Packers Insider: Thumbs up to Kyler Fackrell, down to injuries
Whether it's due to injuries, poor coaching decisions, Aaron Rodgers' gimpy knee or any number of other excuses, the Packers presently are a mediocre team unworthy of a playoff berth. Playoff teams can win on the road but that has been beyond the Packers' capabilities. At 4-5-1 they trail multiple teams in terms of NFC wild-card tiebreakers, making their next game at Minnesota virtually a must-win in that, even if they ran the table after losing to the Vikings, Minnesota would have the tiebreaker edge if both teams finished 9-6-1. But the way this erratic team looks, playoff scenarios seem irrelevant.
Clinging to a 21-20 lead after an early fourth-quarter Seahawks field goal, the Packers had a golden opportunity to score a touchdown when Rodgers hit Davante Adams on a 57-yard bomb down to the Seattle 17. But Rodgers was sacked on a third-and-5 play (Seattle's fourth third-down sack of the night) and the Packers settled for a field goal and a 24-20 lead with 8:23 remaining. The Seahawks quickly marched 75 yards for the game-deciding TD, the big plays an 18-yard Russell Wilson pass to Tyler Lockett followed by a 34-yarder to Lockett that replay showed might not have been a catch (but Packers coach Mike McCarthy, down to only one timeout, declined to throw the red flag.
Kyler Fackrell — stunningly — is emerging as a pass-rushing force. The third-year edge rusher produced his second three-sack game of the season. With Nick Perry sidelined by injury, Fackrell took advantage of the opportunity, recording six tackles and also batting a pass back to Wilson for an 11-yard loss. He now has a team-high eight sacks.
Remember how healthy the Packers seemed a couple of weeks ago? Now their locker room resembles a hospital ward. Four starters didn't even make the trip and they lost four more during the game. Although rookie tight end Robert Tonyan dazzled with a 54-yard TD catch, starter Jimmy Graham (who exited just before halftime) was sorely missed as a possession-play target, and the secondary was forced to rely on raw cornerback Tony Brown (who was picked on throughout the second half).
» IMPLICATIONS: If Thursday wasn’t a must-win, the Packers missed a huge opportunity to get their season on track. They forced a Seahawks fumble on the first play and jumped out to a 14-3 lead, only to collapse from there. They’re now 3-5 in their last eight and have lost four of their last five to drop to 4-5-1 on the season. With an extended weekend until their next game in Minnesota, the Packers will get some rest. But they need to run the table to finish with 10 wins, which has traditionally been McCarthy’s measurement for a playoff team. Once again, the Packers are on the brink of missing the playoffs, this time with a healthy Aaron Rodgers.
» KYLER SACKRELL: Fackrell is a beast. Who knew? The much-maligned former third-round pick might be in the midst of a breakout third season. Fackrell terrorized Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson with three sacks, increasing his team high to eight. He narrowly missed a fourth sack when Wilson tossed the football away as he was falling to the ground. It was the second time Fackrell has had a hat trick in a game, his first coming at Lambeau Field against Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen in September. If that game felt like it might be a little fluky, there was no such sense Thursday night. Fackrell was the disruptive edge rusher the Packers have lacked all season. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate what he’s capable of producing.
» DUAL THREAT: A couple weeks ago, offensive pass-game coordinator Jim Hostler described running back Aaron Jones as “developmental” in his receiving out of the backfield. For all his exciting production on the ground, Jones had yet to produce much of anything as a receiver. His career high as a receiver in a game was 27 yards. Then, when the Packers had given up the lead late in the second quarter, Jones caught three passes for 61 yards on a 75-yard touchdown drive. The Packers didn’t stick with it. Rodgers missed Jones on third down in the fourth quarter when the running back was wide open in the right flat. Still, if they can develop that more, Jones might not just be a weapon as a runner.
» DAVIS RETURNS: It took Trevor Davis one game to show why the Packers were wise to return him off injured reserve. Not that the box score shows much: His 11-yard average on two punt return are short of game-breaking production. But it still has an impact on field position, and Davis had a 53-yard return — a legitimate game-changing play — called back because of a Korey Toomer holding penalty. (It was the third kick return of at least 50 yards the Packers have had called back this season.) If the Packers were flush with candidates eligible to return from IR, using one of the two designations on a return specialist would be a luxury. But with few players on IR, the Packers made the right call.
» MORE INJURIES: With only three days to rest after beating the Miami Dolphins, the Packers were left shorthanded. Receiver Randall Cobb (hamstring), cornerback Kevin King (hamstring), outside linebacker Nick Perry (knee) and safety Kentrell Brice (ankle) were inactive. During the game, TE Jimmy Graham (thumb), CB Bashaud Breeland (groin), S Raven Greene (ankle) and DT Mike Daniels left the game with injuries and didn't return. Graham is the headliner, but the secondary is running out of bodies, especially at safety.