Mike Vandermause column: First loss raises many questions

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.
"You never want to take a step back this late," said Green Bay Packers guard T.J. Lang, seen sitting dejectedly on the bench during Sunday's game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Chiefs defeated the Packers 19-14. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette


KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Forget about the perfect season.

It was nice while it lasted for the Green Bay Packers, but they have more pressing matters to worry about after losing their first game of the year Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Packers didn’t look sharp in their 19-14 defeat at Arrowhead Stadium. Gone was the crispness and precision of their high-powered offense, and in its place was a sloppy, sluggish unit that for most of the afternoon was stuck in neutral.

The Packers’ defense wasn’t any more inspiring. It allowed the Chiefs, with the third-worst offense in the NFL, to roll over them for 438 yards and 23 first downs and control the clock from start to finish.

If the Packers are hoping to carry momentum into the playoffs like they did last year on their march to a Super Bowl title, this wasn’t the way to do it.

The Packers can and should quickly get over the frustration of losing the chance to make history with an unbeaten record. No one should be ashamed of their 13-1 record, and they remain on the brink of clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

But what the Packers can’t afford to do is continue playing like they did against the Chiefs and expect to advance very far in the postseason.

“I think the most disappointing thing is losing a game like this, this late in the season when you’re getting ready to make a run at the playoffs,” guard T.J. Lang said. “A big key to our team last year winning the Super Bowl is we got hot late in the year and we kept going throughout the playoffs. You never want to take a step back this late.”

But that’s exactly what the Packers did against the Chiefs, who have created a blueprint for future opponents to follow.

The Chiefs limited the Packers’ offensive opportunities by dominating the time of possession, committed no turnovers and kept quarterback Aaron Rodgers in check.

In each of the first 13 games, Rodgers resembled Superman with a passer rating greater than 100. Against the Chiefs, he looked very ordinary with an 80.1 rating. For only the third time in his 66 games as a starter he completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes (17 of 35), and for the first time this season he was outplayed by his quarterback counterpart, Kyle Orton.

It didn’t help that Packers receivers dropped an alarming number of passes, or that injured No. 1 wideout Greg Jennings wasn’t suited up and won’t be available for several weeks, or that the offensive line was decimated by injuries to Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod, which forced them into emergency mode with Lang shifting from guard to tackle.

The Packers have prided themselves on overcoming adversity in the past but couldn’t do it against a Chiefs team intent on winning for Romeo Crennel, who was installed as head coach in place of the fired Todd Haley less than a week ago.

Any team is entitled to an off day, and the Packers clearly were inferior against the Chiefs.

“We didn’t answer the bell,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

This wasn’t a case of the Packers getting big heads or taking the Chiefs lightly. Instead, they flat out got outhustled, outcoached and outplayed.

“We just didn’t have it,” receiver Donald Driver said.

It raises all kinds of unsettling questions.

If the Packers’ defense gets pushed around by the 6-8 Chiefs, who hadn’t scored more than 10 points in any of their previous six games, what’s going to happen when it faces legitimate contenders in the coming weeks? Can the offense function effectively with a battered and bruised line and without Jennings? Did the Packers peak too soon and lose their edge as the playoffs loom?

Losing their perfect record is the least of the Packers’ problems.

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.

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