FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The lights clicked off and the television cameras were pulled away and Aaron Jones allowed himself to at least lean against the frame of his locker to catch his breath.
In the news conference room adjacent to visiting locker room at Gillette Stadium, Aaron Rodgers shouldered responsibility for a 31-17 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday night. Across the room from Jones, along the row of offensive linemen, guard Byron Bell spoke of the plays he missed, the hurries he caused for Rodgers.
Yet Jones straightened back up, shoulders back.
Jones took the weight for an offense that matched a season-low in points scored.
“The fumble was the momentum change,” he said.
Jones had just burst into the second level of the Patriots' defense on the first play of the fourth quarter when defensive lineman Lawrence Guy pursued from the backside and knocked the ball free. It was the first fumble of Jones’ professional career, at the 14-minute, 52-second mark of the final quarter.
New England recovered at its own 24, and 10 plays and one flea-flicker later the Patriots were in the end zone and up 24-17.
“They scored on the next series and we came out and we stalled,” Jones said. “It goes all back to the fumble. That’s what it really is. We were in the game up until that point.”
And to that point, the offense had gotten going again. Connections of 24 and 26 yards from Rodgers to Marquez Valdes-Scantling late in the third had helped move the Packers out from their own seven to the New England 34.
Then, the only turnover of the game occurred on a hustle play down the field from a defensive lineman.
“That’s not all on Aaron, either,” said right tackle Jason Spriggs, who filled in for an injured Bryan Bulaga after the first quarter. “In some way, that guy should have been blocked. In a perfect world. Is every play going perfect? Is everybody going to get their blocks? No. It’s impossible. But that’s not all on him. He shouldn’t have been in that position. Somebody should have been on whoever that was.
“It was definitely a big turn in the game, but, you know, that happens. We should’ve been able to come back from that.”
But, they weren’t.
And through eight games, the Packers’ offense has made mistakes at critical junctures that they have not been able to overcome. A delay of game on second-and-goal from the Patriots’ nine-yard line, and two plays later from the 11 Mason Crosby is kicking a field goal. A third-and-1 scramble at their own 45 that loses two yards and leads to a punt. A sack on third-and-7 on the next possession after Jones’ fumble, leading to a punt.
“Yeah it's frustrating, 27-26 against the Rams with a chance to go down the field again and put the game away,” Rodgers said, referencing a failed opportunity last week in Los Angeles. “And 17-17 switching ends there inside their 40, we're already in field-goal range to take the lead, and Jonesy has had a really nice year for us, so that one play obviously doesn't lose the game.
“But it's plays like that, by all of us — myself included — that have just hindered us from finishing games out. I say it all the time, every year you have to learn how to win again, and we have to learn how to win on the road. We've lost four road games. We haven't lost at home, we've tied but we haven't lost at home. We've played two great teams who could be considered, although the Rams lost today, two of the top teams in the NFL in their respective conferences, and we had a chance to win both games.”
No one could deny the fumble was a momentum shift, but with 14:52 left in the game at that point his teammates weren’t about to call it decisive.
Another television crew circled back to Jones, and he stood up again.
He was as explosive as usual, rushing for 76 yards against the Patriots and averaging 5.4 yards per rush. Runs of nine yards and seven yards in the red zone helped lead to a Packers touchdown that tied the game at 17. Given the ball at his own 1-yard line for the second straight week, he shifted his momentum and got out of the end zone.
“It means nothing what I did,” Jones said. “The fumble is going to eat at me until I get another chance to carry the ball.”