Dougherty: Green Bay Packers prevail in the kind of game good teams usually find a way to win
CINCINNATI - If there were any justice in the NFL, this game would have ended in a tie.
When both teams combine to botch five field goals that could have won the game over a eight-minute span late in the fourth quarter and overtime, really, does either deserve to win?
The Green Bay Packers nevertheless walked out of Paul Brown Stadium with a 25-22 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday in a game they appeared to have won three times down the stretch, only to watch kicker Mason Crosby miss each time.
The Packers also were lucky as all get-out, twice, when Bengals kicker Evan McPherson missed two long game-winners of his own.
So it was that after one of the craziest Ping-Pongs of missed field goals you’ll ever see, anyone within earshot of the Packers’ lockers could hear cheer after cheer like coach Matt LaFleur’s team had just won a big battle on “Game of Thrones.” And it was the upstart Bengals, now 3-2, left stunned they didn’t pick up their biggest win of the young season.
“Both teams tried to lose that game a few times,” Aaron Rodgers quipped after ticking through several of the chances.
What to say about this one, other than it was about as crazy it gets down the stretch?
Foremost for the Packers, they move up to 4-1 and take the early lead in the NFC North by winning a game they easily could have lost. They aren’t winning as impressively as last season, but the New Orleans debacle in this season's opener is getting farther and farther in the rear-view mirror.
Maybe you can start to wonder whether Crosby’s age is becoming an issue. He’s 37, so it’s a legitimate wonder, because he missed not only the three late field goals (from 36, 51 and 40 yards) but also an extra point early that could have been the difference in the game, too.
Then again, he’d made his last 27 field goals before those misses, and since his four-miss debacle in Detroit in 2018 had missed only four attempts, until Sunday. So it’s a little early to run him out of town.
Rodgers and LaFleur also missed a couple chances in the third and fourth quarters to pull away and ended up trading touchdowns for field goals. They had a first down from the Bengals 6 and failed to punch it in early in the fourth quarter, and Rodgers missed an open Davante Adams in the end zone just before the two-minute warning.
“Probably got a little too conservative I would say,” LaFleur said, “especially with the guys we have, trying to ground it out. Thankfully the game went long enough that they covered for me.”
But win or lose the Packers also played a solid game against a fast-improving team despite being nailed by injuries like they never had before in LaFleur’s two-plus seasons as coach. Their injured list included some of their most important players: Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith and Elgton Jenkins, along with David Bakhtiari, who’s still on PUP.
They also were missing their starting center, Josh Myers. Yet they functioned just fine on offense behind a makeshift line that included Lucas Patrick making his first-ever start at center and backups Yosh Nijman at left tackle and Jon Runyan at left guard. And despite continued red-zone woes – they’ve given up touchdowns on all 13 red-zone possessions, how does that happen? – they held the Bengals to only 22 points.
NFL teams have to endure these kind of injury woes all the time, and the Packers have benefited plenty from beating banged-up teams the last couple years. Now it’s LaFleur’s turn to deal with those kinds of problems, which is the way it goes in this league.
But if the Packers had lost, they couldn’t have blamed their makeshift line. Rodgers (103 rating) generally had plenty of time to throw and was sacked only twice. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon ran the ball credibly (133 yards combined). LaFleur couldn’t have asked for much more from his five guys up front.
These are the kinds of games good teams usually find a way to win. Now, can we say that about the Packers then, considering how close they came to losing, not just once but twice? Maybe, because they had it won three times over, too.
“To be 4-1 with the injuries we’ve dealt with feels really good,” Rodgers said.
Really, the final 10 minutes of this game was as fluky as it gets. Five missed field goals with the score tied. You probably won’t see that again.
So yeah, neither team really deserved to win this game. Kickers have to make kicks, and both had more chances than they could have asked for.
But somebody did win. The Packers have to feel fortunate they chalked up a W that will help them in their playoff bid. They also put up a credible performance in the midst of an injury storm.
“Bottom line is, we’re 4-1,” LaFleur said. “You don’t get style points. So we’re finding ways to win. That’s going to benefit us later in the season.”