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Packers Must Find Answers Before It’s Too Late

The Green Bay Packers needed overtime to beat a team being led by a third-string rookie quarterback. The Packers are running out of time to find consistency.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – The race is on for the Green Bay Packers.

The Packers improved to 3-1 by beating the New England Patriots 27-24 in overtime on Sunday at Lambeau Field. Coach Matt LaFleur isn’t going to make any apologies for a win that lacked style points against a team quarterbacked by a third-string rookie. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said a “win’s a win.”

They’re right, of course. There will be no asterisks in the standings. There will be no tiebreakers based on the caliber of quarterback.

But the Packers have some obvious issues that must be solved before they face better quarterbacks and better teams.

That might not be next week, a game in London against the New York Giants, who are 3-1 but lost both of their quarterbacks in beating Chicago. It might not be the following week back home against the New York Jets, who are 2-2 but haven’t beaten anyone. Or the week after that, when they travel to the Washington Commanders, who have been outscored by a league-worst 34 points.

But the Packers must get better – across-the-board better – before the meat of the schedule arrives with a Week 8 game at the Buffalo Bills. And that’s the race. What will happen first? Will the Packers start making some plays and cut out the stupid mistakes before they’re exposed as pretenders?

“I think winning is sustainable, for sure,” Rodgers said. “I think we’re going to have to play a little bit better against starting quarterbacks and if our defense isn’t playing as well as they can. I thought their line seemed to open up some holes and they kind of kept up with some of that outside zone stuff and some lead. But, if we just get into a rhythm and start a little bit faster, we can alleviate some of the things. That’s why I felt like, (when) we scored to make it 7-3, I thought, ‘If we can get this to two scores, now they’re one-dimensional, now our pass rush is getting after them.’”

That’s how the Packers have won for years and years. Rodgers throws a couple touchdown passes, the defense goes into attack mode and, boom, game over.

Instead, Rodgers threw a pick-six and the Patriots led 10-7 at halftime. The only thing worse than Rodgers’ decision was his throw.

“I almost missed the throw so badly he overran it,” Rodgers said.

In the first 30 minutes, Rodgers was 4-of-11 passing for 44 yards and a dreadful 11.2 passer rating and the Packers were a feeble 1-of-5 on third down.

“I felt like we got into a rhythm in the second half with some of the play calls,” Rodgers said. “I settled in and usually don’t have two terrible halves, so I kind of returned to the form I expect from myself and we started moving the football.”

The race is on for Rodgers and the offense to play a complete half. During their three-game winning streak, they scored 24 in the first half but three in the second against Chicago, 14 in the first half and zero in the second half against Tampa Bay, and seven in the first half and 20 the rest of the way against the Patriots. The race is on for Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson, the team’s rookie receivers, to become reliable contributors.

The defense, the unit supposed to carry the load until the offense finds its post-Davante Adams stride, couldn’t stop New England’s running game. It was a dismal performance given the state of the Patriots’ quarterback depth chart. Starter Mac Jones was inactive. Veteran backup Brian Hoyer was knocked out with a concussion. Enter fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe, who hadn’t thrown a pass in his career.

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Of course the Patriots would run the ball to make life easier for Zappe. All 78,317 fans filling Lambeau knew that. And still, the Packers couldn’t stop it. Getting around the corner time and again, the Patriots averaged 5.1 yards per carry. A running game leads to play-action success, with Zappe hitting DaVante Parker against a coverage bust for a 25-yard touchdown in the third quarter and Nelson Agholor for 27 yards to set up a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

“We’ve just got to be sound and on our fundamentals,” said outside linebacker Rashan Gary, who had two sacks and set up a third. “It’s all plays where I miss one, someone else misses one. So, we’ve just got to tighten up. It’s plays that they’ve been running all game, it’s just we had a breakdown in our technique. So, we’ve just got to go back, watch film and correct it.”

The race is on to make those corrections. The Giants feature NFL rushing leader Saquon Barkley, who through four games has 463 rushing yards and a 5.5-yard average. Green Bay, meanwhile, has been gashed on the ground in three of four games.

LaFleur and his staff have to do better, too. That starts during the week with turnovers. The Packers usually dominate that stat but haven’t won the turnover battle in any of their four games. The coaches must get better on Sunday, too. When Doubs dropped the potential winning touchdown with 2 minutes to go, LaFleur threw a challenge flag against the advice of his own staff and the evidence that was obvious on the scoreboard replay. That wasted timeout robbed the Packers of an opportunity to win the game in regulation.

“I’m not too proud of that moment,” LaFleur said. “Just made an emotional decision and it was almost like throwing a Hail Mary. That could have came back and bit us in the butt.”

Fortunately for the Packers, they’ve got a few weeks to get things figured out. In theory, anyway. This game should have been a relatively easy layup, no matter the genius on the other sideline. Given how the Packers had to scrap to an overtime win against a third-string quarterback, nothing is guaranteed unless the offense can find some consistency, the defense finds its desire to play run defense and the coaches start pushing the right buttons.

The race is on to get that accomplished.

“This way of winning, I don’t think, is sustainable, because it puts too much pressure on our defense,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, I’ve got to play better and will play better. But the second half is our kind of football, where we’re mixing it up, we’re throwing the ball outside the numbers, obviously we ran the ball (and) controlled the line of scrimmage really well. But, we’ve got to play better in all three phases.

“That being said, listen, this is a New England team that’s not as bad as their record. They’re 1-3, they’re obviously incredibly well-coached. This is a game we had to win. For sure. I mean, you can’t be 2-2 losing to a third-string quarterback and not playing great in all three phases. So, we had to have this one. That doesn’t take anything away from the joy of winning; but this was one we had to have.”

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