Insider: Thumbs up to 4 straight turnovers, down to Ross as returner

Sep. 22, 2013

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Green Bay Packers linebacker Brad Jones (59) recovers a fumble in the second quarter during Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media


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Last year, the Packers stumbled to a 1-2 start and rallied to go 10-3 the rest of the way and capture the NFC North title. Their Week 3 road loss in Seattle in 2012 was a bitter pill to swallow, just like their 34-30 Week 3 loss Sunday at Cincinnati. The Packers had numerous opportunities to beat the Bengals and will be kicking themselves for days about those blown chances. But if the past is any indication, the Packers under Mike McCarthy respond well to this kind of adversity. The Packers can take advantage of the early Week 4 bye to lick their wounds. The return of key injured players such as Morgan Burnett, Clay Matthews, Jermichael Finley, Casey Hayward and Eddie Lacy could revitalize this team heading into October, when the Packers have a much easier schedule with Detroit, Cleveland and Minnesota on the docket.

Thumbs up

Less than 6 minutes into the game, the Packers found themselves in a deep 14-0 hole in a hostile environment, but the defense provided the necessary spark to get them back in the game. The Packers’ defense had forced just one turnover in the first two weeks, but the Bengals coughed up the ball on four consecutive first-half possessions. Sam Shields got things started by picking off an Andy Dalton pass intended for A.J. Green, which led to a field goal. Then, Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk recovered a Jermaine Gresham fumble to halt another Cincinnati drive. Clay Matthews forced a BenJarvus Green-Ellis fumble that M.D. Jennings returned 24 yards for a touchdown to pull the Packers within 14-10. Finally, Matthews sacked Dalton to force another fumble and Brad Jones recovered to set up a field goal.

Thumbs down

It was bad enough that a Jeremy Ross muffed punt cost the Packers a touchdown in their playoff loss to San Francisco last January. But Ross hasn’t learned from the error of his ways. He fumbled a first-quarter kickoff return when he was slow to react to a short kick. The Bengals recovered on the Packers’ 2-yard line and scored a touchdown on the next play. It was a gift-wrapped touchdown and handed the Bengals an early two-touchdown lead. The Packers were hoping Ross would seize the return job this season, but instead he has looked tentative at times and can’t be trusted to hang on to the football. Due to Ross’ shaky performances, the Packers have been forced to use Randall Cobb in return situations on and off this season. It’s never ideal to expose one of your best offensive playmakers like Cobb to potential special teams injuries. Said McCarthy: “That’s just really unacceptable, just the judgment on the ball. It wasn’t just Jeremy. The bangers, the whole coordination of it just wasn’t intact with the flight of the football.”

Turning point

McCarthy decided to go for it on fourth-and-inches with the Packers leading 30-27 and 4:01 remaining in the game. The play failed miserably, with Johnathan Franklin fumbling on a dive up the middle and Bengals cornerback Terence Newman eventually scooping up the loose ball and rumbling 58 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. “Obviously I thought we could convert it, that’s why we called the play,” McCarthy said. “We didn’t get it done, and that’s the profession of play calling. When it works it’s excellent execution by your players, and when it doesn’t, it’s the play caller.” McCarthy said he initially considered sending Mason Crosby out to attempt a 48-yard field goal. “We had plenty of time to think about it,” McCarthy said. “Probably overthought it, because my initial thought was to kick the field goal. So I’m paid to make those decisions. When they go wrong, I’m responsible.”

By the numbers

• 14 — Years since a team that scored 30 unanswered points, as the Packers did against the Bengals, lost the game. On Sept. 12, 1999, Dallas beat Washington 41-35 in overtime after the Redskins scored 32 straight points.

• 41 — Consecutive games in which Aaron Rodgers didn’t throw two interceptions, until Sunday. It was the longest streak by a quarterback since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.

• 182 — Rushing yards by the Packers, 100 more than the Bengals

Did you notice?

McCarthy and Rodgers got into a heated discussion on the sideline late in the first half.

“I had called a play in a certain situation, and he was frustrated by it,” McCarthy said. “I feel good. One (argument) every three weeks would be awesome. He’s competitive, man. That’s what I love about him. I didn’t really think it was that big of a deal, frankly.”

Rodgers said he and McCarthy resolved their differences.

“We are both passionate about the game and competitive,” Rodgers said. “We want to win very badly. I went over and talked to him after that and we got on the same page. We needed to talk, we did and we moved on.”

Bengals safety George Iloka hit Jermichael Finley in the helmet with his shoulder in the first quarter, knocking the Packers tight end out of the game with a concussion, yet no penalty was called on what appeared to be an illegal shot against a defenseless receiver.

Rodgers wasn’t happy when Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson attempted a low hit at his knees in the third quarter. “Yeah, we made amends,” Rodgers said. “He said he didn’t mean anything by it, and I trust him.”

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports