Packers don't have what it takes to hang with an elite team like the Bills, fall 27-17

Ryan Wood
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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ORCHARD PARK, New York − Before parsing what happened Sunday night in Buffalo, remember Aaron Rodgers thought this would be a good thing. Standing at a podium inside FedEx Field last week, the Green Bay Packers quarterback knew his team might get exposed when it met the Buffalo Bills.

He suggested it might be a good thing.

He was wrong, of course. What happened instead was precisely what’s expected to happen in the NFL when an average team – at its best – travels to one of the league’s elite. The Packers showed who they were in a 27-17 loss to the Bills, their fourth straight loss.

At 3-5, their season is cratering at the midway point.

The Packers never indicated they had even a puncher’s chance in what was once considered a potential Super Bowl preview, falling behind by two touchdowns and trailing by double digits throughout the second half. It’s the first time they’ve lost four straight games since 2016.

BOX SCORE:Bills 27, Packers 17

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Rodgers promptly suggested his team could run the table immediately after that fourth straight loss in 2016, a blowout at Washington, and the Packers didn’t lose again until the NFC championship game later that season. That’s when his play could lift an entire franchise. Nothing the two-time-reigning MVP has shown this season has indicated that’s possible anymore.

Here are some quick observations:

Aaron Rodgers plays second fiddle

There’s a good reason the Packers were double-digit underdogs for the first time in Aaron Rodgers’ career. It starts with Rodgers. During the week, he suggested it might be time for him to play more off schedule in the Packers offense. Only problem with that is to play off schedule, a quarterback needs to be able to move. Rodgers has shown all season, and especially Sunday night, he can’t move anymore. Behind another offensive line change – Elgton Jenkins was inactive because of a foot injury – Rodgers looked like a sitting duck. Josh Allen, meanwhile, looked like what Rodgers used to look like. Allen has one of the NFL’s best arms, but one of his most important plays Sunday night was a 20-yard run on third-and-14. He scrambled to buy time before throwing a 1-yard touchdown pass to Dawson Knox. He was the best player on the field, a frontrunning MVP candidate this season. Rodgers is a 38-year-old quarterback whose best play is handing the football to his running back.

Enough Aaron Jones is not enough

Aaron Jones was the one Packers player who appeared capable of sharing a field with one of the league’s best teams. The Bills had no answer for Jones, who ran 20 times for 143 yards. Over the past couple weeks, the Packers appear to have gotten the memo that Jones is their best player and must be used accordingly. The problem, with a possible exception of fellow tailback AJ Dillon, is Jones also is their only playmaker. The Packers might be able to win enough games to reach the playoffs if they use Jones and Dillon as heavily as they did Sunday night, a combined 197 yards on 30 carries. In this league, the best defenses are too good to not have any consistent playmaking on the perimeter to support the running game. If GM Brian Gutekunst still believes in his team this season, he has two days to trade for a receiver. It’s hard to envision the Packers recovering this season without a trade.

An offensive line worth keeping

Give the Packers credit for apparently figuring out their best offensive line configuration. For the second straight week, a key piece to the offensive line was inactive. Jenkins’ foot injury forced the Packers to slide rookie Zach Tom inside to left guard, where he lined up next to David Bakhtiari. That the Packers got so much production on the ground against the NFL’s top-ranked defense, especially when it was clear their only option to move the ball was keeping it on the ground, was a positive. The Yosh Nijman experiment at right tackle appears to be worth keeping. At minimum, Tom also has shown the offensive line has some depth behind the starters. If Jenkins and Bakhtiari can get on the field together, this new unit might have a chance to open things up for the offense.

Packers defense gets rest, not stops

If the Packers didn’t put together their best drive of the season, it was at least the closest to their necessary blueprint. They marched 80 yards for a touchdown over 8 minutes, 38 seconds in the second quarter, a possession that consisted of 10 running plays and only two passes. The offense’s inability to sustain drives all season has not helped its defense, but the defense’s shortcomings also have not been helpful. A rested Packers defense promptly gave up a 4-minute, 21-second touchdown drive, halting any momentum. Any chance that the Packers could advance to the Super Bowl this season started with a great, if not dominant, defense. These eight games have not been it.

Jaire Alexander isn’t a shadow

Maybe Terry McLaurin spooked Joe Barry to regress into old habits. A week after the Washington Commanders got a handful of big plays against Alexander, the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback did not shadow one of the league’s top receivers. Stefon Diggs made the Packers pay, catching six passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. His score was a 26-yard grab against Rasul Douglas, who had his first interception of the season against Allen in the fourth quarter, but gives up much more in coverage than Alexander. The back breaker was a 53-yard reception for Diggs against Eric Stokes and Darnell Savage with 53 seconds left in the first half, setting up a field goal and 24-7 lead at halftime. The Packers believe in their cornerback depth, but they can’t afford to keep letting the other team’s best receiver make game-changing plays when Alexander isn’t in coverage.

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