Dougherty: Packers find stunning way to save their season
GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers saved their season Monday night, and a remarkable save it was.
Really, they looked dead, in this game and very possibly for 2018 as well. Even though it’s only Week 6, to go below .500 with a loss at home to a one-win team playing without its starting quarterback would have been devastating.
Not that the Packers would have been mathematically out of it, of course. But with the tough road trips they’re facing in the final 2½ months — we’re talking at the Los Angeles Rams, at New England, at Seattle, at Minnesota and at Chicago — it’s just hard to see how that would have turned out well, even in the week-to-week, who-knows-what-might-happen NFL.
Now that they’ve pulled off the stunning comeback with a final-play field goal for the 33-30 win over San Francisco, the Packers shouldn’t fool themselves into thinking all’s well, or even close. Too much felt and went wrong yet again to buy into that.
But after a truly remarkable final four minutes in which they did everything they’d failed to do most of the night — they got two stops and two scores in that short time — the Packers are, incredibly, 3-2-1 and alive. And don’t think they don’t know what was at stake as the game looked like it was slipping away.
“I don’t know if it was a season-saving win for us,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, “but it definitely was an important one, especially with prognosticating that will go on with the type of opponents we have coming up the next few weeks, and obviously with them being road games. This was an important game for us. I never like to use the term 'must win,' but it was an important one.”
Yes, it’s remarkably rare when you can say a Week 6 game is must-win, but this was the exception for the Packers. Yet you wouldn’t have known it by the way they played from the second quarter until the game’s final four minutes.
During that long stretch, their disjointed offense came away from two great scoring chances with only field goals. They had no chemistry or flow in play calling or execution. Running back Aaron Jones played more this week but still had only eight touches (for 41 yards). Rodgers again put up big numbers (425 yards passing) and there’s no getting around that he came through when it mattered most. But he held the ball too long, too often again, and didn’t have what you’d call a good game, either. Even with the outcome possibly on the line down a touchdown with 5:33 left, the Packers, remarkably, went three-and-out. That easily could have been it.
Especially because on the other side, their run defense was a disaster — 49ers running backs Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida combined for 148 yards on 26 carries. Safety Kentrell Brice gave up another long touchdown pass (67 yards to Marquise Goodwin), and the Packers’ pass rush and coverage often made C.J. Beathard (115.3 rating) look like a Pro Bowler converting third downs.
The Packers in fact were outplayed for most of the night and too often showed little life or energy or camaraderie or anything.
“It definitely felt that way,” Rodgers said of the blasé play for much of the game. “Just a couple things. We had a couple mental errors, I missed a couple throws, and we’re just not on the same page. Jimmy (Graham) had a route where I was thinking he was turning in and he was thinking about turning out. We’ve got some stuff to look back at. Obviously, it’s going to feel better tomorrow after a win than what it would have felt like being 2-3-1 after the bye.”
Yet, despite it all, the Packers at least came away with the win. In the NFL, there’s no apologizing for that.
And it really was remarkable how this game turned in the final four minutes.
For most of the night, the 49ers’ blitzes got home and either sacked Rodgers or forced throwaways, whereas whenever Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine blitzed on third down, Beathard went untouched and converted.
But with the game on the line, everything changed. The 49ers dialed back the pressure, and Rodgers connected on two big plays to Davante Adams (38 and 19 yards) and a huge third-and-2 back-shoulder throw to rookie Equanimeous St. Brown (19 yards). And with the 49ers driving for a possible game-winning field, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix got home on a third-down blitz and pressured Beathard into his lone big mistake of the night, a downfield underthrow that Kevin King picked off.
“You obviously want to go into the bye week clean,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think we’re going to be in pretty good shape medically so our guys have a chance to rest up and get back at it, because we know the stretch run we have there. Lot of good things tonight, obviously some things we’d like to do better. But that’s what the bye week is for.”
The Packers in fact should come out of the bye in good shape. Geronimo Allison (hamstring), Randall Cobb (hamstring) and Jaire Alexander (groin) should be back from their injuries. Rodgers, too, talked of abandoning his knee brace after the week off.
But McCarthy has plenty to worry about, too. Through six games this has not looked like a good team. Not by any stretch.
So yes, the Packers saved their season Monday night, and it really was stunning. But they have a long, long way to go to make it a season worth saving.