Despite win, Packers not happy with performance
Aaron Rodgers smiled a lot during his postgame news conference Sunday.
Not all of those facial expressions meant the quarterback took great delight in the Packers’ 30-20 road win over the Oakland Raiders.
“We’re going to the playoffs. I am happy, very happy,” said Rodgers, only to follow with, “but we weren’t very effective. We had less than 300 (total) yards and had a terrible first half.”
Rodgers’ bittersweet sentiments coursed throughout a mostly subdued visitors’ locker room at Oakland’s O.co Coliseum.
The Packers improved to 10-4 with their third straight win, maintained their one-game lead in the NFC North and secured a playoff berth for a club-record seventh consecutive year.
Yet, no one on the victorious side was overjoyed about those accomplishments. Linebacker Clay Matthews, for one, tempered his enthusiasm by acknowledging “it wasn’t our best-looking game out there, in all facets.”
Even after being spotted a quick 14-0 lead by the turnover-prone Raiders, the Packers had to overcome another week of malaise on offense and a three-point deficit in the third quarter before they scored the game’s final 13 points.
“Yeah, we got a win, we’re in the playoffs, we clinched a spot, but we have higher goals,” receiver Randall Cobb said. “There’s more things that we want to do. Our style of play (Sunday) wasn’t what we’ve created, the standard we’ve created. So, it’s just getting back to the fundamentals and making sure that we take care of business moving into next week.”
Green Bay’s early-morning return from the West Coast on Monday didn’t give players, let alone the coaching staff, much time to ruminate about another maddening game filled with twists and turns.
The Packers will have to work through a week that includes extra time off for Christmas on Friday as they prepare to return out west for a crucial late-season game. Green Bay plays Sunday at the NFC West-champion Arizona Cardinals.
The Cardinals (12-2) are in the driver’s seat for the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the NFC postseason bracket. The Packers, though, can catch Arizona – and wrest that second seed – by winning out the last two weeks and having the Cardinals fall one more time at home when they play the red-hot Seattle Seahawks in Week 17.
“We’re right where I want to be; we’re right where we need to be,” head coach Mike McCarthy said sternly. “The style points, you can flush that. I’m sick and tired of talking about the negativities that go on here. We’ve won 10 games, OK? … And, we’ve got a chance to win 11 next week.”
REPORT CARD VS. RAIDERS
–PASSING OFFENSE: C. An Aaron Rodgers passing line with barely 200 yards through the air has become an unsettling trend. He narrowly eclipsed the underwhelming plateau Sunday, throwing for 204 yards on 22-of-39 accuracy. That’s five straight games for Rodgers to not pass for 300 yards. Still, the Packers have won four of those, including the last three outings. Rodgers willed Green Bay’s hit-and-miss offense to the comeback win in the second half Sunday, getting plenty of help from one-time Raider receiver James Jones. After catching only one pass for seven yards in the first half, Jones pulled in all five throws his way for 75 yards the final two quarters, highlighted by his wide-open 30-yard catch-and-run touchdown that put the Packers back ahead – and for good – at 24-20 late in the third. Slot receivers Randall Cobb (five catches for 40 yards) and Jared Abbrederis (three receptions for 33 yards) also contributed. The connection with Jones at the expense of Oakland’s busted coverage was Rodgers’ only touchdown throw. He had a bad interception on a lob intended for Jeff Janis into double coverage in the end zone when Green Bay was trying to extinguish the last few minutes of the game with a 10-point lead. Rodgers’ passer rating of 68.8 is his second worst of the season. He took two early sacks, both of the coverage variety. Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack added a sack to his league-leading total, using sheer athleticism to reach a scrambling Rodgers from behind. Otherwise, right tackle Bryan Bulaga fared well as the primary blocker against Mack.
–RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus. Green Bay had a huge comedown from its season-high 230 rushing yards the previous Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. Eddie Lacy and James Starks disappeared again for most of the game, and both halfbacks wound up being relegated to the sideline for a good chunk of the second half as fullback John Kuhn and the versatile Cobb occupied the backfield. Lacy’s recent resurgence of three 100-yard performances in four games ended with a thud. He mustered only 23 yards in 11 carries. Starks was just as pitiful and had a critical fumble on a hit by ex-Packers safety Charles Woodson deep in Oakland territory late in the first half, but the change-of-pace back redeemed himself down the stretch. Starks ripped off a 25-yard run up the middle inside the Raiders’ 10-yard line, leading to a field goal that put Green Bay ahead 30-20 with less than 4 1/2 minutes to ply. Starks led the Packers with 51 yards in nine carries. Kuhn barged across the goal line from five yards out after the first of two takeaways by Green Bay’s defense in the opening quarter. However, the Packers continued to be a mess in short-yardage situations. Lacy was stuffed for no gain on a third-and-2 play early in the game. Later, Green Bay had to settle for a field goal in a 19-play, 92-yard drive that ate up more than eight minutes bridging the third and fourth quarters after a host of Raiders strung out Lacy to the outside for a two-yard loss on second-and-goal from the 1. The Packers finished with 103 yards on the ground, averaging just 3.7 yards per attempt.
–PASS DEFENSE: C. The absence of Pro Bowl cornerback Sam Shields because of a concussion he sustained in the previous game didn’t seem to adversely affect Green Bay’s defense early on. Roving defensive back Micah Hyde had an easy interception on a badly thrown pass from Derek Carr down the middle and returned it 34 yards to the Oakland 2, leading to the first points of the game on the Kuhn touchdown run. The Raiders’ next play from scrimmage resulted in a 43-yard pick-six by rookie cornerback Damarious Randall on a Carr overthrow to the outside, quickly putting the Packers up 14-0. From there, however, Green Bay’s pass coverage was mostly forgettable when Carr put the football in the right spot. Randall had growing pains after his big takeaway in his one-on-one matchup with Raiders rookie standout Amari Cooper as Shields’ replacement. Cooper had six receptions for 120 yards and two touchdowns in nine targets. Quinten Rollins, the rookie who manned the other starting spot at cornerback on the perimeter, fared better. Rollins had a nice breakup of a high throw to Michael Crabtree in the end zone. The veteran wideout wasn’t much of a factor until late in the game, finishing with six catches for 70 yards in 11 targets. Rollins dropped an interception on an errant downfield throw from Carr, who was only 23-of-47 for 276 yards with the two touchdowns and the two interceptions. His efficiency rating of 63.8 was slightly worse than Rodgers’. Outside linebacker Julius Peppers capitalized on Green Bay’s sporadic tight coverage by notching 2 1/2 of the team’s three sacks of Carr, who resorted to holding onto the football in the pocket. The Packers defense was horrendous in a four-play, 79-yard touchdown drive in the waning moments of the first half, allowing fullback Marcel Reece to run for 29 yards on a short completion and then Carr to scramble 17 yards before his 19-yard touchdown strike to Cooper.
–RUN DEFENSE: B. When Latavius Murray broke away for a 22-yard run on a third-and-3 draw play up the middle out of shotgun early in the second quarter, the signs were ominous for Green Bay to have a brutal day defending the run. By then, players were guilty of being out of position or missing tackles on a few of Murray’s runs. Murray completed the first half with 64 yards in 15 carries. His rushing attempts weren’t even half as abundant the last two quarters, but the Packers buckled down nevertheless. Murray finished with 78 yards in 21 carries, averaging only 3.7 yards. He had only one other explosive run, for 12 yards. Safety Morgan Burnett and outside linebacker Mike Neal each dropped Murray for a loss. Neal also had a stop for no gain on Murray’s first-and-goal run from the Green Bay 6 before defensive tackle Letroy Guion held Murray to a one-yard gain on second down. A scrambling Carr was the only other ball carrier for Oakland, picking up 42 yards in four rushes to give the Raiders a composite 120 yards on the ground.
–SPECIAL TEAMS: B. Speedy receiver Jeff Janis continues to excel as a special-teamer. He had another tackle for loss on a punt returner, dropping ex-Packer Jeremy Ross for minus two yards early in the game. Janis’ biggest contribution Sunday came as the kickoff returner. Right after the Raiders went ahead 20-17 in the third quarter, Janis fielded the football at the goal line and zipped 47 yards to set up the offense at nearly midfield. Green Bay needed only three plays to cover the remaining 53 yards to retake the lead on the Rodgers-to-James Jones touchdown throw. Janis averaged 27 yards in four kickoff runbacks. Hyde also was effective, returning two short punts 14 and 10 yards for favorable field position. Green Bay’s coverage units were solid, allowing an average of only 23 yards on kickoff returns, while Ross’ two punt returns were for losses. Packers punter Tim Masthay had robust averages of 52.8 gross and 48.5 net yards in four kicks. The only big blemish was Mason Crosby, who had connected on his first three field goals, having a 49-yard attempt blocked with a minute left.
–COACHING: C. The Packers will be in the playoffs for a team-record seventh straight year and reached the 10-win mark for the sixth time in that stretch. However, Green Bay slogged through the rain in Oakland to get past a Raiders team that is below .500 and won’t be heading to the postseason. The Packers offense reverted to its struggling ways as head coach Mike McCarthy called the plays for the second straight week. Green Bay managed only 293 total yards, its second-lowest total this season. The lack of production from Lacy and Starks on the ground for the first half prompted McCarthy to make the switch to feature Kuhn as well as Cobb in the backfield, which paid off as the Packers rallied after briefly falling behind. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers didn’t pressure Carr as much as had been anticipated, thus exposing Randall and others on the back end to some of the big pass plays. McCarthy kept his near-perfect record on replay challenges this season intact by having an incomplete catch by a diving Jones along the sideline overturned.