NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Clocks froze for the two-minute warning and paused, if only for a moment, the jagged disembowelment of the Green Bay Packers, whose defense idled at its own 6-yard line while the Tennessee Titans threatened to score.
On the visitor’s sideline, defensive front assistant Jerry Montgomery stood bent at the waist. Football and nausea don’t often mix, but Montgomery looked positively sick. The defense had failed on its first four tries and nothing felt different about the fifth: Marcus Mariota rolled to his right to toss an easy 6-yard score.
Twenty-eight minutes had ticked off the clock, and the Packers trailed by four scores.
“That’s been our downfall the last couple games,” cornerback Demetri Goodson said. “We’ve been behind early, and it takes a lot to come out of that hole. It takes a lot of energy to climb out of that hole.”
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In the wake of Sunday’s demolition — the Titans drilled the Packers, who entered as betting favorites, 47-25 — Goodson’s statement is easily extrapolated to encompass the season as a whole. The Packers, thought by most to be Super Bowl contenders, if not the outright favorites, sit below .500 at the midway point or beyond for the first time since 2013, when quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed significant time due to injury. They’ve lost four of their last five games. They’re treading water in their own division, let alone the conference playoff picture.
“We’re a below-.500 football team,” defensive back Micah Hyde said. “Facts are facts. You can’t argue that. It is what it is. We’ve still got a long season left to make some plays. We can’t spot anybody points like that and from there we can’t give up big plays."
A season in turmoil registers differently with different players, but the prevailing attitude Sunday was of steadfast belief. Despite their many flaws, the Packers are staunch defenders of their scheme, their coaches and their talent. Everything they want to achieve remains possible, and things will improve because they say so.
Any opinions to the contrary were as rare as they are unpopular.
“I think we’re fine,” tight end Richard Rodgers said. “We’ve just got to find a way to win games and execute, do the little things right and get back on track. That’s really all we can do.”
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Said defensive tackle Mike Pennel: “Things didn’t go the way that we wanted them to. Our confidence never wavered. We came out and they got up on us and they won the game.”
Said Ty Montgomery: “Where do we think we are? Cliché as it sounds, we are where we are. We just need to deal with it, take one game at a time, focus on next week, just come back. That’s it. Losing sucks. But what can we do about it now except fix our mistakes.”
Shreds of pragmatism came from defensive players, who in recent weeks have been part of an alarming trend. Beginning in Week 6, when the Dallas Cowboys ransacked Lambeau Field, the opposition has scored first in each of the Packers’ last four defeats.
The Packers spotted seven points to the Cowboys, who went on to lead 17-6. They spotted three points to the Falcons, who also led 10-7. They gave seven points to the Colts, who returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and later opened a 24-10 lead. They gave 21 points to the Titans, who eventually took a 35-10 lead.
“It’s tough giving them points,” Hyde said. “That’s just something good football teams can’t do. That’s exactly what we’re doing week in and week out. It’s not good football.”
Said coach Mike McCarthy: “We dug ourselves a huge, huge hole, and frankly it comes down to the basics of football. And we weren’t nearly to the standard we expect from one another.”
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The smallest group was the realists, who refuse to ignore the truth. At 4-5, the Packers are 12th in the NFC standings and on the absolute fringe of the playoff picture. They trail two teams in their own division — the Detroit Lions and the Minnesota Vikings — and only the four worst teams are trailing them: Los Angeles Rams, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers.
The realists are sick like Jerry Montgomery because they know where this year’s Packers really stand.
“Every team in this league is good,” Goodson said. “I don’t care what people say about records, you know what I’m saying? Records don’t matter. Every team in this league can beat you if you don’t come to play.
“We’ve just got to find a way, man. Like coach tells us, don’t start acting differently because we took a couple L's. Just keep going back to the drawing board until we draw something up that works.”