THE BIG PICTURE
The Packers are a team in crisis. They’ve lost three straight and four of their last five. Never mind that they’re still just a game out of first place in the NFC North. They just lost to a 4-5 team whose only victory this season over a team with a winning record was Week 2 at Detroit. Coach Mike McCarthy can’t seem to get his team to realize when the game really starts. Last week, the Packers gave up a return touchdown on the opening kickoff. This week, they gave up a 75-yard touchdown run on Tennessee’s first official play from scrimmage. Their offense was ineffective until QB Aaron Rodgers started throwing quickly and in rhythm, but that didn’t start happening until the second quarter and then when they resorted back to the old way in the fourth quarter. Their defense never really recovered from a 21-point barrage in the first quarter and gave up 35 points before the half was over. It was the most they’ve allowed in a half since 2004 against Philadelphia. It was the third straight game they couldn’t stop anybody when it mattered and the collapse of this unit could be a referendum on defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
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BOX SCORE: Titans 47, Packers 25
The Packers finally got a stop in the second quarter and were set to get the ball back with 2½ minutes left with a chance to make Tennessee’s 28-10 lead more manageable heading into the second half. But on the ensuing punt, rookie Trevor Davis misjudged the ball and had to run up for a fair catch. Davis reached low for it and had it in his hands for a second before starting to juggle it. Davis was definitely going to fumble, but replays showed the Titans’ Beau Brinkley made contact with Davis before the ball hit the ground. Returners are allowed as much room as they need to catch a ball as long as they’ve signaled for a fair catch. So, a penalty should have been called. But it didn’t erase the fact that Davis put the ball on the ground in a clutch situation and fellow rookie Kyler Fackrell was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for pulling players off the pile. Instead of the Packers taking over in their own territory with 2:22 to go, the Titans had the ball at the Packers 12. It took them only three plays to score and turn their lead into an insurmountable 25 points.
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Leadership comes in many forms but none more effective than someone turning up their game a notch when it’s really needed. Receiver Davante Adams did his best to inject some fight into his teammates with a six-catch, 156-yard performance. It was the second time this season he has set a new career high for yards receiving and he would have had 197 if Rodgers had seen him running wide open to the end zone on the fourth-down pass that tight end Richard Rodgers dropped with 12:07 to go. Scoring there would have cut Tennessee’s lead to 44-32, but instead the Packers turned the ball over on downs. Adams was a force running routes against Tennessee’s mediocre corners, his best catch an over-the-shoulder fingertip 35-yard reception on fourth-and-5. As soon as Adams started making plays, everyone else did, too. Rodgers made a mistake aiming just nine passes Adams’ way.
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General manager Ted Thompson counts on first- and second-year players to play like veterans. It’s part of his draft-and-develop philosophy. But those players betrayed him in this game. Start with Davis’ muffed punt and Fackrell’s penalty. Titans tight end Delanie Walker used safety Kentrell Brice in the open field, busting tackles for big first downs. First-round pick Kenny Clark barely sniffed the football, finishing with one tackle. Cornerback Quinten Rollins got benched after it appeared he was at fault for giving up a 33-yard touchdown in the third quarter in which he appeared to be playing a different coverage than everybody else. Davis also dropped a comeback route late in the game and rookie left tackle Jason Spriggs was partly responsible for a sack in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t the rookies’ fault the Packers lost, but they sure could have helped more.
RANTS & RAVES
RANT: Again, what does it take for McCarthy and Rodgers to figure out that when they run the spread offense and get the ball out quickly, Rodgers is a far more efficient quarterback than when he’s holding the ball in the pocket second-guessing his reads and refusing to throw where he should? Rodgers got in quite a rhythm during the second-through-third quarters, leading the Packers to 25 points. But that wasn’t how they started and the offense was forced to punt on its first three possessions.
RANT: Was linebacker Julius Peppers on the field? He definitely wasn’t on the stat sheet. The 15-year veteran is bordering on washed-up status. He was being saved in training camp so that he could be fresh later in the season, but with Clay Matthews sidelined for a third straight game, he has been thrust into a more active role. And there is no freshness to his game. He has been a non-factor the last two weeks with one assisted tackle. Over the past seven weeks he has two sacks, a half-tackle for loss and a quarterback hit.
RAVE: For a guy who had knee surgery four weeks ago, running back James Starks looked about as close to 100 percent as one could expect. Starks was a surprise starter and played more times in the backfield than Ty Montgomery. In seven carries, Starks gained 33 yards, a 4.7-yard average. He also caught three passes for 11 yards, including a 13-yard screen pass in which he bulled his way into the end zone. If he plays like that the rest of the way, the Packers will have a legitimate running and receiving threat.
RANT: What is it about this team with injuries? They got Starks back this week, center Corey Linsley the previous week and finally had a little breathing room in the secondary with Rollins and Demetri Goodson back to full healthy. Then on his first play on the field, linebacker Jake Ryan injured his ankle covering a punt. It was a bad loss for the run defense. Later in the game, guard T.J. Lang suffered what appears to be a serious ankle injury and left tackle David Bakhtiari left with a knee injury. Two steps forward, three back.
DID YOU NOTICE?
» The Packers were so confident in Starks’ ability to function that they left rookie Don Jackson on the inactive list.
» Before the game, tight end Jared Cook was running routes and catching passes from cornerback Damarious Randall. Both players were inactive but are getting closer to a return.
» When safety Morgan Burnett left with an injury in the first half, the Packers played with rookie free-agent safeties Brice and Marwin Evans in their dime package.
» Referee Jeff Triplette botched the number identification and description of penalties so many times, reporters and fans were forced to guess exactly who made the infraction and what it was.
» The Packers did not have another healthy offensive lineman available because center JC Tretter and rookie tackle Kyle Murphy were inactive. If they had suffered one more injury they would have had to play a tight end or defensive player on the offensive line.