The Green Bay Packers start off another season 1-2 after a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in one of the craziest games you will ever see.
1st Quarter 9:20 – Last season, the Packers’ defense was great at stopping game-opening drives. In the first two games this season, the Packers continued that trend by forcing a three and out against San Francisco and a four and out against the Redskins.
However, in this game, the Packers would win the toss, elect to kick off, and then watch the Bengals take the opening drive for a touchdown to lead 7-0.
The Packers would amazingly start the game in the dime defense, force a 1-yard scramble by Andy Dalton on first down, and then switch to the nickel defense for the remainder of the drive.
On 2nd and 9 from their 21, the Bengals would run right with Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis. Brad Jones would open a hole when he over-pursues to the outside and gets walled off. Jones recovers enough to join A.J. Hawk on the tackle 10 yards downfield.
Two plays later, Jones would react too slowly to Jermaine Gresham releasing to the flat for a pass and then miss the tackle. Hawk would make it after another first down.
On the very next play, a simple out to Mohamed Sanu goes for 32 yards when Tramon Williams dives in front to knock the ball down, has the ball go right under his arm, and turns around to see Sanu running free up the sideline. He gets to the Packers’ 25 before being forced out by M.D. Jennings.
On the only third down of the drive — 3rd and 4 from the 19 — Sanu would get 14 across the middle when the Bengals run a pick play out of the bunch. Micah Hyde is in coverage and trails Sanu after getting bumped by Gresham.
Hyde doesn’t have the quickness to play over the top of that route. He has to take advantage of the 5-yard contact zone and disrupt that route at the start.
The Bengals score two plays later when Giovanni Bernard leaps over a tackle attempt by Hyde and stretches the ball over the goal line.
1Q 9:08 – On the following kickoff, Jeremy Ross would sign his walking papers by turning a short kick into a disaster. He takes his eyes off of it, muffs it, and the Bengals recover at the Packers’ 2-yard line. Because it was a return left on the play, the Packers weren’t even blocking the right flyer. When the ball bounced right off of Ross’ hands, it worked perfectly for the Bengals.
Green-Ellis scored on a plunge up the middle on the next play. That makes it 14-0 without the Packers offense even seeing the field.
1Q 6:43 – When the Packers offense does get on the field for the first time, an almost equal disaster results.
On first down, the Packers line up with James Starks and Jermichael Finley in the backfield. The Bengals are in the nickel, two deep shell with tight coverage underneath. The Bengals would remain in this defense for the duration, oblivious to the rushing yards amassed by the Packers. And yes, this is the same damn defense the Packers and Rodgers have seen since defenses finally figured out how to slow Rodgers down near the end of 2011.
Starks gets 12 yards on the first play when he breaks a Michael Johnson tackle at the line and the Bengals’ linebackers over pursue.
On the second play, Rodgers misreads the coverage on Randall Cobb and almost gets Cobb killed. A back shoulder pass to Nelson gets 22 yards and the Packers into Bengals territory. In order to avoid a challenge that the Bengals likely win, the Packers hurry up and run Starks to the right. Don Barclay is either not ready or just simply gets whipped by Carlos Dunlap. Starks loses 4 yards.
On 3rd down from the Bengals’ 46, Rodgers has Cobb open on the out with the safety shading towards Finley. Rodgers forces it into Finley anyway and gets him knocked out of the game when his head bounces off the shoulder of safety George Iloka. Per the NFL rulebook, Article 7, Rule 12, it is a personal foul to strike a defenseless receiver “in the head or neck area with the helmet, elbow, forearm or SHOULDER.” Therefore, it should be 1st and 10 at the Bengals’ 31.
However, for the second week in a row there is no call as an illegal hit takes a Packers starter out of the game. Certainly, Rodgers would find the middle of the field, the weakness of the defense, harder to find without Finley in the game.
1Q 0:45 – The Bengals go three and out after the Packers’ punt. On 3rd and 6, Nick Perry pushes his blocker into Dalton’s face, and Dalton fires high over Marvin Jones’ head.
The Packers go three and out when Rodgers throws a back shoulder to Nelson that wasn’t even close and then gets sacked by Johnson on third down. On the third down play, the Bengals blitzed a safety and went with a rare one deep look. It nearly burned them, as they blew the coverage on Andrew Quarless. Unfortunately, Rodgers is looking for Nelson on the other side of the field. Johnson comes on a stunt, runs right over Evan Dietrich-Smith, and sacks Rodgers just as he turns and spots Quarless.
After the Packers’ punt, the Bengals begin an unfathomable streak of four straight turnovers on their own end of the field. On 3rd and 7, Brad Jones comes on a blitz, is held, and gets to Dalton. Dalton unloads behind A.J. Green and Sam Shields makes a nice play to pick it off. This gives the Packers the ball at the Cincy 26.
2Q 14:02 – The Packers promptly go three and out and settle for a field goal. On first down, a keep pass to Quarless is thrown short. After a 3-yard run by Starks, the Packers faced 3rd and 7. Cincy lined up with seven guys near the line of scrimmage and a single safety. Nelson has an easy first down on the comeback route and Starks is uncovered as he releases, but Rodgers is focused on the short-long combination of James Jones and Cobb to his left. When two guys stay on Jones short, Rodgers goes deep for Cobb. It is well overthrown.
Mason Crosby makes the 41-yard field goal, and the Packers are on the board at 14-3.
2Q 11:25 – For once, a Packer attempt to strip the ball results in something more than a missed tackle. On the second play of the next series for the Bengals, Brad Jones strips the ball from Jermaine Gresham. Hawk recovers, and the Packers now start at the Bengals’ 37.
The Packers go backwards and punt.
On 2nd and 7, Quarless has an easy catch on a slant to the Cincy 25, but he drops it. On 3rd down, David Bakhtiari gets beat by Michael Johnson and holds him. On 3rd and 17, the Bengals break from the two deep zone and play three deep with their middle linebacker covering the middle zone. Cobb is open underneath him and has the first down. Rodgers has time to throw him the ball, but he is too busy watching the pass rush instead of looking downfield.
What he sees there is that Johnson has Bakhtiari beat again, coming up the middle. Rodgers tries to run to the outside and ends up sandwiched between Johnson and Wallace Gilberry.
2Q 9:45 – The defense gets tired of waiting around for the offense and just scores on their own this time. On 2nd and 5, Hawk does well to tackle Bernard just short of the first after Matthews gave up the edge. We now have a 3rd and inches, and the following play would nearly mirror a 4th and inches later in the game.
The Bengals run to their right, but the Packers have the point of attack crushed. Both Perry and Hawk have shed their blocks and are a half yard into the backfield. Preparing for impact with them, Green-Ellis never sees the flying Matthews coming from the backside. Matthews forces the fumble, Jennings picks it up and runs for a score to make it 14-10.
That is touchdown returns in consecutive seasons for M.D. Jennings, who might be a completely serviceable safety if Morgan Burnett ever returns.
Also, a fight broke out after the PAT. That makes a fight in every game so far this season.
2Q 6:35 – The Bengals’ comical turnover streak would hit new heights as the Packers blitz Jennings and then House on consecutive plays, and the second blitz results in a Matthews’ sack and a Datone Jones forced fumble, which is recovered by Brad Jones. The Packers would get their best field position yet at the Bengals’ 21.
The Packers reach first and goal from the 5 thanks to some hard runs by Starks. On first down, after a play fake, Rodgers runs out of the pocket for no reason and throws the ball away. He seems very agitated by this play, gesturing towards the sideline and yelling. It would appear that Rodgers’ argument with Mike McCarthy originated with this play.
After a second down run by Starks got to the 2, Rodgers would roll to his right with Jeremy Ross coming out of the backfield and into the flat. Rodgers seems to have a shot at a TD if he throws it to Ross. Instead, Rodgers tries to run it in and takes an unnecessary hard shot to the head.
Another FG makes it 14-13. Rodgers and McCarthy get into it after this play with McCarthy clearly mouthing the words “it worked though… throw the damn ball!”
2Q 5:30 – The Bengals would at least hang onto the ball in going three and out. The Packers would take over at their own 22 and go 72 yards in 12 plays, their best offensive drive of the half, ending with another field goal to go into the half ahead at 16-14.
The drive would be a mix of Starks’ runs and short passes, helped along by a 15-yard penalty on Vontaze Burfict for hitting James Jones in the head while he was catching a slant. Starks is running better than he ever has and the much maligned zone blocking scheme is looking like the brief days of Ryan Grant. The line is successfully spreading out the defense and creating cutback lanes. Starks is finding the lanes and hitting them hard.
The Packers would have first and goal from the 5 once again. This time Rodgers would perhaps get what he wanted with a straight run to Starks on first down. The play would get one yard and Starks’ injury-free time would finally expire. On second down, defensive end Carlos Dunlap perfectly jumped the snap and used his long arms to collar Rodgers. Rodgers would pull away only to fall on his ass. On third and goal from the 12, Rodgers would throw the wide receiver screen to Nelson, but Terrance Newman would play it aggressively and tackle Nelson before he can make a move upfield.
The Packers would settle for a field goal to take the lead at 16-14, but at least they have pulled off the end the half with the ball and start the next half with the ball that every coach wants when they defer.
3Q 11:40 – The Packers start the second half with a 7-play, 80-yard drive to take control at 23-14.
Packers fans would quickly find out that the Packers will play the second half without Clay Matthews or James Starks. Not only does that mean the Packers will likely need their offense to control the half, but it also means that the offense will now have to rely on Johnathan Franklin, the last man standing in the Packers’ backfield.
Tell me which is more comically idiotic — going into a game with only two healthy running backs when one of them is James Starks, or having Franklin sitting the bench the first two weeks apparently due to the mistaken belief that Franklin is not ready for live action?
Anyway, the first drive of the half is kickstarted by a 26-yard pass to Cobb when the offensive line had their best play of the game and gave Rodgers time to consider every receiver twice. After a quick pass to Nelson moved the Packers into Cincy territory, Franklin took his first carry of the game and ripped through the right side for 6 yards and a first down.
Rodgers would throw three straight incompletions, which should have led to a punt, but a weak roughing the passer call on Reggie Nelson gave the Packers a first down instead. Franklin would take it from there with runs of 5 and 8 yards and a catch for 7 yards to take it down to the 2. Franklin would score from there around the left end.
That makes three rushing TDs in three weeks by three different running backs. Some of my hope in David Bakhtiari’s future is renewed on this play, as Bakhtiari buried Michael Johnson to help Franklin go untouched around the edge.
3Q 7:20 – As there would be no three and outs in the second half, Cincy would take the ball to the Packers’ 38 before consecutive incompletions would cause them to punt.
3Q 5:30 – Starting from their 8, the Packers would go 92 yards in 5 plays to make the score 30-14. The bulk of the drive was a 51-yard scamper by Franklin and a 30-yard sideline catch by Nelson.
On the run by Franklin, T.J. Lang would have his best play as a Packer. He would drive Geno Atkins toward the sideline, and then get off that block and cover up a Cincy linebacker. Franklin would cut back, right at the Cincy safeties who appear mesmerized by his speed, skip out of a tackling attempt by Nelson, and then burst up the seam created by blocks by Lang and Ryan Taylor. Leon Hall, undoubtedly the best Bengals defender on this day, would save the touchdown by running Franklin down.
On 1st and goal from the 7, Rodgers would do his thing by catching the Bengals with too many men on the field, rolling to the left and throwing a TD to James Jones.
3Q 3:50 – The Packers’ defense has had the same tendency as last year to rapidly give up scores right after the offense stakes them to a multiple score lead. The Bengals go 65 yards in just 4 plays to get back into the game at 30-21.
The Bengals were gifted 30 yards on the drive. For one, after the PAT by the Packers, Burfict hit Ryan Taylor in the junk. Taylor then shoved Burfict, who flopped, drawing a 15-yard penalty on Taylor. Because of this, the Bengals would start the drive on the 35 instead of the 20. Plus, after the second play of the series, Nick Perry was hit with a weak personal foul for jumping on Green near the sideline. This moved the ball to the Packers’ 37.
At 1st and 10 from the 37, the Bengals line up both tight ends to the outside. Since the Packers insist on going with two deep on the play, Brad Jones lines up to the outside to cover Gresham, leaving only A.J. Hawk in the middle of the field. Mike Neal gets up field too fast and cannot close down the draw play, something Perry has been great at.
Bernard runs through a huge hole between Neal and Ryan Pickett and gets 17 yards. On the next play, A.J. Green pulls off a textbook swim move on Sam Shields and scores the touchdown.
3Q 3:00 – At this point, reminiscent of the second half against Indy last season, the Packers would begin to pull off the kind of plays that would lose the game for them. Gifted with good field position at the 40, Franklin would rumble off 7 yards on first down. On 2nd and 3, Rodgers would do a bootleg to his right. Cobb has the first down right in front of him, but Rodgers ignores that to take a shot downfield for Jones. He underthrows what could have been a touchdown.
On the next play, Jones screws up by giving up on his slant route, ceding the route to Terrance Newman who intercepts Rodgers in stride.
3Q 00:25 – The Bengals would get nothing out of the turnover as the Packers’ defense would have its last great stand in the game, including sacks by Tramon Williams and Mike Daniels. After a mysterious timeout, the Bengals would try and miss a 52-yard field goal.
4Q 13:40 – What would follow would be to me, the key turning point in the game.
The missed field goal gave the Packers great starting field position at the 42. Suddenly and inexplicably the Packers are pass happy, as Rodgers scrambles into Bengals’ territory, then dumps it to Cobb for 7 before dumping it to Franklin for 6.
That gives the Packers 1st and 10 from the Cincy 27. The Bengals are having a miserable time tackling Franklin, and you would think that the Packers would like to run the clock. Even if the Packers run three times and kick a field goal, they have a 12-point lead with less than 11 minutes remaining.
Forget that. Rodgers tries the out and up to Cobb for the second time in the game. The first time, Leon Hall covered it perfectly, Rodgers threw it anyway and overthrew it. This time, Leon Hall covers it perfectly, Rodgers throws it anyway, and it is picked off.
It is an even more frustrating play on replay. The film shows that EVERYONE except Cobb is open. As they do for much of this half, the Cincy linebackers drop aggressively into coverage and completely ignore Franklin coming out of the backfield. No one is within 10 yards of him when Rodgers chucks it for Cobb.
4Q 10:50 – Of course, the painful and unusual error by Rodgers wouldn’t have ended up being a turning point if the defense got the ball back, but that didn’t happen. Instead, the Bengals went 95 yards in 7 plays to pull within 30-27.
The Bengals run a good old pick play on first down from the 5. Bernard runs out to the flat. Hawk has him man-to-man and goes to cut beneath the slot receiver in trail coverage. The receiver, Sanu, throws Hawk a shoulder and knocks him off the coverage. Bernard takes the dump off and rumbles up the sideline for 31 yards.
On 3rd and 8 from their own 38, the Bengals line up again with two wide on each side. The Packers look to cross the Bengals up by playing a zone this time, except the Bengals apparently guess right and have the perfect route against the zone. The back receiver runs a short stop, which holds Davon House and Mike Neal in the short zone. The front receiver runs a deep out, which is a tough route for Tramon Williams to cover, having to protect the middle of the field. Dalton hits Marvin Jones on the deep out. Williams begins tackling Jones in bounds, but he is out of bounds by time he throws him down. The refs tack on 15 yards to make it a 37-yard gain.
On first down from the Packers’ 12, Williams has Jones in man-to-man, overcommits to the cross, and gets beat bad when Jones runs the corner instead.
4Q 3:50 – The Packers must respond with their offense, and they get what they need until the drive ends in the final disaster of the game.
The Packers run the clock and advance methodically down the field with short passes and runs by Franklin. On 3rd and 3 from the Green Bay 40, the Packers finally run a designed dump to Franklin with the receivers blocking. It gets 10 yards for a first down at midfield.
The Packers make it to the Cincy 35 on a 4-yard run by Franklin. On 2nd and 6, Rodgers drops back to pass and has to step up to avoid the long arms by Dunlap coming around Barclay. He takes another step forward to give himself a better angle to dump it to Quarless. Unfortunately, at the same time, Josh Sitton gets shoved backwards, right into Rodgers. For the second time in the game, Rodgers falls straight back on his ass.
This gives the Packers 3rd and 12. Rodgers finds Cobb on the out from the slot with Nelson blocking. Cobb does very well to get right to the marker, but a no-brainer replay challenge moves the ball back a foot to make it 4th and inches.
Going for it is the right call. However, the Packers only have their smallest back on the roster available, and Rodgers is notoriously bad at the quarterback sneak. The Packers line up with their normal three receivers on the field, which I like because it maintains the threat of the pass. Unfortunately, the formation doesn’t deter Cincy from stacking the line. They put both safeties on one end of the line and both linebackers on the other end for an eight-man line. That leaves all three of their defensive backs in man-to-man coverage with no help.
Quarless lines up at the hip of Bakhtiari, when I would prefer him in the backfield to lead the play. Considering how the defense is lined up, there would seemingly only be two ways to run it with any chance at success — either in Quarless’ direction or straight up the middle. The Packers elect for the latter.
Except it has no chance. Both Johnson and Dunlap crash hard towards the middle, and with no one lined up to block them, both linebackers wait for Franklin to get the hand off and crash the line of scrimmage. Franklin probably sees them coming, but he doesn’t see Johnson crashing hard from the side. Johnson’s helmet makes direct contact with the football and knocks it loose as Franklin is tackled by four Bengals a yard behind the line of scrimmage.
For a moment, no one seems to notice the ball is lying next to the pile. Then, Rodgers and Reggie Nelson both break for it. Nelson gets there first, and Rodgers woefully fails to tackle him. Cobb hits Nelson from behind. If he just goes down, it is Cincy ball at their own 36, still trailing by three. Instead, he pulls a fumble-rooski. If the Packers recover, it is 1st and 10 and new life for them. Except there are no Packers around. Newman picks it up and easily goes the distance to give the Bengals the lead at 34-30.
Personally, I was calling for Franklin out to the edge where his elusiveness was killing the Bengals. A straight ahead dive just isn’t his game. But after seeing the defense, I say you take a shot. If Quarless fakes a block and takes off straight upfield, he might be all alone. An incomplete pass does nothing worse than giving Cincy the ball right where you had it. Running a smallish back with six blockers against eight defenders is not a recipe for success.
4Q 1:20 – Regardless of all the insanity that passed before, Aaron Rodgers and the offense still had the ball with 3:45 left to go, with a touchdown winning the game. If Packers fans didn’t feel confident that they’d get it done, there is good reason for that. The Packers under this regime and this quarterback subscribe to the Tiger Woods way of winning — get a lead and hang on. To my memory, the only time Rodgers has led a touchdown drive in a near exact situation was last season in Detroit.
The Packers moved to the Cincy 20 with relative ease, having to pick up just one 3rd down, which they did on Jeremy Ross’ last catch as a Packer — and a nice play by the way. But they would go no further.
On 1st and 10 from the 20, Rodgers overthrows James Jones up the sideline. Another quick out to Nelson gets 5, giving the Packers 3rd and 5. Rodgers looks for the quick out from the slot to Cobb. It is open, but Dunlap is waiting on the throw and leaps to bat it down.
On 4th and 5 the Packers call timeout. Apparently, they needed a timeout to decide they were going to do the same thing they have been doing all drive. Rodgers tries the quick stop to Jones, but Bakhtiari makes his final bad play by laying down at Johnson’s feet. Johnson steps over him and knocks the ball down to seal the win for the Bengals.
The Packers have a habit of starting slow and relying on a late season push to get where they want to be. It is a precarious position to be put into year after year that might at least partially be a result of always having a young roster.
I am not going to add a ton of big picture after that very long drive-by-drive analysis. The Packers and their fans know what time it is. The Packers need to get better, and they need to win. Starting with their first game back against Detroit, which is shaping up to be a huge game.
Only time will tell whether the Packers come to regret this game that they could have easily won.