For Packers, it’s fourth down and out
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the Green Bay Packers went for it on fourth down more often than they have in over 60 years. And like most teams who roll the dice that frequently, they failed to win.
Offensively challenged yet again, the Packers utilized fourth down six times as a means to extend drives. Successful on three occasions, the team nevertheless came up short against the Vikings in the final regular-season game of the 2015 season.
In losing 20-13, Green Bay ceded the NFC North title to Minnesota. It also lost a season finale at home for the first time since 1967.
The Packers are mired in an offensive funk. Should they remain under this cloud, they won’t go far in the playoffs.
Letting it ride on fourth down is not the answer. Since 2000, there have been 41 cases of teams going for it five or more times in a game. Only two came out on top.
New Orleans (4-of-6) knocked off the Giants 30-7 on Dec. 24, 2006. The Jaguars (3-of-5) defeated the Titans 28-13 on Nov. 11, 2007.
That’s it. The other 39 wound up losing by an average margin of 17 points.
Green Bay was fortunate to come within seven points of the Vikings. Fifteen of the 39 losers were beaten by 20 or more points.
The Packers went for it on fourth down once in each of the first three quarters. They did so three times in the final 2:18.
Eddie Lacy (two-yard run), Randall Cobb (four-yard reception) and Richard Rodgers (12-yard reception) emerged with successful conversions. Passes intended for James Jones in the second and fourth quarters (two) did not.
Lacy’s effort enabled Green Bay’s 15-play, opening advance to continue. The march culminated in Mason Crosby’s 28-yard field goal that tied the score 3-3.
Cobb’s catch kept alive a 14-play drive that bridged the third and fourth quarters. Aaron Rodgers finished it off with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Richard Rodgers to close to 20-10.
Rodgers’ reception resulted in a first down at the Vikings’ 46 with 27 seconds to go. It brought four more plays, including Aaron Rodgers’ final heave into the end zone as time expired.
The Packers gained an additional 88 yards because of fourth-down conversions. The three that resulted in first downs also led to 10 points.
Sunday was only the sixth time since 1950* in which the Packers went for it on fourth down five or more times. The team is 0-6 in those games.
Not since Oct. 21, 1951 had the team tried its luck as often as it did Sunday. Green Bay went 2-for-7 in a 28-0 loss to the Rams that year with Tony Canadeo (1-yard run) and Jug Girard (32-yard run) providing the conversions.
This season, the Packers converted 11-of-21 fourth downs. It’s the most attempts since the 1986 team went 13-for-25 on the way to a 4-12 record.
The Packers opened in a two-back, two-tight end formation for the first time this season. The team remained in that setup for most of its opening drive, giving the Vikings a heavy dose of the run.
Green Bay started tight ends Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers and running backs Eddie Lacy and John Kuhn. James Jones was the lone receiver.
The Packers ripped off seven straight runs before Aaron Rodgers threw his first pass, an 18-yard completion to Richard Rodgers. The team then ran three more times (followed by three pass attempts) before Crosby capped the advance with his first field goal.
The 10 runs gained 38 yards. Lacy picked up 28 on seven attempts while James Starks (five yards), Kuhn (three) and Aaron Rodgers (two) each carried once.
The Packers have run 10 or more times on an opening drive just nine times since 1954. Before Sunday, they did so once in each the following years: 1965, ‘68, ‘69, ‘70, ‘73, ‘76, 2009 and 2013.
Green Bay last accomplished the feat Dec. 8, 2013, against the Falcons. With Aaron Rodgers out (collarbone), Lacy, Starks and Matt Flynn combined for 11 rushes on an 18-play, 90-yard drive that ended with Lacy’s 1-yard plunge.
Phil Bengtson’s Packers had the most runs. On Nov. 26, 1970 in Dallas, Donny Anderson, Jim Grabowski and Bart Starr teamed up for 12 runs during a 16-play advance that ended with Dale Livingston’s 19-yard field goal.
Eric Goska is a Packers historian. Email him at email@example.com.
The 4th Dimension
Since 1950*, games in which the Packers have gone for it on fourth down five or more times.
Oct. 21, 1951
Oct. 19, 1950
Jan. 3, 2016
Nov. 19, 1950
Sept. 14, 1986
Dec. 3, 2006
* There are five games (one each in 1950, 1952 and 1953 and two in 1951) for which fourth-down conversions cannot be determined.