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Undefeated no more, and still not the No. 1 seed

Dec. 18, 2011
 

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Packers-Chiefs postgame analysis: Rob Demovsky and Pete Dougherty discuss whether Sunday's loss in Kansas City was a bump in the road or an indication of deeper problems within the team.
Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley tries to pull in a pass while being defended by Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Travis Daniels in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Green Bay Packers’ shot at history ended at the hands of an improbable adversary.

The Kansas City Chiefs looked like the least likely home-stretch opponent to deny the Packers an unbeaten regular season, considering the Chiefs had lost starting quarterback Matt Cassell to season-ending injury in mid-November, dropped five of their last six games and just fired their head coach last week.

But this beleaguered team rallied behind interim coach Romeo Crennel to win the battle at the line of scrimmage and subdue the NFL’s highest-scoring offense, which on this day, at least, badly missed injured receiver Greg Jennings.

The Packers’ 19-14 defeat, sealed when the Chiefs ground out two first downs in the final two minutes, ended the Packers’ 19-game winning streak going back to last season, playoffs included, and means the Packers won't become the first NFL team to go 19-0. Anyone thinking this takes the pressure off coach Mike McCarthy’s team probably is wrong.

“You always want to make history,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “We didn’t get a chance to do that, it’s over. I’d like to say it’s a relief, but it’s not. It’s not a relief.”

The loss means the 13-1 Packers still haven’t clinched the top seeding and home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs. If San Francisco defeats Pittsburgh on Monday night, that race will remain open at least another week.

But regardless of how the 49ers do, though, make no mistake, plenty of players on this Packers team badly wanted to join the 2007 New England Patriots as the only NFL teams to finish the regular season 16-0, then outdo those Patriots by winning the Super Bowl and being the league’s first 19-0 champion.

“A little disappointed,” cornerback Charles Woodson said. “That’s a special thing when you can do something like that and to have an opportunity to be that close to it. But it’s over. Now you have to refocus on winning the next game and moving on from this one.”

The loss made for a strange postgame Packers’ locker room. This team’s last loss was one day short of a year ago, on Dec. 19 at New England, and that was without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who didn’t suit up because of a concussion.

“I can’t speak for everyone else,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said, “(but) I haven’t lost in so long I feel like I’m in a different realm. We haven’t lost in about a year. Sixteen-and-oh, that’s — at the end of the day we still have everything we want in front of us. Obviously the 16-0, 19-0 won’t be a part of it.”

The Packers have to be a little concerned with how poorly they played on offense in their first game without Jennings, who sprained his knee last week against Oakland and probably won’t be back until the Packers’ first playoff game, in the divisional round. They also saw what can happen when their defense gives up yards like it has most of the season but fails to get any game-changing turnovers.

This loss came to a Chiefs team that now is 6-8 while playing in one of the NFL’s weakest divisions and with a quarterback, Kyle Orton, whose career record as a starter going into the game was .500 (33-33), and who was making his first start since the Chiefs claimed him off waivers Nov. 23.

“Maybe this is something we can learn from and get back on pace,” Packers guard T.J. Lang said. “It’s disappointing to lose this late in the season like that. Obviously when you’re getting ready to make a playoff run, a big part of making it to the Super Bowl is how hot your team is when you hit the playoffs. We showed that last year. You never want to lose a game like that this late in the year.”

The Chiefs won by controlling the ball and the clock, which helped keep a shockingly self-destructive Packers offense from finding its rhythm.

In the first half, the Packers did almost nothing but drop passes — five total, consisting of three by tight end Jermichael Finley and one each by James Jones and Donald Driver. Three (one each by Finley, Driver and Jones) were third-down drive killers. That made for the Packers’ first scoreless first half of the season — they had two last year in a loss at Detroit and in the regular-season finale against Chicago.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had his first blah game of the season (80.1 passer rating), though the drops were no help. The Packers led briefly in the second half, at 7-6 halfway through the third quarter after a two-yard touchdown pass to Driver, but they never came close to gaining control of the game.

Working behind a makeshift offensive line in the second half after right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee strain) and backup Derek Sherrod (broken leg) left the game because of injuries, Rodgers had more trouble than usual avoiding rushers (four sacks total). A failed third-and-one run by John Kuhn early in the third quarter and a failed fourth-and-eight in Chiefs’ territory early in the fourth quarter were emblematic of the Packers’ inability make plays. After Jennings, their next-best playmaker is Finley, who had three catches for 83 yards but also three drops.

“We didn't catch the ball like we normally catch the ball,” McCarthy said. “We had some opportunities, particularly in the first half. We had too many penalties. We’ve been clean week in and week out as far as the penalties. We were just not very detailed today.”

The Packers also finally paid for giving up big yards on an almost weekly basis, which up to now they’ve overcome with critical take-aways. The Chiefs (438 yards in total offense) became the ninth team to surpass the 400-yard mark against the Packers this year, and the Packers did well to hold them to only 13 points on four trips inside the 5. That included field goals after third-down stops at the 2 and 1, and a fourth down stop at the 1.

But the Packers found out what can happen when they don’t get any takeaways — for the first time this season they failed to force a turnover. So though the Chiefs weren’t putting up big points, they were burning clock and finished with a huge edge in time of possession at 36 seconds, 11 minutes to the Packers’ 23:49. That kept Rodgers off the field.

“We made big stops, but they controlled the ball,” Williams said. “They played excellent defense. Took the clock down. We didn’t have the chance to do what we wanted, give Aaron another one or two possessions. They just came in and executed their game plan perfectly.”

So the Packers now lower their sights from making history to repeating as Super Bowl champs.

“The No. 1 goal is still in front of us,” guard Josh Sitton said. “That’s all that really matters.”

pdougher@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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