Green Bay Packers again start slowly, lose to the Tennessee Titans and fall to 4-7

Ryan Wood
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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GREEN BAY − With snow flurries falling softly inside Lambeau Field most of the night, the Green Bay Packers momentum came skidding to a halt against the Tennessee Titans.

Four days after appearing to revive their season with a win against the Dallas Cowboys, the Packers were helpless in a 27-17 loss to the Titans. It was a game the Packers likely needed to win to give themselves any real chance at making a late-season push to the playoffs. Instead, they fell to 4-7 this season, their sixth loss in the past seven games.

BOX SCORE: Titans 27, Packers 17

The Packers never had much of a chance Thursday night, trailing throughout. Their deficit was double digits throughout the fourth quarter after Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed a 16-yard touchdown to tight end Austin Cooper on the period’s first play.

Here are some quick observations from another defeat:

Packers secondary collapse

If the Packers knew entering Thursday night they would hold Derrick Henry to 87 yards on 28 carries (3.1-yard average), they surely would have expected to win. That’s because their secondary, considered a strength entering this season, was built to lock down quarterbacks like Ryan Tannehill. Instead, Tannehill picked apart the Packers defense, finishing 22-of-27 for 333 yards, two touchdowns and a 127.3 passer rating. Except for one errant throw in the fourth quarter, an interception to cornerback Rasul Douglas, Tannehill was almost flawlessly efficient. Most stunning, the Packers allowed four 30-yard passes from Tannehill. Their issues started on the game’s opening drive, when Tannehill carved the Packers secondary completing 4-of-5 passes for 68 yards, a 14-yard touchdown to wide-open tailback Dontrell Hilliard, and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. The Packers have had way too many problems to sort out this season for their secondary to become one.

Derrick Henry finds a way

The Packers pass defense might have been vulnerable with how much coordinator Joe Barry geared up to stop the run. Barry called base defense much of the night, and even employed four defensive linemen on one play in the first quarter. The plan worked so far as to prevent Henry from beating the Packers with his legs, but a superstar this dangerous finds a way to beat you anyway. Henry uncorked a jump pass for a 3-yard touchdown to tight end Austin Hooper on second-and-goal in the third quarter, opening up a 20-9 lead for the Titans. The score was set up by a 42-yard catch and run from Henry off a screen pass from Tannehill.

More:Packers' focus on Titans' Derrick Henry backfires in defensive meltdown

Titans stonewall Aaron Jones

The Packers finally found an opponent Aaron Jones can’t run all over. Five days after gaining 138 yards on 24 carries against the Cowboys, Jones was held to 40 yards on 11 carries. It was his fewest yards on double-digit carries this season. The Titans entered with the NFL’s second-best run defense, and defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons returned after missing last week’s game because of an ankle injury. Still, there’s no question Jones’ inability to get untracked placed a low ceiling on the Packers offense. For Matt LaFleur’s group to be at its best, the Packers need Jones getting his customary 5 yards per carry. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, forced to sling 39 passes, completed only 61.5% of his passes for 227 yards and a 94.7 rating, in line with his 93 passer rating on the season entering Thursday night.

Insider:Packers' loss means they're on the verge of missing the playoffs, other takeaways

Christian Watson’s breakout week continues

Win or lose, Christian Watson had maybe the greatest week for any rookie in Packers history. The second-round draft pick entered Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys with 10 catches this season, none for touchdowns. His lone score was on an end-around run against the New England Patriots. In five days, Watson completely turned his season around. Watson caught two touchdowns Thursday night. That came after having three touchdown catches on four receptions against the Cowboys. He became the first Packers rookie with multiple touchdowns in consecutive games since Max McGee in 1954. That was the Dwight Eisenhower administration.

Punt return by committee

Randall Cobb, who has known Amari Rodgers since the second-year receiver’s high school days, has been a mentor early in his NFL career. On Thursday, Cobb was Amari Rodgers’ replacement. He stepped in as punt returner after the Packers released Amari Rodgers this week. A regular punt returner in the first two seasons of his career, Cobb’s lone return against the Titans gained only 5 yards. He did manage to field the punt cleanly without fumbling, something Amari Rodgers struggled with throughout the past season and a half. An uneventful punt return is the starting point special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia’s unit needed. In the fourth quarter, Keisean Nixon showed how raw – but potentially explosive – he might be as a punt returner. Nixon picked up the punt on a hop and took off for 24 yards, starting the Packers’ possession across midfield. It was the Packers' longest punt return this season, further evidence the team waited too long before changing returners.

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry scores a touchdown as Green Bay Packers linebacker Quay Walker tries to make the tackle.
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