Another ‘bad dream’ for Packers offense
This one wasn’t pretty.
Never mind the 39 points or 325 yards the Green Bay Packers’ defense allowed in the first half of their 39-26 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Forget about the sloppy penalties on special teams and early offensive struggles that occurred in front of the 74,440 packed into Lambeau Field.
The thing on the forefront of everyone’s mind Saturday night was the latest rash of injuries to hit the Packers. Three regular contributors — receiver Randall Cobb (shoulder), right tackle Bryan Bulaga (ankle bruise) and defensive back Micah Hyde (neck spasm) — all exited with injuries in the first half and didn’t return.
Cobb was the first to go down after landing awkwardly on his shoulder on a third-and-10 pass on the sideline from quarterback Brett Hundley, who was starting in place of Aaron Rodgers. The loss of Cobb for any significant period of time would be a massive issue for an offense that’s still reeling from the loss of Jordy Nelson to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Sunday’s 24-19 loss to Pittsburgh.
Cobb said after the game the injury was not collarbone-related, a notion reflected by Packers coach Mike McCarthy when asked if the injury was as serious as Nelson’s season-ending injury.
“I don’t think it will be,” said Cobb, who’ll undergo further tests Sunday. “It felt like a bad dream in that situation, having Jordy go down last week and then three plays in this series. It’s just unfortunate.”
The Packers pulled their only healthy starting receiver, Davante Adams, immediately after the opening series. The 2014 second-round pick is the only other receiver on the Packers’ roster who caught more than two passes last season.
However, the offense didn’t escape the first quarter without taking another hit. Bulaga had his left ankle rolled up on and didn’t return. The Packers already were playing without three starting offensive linemen: left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee), and guards Josh Sitton (ankle) and T.J. Lang (concussion).
On the field, the Packers were outscored 25-0 in the first quarter alone. Despite the return of linebacker Clay Matthews (elbow) and defensive lineman Mike Daniels (ankle), the defense had no answer for Sam Bradford and the Eagles’ no-huddle offense.
Bradford shredded the Packers’ defense, connecting on all 10 of his pass attempts for 121 yards and three touchdowns. To make matters worse, Philadelphia safety Walter Thurmond returned a Hundley interception for a 28-yard touchdown that gave the Eagles an 18-0 advantage not even 10 minutes into the game.
Even after Bradford exited, backup Mark Sanchez was 13-of-19 for 150 yards and another two touchdowns. The Eagles went 5-for-5 in the red zone in the first half, extending their lead to 39-14 at halftime with Sanchez’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Trey Burton.
It was the first time the Packers’ defense was playing with Matthews and Daniels back in the lineup.
“I think the Eagles just did a great job with what they did early on,” inside linebacker Sam Barrington said. “We knew what they were coming to do. It’s just about growth. Kudos to them.”
The Packers’ special teams might have had the roughest night of all. It started when Raheem Mostert returned the opening kickoff for 67 yards, starting the Eagles at the Packers’ 38-yard line. The unit was plagued by eight special-teams penalties for 52 yards.
“We just have to be more fundamental with more attention to detail,” said safety Chris Banjo. “I’m not exactly sure what all the penalties were, but from my perspective from what I saw, we just have to be more fundamentally sound with our hand placement and attention to the rules. I believe it’s definitely things we can clean up.
It wasn’t all bad for the Packers. The defense didn’t allow any points in the second half and Hundley settled in after his early interception en route to completing 22-of-31 passes for 315 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Third-round pick Ty Montgomery helped start the momentum when he caught a 56-yard pass from Hundley off a crossing route. On the next series, Hundley hit receiver Jeff Janis on a 28-yard pass in the second quarter to set up a seven-play, 74-yard drive that culminated in James Starks’ 1-yard touchdown run.
The UCLA quarterback also successfully guided the two-minute offense to an eight-play, 80-yard drive before halftime, hitting running back Rajion Neal for a touchdown off a 36-yard screen pass. He ended his night with one more touchdown off a 4-yard pass to tight end Kennard Backman, cutting the deficit to 39-20.
With Nelson and Cobb out, Myles White (nine catches for 89 yards), Jeff Janis (three catches for 72 yards and a touchdown) and rookie Ty Montgomery (two catches for 71 yards) made up a bulk of the Packers’ offense.
“I was like, ‘Oh, shoot! Here we go! Now we’ve got to really get it going,” said Montgomery about what crossed his mind when Cobb left. “That’s exactly what I thought in my head. But I don’t know exactly what’s wrong with him. Hopefully it’s not too serious. But those types of moments suck, and for a split second, it really hurt. But we’ve just got to get going and continue to keep this thing moving.”
Rodgers won’t play in the Packers’ preseason finale against New Orleans, but backup quarterback Scott Tolzien will be eligible after clearing the concussion protocol. He served as the emergency quarterback on Saturday night.
A chance to start against Eagles’ starting defense in the pivotal third preseason game is something Hundley won’t soon forget.
“When Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback here, you don’t think you’re going to start for a while,” Hundley said. “Because he’s playing some great football. It was an honor for me to start for the Green Bay Packers tonight and I’ll always remember this.”
The Packers have a lot of work to do with one week left in the preseason. McCarthy admits the team started “poorly” in the first quarter and “a little flat” against the run. As for playing starters in preseason games, McCarthy’s stance hasn’t changed.
“You have to play. You have to play football,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s nonsense to think you can just go and not play your starters throughout preseason. It’s not practical. We all signed up for four preseason games. That’s what it is.”
—firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.