NASHVILLE, Tenn. - It was the day the defense died. It might have been the beginning of the end for the Green Bay Packers’ season, too
Welcome, Packers, to the former world of the Tennessee Titans, a forlorn franchise with a 5-27 record the past two seasons. When these teams last met, at Lambeau Field four years ago, the score was 55-7.
The Titans’ 47-25 victory Sunday at Nissan Stadium represented a turnaround of a cool 70 points and a defensive bloodletting exceeded in the Mike McCarthy administration only by the New Orleans Saints’ 51-point outburst in 2008 when Bob Sanders was the defensive coordinator and Aaron Rodgers was a first-year starter.
Several veteran players said this was the low point of their careers in Green Bay. The Packers can’t stop anybody (111 points in three games), the offense is impotent except when in catch-up mode and the special teams have not and probably never will be a difference-maker under McCarthy.
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Game-ending injuries suffered by tackle David Bakhtiari (knee), guard T.J. Lang (ankle) and linebacker Jake Ryan (ankle) made this a trip to hell for the Packers.
“A poor game on our part,” said McCarthy, whose team lost its third game in a row. “Tennessee goes touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown and we didn’t score until our fourth series.
“The number of points in the first half (35) … frankly, the coaches need to do a better job and the players need to do a better job. We got some guys hurt, and that’s the biggest concern I have coming out of this game.
“It’s not what we came here for.”
What the Packers came to do was start the second half of their season with a fresh, unified, inspired and organized approach. That wasn’t the case a week ago in a 31-26 upset at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts, but as a three-point favorite over the Titans the oddsmakers still believed.
Instead, the Packers once again started with the same kind of stale, aimless play that allowed the Titans (5-5) to lead from start to finish just as the Colts had done.
There was no R-E-L-A-X from Rodgers after the carnage. It was more grim acknowledgment that this season is getting near the brink.
“There has to be that healthy fear as a player that if you don’t do your job they’ll get rid of you,” said Rodgers. “I think we’ve all got to go back and the urgency’s got to pick up, the focus has got to pick up … we’ve all got to play better, and that starts with me.”
The Packers fell to 4-5, the first time they’ve had a losing record this late since Rodgers was out with a broken collarbone in 2013. They’re 9-12 in the last 21 games and, much like the Titans of the past, scaring no one.
Minnesota’s losing streak was extended to four in Washington, where the Packers play next Sunday night. The Packers trail both the Vikings and idle Lions by one game in the NFC North.
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In the NFC, nine of the 16 teams have a better record than Green Bay whereas three have the same mark.
Mike Daniels was asked if the Packers have the wherewithal to come back from this, especially given nasty road games upcoming against the Redskins and Eagles.
“Yes, oh yeah,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of football left, a lot of football left. We can do something big there the next two weeks alone.”
On the other hand, the Packers might head into December with a 4-7 record.
“That’s always a possibility,” added Daniels. “But you don’t look at it like that. You look at it, like, let’s go and get the win.”
The game couldn’t have opened more encouragingly for the Packers and their thousands and thousands of faithful fans who might have counted for 30 to 40% of the crowd of 69,116.
With Titans coach Mike Mularkey, as he put it, trying “to make a statement about our team” with an onside kick, linebacker Joe Thomas exerted tremendous discipline and recovered at the Tennessee 49.
It was precisely what McCarthy and his people wanted: draw first blood, show that all the talk during the week about starting fast meant something, take the Titan patrons out of it and make it a happy, sunny party for Cheeseheads.
Two runs by James Starks, back after a four-game absence, gained 6. Then, from shotgun, Rodgers threw low and incomplete at the sticks to Randall Cobb. In Rodgers’ heyday, that just never happened.
“We dug ourselves a huge, huge hole,” McCarthy said. “Frankly, it comes down to the basics of football, and we weren’t nearly to the standard we expect from one another.”
Jacob Schum’s punt was beginning to stop near the 2 when cornerback Demetri Goodson failed to prevent a touchback.
“I thought I had it,” said Goodson. “It was a tough play, though. My shoulder was barely on the line but the ball was good.”
Daniels was penalized for encroachment, then took the rap for the very next play when DeMarco Murray charged through his gap for a 75-yard touchdown.
According to left guard Brian Schwenke, he didn’t stick on Daniels long enough before leaving to block the middle linebacker.
“We went for the wrong guy,” Schwenke said somewhat sheepishly. “That’s how we were able to account for the extra guy. He (Daniels) came unblocked but DeMarco went right past him.”
Daniels, who has been beat at the point of attack on several other substantial runs this season, said: “I had an opportunity to make the tackle and I didn’t. That’s all there is to it. I let my boys down on that play.”
On their next series, the Packers picked up a first down but then Bakhtiari drew the second of the team’s season-high total of 12 penalties with a hold. Rodgers followed with a toss at Jordy Nelson’s feet before he was saved a fumble on a quick whistle after DaQuan Jones beat Bakhtiari for a sack.
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Letroy Guion began the next series by jumping offsides and smashing down Marcus Mariota. That was worth two penalties, but in the melee at least the Packers’ defense could cheer the ejection of left tackle Taylor Lewan. The Titans’ best blocker put his hands on back judge Steve Freeman.
The Packers have had too many incidents of confusion in the bench area. Another arose on third and 14 when half the defense was still moving around before Tajae Sharpe found himself wide open on the sideline for a 21-yard reception.
“They caught us not being set and ready for the down,” said cornerback LaDarius Gunter. “We’ve got to get that fixed.”
When safety Kentrell Brice missed the tackle on the next play, tight end Delanie Walker turned a corner route into a 41-yard gain. Amateur hour persisted when the Packers appeared to be late substituting and had to waste a timeout.
Left-side defenders reacted like they had never seen a halfback option pass when Murray lobbed it over their heads to Walker for an easy 10-yard touchdown and a 14-0 Tennessee lead just eight minutes into the first quarter.
Mariota, a developing second-year player, was nearly perfect on the day with a passer rating of 149.8. Murray, with right tackle Jack Conklin owning the Titans’ preferred running side, bounced 17 times for 123 yards.
Walker, the target of the Packers’ defensive plans all week, proved unstoppable by catching nine of 11 targets for 124 yards. The pedestrian corps of wide receivers caught eight for 139.
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Was the Green Bay defense disorganized?
“I wouldn’t say so,” replied Walker. “We have a lot of different formations. It kind of messes a lot of teams up. We get that from a lot of teams.”
Throwing on just about every down and seldom huddling, the Packers put up 16 points in the second quarter and added another touchdown to begin the third quarter.
Exuding confidence in his offense and showing little faith in his defense, McCarthy successfully converted on fourth and 1 and fourth and 5 in the drive.
“Any time you go for it on fourth down and feel good about it … they were confident out there,” Schwenke said. “That’s scary.”
Green Bay was back in it, 35-22, and 8 minutes, 53 seconds remained in the third quarter. With Mason Crosby kicking off from the 50 after a penalty, McCarthy went for the onsides kick.
It failed, and blessed with a short field (55 yards) Mariota had the frolicking Titans in the end zone five plays later for what proved to be an insurmountable lead.
The Packers slunk out of the Music City with a defense that allowed an incredible 11 yards per play (32-351) in the first half and an offense that turned the ball over three times.
One player said he was ashamed of the team’s performance. Two others said they had never been beat this bad in their football careers.
“We’ve got to reassess where we are and figure it out,” center Corey Linsley said.
Rock bottom, Corey, at least for now. Thing is, it could get even worse.