CINCINNATI—You could say this one hurts as much as Seattle did. At least that one wasn’t the Packers’ fault.
A 34-30 loss to the Bengals on Sunday is going to eat at the Packers for a long time. It’ll gnaw at them through their bye week, and it’ll dog them in December when they’re battling for a division title, a playoff berth and homefield advantage.
This isn’t one you brush off, because you know it’s a game you should’ve won. Victory was in their hands, and then they put the ball into the Bengals’ hands.
The Packers were on the doorstep of victory twice, once with a 30-21 lead and the ball at the Bengals 27-yard line. They needed a field goal, at the least, but threw an interception.
Then, facing a fourth-and-inches play with 4:01 to play and leading 30-27, they fumbled the ball and saw the Bengals return it for what would be the game-winning touchdown.
A crowd that had gone to sleep in the third quarter, when the Packers shifted into high gear with touchdown drives of 80 and 92 yards, was roaring with stunned joy. The Bengals of Bungles lore are famous for losing games in this manner, not for winning them.
“We turned the ball over way too many times to win,” Rodgers said.
Yeah, but so did the Bengals. Each team turned it over four times. Each team returned a fumble for a touchdown.
This one goes deeper than blaming it on turnovers. The league’s No. 1 offense had a 30-21 lead and the ball just outside the Bengals red zone early in the fourth quarter. Nobody in Paul Brown Stadium foresaw what would happen. It shouldn’t have happened, certainly not to a team that prides itself on offense and ball security. That’s why this one is going to hurt longer than most losses do.
“Interceptions are a part of the game of football. We’ll take a look at it. I’d like to think he won’t throw many,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said of the two interceptions Rodgers threw on Sunday. “If you play wide open offense, that’s going to happen.”
Rodgers followed McCarthy to the podium and he bared his soul to the media. Rodgers stood tall and pointed the finger right at himself. He left no doubt as to whom he assigns blame for this loss.
“We didn’t throw it as well as we had,” Rodgers said.
He said he “played poorly” and blamed himself for not making the tackle on the Johnathan Franklin fumble the Bengals returned for a touchdown and, ultimately, the win.
On the other side of the interview room door, a stunned team showered and dressed in silence. Barely a sound could be heard. They all know they’ll carry this hurt for longer than a week.
“You have to win these games … when you’re trying to make the playoffs,” Rodgers said.
All of a sudden, an early bye week is a good thing. The Packers need to put time and distance between this loss and their next game, a critically important contest against NFC North rival Detroit at Lambeau Field. Must win? It feels that way, doesn’t it?
The Packers also need to get some players healthy from a game that not only injured the Packers emotionally, but left Jermichael Finley with a concussion, James Starks with a knee injury and Clay Matthews with a hamstring strain that caused him to miss all of the second half on Sunday. Hey, those are important players on this team. You don’t want to have to play without them.
"Jermichael was a feature player for us today," McCarthy said, inferring that Finley’s name was all over the Packers’ game plan. He went out on the Packers’ first series of the game.
“The guy who’s affected most is our quarterback,” McCarthy added.
It is to their quarterback, their leader, that the Packers will look for guidance when they tee it up against the Lions. Finger pointing is a bad thing, unless the finger is pointing at yourself. In taking the blame for the loss, Rodgers will help a lot of his teammates recover from their part in this defeat.
Recovery won’t be easy. Additional coverage - Sept. 22