False start ranks with Packers' all-time worst

Eric Goska
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Galling then enthralling, the Green Bay Packers’ offense was at its two-faced best Sunday at Lambeau Field. Fortunately for the Packers, the unit pivoted when it did or the team’s playoff run easily could have been one and done.

Sluggish for most of the first half, Green Bay flipped the switch in time to knock out the New York Giants 38-13 in the fourth and final game of wild-card weekend. The difference between the team’s start and finish was startling.

Green Bay has played this Hyde-and-Jekyll routine before. Rarely has it embraced the role so completely.

For the first 26 minutes, the offense was ugly personified. For the last 34, it operated with flair.

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The Packers gained 29 yards on their first 20 offensive plays. They eked out five yards on three rushes and 24 yards on 17 pass plays.

Right or wrong, it was the most pass-heavy start in team playoff history. Three times previously the club had opened with 15 pass plays, most recently in Super Bowl XLV against the Steelers.

Aaron Rodgers had six completions in 13 attempts for 54 yards (57.9 passer rating). He was sacked four times for 30 yards in losses.

Jacob Schum punted after each of the team’s first five possessions. The last time Green Bay did that in a playoff game, Arnie Herber, Clarke Hinkle and Cecil Isbell were the punters in a 23-17 loss to the Giants in 1938.

The Packers had only three first downs at that point. They were without a third-down conversion in five attempts.

Giants tight end Will Tye had more yards on one catch (51) than the Packers did as a team. The Giants earned more yards on their first drive (37) than Green Bay did on its first five opportunities combined.

Since 1936, the Packers have participated in 54 playoff games. This meager output after 20 plays likely was their second-worst performance ever, trailing only the dismal showing at Wrigley Field in a 33-14 loss to the Chicago Bears in 1941.

What we can say for certain is the Kansas City Chiefs of 10 years ago were the last team in the postseason to start so poorly on offense. Not surprisingly, they didn’t make it to the second round.

On Jan. 6, 2007, quarterback Trent Green and his teammates produced all of 21 yards on 20 plays. Unlike the Packers’, Kansas City’s offense sputtered throughout, finishing with 126 yards on 45 plays in a 23-8 loss to the Colts at the RCA Dome.

Sunday was the ninth time in the playoffs that the Packers failed to gain 75 yards on their first 20 plays. Five times that lack of yardage helped put them behind on the scoreboard.

Against New York, they trailed 6-0. The deficit could have been larger had the Giants not dropped some passes.

Three pass plays of their own aided the Packers’ turnaround. The throws occurred on the team’s 22nd, 24th and 32nd plays.

Rodgers lofted a 31-yarder down the sideline to Davante Adams to reach the Giants’ 7-yard line late in the second quarter. He then used his feet to buy time before hitting Adams with a 5-yard touchdown pass that put Green Bay ahead 7-6.

To close the half, the master of the Hail Mary launched one from just outside midfield. The high-arcing throw came down in the hands of Randall Cobb, who had gotten behind defensive backs Landon Collins, Eli Apple and Leon Hall to snag a 42-yard score.

Just like that, the Packers were up 14-6.

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The Packers gained 377 yards on their final 50 offensive plays. They pounded out 70 yards on 22 rushes and 307 yards on 28 pass plays.

Rodgers completed 19 of 27 passes for 308 yards and four touchdowns (147.8 passer rating). He was sacked once for a loss of 11 yards.

The Packers produced 20 first downs. They converted five-of-nine third downs.

Not counting a kneel-down to end the game, Green Bay scored on six of its last eight possessions. They counted five touchdowns.

That’s 38 points in the final three quarters. Only twice before — against the Arizona Cardinals (45) in 2010 and the Atlanta Falcons (48) in 2011 — did the team score more over those three periods in the postseason.

Green Bay controlled the ball for 21 minutes, 33 seconds in the second half. That limited New York’s chances to rally.

As thrilling as this comeback was, Green Bay’s early lethargy has to be concerning. Unlike the Giants, the Cowboys or Falcons are not likely to wait until the Packers come alive.

Green Bay last won a Super Bowl by winning four games in a row away from Lambeau Field. In all four, the team struck early, gobbling up more than 100 yards in its first 20 offensive plays.

nflgsis.com served as a reference for this article.

Two faces

Playoff games in which Green Bay gained the fewest yards on its first 20 offensive plays.

Yds.  Date                    Opponent

*6     Dec. 14, 1941     Bears

29     Jan. 8, 2017        Giants

55     Dec. 24, 1972     Redskins

59     Dec. 23, 1967     Rams

66     Jan. 10, 2010      Cardinals

67     Jan. 5, 2014        49ers

Playoff games in which Green Bay gained the most yards on its final 50 offensive plays.

Yds.  Date                    Opponent

466   Jan. 16, 1983      Cowboys

424   Jan. 10, 2010      Cardinals

377   Jan. 8, 2017        Giants

346   Jan. 11, 2015      Cowboys

344   Jan. 3, 1999        49ers

342   Jan. 12, 1997      Panthers


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