4 Downs: Dougherty on Packers' loss
Every week I'll share four quick thoughts the day after the Green Bay Packers game. Here they are after the Packers' 37-29 loss at Carolina on Sunday:
First down: The Packers could face Cam Newton again this season in the playoffs. If they do, they saw him Sunday do what he does best, but they also saw his shortcomings. First off, Newton is a huge man who can really run. He gained 57 yards on nine carries, and his early scrambles for five and 23 yards helped put the Packers in a hole. He also threw a couple of good deep balls, including a pinpoint 52-yard pass to Devin Funchess against tight coverage by Damarious Randall. But Newton also missed several wide-open shorter throws that could have been big plays, including overthrowing tight end Greg Olsen on a potential 35-yard touchdown in the second quarter and receiver Jericho Cotchery for what would have been a four-yard touchdown on a third down in the third quarter. Newton also threw an inexcusable interception to Randall while trying to run out the final four minutes of the game. So while Newton is an MVP candidate, he’s also far from a surgeon as a thrower in his fifth NFL season.
Second down: The best guess is that the Packers will stick with Jake Ryan at inside linebacker after he replaced Nate Palmer late in the second quarter. Ryan finished the game with a team-high 10 tackles. While tackling stats have limited value — especially with linebackers, what matters is where they’re making the tackles, not how many — Ryan appeared to be a little more instinctive and quick-reacting than Palmer. Late in the third quarter, Ryan helped save four points when he prevented running back Jonathan Stewart from cutting back on a run wide left on second down from the Packers’ 5. He and Casey Hayward tackled Stewart at the 4, and Carolina ended up kicking a field goal.
Third down: Randall showed that while he’s going to take his share of lumps as a rookie, he needs to be on the field when starting cornerback Sam Shields returns from a shoulder injury. The first-round pick gave up his share of plays Sunday — besides the long catch on Randall, Funchess also beat Randall on a slant for a 14-yard touchdown. But Randall showed great awareness and ball skills on his fourth-quarter interception of Newton that set up the Packers for a potential game-tying touchdown. One of his strengths appears to be reading out routes and making plays on the ball. He did on that interception, as well as an interception of Peyton Manning last week and the win-clinching pass breakup against Philip Rivers two games ago.
Fourth down: With Shields inactive because of his injury, the Packers surprised by using Demetri Goodson as their No. 3 cornerback in the nickel instead of Micah Hyde or LaDarius Gunter. If they had it to do over again, though, you wonder if they’d have gone with Hyde or Gunter. Goodson’s worst play came on Corey Brown’s 39-yard touchdown late in the second quarter. Goodson also was penalized for holding on the play, yet still allowed Brown to get behind him several yards for the wide-open touchdown.