GREEN BAY, Wis. – With 5 minutes and 21 seconds remaining, Aaron Rodgers’ fourth-down pass to Allen Lazard landed in the middle of nowhere. The fans booed. The game was over. Probably the season, too.
The Green Bay Packers lost to the Tennessee Titans 27-17 on Thursday night. Last week’s victory over the Dallas Cowboys, to use a Ron Wolf phrase, was nothing but a fart in the wind. Green Bay fell to 4-7. Even with the mediocre middle of the NFC, the Packers’ playoff hopes seem impossibly long, no matter what the standings will suggest at the end of the weekend.
“Extremely disappointed right now to put on a performance like that,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “I just, I don’t even know what to say. It was nothing like a few days ago and that’s why you’re only as good as your last game and every time you step out on that field you’ve got to go out and do it.”
Green Bay’s defense was supposed to be the strength of the team. It hasn’t been, especially with the season on the line. After the Packers pulled within 15-9 to start the second half, the Titans drove down the field for a touchdown. When the Packers answered that touchdown with a touchdown of their own, the Titans zipped down the field with the answer to take a 27-17 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The defense finally buckled down but the Green Bay offense went three-and-out, three-and-out and fourth-and-out. The last of those possessions started at the Titans’ 43-yard line and brought out the boobirds, who had been fooled into believing the Packers were alive after the overtime win over Dallas.
“It was just a bad night, all in all,” LaFleur said.
The ball-hogging Titans led 14-6 at halftime. Tennessee led 171-96 in yards, 38-20 in plays and 19:25 to 10:35 in time of possession. Running back Derrick Henry had 18 touches (and one pass) and Ryan Tannehill threw 18 passes – almost matching Green Bay’s entire play count.
Green Bay’s only touchdown came on a free play. With Rodgers catching the Titans with 12 defenders on the field, he threw a jump-ball to rookie Christian Watson, who made a leaping grab over cornerback Kristian Fulton for 14-yard touchdown. The snap was low and Mason Crosby’s extra point was blocked by Denico Autry.
The Packers pulled within 14-9 to start the second half but the Titans extended the advantage to 20-9 thanks to a couple defensive breakdowns and a trick play. First, the defensive miscues: On second-and-7 from the 12, Green Bay’s feeble pass rush finally got to Tannehill but it didn’t matter because nobody bothered to cover tight end Chig Okonkwo, who made a tumbling catch for a gain of 31.
One play later, the Titans ran a perfectly executed screen to Derrick Henry, with the burly back picking up steam with every step en route to a gain of 42 to the 9. Henry punctuated the drive, not by running but by throwing. Henry took the handoff, stopped short of the line and flicked a pass to tight end Austin Hooper. Importantly, or so it seemed, the extra point hit the upright, keeping it an 11-point game.
The Packers pulled within three on Rodgers’ second touchdown pass of the night to Watson, an 8-yarder off play-action fakes to AJ Dillon and Randall Cobb. The two-point play, a flip to Aaron Jones that was keyed by a big-time block by tight end Robert Tonyan, brought the Packers within 20-17 with 2:04 left in the third quarter.
The Packers were alive, right?
A coverage bust left Robert Woods open for 32 and Tannehill threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Hooper on the first play of the fourth quarter to extend the lead to 27-17.
Then, Green Bay’s offense went into the type of funk that’s been the theme all season.
Ryan Tannehill led the NFL in passer rating in 2019, when he earned Pro Bowl honors. He hadn’t touched that level very often since but he did on Thursday. Through three quarters, he was 21-of-25 passing for 282 yards and two touchdowns. For the night, he threw for 333 yards. Five players had catches of 30-plus yards.
Joe Barry’s track record in previous stops as defensive coordinator in Washington and Detroit weren’t inspiring. And yet, coach Matt LaFleur hired him to run the defense of a perennial Super Bowl contender. Expectations were sky-high entering the season but Barry has delivered only mediocre results. The Titans, with a great running back, good quarterback, mediocre receivers and an offensive line down two starters, scored three consecutive touchdowns spanning the second through fourth quarters.
The Packers had some momentum, having pulled within 14-9 midway through the third quarter. And they had the Titans backed up at the 9 on the ensuing kickoff. Now was the time. Instead, it appeared safety Darnell Savage dropped the coverage on a pass to tight end Chig Okonkwo for a gain of 31. The pass rush strong on the play but it doesn't matter when you don't cover anyone. That set the wheels in motion for a 91-yard touchdown drive that gave the Titans a 20-9 lead.
On three consecutive possessions to open the fourth quarter, the Packers gained 8 yards.
The Packers (4-7) will get their mini-bye before facing the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football. The Eagles (8-1), who lost their first game of the season last week against Washington, will play at the Indianapolis Colts (4-5-1) on Sunday.
“Season’s not over,” Aaron Rodgers said. “We’ve got to win these next games.
“I don’t see why not, Rodgers said.