The Green Bay Packers were snake-bitten in the desert Sunday. Many unpleasant critters were responsible – sacks, missed tackles, penalties – but the most lethal was the ugly varmint known as the turnover.
The Arizona Cardinals outgained, outperformed and outscored Green Bay 38-8 in a game between two playoff-bound teams. The victor appears poised to make a deep postseason run. The loser may need two forms of ID just to confirm they are one of the 12 that will continue play at the conclusion of the regular-season.
The Packers’ afternoon was poison in many respects. They produced a meager 178 yards. They averaged a paltry 2.8 yards per play.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was under siege. Hurried, knocked down and battered, he was sacked eight times while operating behind a makeshift offensive line.
By the middle of the third quarter, vultures were circling overhead. R.I.P., Green Bay.
Most unusual were Green Bay’s four turnovers (one interception and three fumbles). That and the ease with which Arizona turned them into 28 points was alarming.
The Cardinals traveled 80 yards in seven plays to turn a second-quarter Rodgers interception into a touchdown. Carson Palmer cashed in on a seven-yard TD pass to John Brown with six seconds left in the half to put Arizona ahead 17-0.
Arizona extended that lead shortly after James Starks fumbled on the first offensive play of the second half. Palmer passed 14 yards to Michael Floyd and David Johnson raced 14 yards to pay dirt as the Cardinals went up 24-0.
Palmer and the offense weren’t needed the next two times out. Rodgers fumbled twice while being sacked with Cory Redding and then Jerraud Powers returning the miscues for touchdowns.
How out of the ordinary was this display? To answer that, we need to take a closer look at the Packers and their relationship with turnovers.
First, the Packers are among the best at hanging onto the ball. In 159 regular-season games since 2006, they have committed 199 turnovers, second fewest in the league behind the 175 of New England.
Only eight times has Green Bay been guilty of four or more in a game during those 10 seasons. Four of those instances occurred before Rodgers became the starting quarterback in 2008.
Second, when the Packers do drop the ball, the competition rarely cashes in big. Sunday was just the fourth time under coach Mike McCarthy the opposition scored 20 or more points as the result of turnovers.
Third, even when the opposition does score, Green Bay often offsets the damage by forcing turnovers of its own and scoring as the result of them. It has happened 48 times in the 80 games (since 2006) in which the opposition posted points set up by turnovers.
The Packers did force one Cardinals turnover, that an interception by Mike Daniels late in the second quarter. But even though the defensive end returned the theft to the Arizona 15-yard line, Green Bay’s anemic offense failed to score when Rodgers’ third-down pass was intercepted by Justin Bethel in the end zone.
So the Cardinals put up 28 points as the result of turnovers and Green Bay didn’t tally any. For the Packers, that’s minus-28 net turnover points.
Historically, anything minus-20 or worse has been a death sentence.
Green Bay has logged 37 regular-season games since 1921 in which its net turnover points was minus-20 or worse. It’s 0-37 in those games.
Among those 37 outings were some of the most miserable showings in team annals. Dan Devine had his leg broken while on the sidelines during his first game as coach, a 42-40 loss (minus-21) to the Giants in 1971. Quarterback Lynn Dickey questioned whether he was the right guy for the job after a 51-21 pummeling (minus-27) by the Rams in 1980. Coach Scooter McLean was at a loss for words — “there just isn’t anything I can say” – in the wake of a 56-0 shellacking (minus-21) by the Colts in 1958.
Dead in the Desert ranks with those debacles. It was only the third time under McCarthy that the Packers lost by 30 or more points.
But there is hope. Twelve times Green Bay secured a win after a minus-20 effort. Six times the opponent they defeated even had a winning record.
KO’ed by TOs
Since 1921, the Packers are 0-37 in regular-season games in which their net turnover points was minus-20 or worse. Their seven poorest outings are listed below.
Nov. 22, 1953
Oct. 26, 1952
Sept. 26, 1948
Dec. 27, 2015
Sept. 27, 1942
Dec. 6, 1953
Sept. 21, 1980