Quick takes: Penalties, drops pile up as listless Packers fall 31-17
LANDOVER, Md. - On a rain-soaked field, the Green Bay Packers managed to somehow be worse than the weather in the nation’s capital Sunday.
Though they recovered some in the second half, there was no miraculous comeback this week. The Packers lost 31-17 at Washington, dropping to 1-1-1.
Similar to their opener, the Packers found themselves with a big halftime deficit (28-10) because of sloppy defense and listless offense. They gave up only three points in the second half, but no team — even a team with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback — can consistently come back from such significant holes.
Here are five quick takeaways from the Packers' first loss of the season.
In hindsight, maybe Sunday’s lackluster letdown shouldn’t have been entirely unexpected. Coming off a 70-minute overtime tie seven days earlier, the Packers took the unprecedented action of canceling Wednesday’s practice. They looked tired and sloppy, constantly a step behind Washington. They also weren’t alone. The Minnesota Vikings also dealt with a hangover Sunday, 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. If there’s a positive explanation going forward for Sunday's showing, it’s this: Perhaps the fatigue from last week drastically dropped the caliber of play. The Packers better hope it did, anyway.
Aaron Rodgers' health
The Packers didn’t activate third-string quarterback Tim Boyle on Sunday, 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 than the previous week early, running for 3 yards on third-and-2 and 13 yards on a third-and-10 that was nullified because of 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 beat. (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 finished the game, but this time he 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 a Packers win was upended 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 Sunday. 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. "I thought Clay did exactly as he was supposed to do there," coach Mike McCarthy said. "How it's being officiated, those are questions for other people." 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.
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 there were multiple times poor angles took him out of plays. 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 an apparently serious ankle injury. Safety is the back line of defense. So long as the Packers struggle at tackling and defending deep passes at their safety position, it’ll be open season on their defense.
Where's 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 time 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.