Frustration builds for passing game

Weston Hodkiewicz
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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) gets sacked by Chicago Bears linebacker Lamarr Houston (99) at Lambeau Field.

The Green Bay Packers’ on-again, off-again offense once again came up empty when it mattered most.

The Packers had a chance to erase a day filled with missed opportunities in the final two minutes of Thursday night’s Thanksgiving game against the Chicago Bears. Instead, another failed comeback doomed the offense in a 17-13 loss to the Chicago Bears in front of 78,488 at Lambeau Field.

Paired with the team’s 18-16 letdown against Detroit two weeks ago, it’s the first time the Packers have lost back-to-back home games with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback since 2008. It also knocks Green Bay (7-4) out of its brief perch at the top of the NFC North.

The Packers’ offense had three series in the final 12 minutes, but couldn’t get it done. Green Bay drove all the way to the Chicago 8 on its last possession, but the threat ended with four incompletions. That included receiver James Jones failing to come up with a pass in the end zone on third-and-goal.

“I think the most frustrating part was we had two drives there late in the game to potentially go down and score and take the lead and didn’t come through,” right guard T.J. Lang said. “Four shots from the 8- or 9-yard line, whatever it is, obviously feeling pretty good, but we didn’t make a play.”

McCarthy needs to take back play calling

The night, highlighted by the return of Bart Starr and the unveiling of Brett Favre’s No. 4 on the north end-zone façade, did little to alleviate the long-running concerns about the Packers’ offense. Rodgers completed only 22-of-42 passes and threw for only 202 yards, while his receivers did him few favors.

Running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks combined for 75 yards of that passing production. While Lacy rushed for 100 yards for the second consecutive week, Green Bay’s offense again was handcuffed by a shoddy passing game.

The Packers and Rodgers, who also injured his left elbow in the third quarter, had two chances at retaking the lead in the final four minutes of the game. On the first, they had a pass picked off by Bears cornerback Tracy Porter when Davante Adams was knocked off his slant route.

Coincidentally, it was Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Alshon Jeffery who reigned on rain-soaked Lambeau Field. Cutler, who improved to 2-11 against Green Bay, didn’t turn over the ball and produced nearly half of his 200 passing yards through Jeffery, who had seven catches for 90 yards.

Rodgers struggled to develop rhythm with his own perimeter options. As has been the case for most of the year, receivers couldn’t beat press coverage. When they did one-on-one matchups, either Rodgers couldn’t get them the ball or they dropped it.

Jones (zero catches on six targets) and Adams (two catches on 11 targets) were non-factors for most of the game, and each failed to come down with the ball at critical points in the game.

“I’m obviously going to have to make sure my preparation is as high as it’s ever been because we need to get on the same page, the passing game,” Rodgers said. “We’re just on different pages. When you miss throws, when I’m throwing at a certain depth, when receivers are running at certain depth — we’re obviously on different pages.”

The first half was a myriad of missed opportunities for the Packers’ offense. Green Bay wasted a 27-yard run by Lacy on the opening series when it unsuccessfully tried to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Chicago 48.

The Packers had another chance to score on the next series when Davante Adams came free on what might have been a 47-yard touchdown if he didn’t drop it. He finished with only 14 receiving yards with at least two drops. After, McCarthy admitted the second-year receiver “didn’t have a very good day.”

Thumbs up to ceremony, down to passing game

The Packers finally got in the end zone when JC Tretter and Lang helped clear a path to the end zone for Lacy on a 27-yard touchdown to take a 7-0 lead. As satisfying as the score was, it was the only time Green Bay saw the end zone. Otherwise, it went 0-for-2 in its red-zone opportunities.

The Packers need players to make plays. Right now, it’s not happening.

“Any time the ball’s available,” McCarthy said. “You guys go to practice. We do more damned ball drills here in the history of football. It didn’t show up tonight.”

Lacy broke free for another 15-yard carry in the second quarter, but Bears safety Chris Prosinski popped it out from behind him. It was Lacy’s fourth fumble in the Packers’ last five games. The Bears, who came in as the 29th-ranked red-zone offense, then scored on a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Miller.

Jeff Janis’ 64-yard kickoff return gave Green Bay the ball at the 33, but the Packers had to settle for a 22-yard Mason Crosby field goal after not executing on James Starks’ screen pass that could have been a potential touchdown and James Jones being flagged for an illegal pick on a Randall Cobb catch.

After Crosby’s 50-yard field goal cut the deficit to 14-13 at halftime, the Packers drove all the way to the Chicago 21-yard line after the break, but a holding call on right guard Josh Sitton and a bad snap by JC Tretter pushed them out of field-goal territory.

Rodgers hurt his non-throwing (left) elbow on the recovery. Afterward, Rodgers said he wasn’t concerned about it despite feeling having yet to return to two of his fingers. The defense then lost cornerback Damarious Randall (knee) in the second half.

The Packers still had three chances to mount a comeback. The first try stalled when Rodgers was sacked on third-and-10. Then, he was picked off Porter picked off the intended screen pass intended for Adams, who was bumped off his route by Prosinski.

“Didn’t look like it was a very good route,” McCarthy added. “I didn’t have a very good perspective on it. There was a collision with the defender about 6, 7 yards down the field and that’s the result of it.”

The Packers’ defense got one more stop and the offense finally began to fire when Rodgers beat the Bears’ blitz for his longest completion of the day of 32 yards to Cobb. He then fired an 8-yard pass to Adams to get to Chicago’s 8 where the drive ultimately stalled.

It followed a similar trend for the Packers’ offense, which failed to rally back in losses to Carolina (37-29) and two weeks ago against the Lions. When asked where the frustration level was afterward, Lang didn’t mince words.

“All-time high,” Lang said. “I mean, it was obviously tough a few years ago when Aaron was out, but we don’t have any excuses now. It’s just the same stuff that’s been holding us down all year. We’ve got five games, and we’ve got to find a way to correct the mistakes.”

Now, the Packers will travel to Detroit to face off again with the Lions, who have now won three straight. Green Bay has five regular-season games to figure out what’s going wrong with its offense. Too often the offense has been reduced to moving the ball on broken plays this season.

For now, the Packers are left with a bitter pill to swallow after garnishing the long-anticipated return of Favre and Starr with another disheartening loss.

“Both sides of the ball we came out flat and the Bears took advantage of it,” defensive end/outside linebacker Datone Jones said. “And we’re a lot better than that. We’ve got to come fired up man. You step on the field at Lambeau, Thanksgiving game, Brett Favre’s jersey being retired. I feel like it was a slap in his face.” and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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