Insider: Thumbs down to depleted pass defense
The Packers placed their NFC playoff hopes on life support by losing their fourth straight game for the first time since 2008 and falling to 4-6. With the Vikings and Lions both 6-4 after winning Sunday, the Packers trail two teams by two games in the division race and are even further behind the Giants (7-3) and Washington (6-3-1), among others, in the wild-card race. Next up is a Monday night game in Philadelphia against a physical Eagles team coached by former Packers backup quarterback Doug Pederson, before Green Bay returns home to face the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks. The Packers close the season against Minnesota and Detroit, but will Green Bay be playing out the string by then?
BOX SCORE: Washington 42, Green Bay 24
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The Packers managed to overcome two long Kirk Cousins touchdown passes to pull within 29-24 midway through the fourth quarter, and momentum was on their side. But for the third straight drive, Cousins burned Green Bay deep, this one a 53-yard pass to Jamison Crowder that carried down to the 1-yard line and set up a Robert Kelley touchdown to put Washington ahead 35-24. Packers' hopes were extinguished when tight end Jared Cook lost a costly fumble on the next series, and Kelley scored yet again to seal a 42-24 Washington victory.
Aaron Rodgers has been in the eye of the storm surrounding the Packers’ problems this season, at times criticizing the team for its poor execution and lack of “juice” while at the same time dismissing critics as “white noise.” Against Washington, Rodgers started slowly, with the Packers’ offense going three-and-out on its first three drives for the first time in his career. But with the wind at his back in the second quarter, Rodgers engineered a masterful 17-play, 75-yard drive that took 8:29 off the clock and pulled Green Bay even at 7-7. On the Packers’ next drive, he used his feet to scamper 17 yards and set up a go-ahead field goal. He was excellent in the second half as well but couldn't match Cousins' firepower. On the night, Rodgers completed 26 of 41 passes for 351 yards, 3 TDs and a passer rating of 115.
Green Bay’s struggling pass defense welcomed back outside linebacker Clay Matthews, whose quarterback-pursuit skills were sorely missed when he sat out the losses to the Falcons, Colts and Titans because of a hamstring injury. It certainly seemed to help Nick Perry, whose sack of Cousins on Washington’s first series was his first since the last time Matthews was in the lineup. And Julius Peppers joined in the fun with a third-quarter sack. But a depleted secondary (which lost cornerback Demetri Goodson to a second-quarter knee injury and already was missing Sam Shields and Damarious Randall) got torched for long bombs to Crowder (44 yards and a TD), Pierre Garcon (70 yards and a TD) and Crowder again (53 yards down to the 1) on consecutive possessions in the second half. Cousins finished 21 of 30 for 375 yards, 3 TDs and a passer rating of 145.8.
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RANTS AND RAVES
RANT: The Packers’ running game, virtually non-existent since Eddie Lacy was placed on injured reserve, was in desperate need of a boost from James Starks, who returned to action against Tennessee after recovering from knee surgery. Newly acquired Christine Michael was inactive, leaving converted receiver Ty Montgomery as the main backup. Starks rushed for only 25 yards on nine carries but caught five passes for 46 yards and a TD. Not awful, but a far cry from the kind of ground game the Packers so desperately need.
RAVE: Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams had been taking turns as Rodgers’ go-to receivers, with Nelson catching 12 passes in Tennessee and Adams posting double-digit receptions against the Bears and Falcons. On Sunday, it was Cook returning from injury to make six catches for 105 yards and a TD, including field-stretching receptions of 47 and 29 yards in the third quarter. Nelson had three catches for 28 yards and a TD while Randall Cobb contributed three catches for 84 yards, including a huge 47-yard gain in which he broke two tackles to set up a fourth-quarter TD.
RANT: The Packers’ highly ranked run defense embarrassed itself in Tennessee by allowing a 75-yard TD run by DeMarco Murray on the first play from scrimmage. Playing without injured inside linebacker and leading tackler Jake Ryan, the unit hoped to atone by shutting down rookie back Kelley, whose 10-yard burst up the middle into the end zone just before halftime gave Washington a 13-10 lead. Kelley just kept pounding away and wore down the Packers, finishing with 137 yards and three TDs on 24 carries.
RANT: Green Bay’s special teams had been inconsistent of late, allowing a game-opening, 99-yard touchdown run against the Indianapolis Colts and missing an extra point against the Titans. On Sunday, Jeff Janis badly misplayed a short kickoff in the third quarter, with Richard Rodgers averting disaster by falling on the ball at the Packers’ 2. The Packers managed to march downfield but, kicking into a tough wind, Mason Crosby missed a 36-yard field-goal attempt.
DID YOU NOTICE?
» The Packers went three-and-out on their first three possessions, the first time that has happened in Rodgers’ career, according to NFL Research.
» Outside linebacker Peppers, who had been invisible in recent games, made an impact play midway through the second quarter when he leaped into the air and batted down a third-down pass by Cousins.
» Packers cornerback Goodson was carted off in the second quarter after sustained a left-knee injury that looked so severe that NBC declined to show it on replay.
» The Packers slipped to 24-11 in regular-season Sunday night games since 1990, and 12-9 under coach Mike McCarthy.
» Against NFC opponents in the regular season, the Packers now are 83-43-1 under McCarthy, with the win total and percentage (.657) still ranking first in the conference during that time.