A year ago, the Packers were coming off a season-opening win over an NFC rival that was secured in the final two minutes, and they were awaiting an unfamiliar AFC opponent at Lambeau Field that many, if not most, in the football world expected them to beat.
But any momentum from the last-minute touchdown pass and game-sealing interception against the Chicago Bears in Week 1 was quickly extinguished by a fired-up Cincinnati Bengals squad in Week 2, as the visitors left Lambeau with a 31-24 victory.
This year, the fourth-and-1 stop just after the 2-minute warning in Philadelphia last week is being followed by a visit from the Buffalo Bills, whom the Packers have played just once in the past seven seasons.
As it turned out, the Bengals were much better than anyone knew at this time last year, as they went on to win the AFC North and return to the playoffs. But they were coming into Green Bay on the heels of a heartbreaking, fluky loss to Denver on a deflected 87-yard TD pass with 11 seconds left, the longest scoring play in the final minute of the fourth quarter of any game in NFL history.
They were out to prove they deserved better than that, and were better than that. In some ways, the same could be said for the Bills, who dropped their home opener last week to the Miami Dolphins, 15-10, in a forgettable offensive showing for new head coach Chan Gailey.
The Bills gained just 166 total yards with nine first downs, converted a combined 4-of-17 on third and fourth downs, and had an embarrassing total of 11 negative-yardage plays (including three sacks) in just 54 snaps. It’s a given that outing didn’t sit well this week in a respected offensive mind like Gailey’s, and he’s sure to have his group better prepared to execute on Sunday.
“We’re expecting them to come in hard, especially coming off the Miami game,” defensive end Cullen Jenkins said. “It looked like they probably would have liked to have done some things a lot better, and we can really expect that they’re going to try to bounce back against us.”
Those efforts are likely to center on the same things Cincinnati focused on last year – the ground game and the return game.
The Bengals’ Cedric Benson ran all over the Packers last year, with 29 carries for 141 yards, helping Cincinnati possess the ball 7½ more minutes than the Packers did (33:48 to 26:12), the second-worst discrepancy for Green Bay in that category all season.
The Bills will bring a stable of three talented running backs to Lambeau in rookie first-round draft pick C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, and former first-round pick Marshawn Lynch. The trio combined for just 38 yards on 14 carries last week, but odds are there aren’t many teams who will be able to repeat Miami’s defensive clamping on Spiller, a speedy, shifty game-breaker who had just seven yards on six carries in his pro debut.
“He’s going to be a great back,” defensive end Ryan Pickett said. “He has everything. He has power, quickness. He’s a real, real good back. The Dolphins did a good job.
“We’re going to have to do an even better job. You can hold him to 5 yards all game and he can break a 90-yard run no problem. We have to be up and ready the whole game and can’t take any plays off.”
Spiller is the Bills’ kickoff returner as well, and veteran Roscoe Parrish runs back punts. Spiller had eight kickoff returns for touchdowns, tying an NCAA record, in his college career at Clemson, and Parrish has taken back three punts for TDs in his NFL career.
The Packers are coming off a solid coverage day against Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson and Ellis Hobbs, but last year the special teams units had handled Chicago’s Devin Hester and Danieal Manning just fine in Week 1 before Cincinnati’s Quan Cosby posted punt returns of 60 and 32 yards that set up 10 crucial Bengals points.
“We’ll have a real challenge this week,” special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. “It’s nice to stack success, and our goal is to be consistent and continue to try to stack successes as we move through the season.”
As for the offense, it wasn’t until Week 3 last year that the unit had its first truly productive game, so that’s another trend that needs to turn this week. The Packers gained just 226 total yards against the Bears in the ’09 opener and managed to win, but the following week against the Bengals they were held to just three points in the final three quarters against Cincinnati’s 3-4 scheme.
Last week, despite scoring 27 points, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Co. weren’t pleased with two three-and-outs in each half (one of those being a third-down interception) and just 15 total yards on three fourth-quarter drives against the Eagles. Now enter the Bills’ and their new 3-4 that held Miami to just one touchdown last week and that features quality depth in the secondary.
“They have a lot of guys who have been picked high on that side of the ball, and it will be a good challenge for us,” Rodgers said. “The stuff I look at, the secondary, … four, five, six very good players, so it’s going to be important for us to do the things we do and execute better than they can stop us.”
Rodgers also wants to protect the ball better than he did against the Eagles after throwing two interceptions, just the third multi-INT game in his last 22 starts. By the same token, the defense wants to take the ball away more than the one time it did last week, though the unit wasn’t without other opportunities.
Cornerback Tramon Williams had an interception in his hands that popped out when he was hit along the sideline, fellow corner Charles Woodson had a diving interception taken away by replay review, and linebacker Clay Matthews dropped a potential pick-six late in the first half.
“We definitely should have had more turnovers than we had,” Williams said. “But it’s the first game, and that always leaves something out there for you to improve on. That’s one area we’re going to look to improve.”
That, plus everything about Week 2 last year.
Additional coverage – Sept. 17