Bills, 21, Packers 13: 2-minute drill
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Taking a closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ 21-13 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, as the Packers fell to 10-4 on the season and had their five-game winning streak snapped – and remained winless (0-6) in Buffalo:
Thumbs up: Six days after an epic collapse in a 43-37 victory over Atlanta on Monday Night Football had everyone wondering if the Packers defense was championship caliber, it was the only unit that actually looked Super Bowl worthy on Sunday against the Bills.
Even with the caveat that the Buffalo defense isn’t an elite group – the Bills came in ranked 22nd in the 32-team league in total offense – there’s no question that the defense gave its team every chance to win. Buffalo didn’t score an offensive touchdown all day – its only touchdown came on Marcus Thigpen’s 75-yard punt return – and settled for four field goals.
“Our defense held them to 12 points,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “You expect to win those games.”
Although there was an ugly blown coverage that resulted in a 40-yard completion, even then, the defense stiffened and held the Bills to a field goal.
“It’s a team sport, and we’ve got to have each other’s back,” defensive tackle Mike Daniels said. “How many points did we give up? That’s 12 too many. That’s 12 too many.”
That said, with No. 12 not playing like himself, the defense certainly kept the Packers in the game.
“At the end of the day, as a defense, we try to focus on what we can do. We know that every week, as good as Aaron is, there’s going to be times when that offense is going to struggle a little bit,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “But we’ve just always got to focus on keeping our end of the bargain. That’s what we were trying to do today. Obviously, it was a lot tougher out there.”
Thumbs down: Coach Mike McCarthy was running through each phase’s performance in his opening statement when he got to the final third – the special teams.
“Special teams,” the coach said. “Ugh.”
He continued after that – although that would have been sufficient – and discussed the 75-yard punt return and the 53-yard Mason Crosby field-goal attempt that was blocked.
“We obviously gave up the return; that was a big play in the game. Had the blocked field goal,” McCarthy said. “They made more big plays than we did.”
The biggest play was the punt return, as linebackers Sam Barrington, Brad Jones and Jayrone Elliott overran Thigpen and safety Sean Richardson missed a diving tackle that allowed the play to get out of the gate.
The greater overall issue, though, is that the special teams haven’t had much of a positive impact all season long beyond Crosby’s field-goal kicking (25 of 29, with two blocks) and Micah Hyde’s punt return for a touchdown against Philadelphia, and on Sunday, the group was again a liability.
“We definitely hurt ourselves today, that’s for sure,” punter Tim Masthay said. “We had a punt returned for a touchdown and a field goal blocked and we lost by eight, so yeah, it was not a good day for our unit.”
Player of the game: Running back Eddie Lacy ran 15 times for 97 yards and a touchdown, pushing him to within 60 yards of his second straight 1,000-yard season (203 carries, 940 yards, 4.6-yard average, eight TDs). The problem: Lacy only got the ball 15 times.
On a day when Rodgers wasn’t on top of his game, and Lacy was so productive, it was hard to understand why McCarthy didn’t dedicate himself to the run more as a play-caller. While the Packers ended up running the ball 25 times – four carries for 19 yards by James Starks, three carries for 15 yards by Randall Cobb and three scrambles by Rodgers for 27 yards – for 158 yards, Rodgers still threw the 42 times, even though they never trailed by more than nine points.
“Offensively our balance wasn’t quite where we wanted it to be,” McCarthy admitted. “I thought we ran the ball well.”
McCarthy also pointed out two costly holding penalties – one on David Bakhtiari and one on Josh Sitton – that hurt the run game, and he defended Rodgers’ disappointing performance.
“I don’t think this is all about Aaron’s performance,” McCarthy said. “We’ll look at it. He’ll be the biggest critic of himself. We weren’t sharp, there’s no doubt about it. The passing game, that’s not the kind of numbers we’re used to producing. We’ll go back and learn from it.”
Play of the day: Of all of the Packers’ drops – seven, according to ESPN Stats & Information, with an eighth that could have been charged to Randall Cobb – one hurt the most: Jordy Nelson’s drop of what might have been a 94-yard touchdown that would have not only given the Packers a 17-16 lead if he went the distance but likely would have sucked the life out of Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Facing second-and-8 from his own 6-yard line with 26 seconds left in the third quarter, Rodgers pump faked on a short route to tight end Andrew Quarless and went deep to Nelson, who had sprinted past cornerback Corey Graham and was wide open. Although safety Aaron Williams did have an angle and might have caught Nelson had he caught the ball, Nelson instead dropped it at the 36-yard line with nothing but green FieldTurf and opportunity in front of him.
“Just short-armed it,” Nelson said of the drop.
Rodgers, who had thrown his first interception in 203 pass attempts on the previous series, jogged out the back of the end zone in disappointment, his eyes skyward.
“They were playing quarters and we ran a slant-and-go,” Nelson said. “We had talked about it on the sidelines. We had exactly what we wanted and just didn’t make the play. [I] just didn’t catch it.”
Inside slant: Four times during his postgame press conference, Rodgers referenced the Bills’ defensive backs and their physical play. While he stopped short of blasting referee Bill Leavy and his crew for letting defenders get away with too much, he made his point clear.
“The protection was great, there was not much of a pass rush that bothered me. I was able to move around the pocket,” Rodgers said. “They were physical outside with our receivers and were able to get away with it all day.”
Asked if the Bills had been breaking the rules, he replied, “I would say it will be interesting to see when we go back through. Yeah, we’ll see.”
Later, Rodgers was asked if the Bills played up on his receivers more than he expected. “Not more than we expected,” Rodgers replied. “They were physical and got away with it more than we expected.”
For the record, 21 penalties were called in the game, 19 of which were enforced. Only one defensive holding call was made (on Graham), and no defensive pass interference flags were thrown on either team.
“The bills defense played their scheme,” McCarthy said. “They overloaded some formations with coverages. I thought the up-front battle was good. I thought their coverage, they were all over us, and we just didn’t make enough plays.”
By the numbers:
Aaron Rodgers’ worst performances, ranked by passer rating:
Dec. 14, 2014
Dec. 12, 2010
Dec. 19, 2005
Nov. 19, 2006
Vs. New England
Sept. 28, 2008
at Tampa Bay
Nov. 8, 2009
at Tampa Bay
Oct. 31, 2010
at New York Jets
Nov. 24, 2008
at New Orleans
Quote, unquote: “Everybody is quick to blame the quarterback, but I think the receivers, the tight ends, the running backs, we didn’t make the plays. He put the ball in a lot of good positions, positions for us to make plays and I don’t think the receiving corps really stepped up. I think it’s more on us.” – Tight end Andrew Quarless, on the Packers’ seven drops.
Injury report: The Packers lost right tackle Bryan Bulaga to a concussion during the second half. He was the only injured player unable to return. Outside linebacker Nick Perry aggravated his shoulder injury but came back into the game. The only player inactive due to injury for the Packers was cornerback Davon House (shoulder). The other inactives were quarterback Scott Tolzien, linebacker Carl Bradford, center Garth Gerhart, tight end Justin Perillo, wide receiver Jeff Janis and defensive lineman Bruce Gaston.
Up next: The Packers travel to Tampa Bay to face the Buccaneers in a noon game next Sunday.
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.
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