Silverstein: Packers show they're capable of teasing but not contending
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Green Bay Packers haven’t been a good enough football team to overcome poor quarterback play since they won the NFC Central Division title in 1972 with running backs John Brockington and MacArthur Lane accounting for two-thirds of their offense.
And they haven’t been good enough to overcome a three-interception day this entire year.
Not with that defense. Not with that lack of commitment to the run. Not with so few impact players.
The Packers were 28 yards away from playing a third straight overtime game and possibly pulling out a season-saving victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
But it was just a tease because since winning Super Bowl XLV they have been neither good enough nor talented enough to do more than put up a good front week after week.
If Aaron Rodgers had led the offense to a second touchdown in less than 3 minutes and the Packers had won the coin flip in overtime and scored a touchdown to pull out a miracle victory to improve to 8-6, it would have been merely a reprieve.
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It would have lasted until the Minnesota Vikings or Detroit Lions or some playoff opponent brought them back to reality with a slap in the face. They would have packed up their bags, noted how close they got again and then gotten ready to do it again.
General manager Ted Thompson’s anachronistic approach to talent acquisition has left them exposed at one specific position or area of athleticism or facet of the game at the end of every season since the Packers won their 13th championship in February 2011.
Every year it seems, they overcome a slew of injuries, rally to win the division or make the playoffs and then have their weaknesses picked at until it’s time to congratulate the opposition for moving on.
On Sunday, Rodgers was as much the problem as he was the solution, throwing three bad interceptions in his first game back since breaking his right collarbone in Minnesota on Oct. 15. He tried to play like the old Aaron Rodgers and just didn’t have it in him.
“I felt pretty good, I just missed some throws,” Rodgers said. “You know, I missed some ones I used to hit. I underthrew Randall (Cobb) for a pick, was trying to throw it away to (Davante Adams), got picked. Threw the ball in the dirt to Geronimo, in the red zone.
“Just uncharacteristic plays. Was disappointed in my performance today. I obviously didn’t play very well.”
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It was the third time this season their quarterback threw three interceptions. The other two were against Minnesota and Baltimore with Brett Hundley under center, and both resulted in blowout losses.
Anyone who was expecting Rodgers to shred the Panthers’ fifth-ranked defense in his first game in two months needed smelling salts. Rodgers was back to the guy who couldn’t win a close game at the end and needed to be propped up.
For instance, he needed Adams to have a monster game.
Well, the soon-to-be free agent was on his way to it with five catches for 57 yards and a touchdown until Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis took him out with blind-side block on one of Rodgers’ interceptions. Adams got flattened and suffered his second concussion of the year due to a blatantly illegal hit to the head.
Sure, it hurt to lose Adams, his No. 1 receiver, but where were Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, the Packers’ two $10 million receivers?
After Adams went out with 7 minutes 1 second left in the third quarter, Nelson was targeted five times and caught three passes for 28 yards with one interception and Cobb was targeted eight times and caught four passes for 27 yards.
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So, all totaled, they caught 7 of 13 passes for 55 yards post-Adams.
With those two shut down, Rodgers found a connection with tight end Richard Rodgers, completing three passes for 68 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Rodgers should have had Jared Cook to complement Rodgers, but Thompson signed Martellus Bennett instead, and we all know how that turned out.
Even so, the Packers should have one of those draft-and-develop receivers ready to blossom in a big game. His option was 2016 undrafted free agent Geronimo Allison, who when push came to shove showed why he wasn't drafted.
Instead of Allison getting stripped of the ball at the 28-yard line to end the Packers’ hopes, it should have been Bennett or Cook catching that pass. The Packers’ mode of operation is to move up former college basketball player Michael Clark from the practice squad to the 53-man roster rather than fish for someone who can help them now.
The two players they did draft this year and formed the crux of the offense while Rodgers was gone, running backs Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones, were shut down by their own team. Jones rushed three times for 47 yards, breaking runs of 20 and 23 yards, and yet touched the ball four times the entire day.
Then there’s the defense.
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The Panthers rolled up 387 yards and converted 6 of 12 third downs and never really got stopped when they absolutely needed to score. Not only did the Packers allow 151 yards rushing but they sacked Newton just once and allowed him to throw for four touchdowns.
At cornerback, the Packers are playing with one guy they can count on – Damarious Randall – and a collection of undrafted free agents and safeties who can’t match up with the array of talent the Panthers or Vikings or Lions have.
Seeing rookie Kevin King struggle with a shoulder injury and veteran Davon House suffer injury after injury and Quinten Rollins suffer a season-ending injury, Thompson did nothing to bolster the ranks. He put undrafted rookies Lenzy Pipkins and Donatello Brown on the 53-man roster, but the coaches didn’t play them because they weren’t ready.
The Kansas City Chiefs were so desperate for help they signed Darrelle Revis, but the Packers did nothing. And thus, they watched Newton own their secondary. It didn’t matter if they played man-to-man or zone, they couldn’t stop him or his receivers.
Playing safeties Morgan Burnett and Jermaine Whitehead in the slot and hoping rookie Josh Jones could play like a starter was a pipe dream. Not in coordinator Dom Capers’ system, which works better with experienced players in the secondary.
This team that had so much promise earlier in the year probably would have made the playoffs if Rodgers hadn’t gotten hurt, but its consistent apathy in patching gaps in its roster leads to games like this.
If anything, Thompson should feel OK about signing outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks and nose tackle Quinton Dial off the street in September because both provided some depth at their respective positions. But it wasn’t enough, and the Packers showed once again they’re undermanned when it comes to facing the best in the league.
Only this time, it happened in December.