Packers Insider: Thumbs down to inability to take the ball away
A loss as 14-point favorites at home to a 2-9 opponent in a must-win game to keep playoff hopes alive represented the low point of Mike McCarthy's now-concluded 13-year Packers coaching tenure. At 4-7-1 and with Lambeau Field no longer a safe haven, any long-shot mathematical playoff hopes finally could be disregarded. Forget the false optimism and talk of galvanizing moments. Now is the time for taking a hard look at the program at all levels and laying the groundwork for a total turnaround in 2019.
As he has done so often against the Packers, Larry Fitzgerald again made the big play. Green Bay had just marched 95 yards (it's longest drive of the season) to tie the game at 17 with 5:26 to play. And after Dean Lowry sacked Cardinals rookie quarterback Josh Rosen on first down, Arizona faced a third-and-23 from its own 12. But Rosen, showing the poise of a veteran, evaded the rush on a roll-out and found longtime Packers nemesis Fitzgerald, who made a diving catch for a 32-yard gain. From there, the Cardinals relied on running back David Johnson to pound their way into range for what turned out to be a game-winning 44-yard field goal by Zane Gonzalez.
Given the magnitude of this loss, it's hard to point to anything positive. One highlight was the 24-yard punt return (the Packers' longest of the season) by rookie cornerback Jaire Alexander early in the second quarter that set up Green Bay's first touchdown. Punt returns have been part of an overhaul special-teams deficiency and Alexander showed he could be part of an improvement there.
This figured to finally be the game in which the Packers would force turnovers. Rosen came in having turned the ball over 13 times (11 interceptions and two fumbles). But Sunday, playing in harsh, windy conditions, Rosen showed veteran savvy. He completed only 11 of 26 pass attempts but didn't give the ball up. The Packers, sorely missing defensive tackle Mike Daniels, made life easy on the rookie by rarely pressuring him and allowing the Cardinals to gain 182 yards on the ground. They also let Rosen escape what looked like a certain sack late in the third quarter and scamper for a 33-yard gain to set up Arizona's second touchdown.
» Rodgers' rinse, repeat: Aaron Rodgers saw his streak of consecutive passes without an interception grow to 336, eclipsing Bart Starr’s franchise record of 294 over the 1964 and '65 seasons. Rodgers has 21 touchdown passes with just one interception, which came in Week 4 against Buffalo when a pass deflected off the hands of two players. And yet it’s clear the two-time MVP quarterback remains off his game. Playing on his 35th birthday, Rodgers missed at least two touchdown throws in the first half Sunday. He had rookie Equanimeous St. Brown wide open on the right side, but Rodgers threw late and behind him. Later, Rodgers had Davante Adams wide open down the right seam, but his pass overshot Adams by a couple yards. It’s not the turnovers Rodgers is avoiding, but the open throws he’s missing, that’s defining his game. Rodgers finished 31-for-50 for 233 yards with one touchdown and a 79.8 rating.
» Defense in decline: The Packers' defense already dominated one rookie quarterback inside Lambeau Field this season, shutting out Buffalo’s Josh Allen in September. For much of the first half Sunday, it looked like the defense might come close to doing the same against Arizona’s Josh Rosen. Instead, Mike Pettine’s group couldn’t finish what it started. Rosen was hardly good, finishing 11-of-26 for 149 yards, no touchdowns and a 61.2 rating, but he got enough help to score 20 points. The Packers' defense clearly isn’t what it was in September. Injuries have taken their toll, primarily with cornerback Kevin King missing his fourth straight game because of a hamstring injury. Still, the offense has not shown it can carry the weight, and on Sunday the defense followed suit.
» Lone, bright spot: Amid a morass of mediocrity, Davante Adams continues to be the best thing going for the Packers' offense. Days after saying he believes he’s the NFL’s best receiver, Adams had eight catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. He has caught a touchdown pass in nine of the Packers’ 12 games this season. He has almost as many multiple-touchdown games (two) as games without a touchdown catch (three). On an offense that needs every point it can get, Adams has been a scoring machine.
» Finally something special? The Packers might have something with Jaire Alexander at punt returner. Their best play of the first half came on a 24-yard return, with Alexander spinning to avoid a tackle before breaking the return outside. The play mercifully stood with no yellow flags for a special-teams unit that has been chronically penalized. Alexander replaced Tramon Williams, who muffed a punt last week in Minnesota replacing regular returner Trevor Davis, who was put on injured reserve because of a hamstring injury. Alexander had some success in college, returning one punt for a touchdown in his junior season, but the Packers have been reluctant to put him in that spot..
» Right-side problems: The concern entering Sunday’s game was the left side of the Packers' offensive line. By the end, the injury problem had flipped to the left side. Left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) and left guard Lane Taylor (quadriceps) both started despite being listed as questionable on the injury report. They finished the game too, but the right side of the Packers' offensive line took a beating. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga left the game with a knee injury and did not return, as did right guard Byron Bell also left with a knee injury. Jason Spriggs, Bulaga's replacement, was whistled for a holding penalty that wiped out what would've been a 36-yard completion to Randall Cobb during an early fourth-quarter drive.