GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers had momentum on their side. They had the weather on their side. They had the fans on their side.
None of those advantages meant a thing in a 27-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night. This was as simple as a good team beating a bad team. If the loss at the Detroit Lions was rock bottom, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers put it, then this loss went deeper than the rock to the magma-filled mantle.
“Extremely disappointed right now to put on a performance like that. I don’t even know what to say,” coach Matt LaFleur said with a look of disgust. “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.
“Give credit to the Titans. They came ready to play. They were obviously more physical, and they made a lot more plays that we made. And there was no consistency in terms of being complimentary offensively and defensively. Obviously, when we needed stops we couldn't get them, and then when we needed to score and we were getting stops, we couldn’t score. Didn’t take advantage of an interception, didn’t take advantage of the (punt) return to midfield. So, you can’t do that against good football teams and expect to win.”
Here are the grades from this week’s Packers report card.
Aaron Rodgers was 24-of-39 passing for 227 yards and two touchdowns, good for a passer rating of 94.7. After turning over the ball three consecutive games and four of the last five, Rodgers delivered a clean performance.
Rodgers admittedly was off-target on too many passes. He won’t use the thumb as an excuse but that has to be a factor – maybe even the factor – right? It’s not as if the back-to-back MVP has forgotten how to throw the football with accuracy. With the season on the line, the defense actually rose up to give Rodgers and Co. four chances to rally. They got two first downs on those drives.
Under pressure, Rodgers was bad again (3-of-10 for 28 yards, according to Pro Football Focus). To start the season, the offense moved the ball with quick passes that were reliant on run after catch. Last night, Rodgers was 6-of-6 on passes behind the line for just 11 yards.
Randall Cobb provided a jolt by catching all six targets, including the two biggest plays of the night (28 and 24 yards). Christian Watson scored two touchdowns after scoring three last week. Rodgers agreed that Watson needs even more chances. Allen Lazard had a couple drops in a forgettable performance. Sammy Watkins played 22 snaps to Samori Toure’s four.
Green Bay allowed only one sack, by Jeffery Simmons late in the game. Simmons, a stud, was mostly a nonfactor. On the play, Rodgers said Cobb was “blind-sided” by a Titans defender. Yosh Nijman has had better days – and will have many, many better days – than he had on Thursday.
What happens when an immovable object means an irresistible force? Ask Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon.
Entering Thursday, the Titans over the previous seven games yielded only 2.78 yards per carry. That was the best in the NFL by more than 1 yard. It was immovable-object-level superiority. The Packers entered the game fresh off their third 200-yard rushing game of the season. That was irresistible-force-style dominance.
On the first carry of the night, Jones lost 1 yard. On the final carry of the night, a fourth-and-1, Jones was stopped short. In total, Green Bay carried 19 times for 56 yards, a 2.9-yard average. Jones gained 14 on a slick fake to Dillon and perimeter toss in which tight end Josiah Deguara delivered a superb block. That’s about it, though. Linebacker David Long had three of the Titans’ four tackles for losses on running plays.
Remember that time when the Packers boasted a no-fly-zone secondary? Sure, Eric Stokes is on injured reserve but Jaire Alexander, Rasul Douglas, Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage were on the field to watch Ryan Tannehill dominate the quarterback matchup vs. Aaron Rodgers.
Tannehill was 22-of-27 passing for 333 yards and two touchdowns. Of those five incompletions, two were red-zone throwaways. It’s not as if Tannehill had to make a bunch of great throws or his wideouts had to make great catches. It was like routes on air, a staple of the practice field.
Rookie Treylon Burks caught 7-of-8 targets for 111 yards. Veteran Robert Woods caught 6-of-7 passes for 69 yards. Tight end Austin Hooper caught 4-of-4 passes for 36 yards and two touchdowns. Derrick Henry rumbled 42 yards on a screen. Chig Okonkwo made a diving catch for 31. Too often, those yards were too easy. How can a veteran secondary led by a veteran coach have so many miscues? The Titans had five completions of more than 30 yards. Alexander, Douglas, Savage and Keisean Nixon each get blamed for one.
Preston Smith had one solo sack and shared another with Quay Walker. Krys Barnes was given a sack on Tannehill’s 0-yard scramble. Otherwise, the pressure was almost nonexistent. Rashan Gary is making money with every game that he rehabs his torn ACL.
Douglas’ interception was a play of the highest order. Not in a million years could Tannehill have expected Douglas to be loitering near the line of scrimmage one moment and picking off a pass 10 yards downfield the next moment. Unfortunately for Green Bay, that was the only pass defensed of the night. Walker seems to get better every week.
Had you asked this question to yourself before the game, the answer would be easy: If the Packers can hold Titans running back Derrick Henry to 87 rushing yards and a 3.1-yard average, will they win?
The Packers’ terrible run defense rose to the occasion with a big-time performance. This was the 21st game of Henry’s career in which he topped 25 carries. For only the fourth time, he was stopped short of 100 yards.
Even with minimal production, Henry was a major factor in the first half as the Titans led 14-6 behind his five third-down conversions. He didn’t convert any in the second half.
The Packers, led by Quay Walker, stuffed Henry on fourth-and-1 from the 4 in the second quarter. Walker (12 tackles) and fellow inside linebacker Krys Barnes (11 tackles) were tremendous. The key to defensive line play is re-establishing the line of scrimmage through brute force. The Packers did that. By our count, 79 of Henry’s yards came after contact and only four tackles were missed (two on one play). Kenny Clark played his best game in two months and the outside linebackers kept Henry hemmed in.
The Packers did a lot of things well. Thanks to Keisean Nixon’s punt returns of 24 and 13 yards, they scored a resounding victory in net punting. While Mason Crosby’s kicks were short, the teams practically battled to a draw on field position following kickoffs.
Nixon might be the last guy you’d want returning punts in the pressure cooker that is a playoff game, but he’s brought some juice in both phases of returns.
On punts, Rudy Ford had one tackle and downed two kicks. One of those came when the ball was snapped from inside the 1 and Pat O’Donnell did a tremendous job of not just avoiding disaster but getting the ball 40 yards downfield.
But the Packers have no margin for error. Mason Crosby’s only field-goal attempt, a 39-yarder, was blocked. Looking ahead to 2023, rookie long snapper Jack Coco hasn’t exactly solidified his grasp on the job.
Coach Matt LaFleur lost to former colleague and friend Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers in last year’s playoffs. He lost to friend and former colleague Robert Saleh’s Jets last month. And now he lost to former colleague Mike Vrabel’s Titans.
Credit defensive coordinator Joe Barry for coming up with a plan to stop Derrick Henry. No credit for his plan in parlaying run stops into overall stops. On third down, Ryan Tannehill was 6-of-6 for four first downs; one of the failures set up a fourth-down conversion. Barry attacked Tannehill with absolutely no success. When blitzed, he was 15-of-17 passing for 181 yards and one touchdown. Barry and defensive backs coach Jerry Gray can’t fix the secondary.
Rich Bisaccia’s special teams have given up three blocked kicks. The one vs. the Titans rendered a pretty good night otherwise null and void.
The Titans were the beaten-up team playing on the road. Vrabel emerged with a relatively easy win.