Saturday, April 1 2023

The Green Bay Packers were riding high four days ago.

Sure, they had a quick turnaround with the Tennessee Titans coming to town on Thursday night. But they could not be blamed for hoping they could turn their season around after a win over the Dallas Cowboys, and the following game came against the league’s 31st-ranked passing offense.

It was a perfectly Lambeau night, too, with snow flurries and 26º temperatures. Football weather, of course

Surely, Green Bay could stave off Tennessee and utilize some lessons learned against America’s Team to put enough points on the board for a second straight win.

Fast-forward a bit, and the Packers surrendered 408 total yards and 320 net passing yards as the Titans cruised to a 27-17 win at Lambeau Field.

“I don’t even know what to say,” said dejected Packers head coach Matt LaFleur after the game. “This was nothing like a few days ago.”

Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill completed 22 of 27 pass attempts and converted seven of 13 third down attempts as he extended drives. Like, really extended drives.

Especially in the first half, the Titans kept the ball out of Aaron Rodgers‘ hands as much as possible, with a 10-minute drive in the second quarter that didn’t yield points but won them the time of possession battle by the massive margin of 19:25 to 10:34 at halftime.

And though the Packers were able to get their hands on the ball for longer in the second half, they were nearly powerless against a second-ranked Tennessee run defense. It prevented them from deploying the strategy that worked so well against Dallas last week, when they seemed to find an offensive identity through the ground game. Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon combined for 203 rushing yards on Sunday. Thursday night? They had just 53 total.

Rodgers threw the ball 39 times, completing 24 of those attempts. There were drops. There were mistimed throws. There were bad routes. And it was the same story that has plagued them for most of the 2022 season: no one is on the same page when it comes to the passing game.

“I’ll have to go back and watch it, but it was a little off tonight, for sure,” LaFleur said. 

“I thought Ryan played really well for them,” added Rodgers. “They stopped the run. They clubbed us on the back end. We knew this crew would throw a lot of flags. Combine that with me missing some throws and us not capitalizing on a couple opportunities … we could never get over that hump and get the ball back with a chance to take the lead.”

The Packers were two-of-three inside the red zone — actually better than their season average of 51.7%, which ranks 23rd in the league. They are converting just 25% of fourth downs, good for 30th this season, and they were 0-for-2 on Thursday night. 

That wasn’t the only trend that continued, either. According to ESPN, Rodgers is 3-46 in his career when trailing by double digits in the fourth quarter. One of those wins came Sunday against Dallas. Thursday falls in the other column.

The only bright spot is that rookie Christian Watson seems to have finally turned a corner, even if his offense hasn’t. Watson again scored multiple touchdowns on the night, ending up in the end zone twice after doing so three times just a few days ago. He now leads all rookies in receiving touchdowns this year.

It’s time to face the reality, Packers fans. There is no 2016 mojo coming to save this team and take them into the postseason. FiveThirtyEight had the Packers’ playoff chances at just 12% heading into Week 11. With a win, that figure would have gone up to 20%. Instead, it drops to just 5% with the loss that brought their record to 4-7. 

“We’re not in a very good position right now that’s for sure,” said LaFleur. “Like I told the guys, there’s no margin for error, period.”

In a perfect encapsulation of the night as a whole, Rodgers was asked where he goes from here. 

Rodgers replied: “Home.” 

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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