Packers Insider: Thumbs up to Kenny Clark, down to Randall Cobb
All things considered, another tie would've looked pretty good for the Packers on a dreary day in D.C. Instead, the favored Packers stumbled and fumbled their way to a 31-17 defeat against a Washington team that was beaten handily at home by the Colts a week earlier. This was a painful loss in more ways than one, with big free-agent defensive line acquisition Muhammad Wilkerson suffering a serious ankle injury and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (back) and right guard Justin McCray (shoulder) also having to leave the game. And for those who thought the Packers (1-1-1) at least could look forward to an easy win next Sunday at home against Buffalo, there was this stunning result from Minnesota: Bills 27, Vikings 6. Everything appears to be up for grabs in the NFC North.
The Packers were sleep-walking from the start and trailed 14-0 early in the second quarter. A 41-yard Mason Crosby field goal made it 14-3, and the Packers quickly got the ball back when safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix intercepted an Alex Smith pass. But the ensuing drive began with a sack of Aaron Rodgers and went nowhere. Rookie JK Scott's perfect punt pinned Washington on its own 2, but Green Bay's defense failed to deliver. Washington marched 98 yards in eight plays, capping the drive with a 9-yard TD pass from Smith to Jamison Crowder for a commanding 21-3 lead.
Given the grim sight of Wilkerson being carted off with a serious ankle injury, the Packers could at least take solace in another strong game from fellow defensive tackle Kenny Clark. The third-year veteran tied for team highs in tackles (nine) and solo tackles (six) and also deflected a pass. Clark will be counted on to continue his steady development in Wilkerson's absence.
On a day full of mistakes, Randall Cobb suffered some of the most glaring. On the Packers' first series, the normally sure-handed slot receiver dropped a third-and-9 pass that would have given Green Bay — already trailing 7-0 — a first down. With the Packers down 28-17 in the third quarter, they went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Washington 43, and Cobb made what appeared to be a diving catch for a first down. But replay review revealed he didn't hang onto the ball before hitting the ground. And with under 6 minutes to go and the Packers still down 11, Cobb caught a pass but fumbled after being hit and Washington recovered in Green Bay territory. Washington killed some clock before kicking a field goal for the final margin.
» Hangover effect: In hindsight, maybe Sunday’s lackluster letdown shouldn’t have been entirely unexpected. Coming off a 70-minute overtime tie with the Minnesota Vikings seven days earlier, the Packers took the unprecedented action of canceling Wednesday’s practice. They looked tired and sloppy Sunday, constantly a step behind Washington. They also weren’t alone. The Vikings had a dismal day, losing 27-6 at home to the Buffalo Bills. The Packers trailed 28-10 in halftime at Washington; the Vikings were down 27-0 at halftime to the Bills. Perhaps the fatigue from last week drastically dropped the caliber of play for both NFC North rivals.
» How's Aaron Rodgers?: The Packers didn’t activate third-string quarterback Tim Boyle, signifying they were more confident Rodgers could make it through a full game on his sprained left knee. That was very much uncertain last week against the Vikings, when Boyle as active. Rodgers looked more mobile early, running for 3 yards on third-and-2 and 13 yards on a third-and-10 that was nullified because of a penalty. Then on the first drive of the second half, Rodgers appeared to tweak his right hamstring while stepping out of a sack after backup tackle Jason Spriggs was badly beaten. (Spriggs replaced starter Bryan Bulaga, who left with a back injury and did not return. Right guard Justin McCray also left the game because of a shoulder injury.) Rodgers, who afterward said his hamstring was OK, finished the game but this time was unable to complete a comeback. Rodgers finished 27-for-44 for 265 yards, two touchdowns and a 93.5 rating. He was also sacked four times. We’ll see what kind of toll that took on him.
» The Clay Matthews rule: This thing isn’t going away. A week after an apparent game-clinching interception was nullified because of a controversial roughing-the-passer penalty on Clay Matthews, the veteran pass rusher was on the wrong end of an even more egregious call. Matthews rushed up the middle and appeared to have a perfectly clean sack on quarterback Alex Smith, wrapping high and hitting Smith in the chest. He rolled off Smith immediately after they landed, just as the NFL has instructed edge rushers to do. The sack was nullified when, for the third straight week, Matthews was called for roughing. The play stood in stark contrast to the Packers' previous drive, when Washington pass rusher Daron Payne flung Rodgers to the ground. Referee Craig Wrolstad’s mic was left on during a timeout, and a conversation between Rodgers and Wrolstad could be overheard. Rodgers told Wrolstad he was slammed on his head, but Wrolstad said he couldn’t see through the bodies between him and the contact. Bottom line, it’s hard to see how Matthews’ hit when Smith still had the football was a penalty, but Payne’s hit when Rodgers did not have the ball was legal.
» Safety concerns: When the season started, just about everyone thought the Packers' edge rush would be a weakness. Their safety position wasn’t supposed to be, but through three games it’s clear there are some deficiencies on the back end. Washington’s first touchdown was set up when safety Kentrell Brice got turned around and failed to play Smith’s deep pass to Paul Richardson. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had an interception, but poor angles took him out of plays multiple times. Both appeared averse to tackling. On one play, Brice rolled off a Washington ball carrier directly into defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson’s leg. Wilkerson was carted off with a serious ankle injury.
» Where was Aaron Jones?: The easy explanation will be that the Packers fell behind 28-10 at halftime and had to throw to catch up. But before Sunday’s game became lopsided, it sure looked like Aaron Jones was buried on the sideline. It wasn’t until late in the first quarter when Jones got his first carry, which went for 10 yards. He got 8 yards on his second carry, and his six carries (for 42 yards) led the team. Jones’ role grew as the game went on, but it’s a wonder he didn’t start as the Packers' featured running back after returning from a two-game suspension. Mike McCarthy suggested Sunday’s game would play out that way, saying earlier in the week Jones would have a secondary role. Still, Jones continues to show he’s the Packers most talented runner, and six carries won’t cut it — no matter the score.