Dougherty: Many to blame as Packers blow big chance to get leg up on rivals

Pete Dougherty
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) recovers his fumble in overtime against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field on Sunday, September 16, 2018 in Green Bay, Wis.

This is one that could come back to bite the Green Bay Packers in December.

No, they didn’t lose to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. But they had too many chances to put the game away to feel even OK about a 29-29 tie.

What should have been a big early-season win against their main NFC North Division rival with Aaron Rodgers playing one-legged, instead turned into a big nothing burger.

“Close to an ‘L,’ ” is how Rodgers described it. “Doesn’t feel great.”

Of course Minnesota can say it should have won, too. Kicker Daniel Carlson missed a chip-shot 35-yard field goal as time ran out in overtime. That blew the game, too.

But the Packers led pretty much the entire game and had several chances to win this one before Carlson’s miss, so whatever relief they felt walking off Lambeau Field, there’s no getting around that they should have been celebrating a 2-0 start and a winning effort by their injured quarterback against what figures to be one of the best defenses in the NFL.

This league is all about offense, and when you get the chance to put a game away with points, you have to do it. Yet the Packers and Rodgers had four great chances in the final 3½ minutes and overtime and failed to come through.

Twice they had the ball deep in Minnesota territory with the chance to put the game out of reach with a touchdown and couldn’t get in the end zone. On the first, Rodgers had to throw the ball away on third-and-6 because of pressure from defensive linemen Everson Griffen and Sheldon Richardson. On the second, a gifted tipped-ball interception by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix that gave them the ball on Minnesota’s 13, the Packers went three-and-out with a delay-of-game penalty mixed in.

Then with no timeouts and only 31 seconds left in regulation, Rodgers moved the Packers into field goal range, only to have Mason Crosby miss from 52 yards.

And in overtime, Rodgers short circuited with the Packers on the cusp of Crosby’s range for the game-winning field goal. Rodgers lost 1 yard when he botched the keep and fumbled on a run-pass option, then held the ball against a blitz and was sacked for a 7-yard loss on third down.

“I’m definitely (running for) a first down, and we’re inside 50-yard field goal range,” Rodgers said of his fumble.

Then there’s also the big unnecessary roughness against Clay Matthews in the final 2 minutes that I’m sure has Packers fans apoplectic. It wiped out a game-clinching interception and kept alive Kirk Cousins to take the Vikings to the game-tying score. Referee Tony Corrente said after the game he penalized Matthews because he “lifted (Cousins) up and drove him into the ground.”

That call looked shaky on replay, and no question, it was a big call. But really, the Packers can’t squawk too much or say it cost them the game. They still had their chances to get a stop or prevent the two-point conversion and didn’t come through.

And let’s face it, even if erring on the side of protecting the passer hurt them in this instance, in the long run it works very much in their favor. Rodgers is going to take fewer hard hits, which should help him play both longer and healthier. And by the way, the emphasis for protecting quarterbacks is there in large part because of the shot he took from Anthony Barr last year that broke his collarbone.

The thing the Packers can feel best about is that Rodgers appears to have come out of the game no worse for having played one week after injuring his left knee. There really was doubt early in the week whether he’d play because of stiffness and soreness in the knee, but by the time he practiced Saturday, it was clear to him and the team he would be able to play.

There were conflicting national reports about the exact nature of the injury — one said it was cartilage damage but no sprained ligaments, the other said it was a deep bone bruise and ligament strain. Rodgers wouldn’t comment after the game, so it’s still not clear what the injury is.

But he appeared to come out without overtly aggravating the injury on any of the several hits he took. He also showed a little more mobility than he had last week after returning from the injury in the second half against Chicago. He answered a big question in the first half when he scrambled for a first down, and the fact that he wanted to keep the ball on the RPO suggested that while he clearly was limited, he wasn’t feeling that bad in the heat of battle.

There’s no reason to think he won’t be able to keep playing and continue getting healthier week after week, though it could be a long couple of months for him.

“It’s the type of thing that could linger, but we’ll see,” Rodgers said.

But if Rodgers playing is reason for the Packers to feel good about the rest of the season, they still blew a great chance to win this one. A tie is better than losing, but there were important tiebreaker implications at stake, and the Packers failed to seize them.

A win would have ensured they could do no worse than split with the Vikings if they tie for the division crown and put them in position for a huge sweep. It also would have given them a 2-0 record in the division, which is the second tiebreaker.

All in all, there was a big win for the taking in tough circumstances, and the Packers didn’t take it.

“We’re sitting up here 1-0-1,” Rodgers said. “It doesn’t sound that great.”


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