CINCINNATI—The Packers were on the verge of tucking the game comfortably into the win column. That’s when 13 minutes of seemingly inexplicable football rallied the Bengals to a 34-30 win at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.
“Today’s game is obviously a very tough loss. It was a game of peaks and valleys,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said following a loss that will make this a painful bye week for the coach and his team.
“I think we’d all like to play again this week. We’re 1-2. That’s where we are. We’ve lost two games in the fourth quarter. That’s an emphasis of ours. I feel we’ll grow from this.”
First, they’ll hurt from this.
After scoring 30 unanswered points to rally from a 14-0 deficit and take a 30-14 lead in the third quarter, the Bengals followed with 20 unanswered points to win the game.
This was a strange game. The Packers forced four turnovers and scored when safety M.D. Jennings returned a fumble 24 yards for a touchdown, but all of that wasn’t enough to win.
“Frustrating game. You feel like you gave this one away. I played poorly. The defense played well enough to win,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
Statistically, Rodgers had a rough day. His 64.5 passer rating is less than half of what it was the previous week when he threw for 480 yards. The Bengals held Rodgers to 244 yards passing and one touchdown. They intercepted him twice.
Frustration was such that following one stalled drive in the first half, the TV cameras caught Rodgers and McCarthy in a verbal exchange along the sideline.
“Any time you get into a situation that there’s change, rhythm, play calls, it’s frustrating. He was frustrated by it,” McCarthy said. “He’s competitive, man. That’s what I love about him. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.”
“We’re both passionate about the game and competitive. We both want to win very badly. We talked about it and moved on,” Rodgers said.
The offense kicked into high gear in the third quarter, with rookie running back Johnathan Franklin replacing James Starks (knee injury) and sparking a touchdown drive with a 51-yard run. Franklin’s big day, however, would become a painful memory.
Here’s how it all went bad:
Rodgers was intercepted by Leon Hall with 13:41 to play in the game. The Bengals then drove 95 yards for a touchdown that cut the Packers’ lead to 30-27.
The Packers responded with a long, time-consuming drive that faced a third-and-12 at the Bengals 41-yard line with 4:34 to play. Rodgers threw to Randall Cobb for what was ruled a first down, but the Bengals challenged the call and it was reversed. On fourth-and-inches, Franklin fumbled and the Bengals returned it for a touchdown and a 34-30 lead.
“I saw the ball come out. I should’ve made the tackle,” Rodgers said.
“It was an inches play. I felt we could convert. That’s why I called the play. When it works, it’s the players’ execution. When it doesn’t, it’s the play-caller,” McCarthy said. “It’s one of the most difficult games I’ve had to call in my time.”
Down four points, the Packers faced a long field but had 3:47 left on the clock. They moved to the Bengals 20, where they would face a fourth-and-five. Rodgers’ pass for James Jones was tipped at the line of scrimmage and fell incomplete.
“It looked like we were going to blow the game open,” Rodgers said.
That’s when it all went bad.
Additional coverage - Sept. 22