2015 Packers season in review

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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers celebrates after throwing a Hail Mary to win the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.
Game 1: Packers 31, Bears 23


Sept. 13,2015 at Chicago


What happened: Clay Matthews came up big at Soldier Field for a second straight season, intercepting a Jay Cutler pass with just over three minutes left to help seal the season-opening victory. James Jones, re-signed to replace injured receiver Jordy Nelson, caught four passes for 51 yards and two touchdowns. Aaron Rodgers was deadly efficient (18-for-23, 189 yards, 3 TDs, no picks, 140.5 passer rating).

What it meant: Even without Nelson, the Packers’ offense seemed productive and well-balanced, with Eddie Lacy rushing for 85 yards and a touchdown.

Quote: “It felt good. We got back out there and it looked like we didn’t miss a beat.”

— Packers wide receiver James Jones

Pete Dougherty wrote: The Packers’ win “was just another illustration that most NFL games come down to quarterback play. … Rodgers made plays and no mistakes; Cutler did the opposite.”

Game 2: Packers 27, Seahawks 17


Sept. 20,2015 at Green Bay


What happened: With the Packers trailing 17-16 in the fourth quarter, Aaron Rodgers was a perfect 8-for-8 for 79 yards on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that was capped by a five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Richard Rodgers. A pair of forced turnovers by outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott stymied any hopes of another Seahawks comeback.

What it meant: The Packers got a degree of payback after blowing a big lead and losing to Seattle in the NFC championship game eight months earlier.

Quote: “We’re 2-0, it feels good. You sleep better when you win.”

— Packers coach Mike McCarthy

Pete Dougherty wrote: “If they were going to beat the NFC’s Super Bowl team the past two years, the one thing they had to do was keep (Marshawn) Lynch from the controlling the game.” Lynch was held to 41 yards on 15 carries.

Game 3: Packers 38, Chiefs 28


Sept. 28, 2015 at Green Bay


What happened: In their best offensive showing of the season, the Packers got another flawless performance from Aaron Rodgers (24-for-35, 333 yards, five touchdowns, passer rating of 138.5). James Jones (139 yards) and Randall Cobb (91 yards) each caught seven passes and Eddie Lacy gained 87 total yards as Green Bay built a 24-7 lead.

What it meant: With the offense clicking and the defense playing well, the Packers’ arrow definitely was pointing upward, but there was bad news on the injury front with receiver Davante Adams exiting the game with a sprained ankle and safety Morgan Burnett missing the game with a calf injury.

Quote:  “We just talk about the opportunity and being able to make the most out of it. When you’re playing with a great quarterback like Aaron, it makes things a lot easier.”

— Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb

Pete Dougherty wrote: The NFL is about quarterbacks, “but it’s also a cornerbacks and receivers game, and (the Packers’) win showed as great a disparity at those two positions as you’re going to see.”

Game 4: Packers 17, 49ers 3


Oct. 4, 2015 at San Francisco


What happened: Green Bay’s defense finally got the best of Colin Kaepernick, sacking the San Francisco quarterback six times and making him uncomfortable in the pocket from the start. Aaron Rodgers led a 12-play, 80-yard drive that produced a touchdown on the Packers’ first possession and they never really were threatened.

What it meant: Although Rodgers had another good day (22-for-32, 224 yards, 1 TD, passer rating of 99.0), the 49ers’ strategy of trying to contain him in the pocket to prevent him from freelancing for big plays would be copied by other NFL teams. It was an early warning sign, unnoticed by most, that the Packers’ offense could have vulnerabilities.

Quote: “The Packers are the most dangerous team in the NFL.”

— FOX broadcaster Joe Buck

Pete Dougherty wrote: The Packers’ quarterback “has been exceptional, and his command over every facet of the game gives off the feeling that whenever they have to have a score, they probably will get it.”

Game 5: Packers 24, Rams 10


Oct. 11, 2015 at Green Bay


What happened:  Green Bay’s defense again took center stage, intercepting St. Louis quarterback Nick Foles four times (one a 45-yard pick 6 by rookie cornerback Quentin Rollins), sacking him three times and registering 12 QB hits.  After an early 14-0 lead was whittled to four, Aaron Rodgers went to his Mr. Reliable — James Jones — for the game’s biggest play, a 65-yard touchdown pass.

What it meant: The offense again spun its wheels most of the day, with Rodgers throwing two interceptions (his first at Lambeau Field in nearly three years) and receivers struggling to get open. It would become a season-long lament.

Quote: “They kind of challenged us in the box and then challenged us outside and we didn’t get open enough and didn’t throw it well enough today.”

— Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers

Pete Dougherty wrote: “One thing is clear: (The Packers) are not the same without Jordy Nelson stretching the field.”

Game 6: Packers 27, Chargers 20


Oct. 18, 2015 at Green Bay


What happened: The Packers survived a dazzling performance by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (43-for-65, career-high 503 yards) when, on a fourth-and-goal play from the Green Bay 3 with 20 seconds left, rookie cornerback Damarious Randall batted away a pass intended for Danny Woodhead. On offense, James Starks got the start at running back over Eddie Lacy and responded with 112 yards, including a 65-yard TD run.

What it meant: The Packers achieved coach Mike McCarthy’s goal of getting off to a fast start by taking advantage of a favorable early schedule to cruise into their bye week with a 6-0 record.

Quote: “We’re a 1-2 punch team. … We went with James first just because he’s been playing extremely well and Eddie has been a little banged up.”

— Packers coach Mike McCarthy

Pete Dougherty wrote: “The Green Bay Packers are one of the five unbeatens remaining in the NFL. … But in the big picture, they head into the bye with some nagging issues. … For the third straight week their banged-up offense had what can only be called a blasé performance.”

Packers' false start masked issues

Game 7: Broncos 29, Packers 10


Nov. 1, 2015 at Denver


What happened: Peyton Manning snapped out of his slump and was masterful on this night, completing 21 of 29 passes for 340 yards, and Denver used a dominant defense to dismantle Green Bay’s offense and hand the Packers their first loss.

What it meant: All the issues that had haunted the Packers’ offense this season were magnified, courtesy of the NFL’s top defense. And the defense again showed the strain of having to carry the load, giving up 500 total yards for the second straight game.

Quote: “That’s a humbling loss. I haven’t had my ass kicked like that in a long time.”

— Packers coach Mike McCarthy

Pete Dougherty wrote: “In the overall arc of the 2015 season, this was one of 16 and might not have much bearing on what happens in January and, perhaps, beyond. … But the Packers learned several things in this blowout loss, including that their defense can give up yards by the bushel.”

Game 8: Panthers 37, Packers 29


Nov. 8, 2015 at Carolina


What happened: The Panthers pounced on the Packers early, roaring to a 27-7 halftime lead as Cam Newton threw for two touchdowns and ran for another. The Packers battled back and had a chance to force overtime late with a TD and two-point conversion, but a fourth-and-goal pass fell incomplete.

What it meant: After a 6-0 start, the Packers suffered their second straight loss, but both were against quality opponents on the road. The Packers knew they’d get a golden opportunity to right the ship the next week when they hosted the last-place Lions (1-7) at Lambeau Field.

Quote: “These two teams have been rolling right now that we’ve played these last two weeks with the home-field advantage. With that being said we feel confident if we have to come here and play in the playoffs that we could get the job done.”

— Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers

Pete Dougherty wrote: Though the Packers are tied for the second-best record in the NFC at 6-2, their arrow for now is decidedly pointed down. … The truth after a half season is that they were badly outplayed on the road by the two best teams on their first-half schedule.”

Game 9: Lions 18, Packers 16


Nov. 15, 2015 at Green Bay


What happened: In perhaps their worst performance in 10 years under coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers lost to the lowly Lions for the first time at home in 24 years. Aaron Rodgers threw for 333 yards and two touchdowns but had a staggering 61 attempts as Green Bay got nowhere on the ground. The Lions tried to give the game away with late miscues, but after the Packers recovered an onside kick, Mason Crosby flubbed a 52-yard field-goal attempt as time expired.

What it meant: With this shocking third straight loss, the Packers fell a game behind the surging Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North. After once being favored to reach the Super Bowl, the Packers suddenly no longer even were in command of their division race.

Quote:  “We’ve got to win that game. I hate it. It kills me inside. … I’ve obviously hit some big kicks here, but that one just didn’t come off the right way.”

— Packers kicker Mason Crosby

Pete Dougherty wrote: “Going in, I thought it was still way too early for coach Mike McCarthy to take back the play-calling duties. But after the Packers’ 16-point performance at home against the previously one-win Lions, I’m not so sure.”

Game 10: Packers 30, Vikings 13


Nov. 22, 2015 at Minnesota


What happened: The Packers’ defense channeled three weeks of frustration into their best performance in more than a month, controlling the trenches and manhandling the Vikings’ front to retake control of the NFC North.

What it meant: After the brutal home loss to the Lions, the Packers gained a much-needed confidence boost. The offense finally showed signs of life, with Eddie Lacy rushing for 100 yards on 22 carries and James Jones (sporting a green hoodie under his No. 89 jersey) catching six passes for 109 yards and a touchdown.

Quote: “Coach asked everyone to search (within) themselves. Sometimes it’s easy to look at the other guys and say, ‘Him, him, him.’ But if you really want to be a good team, everyone has to look inward.”

— Defensive tackle B.J. Raji

Pete Dougherty wrote: “If the Packers still remain capable of suffering a home loss like the one to the Lions, they showed they still have the premier quarterback and all-around roster talent that makes those failures so stunning.”

Game 11: Bears 17, Packers 13


Nov. 26, 2015 at Green Bay


What happened: The unthinkable happened. On a night when the Packers honored Brett Favre and welcomed Bart Starr back to Lambeau Field, they lost on national TV to their archrival – a team they had embarrassed 55-14 at Lambeau the previous year – on a rain-soaked night when nothing went right.

What it meant: All the positives the Packers had gleaned from their upset win at Minnesota were negated when the dysfunctional offense failed to score in the second half, including four opportunities from the Bears 8 in the final minute.

Quote: “There’s no big something’s broke here. We’ve got to do a better job on the little things.”

— Packers coach Mike McCarthy

Pete Dougherty wrote: “Maybe Mike McCarthy has to take back the play calling. He certainly has to do something. The Green Bay Packers’ offense isn’t right. … With a Super Bowl out there for the taking, I’d say McCarthy has to risk the disruption and make the move.”

Game 12: Packers 27, Lions 23


Dec. 3, 2015 at Detroit


What happened: This game exemplified the Packers’ roller-coaster season. Given one final chance courtesy of a questionable facemask penalty against the Lions as time should have expired, Aaron Rodgers launched the ultimate Hail Mary pass from 61 yards out. It somehow came down in the hands of tight end Richard Rodgers in the end zone, gifting Green Bay with a stunning 27-23 victory.

What it meant: After starting the season 6-0, the Packers were seconds away from being swept by the Lions and falling to 7-5. Instead, the unlikely victory – which gave Green Bay a sweep of its NFC North rivals on the road – pulled the Packers to within a half-game of the first-place Vikings heading into a 10-day break before a winnable home game against Dallas.

Quote: “This is perfect. This is right on time. We needed this. This is something we can build off of. This is big time.”

— Packers outside linebacker Julius Peppers

Pete Dougherty wrote: “They were one play away from disaster. One play away from a 7-5 record and a season possibly spinning out of their control. The question now is, what do they do from here?"

Grading the 2015 Packers by position

Game 13: Packers 28, Cowboys 7


Dec. 13, 2015 at Green Bay


What happened: The big news came before kickoff: Packers coach Mike McCarthy decided to resume calling plays in hopes of getting the offense out of its ongoing funk. The immediate results featured a heavy dose of Eddie Lacy, who carried 24 times for 124 yards and a touchdown. Fullback John Kuhn also got increased playing time in a blocking role as the Packers controlled the ball (37:48 time of possession).

What it meant: McCarthy's move was an admission that his decision to give the play-calling reins to Tom Clements hadn’t worked out. Whatever the reason, the Packers’ offense in this game played with more balance.

Quote: “The decision was made because I feel as the leader of this football team, I’ve got to make sure I maximize all the opportunities and resources to (save) and to give our team the chance to win.”

— Packers coach Mike McCarthy

Pete Dougherty wrote: “Mike McCarthy did what he had to do. … There was no mistaking that the Packers looked different, and by different I mean better.”

Game 14: Packers 30, Raiders 20


Dec. 20,2015 at Oakland


What happened: The Packers clinched a playoff berth, but few were satisfied in the postgame locker room after the offense needed the entire first half to find its rhythm. Interceptions by Micah Hyde and Damarious Randall (his a pick 6) helped Green Bay seize a 14-0 lead in the first 10 minutes. The offense produced only one touchdown, a 30-yard pass to James Jones that put Green Bay ahead to stay in the third quarter.

What it meant: With their fifth road win, the Packers remained a game ahead of the Vikings in the NFC North and stayed in the chase for a first-round playoff bye if they could win at Arizona the following week.

Quote: “We’re in the playoffs. That’s big. There’s a lot of teams that can’t say that.”

— Packers safety Micah Hyde

Pete Dougherty wrote: “Something still feels off. Their offense, though better with coach Mike McCarthy back calling plays, still lacks the rhythm and playmaking that made it one of the most-feared units in the league the past several seasons.”

Game 15: Cardinals 38, Packers 8


Dec. 27, 2015 at Arizona


What happened: Playing behind an injury-riddled offensive line, Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times. Two were strip-sack fumbles that the Cardinals returned for touchdowns to break the game open in the third quarter. The game turned late in the second quarter when Rodgers threw an end-zone interception and Arizona marched to a quick TD for a 17-0 lead at intermission, a devastating 14-point swing.

What it meant: The Packers lost more than just a shot at claiming the No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye. Green Bay’s sputtering offense was exposed for all to see in the nationally televised drubbing, which ensured that the winner of the regular-season finale against the Vikings would be the division champion and host a playoff game.

Quote: “It’s a helpless feeling. We’ve got to do our jobs better.”

— Packers right guard T.J. Lang

Pete Dougherty wrote: “The Green Bay Packers will be in the playoffs, but it’s hard to see them doing much damage. … The Packers don’t have the punch to beat good teams.”

Game 16: Vikings 20, Packers 13


Jan. 3, 2016 at Green Bay


What happened: With the Packers trailing 13-3 but driving in Vikings territory midway through the third quarter, Aaron Rodgers was stripped while attempting to pass and the fumble was returned 55 yards for a Vikings touchdown. The 20-3 deficit was too much for this season’s Packers offense to overcome.

What it meant: Despite starting 6-0, the Packers would be hitting the road to Washington for the first round of the playoffs.

Quote: “We just haven’t been the same offense we were. We haven’t found our identity.”

— Packers left guard Josh Sitton

Pete Dougherty wrote: “McCarthy desperately is trying to change the team’s identity to give it some kind of chance in the playoffs. But the effort to turn this offense, which had been a thoroughbred from 2009 to last season, into a half-court, grind-it-out running team yielded no results.”

Game 17: Packers 35, Washington 18


Jan. 10, 2016 at Washington


What happened:  Trailing 11-0, the Packers finally scored a touchdown after going punt, safety, punt and punt in their first four possessions. Outside linebacker Mike Neal stripped the ball from Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins and recovered the fumble, and the Packers converted that into a field goal to make it 11-10. With momentum on their side, the Packers scored another TD to take a 17-11 halftime lead and went on to dominate the second half.

What it meant: After blowing the NFC North title, the Packers took the first step on the road to redemption by rallying to beat Washington. That earned them a rematch in the desert against Arizona and a chance to atone for the 38-8 regular-season drubbing.

Quote: “We just needed a game like this to get our mojo back and get our confidence going.”

— Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers

Pete Dougherty wrote: “It’s not just that they won. It’s that they put up 35 points and for the first time in a couple months looked like an offense that can strike some fear in defensive coordinators.”

Game 18: Cardinals 26, Packers 20


Jan. 16, 2016 at Arizona


What happened: Another amazing Hail Mary, but this time, the end result wasn’t victory. Jeff Janis somehow came down with Aaron Rodgers’ final-play heave in the end zone from 41 yards out to send the game into overtime, but on the first play of the extra period, Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald was left open and took a pass 75 yards to the Packers 5. He scored two plays later to end an extraordinary game.

What it meant: The Packers’ season ended without them ever finding a suitable replacement for injured receiver Jordy Nelson. Without a deep threat (Janis barely saw any playing time until this game), Green Bay’s offense sputtered and the defense, which played well all season, broke down when it mattered most.

Quote: “It’s tough to swallow. There wasn’t a doubt in our mind that we were going to win the football game. I think the game was pretty much a microcosm of our season.”

— Packers coach Mike McCarthy

Pete Dougherty wrote: “(The Packers’) inspired performance in their overtime loss more than anything leaves you wondering: Where was this all season?”

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