The Packers converted a horrifyingly low two of 13 third downs (15.4 percent), including an 0-for-5 stretch from late in the third quarter to the end of the game. The failure to sustain drives took too many potential points off the board and allowed the Redskins too many opportunities to come back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Whether it was dropped passes, protection breakdowns, or just a lack of overall rhythm, the third-down struggles were a unit-wide issue that certainly didn’t rest with any one person.
“One thing we did,” said receiver Donald Driver following the tough-to-swallow 16-13 overtime defeat, “we beat ourselves.”
A handful of the third-down failures were especially costly. Here’s the rundown:
--Early in the second quarter leading 7-0, the Packers faced third-and-goal from the 1. Running back John Kuhn had just been stopped at the goal line on second-and-goal from the 1, and Aaron Rodgers then tried a quarterback sneak that actually lost about a half yard.
The Packers decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal, and Rodgers’ pass to tight end Andrew Quarless was incomplete, ending an 85-yard drive with zero points. Instead of a potential 14-0 lead on the road, it was still 7-0.
--With under 4½ minutes left in the first half, the Packers faced third-and-10 from their own 30. Rodgers tried to hit James Jones on a crossing route, and it looked like Jones had some room to run. The throw was a little low, but certainly catchable, and Jones had it bounce off his hands incomplete.
“Receivers dropped some balls, myself included,” Jones said. “When you do that, you aren’t going to be too good.”
After the punt, the Redskins took over on their own 15-yard line and killed the last four minutes of the first half by driving for a field goal for their first points of the game, making the score 10-3 at intermission.
--Late in the third quarter, facing third-and-1 from the Washington 29, Rodgers tried to hit Driver down the middle seam. The throw appeared to be on target, but as Driver went down to make a sliding catch, he couldn’t come up with it.
So instead of a first down in the red zone, the Packers were forced to try a 48-yard field goal, which Mason Crosby missed, keeping the lead just 13-3.
“It gets to a point go out there where you try to make the play, you try to make something happen, and when you don’t you get frustrated, knowing those are the plays you make in your sleep,” Driver said. “I’ll be the first one to jump on myself, knowing I should have made that third-down catch to keep that drive alive, and we would have scored on that drive.”
--In the fourth quarter, the Packers faced third-and-2 from midfield. The Redskins had just scored their first touchdown of the game to pull within 13-10, and it was up to the offense to get something going to turn the momentum back the other way.
But Rodgers had too much pressure in his face, and a simple throw over the middle to Quarless was deflected at the line of scrimmage and never had a chance. Another punt, and Washington still had nine minutes left, down by only three points.
--On the first possession of overtime, the Packers had third-and-7 from their own 29. The defense had been on the field for much of the fourth quarter and, especially as banged up as it was, needed a break.
But rookie Bryan Bulaga, filling in for Mark Tauscher at right tackle, was called for a false start. On the ensuing third-and-12, Washington bluffed a safety blitz that prompted left tackle Chad Clifton to lean too far inside, and he was beaten around the edge by Brian Orakpo’s speed rush for an 8-yard sack, forcing a punt. The advantage of winning the coin toss in overtime was out the window.
Overall, the Packers’ 15.4 percent conversion rate on third down was their worst since a 1-for-10 (10 percent) showing in Week 14 of the 2008 season vs. Houston.
It obviously didn’t help that tight end Jermichael Finley, the team’s leading receiver and a key contributor on third downs, was lost for the game to a knee injury on the offense’s opening series. But Finley’s absence can’t entirely explain away 2-for-13.
“We’ve still got a bunch of other weapons,” Driver said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make the plays we needed to make to win the game.
“We don’t feel like one guy dictates how we play the game. Losing Jermichael was a big factor, but we all should have stepped up as a receiver group and tight ends and running backs and played well, and we didn’t.”
The most agonizing thing is that the way this game played out, the Packers didn’t need an ultra-efficient day on third downs. They just couldn’t be virtually inept at keeping the chains moving. Perhaps any one of those key third downs detailed could have made the difference in the overtime loss, but that’s just something the offense will have to ponder as it tries to process what went wrong.
“I think guys just get frustrated, that’s the biggest thing,” Driver said. “When you don’t make those plays, guys start getting frustrated, among themselves. Not (with) one another, just with themselves, and then when you do that you don’t go out and make the next one.
“I think we all have to look at ourselves in the mirror right now, knowing we let two games slip away we should have won. That’s the part that’s going to hurt us because instead of being 5-0, we’re 3-2.”