A Season Defining Win Slips Through the Packers' Hands.Posted:Oct 29th, 2018 1:57 pm
It took until Halloween weekend, but the Packers finally showed us the team we thought they could be on Sunday, serving up treats all afternoon, only to be done in by a trick at the hands of their special teams.
It was set up just the way you want it: the Packers defense, aided by some conservative Rams play calling, had forced a field goal to put the ball back in Aaron Rodgers' hands, down by two, with two minutes to go. We've all seen this act before. There was little doubt he would be able to put the team in position to swipe the game with a last second field goal by Mason Crosby.
But on a day when the offense and defense not only held their own, but outplayed the Rams, it was special teams that sealed the Pack's fate. From the late second quarter punt that put the Pack inside their own one, to a lousy afternoon by punter JK Scott, to the unpardonable sin by Ty Montgomery (not the fumble, but rather not taking a knee and letting the offense get to work from the 25), it added up to just enough errors to hand LA the victory.
The biggest revelation on this afternoon was the play of Mike Pettine's defense. Where has that been all season? They made the decision to move Jaire Alexander from the slot to the outside to deal with the speedy Brandin Cooks and Jared Goff tested him all day. The precocious rookie was up to the challenge, deflecting five passes and sticking to him like glue. If he can stay healthy, he can be a huge difference maker for a secondary that sorely needs it.
The Packers confused Jared Goff for much of the game, sacking him five times--he had been sacked only seven times all season leading up to this game. Kenny Clark, Blake Martinez, Clay Matthews, Kyler Fackrell--they all had big moments and made Goff look nothing like the MVP candidate he is. Sure, Goff and Gurley got things rolling in the second half, but the defense showed it was up to the challenge and that's a great sign with three more tough road games coming up.
On offense, Mike McCarthy finally gave Aaron Jones the start and he got the offense going right out of the gate. Still, he only had 12 carries for the day, as McCarthy continues to believe Jamal Williams and Montgomery deserve their reps. That thinking needs to end. Montgomery brings absolutely nothing to the table and Williams should serve as nothing more than a change of pace option, when Jones needs a breather.
The offensive line did their job, keeping the vaunted Rams pass rush away from Rodgers for most of the afternoon, and the young receivers stepped up when their numbers were called, to ensure the Rams couldn't focus all of their attention on Davante Adams, who had yet another great afternoon.
It was a great setting, with more than half the stadium filled with Packer fans, audible "Go Pack Go" chants when Goff faced third downs, forcing him to use a silent count at his own stadium. And for most of the afternoon, it felt like the Pack was going to rise up and snatch an upset win. Obviously, the safety changed all the momentum, turning a 10-0 lead late in the second quarter to a 10-8 lead at halftime. It felt at the time like the Pack had blown a golden opportunity to take a commanding lead over the best team in football at their place.
It was a Packers performance we've been waiting to see all season. Only two penalties. No turnovers, until the final, fateful kickoff, a defensive intensity and an offensive gameplan that was up to the challenge, despite some strange play calling, particularly in the second quarter.
It showed that, when healthy, this team can compete with anyone. But they cannot afford to let down against lesser competition. The slow start to the season erased any wiggle room in the playoff race, and while three teams in the North are saddled with three losses, the Packers know that their three road games in the next month will likely define the fate of their season.
Shame on the Packers for not addressing the returner position when Trevor Davis went on IR. Using Montgomery and Tramon Williams is basically like saying, we'll be happy if they merely take care of the football. On this day, they weren't even up to that challenge. Maybe Davis will get activated this week, maybe not. But for a team that expects to compete for Super Bowls as long as Rodgers is healthy, the Pack swung and missed on making their special teams as dynamic as possible.
And on this day, it cost them.