didn’t jam one in there to ‘Te and do a little walkoff, but we had a chance in overtime."