OAKLAND, Calif. - An ugly victory is a victory all the same, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating for the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers found few positives in the way they started or finished Sunday’s game against Oakland, but did just enough in-between to turn back the Raiders 30-20 in front of 55,087 at O.co Coliseum and put an exclamation point on clinching their seventh consecutive playoff appearance.
It was the seventh time the Packers have won at least 10 games in a regular season under coach Mike McCarthy, but few were satisfied in the postgame locker room after the offense needed the entire first half to find its rhythm against Oakland.
The Packers’ defense kept things afloat in the first half with Micah Hyde's and Damarious Randall’s interceptions helping Green Bay seize a 14-0 lead in the first 10 minutes. It was critical with the offense punting four times and fumbling once during a first half that saw it register a mere 97 yards.
The early struggles might have had something to do with the team’s headset problems on the first few series. The Packers went three-and-out on their first two, gaining a single yard. Their only score in the first half came after Hyde’s interception gave the offense the ball at Oakland’s 18-yard line.
“It’s no excuse but the communication was horrendous,” McCarthy said. “It was ridiculous. It took us a while to get into a rhythm there. So, we came out and we wanted to establish the run, even though we were running uphill against their base defense and our sub offense.”
A flashy James Jones’ 30-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter gave the Packers the lead permanently, but the insertion of receiver Randall Cobb in the backfield helped force the Oakland Raiders out of their 3-4 defensive package and open up the offense.
The frustration came from the offense’s inability to finish drives in the end zone. Three times the Packers had to settle for Mason Crosby field goals within Oakland’s 15-yard line. Another late opportunity died when Aaron Rodgers’ pass intended for Jeff Janis was picked off at the goal line
“We show flashes of being very dominant on offense,” right guard T.J. Lang said. “You can’t start a game the way we did today. That’s just something that there’s a lot of stuff to clean up. I still think we’re a very good football team, no doubt. We just obviously next two games we have we have to find a way to be more consistent.”
The most maddening series for the Packers was sandwiched between the third and fourth quarter when they executed a 19-play, 92-yard series that ate 8 minutes, 11 seconds off the clock. Instead of shutting the door on the Raiders, however, they struck out on three plays inside the Raiders’ 1-yard line.
A fake pass to Richard Rodgers fell harmlessly to the ground on first down. Eddie Lacy, who finished with on 23 yards on 11 carries, was stuffed for a two-yard loss on the next play and then Aaron Rodgers rolled out and found no one on third down. Mason Crosby kicked a 21-yard field goal to make it 27-20.
The Packers’ defense forced Oakland into three consecutive turnovers on downs to neutralize a comeback, but the offense knows it needs to do better with season-defining games against Arizona (12-2) and Minnesota (9-5) on the horizon.
“When you get 20-play drives, you want to put it in the end zone,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “Those are dagger-type drives. You can start from the 5 and go 20 plays and put it in, that’s tough on a defense. I was proud the way the offense battled. We didn’t put on a good performance in the first half at all. It was ugly. Nothing was good about it, but we got it together in the second half.”
There were several positives for the offense, including Bulaga doing an exemplary job in his assignment against Oakland defensive end Khalil Mack. The NFL's sack leader added one more to his ledger early, but was contained for the remainder of the game. Rodgers and his receivers also drew three defensive pass interference calls and forced one penalty for 12 men on the field to maintain a slight edge in the chess match.
The Packers' offense has shown glimpses of what it can be in recent weeks whether it was the 230 rushing yards Lacy and Starks combined for in last Sunday's 28-7 win over Dallas or Rodgers' resourcefulness to squeeze out the team's third consecutive win in Oakland.
Still, there are lingering issues for the league's 20th-ranked offense.
"We just don't really have a clear-cut direction," said Rodgers, who finished with a 68.8 passer rating. "We got into some stuff with John (Kuhn) in there and four receivers, but we were too inconsistent."