GREEN BAY—If the Packers are going to end their three-game losing streak on Sunday, playing with the lead at some point could be just the refreshing change of pace they need.
The Packers haven’t had the lead at any juncture in either of their last two games, and that’s not something they’re accustomed to.
In fact, these last two games mark the first time in the Mike McCarthy era the Packers have gone back-to-back games without ever playing with a lead. In both games against the Eagles and Giants, the Packers fell behind with between five and six minutes left in the first quarter and trailed the rest of the way. They never even tied the score.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ absence is undeniably the biggest factor in the current losing streak, but it’s also worth wondering whether constantly playing from behind is wearing this team out, physically and psychologically.
Players who were asked that question in the locker room this week didn’t necessarily subscribe to that theory, but they acknowledged the added challenges that come with regularly playing catch-up.
“It makes the game a lot harder,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “I think any team is better when they have the lead. Offensively, you can control what you want to do. You still have the run and the pass. Defensively, it allows them to get after the quarterback, maybe make them a little more one-dimensional.”
The Packers last led three weeks ago against the Bears, by scores of 3-0 (which is when Rodgers got hurt), 10-7 and 20-17. Those leads lasted a grand total of barely more than a quarter of game play.
In the last two weeks, the Packers have played with a scoreless tie score for less than 20 of the 120 minutes. The other 100-plus minutes, they’ve been behind. Repeating that pattern could be dangerous on Sunday against the Vikings, who would love nothing more than to milk a lead with running back Adrian Peterson controlling the clock.
To illustrate how rare a stretch this is for McCarthy’s Packers, even during the five-game losing streak in 2008 – the longest of the McCarthy era and the only other time since McCarthy's first season the team has dropped as many in a row as the current three – the Packers had the lead at some point in each one of those games. Three of the five contests they led in the fourth quarter, and they were tied in the second and fourth quarters in the other two.
Moreover, it was a commonly discussed statistic during the 2010 Super Bowl season that at no point that entire year did the Packers fall behind by more than seven points.
The Packers have faced two- and three-score deficits regularly in the last two games, and they scored their only touchdown in each game when they were down 20-3 against the Eagles and 20-6 against the Giants.
Each game had its moment of hope in the fourth quarter. Trailing the Eagles by 14, the Packers got a turnover at the Philadelphia 13-yard line but were unable to score, as Nelson’s attempt at a diving catch in the end zone on fourth down was ruled incomplete.
Then, last week, again trailing by 14, the Packers pulled within seven with a TD and then got a quick three-and-out on defense that featured two sacks. But on the first play of a potential game-tying drive, Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul made a leaping snag of Scott Tolzien’s pass and went untouched for a pick-six.
Late-game moments of hope aren’t much to believe in, and the Packers’ fate has hinged on those because they’ve been playing from behind so much.
“We’ve been scratching and clawing, staying in the game … and then we’ve stalled out,” guard T.J. Lang said. “A big key to our success is we have to get off to a better start.
“Last game we went two quick three-and-outs to start the game and our defense was on the field pretty much the entire first half. That’s not the way you want to operate as a team.”
Short of getting Rodgers back, the best way for the Packers to operate might be to somehow, some way, get a lead, and then see what happens. Chasing multi-score deficits with a backup quarterback “makes the game a lot harder” on everybody.
“Any team plays better with the lead,” Nelson said. “We need to come out, start fast, no matter who it is that’s on the field. If it’s the defense, they need get off the field. Offense, we need to score touchdowns and can stay aggressive and put them on their heels.” Additional coverage - Nov. 22