JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The drive was going to be the one that defined the first win of the season, the one that told the story of how the Packers beat the heat and a feisty Jaguars team on Sunday at EverBank Field.
Instead, it became an untimely breakdown the Packers can be thankful didn’t bite them in the hind quarters in their 27-23 triumph in Jacksonville.
“I wish I had a call or two back,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “We were kicking field goals down there instead of scoring touchdowns.
“We weren’t maybe as aggressive as I would have liked.”
As the Packers took the ball with 6:15 left in the third quarter from their own 25 and leading 24-20, ball control was paramount. The Jaguars had just answered the Packers’ drive for a field goal with one of their own, and putting Green Bay’s defense back on the field quickly could have made it tough to hang on.
The Packers proceeded to do everything right but punch it in. They converted three consecutive third-and-shorts with two passes to Randall Cobb sandwiched around an Aaron Rodgers quarterback sneak as the third quarter changed to the fourth.
First-and-goal from the 6 was the drive’s 13th play. Two runs by Eddie Lacy got the ball to the 2, and then things went haywire on a handoff to James Starks.
“Half the guys thought we were running a pass play, the other half a run play,” Rodgers said. “That’s disappointing.”
Sure was. Asked how the play call could be so misunderstood, Rodgers honestly didn’t know.
“That’s a great question,” he said, and then he used the same “miscommunication” word McCarthy also employed.
“We had a communication challenge there that we didn’t get right,” he said.
It would have been so perfect, a hang-your-hat-on-it kind of drive. The offensive line with new starter Lane Taylor at left guard had been solid all game. A two-score lead with less than a quarter to play, with the defense having only been on the field for 3:57 of the second half to that point, was how you’d draw it up.
But the cross-up got Starks stuffed. Mason Crosby’s 20-yard field goal capped the 16-play, 73-yard drive that consumed an impressive 9:14, but the Packers still only led by seven.
“Big four points,” McCarthy said of the missed opportunity.
The head coach didn’t want to get into it much further. Rodgers tried to laugh it off a little, clearly feeling relieved he could crack a smile about it.
“We have to do a better job being consistent throughout the game and scoring touchdowns in red zone,” he said.
It’s never easy on the road, and communication problems haunted the Packers again on their next drive, too. With five minutes left, and needing probably two first downs to run out the clock, Green Bay faced third-and-4 from its own 24. As players shuffled on and off the field late, Rodgers called timeout.
But after the respite, things still weren’t right. A formation adjustment took too long, and then, unable to call a second consecutive timeout, Rodgers had to take a delay-of-game penalty. His third-and-9 pass was incomplete, and the Packers punted.
In both instances, it wasn’t how the Packers wanted to execute at crunch time on offense. Rodgers called it an “embarrassing” last drive, on top of the multiple red-zone frustrations.
The woes of 2015 aren’t entirely behind them, as three straight three-and-outs in the first half were an ugly flashback to be sure, but everything had seemingly straightened out and was humming along until whatever went wrong in the huddle and/or on the sideline.
It was so close.
The defense got it done when it mattered in this game, and that’s what a good team does – it finds a way to win. But putting a 90-degree scorcher in the hands of the defense wasn’t the ideal way to go, not with the chances the offense had.
“It would have been real disappointing to not come out on top in this one,” Rodgers said. “The offense needs to play better.”
It does, at least in certain situations, and it will. That long march just could have been the perfect drive at the perfect time for a unit that seemed on its way to taking care of business in the most methodical and efficient of ways, coming off a season that was anything but.
It’ll have to wait for now, but they’re almost there. Almost.