In Carolina, it was 13-0. In Atlanta, it was 14-0. In Minnesota, it was 7-0 and then 17-10 late in the first half.
In 2011, the Packers have developed a disturbing trend of falling behind early on the road. It hasn’t cost them a game, yet, despite trailing three times at intermission, but it’s a trend the team wants to reverse beginning with this weekend’s trip to San Diego.
“We definitely have to. After a while, that’s going to bite us in the rear end,” nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “We don’t want to start off double digits (behind) every time we go on the road, and hopefully we can correct that this week. I think we’ll get that done.”
The early deficits have resulted mostly from defensive breakdowns. Against two rookie quarterbacks in Carolina’s Cam Newton and Minnesota’s Christian Ponder, the Packers won the coin toss but elected to defer, putting their defense on the field first. It backfired both times as the rookies led opening-drive touchdowns, with Ponder hitting a 72-yard pass on the first snap.
The offense responded with a quick touchdown in Minnesota before the Packers fell behind again, but it didn’t get that chance in Carolina because of a fumbled kickoff. Like Carolina, Atlanta had an effective early script of plays that had the Packers on their heels before they adjusted and settled the game down.
“Obviously, we don’t like it,” receiver Jordy Nelson said of the early deficits. “You don’t want to fall behind, but the good thing is we don’t get scared or nervous or panic. We just stay the course. It’s a long game. We know we have to play four quarters, and that’s what we do.”
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said that speaks to the maturity of this team, even though he’d rather see a road start like the one in Chicago in Week 3. In that game, the Packers scored on their opening drive, allowed the Bears only one first down on their first three possessions, and eventually took a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.
“We do not lack for confidence,” McCarthy said.
At issue this week may be the confidence of the opponent. Touted as a Super Bowl contender, the Chargers have dropped two straight road games they controlled. Everyone is watching how they’ll respond against the defending Super Bowl champs.
Two weeks ago against the Jets, San Diego led 21-10 at the half, only to turn the ball over twice and be held to 117 yards in the second half of a 27-21 loss.
Then last Monday night in Kansas City, the Chargers were in position for a game-winning field goal in the final minute when quarterback Philip Rivers fumbled a snap and San Diego eventually lost in overtime.
As many like to say in the NFL, you are what your record says you are, and the Chargers are 4-3. But they just as easily could be 6-1, on a five-game winning streak and being talked about among the AFC elite.
Reflecting, perhaps, their maturity, the Packers on Sunday are expecting that “elite” version of the Chargers, who are back at Qualcomm Stadium for the first time since Oct. 2.
“They’re coming off a tough loss and they’re going to be riled up this week with us coming in,” Packers guard T.J. Lang said. “I’m sure there’s a lot of upset people over there.”
No one may have been more upset after the Chiefs loss than Rivers, who has not played to his Pro Bowl standards this season. Rivers had just seven touchdown passes against 11 interceptions, and his 80.7 passer rating would be his lowest in six seasons as a starter if it doesn’t improve in the second half.
The Packers haven’t faced the Chargers since 2007, but when they did Rivers was dynamite, a point McCarthy noted this week.
Green Bay won the game four years ago with a late comeback, but Rivers completed 27 of 36 passes for 306 yards with three touchdowns and one interception for a 116.2 rating. Tight end Antonio Gates and receiver Vincent Jackson, who remain Rivers’ top two weapons in the passing game, combined for 17 catches worth 211 yards that day.
“He hasn’t performed to what people expect him to perform this year,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “On Sunday, I expect the Philip Rivers that we know to be there. That’s the one we’re preparing for.”
For more Packers-Chargers stories from the past week, click here.