CHARLOTTE – Everyone on the Packers’ side believed they were going to tie the game up.
It would have erased a ton of frustrations from earlier Sunday on both sides of the ball. Instead, the failed fourth-and-goal play in the final two minutes left the Packers taking a deep breath and wondering what might have been.
“Big, emotional roller coaster,” guard T.J. Lang said of Sunday’s 37-29 loss to unbeaten Carolina at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. “Sitting there beginning of the fourth quarter, it looks like we’re out of it down three scores.
“We get back into it there and just couldn’t find a way to finish it off. We showed a lot of fight, a lot of heart there at the end. Just came up one play short.”
Down 37-14 with less than 10 minutes left, the Packers started their comeback by coming alive on offense. Suddenly everything started clicking and the Packers looked like the Packers of old, not the start-and-stop unit they’ve been for the past month or so.
Two big screens to James Starks produced one score. A miracle fourth-and-14 completion to James Jones led to another, getting the Packers within one score.
When Damarious Randall punctuated the defense’s turnaround with an interception of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton at the Panthers’ 22-yard line with a little over three minutes left, the table was set.
It just wasn’t to be. The Packers’ best chance to score – other than by Randall himself, who felt he might have run the pick back for the score if he hadn’t juggled it when he first touched it – came on third down from the 17. QB Aaron Rodgers’ pass to Davante Adams hit Adams in the hands, but Panthers corner Charles Tillman appeared to knock it away at the goal line.
“We were playing for our lives at the end of the game,” Adams said.
After a fourth-down conversion to Randall Cobb, the Packers had another set of downs, but ultimately on the final fourth down, the Panthers intercepted.
“Just dug a hole too deep to come back from,” Lang said. “Just couldn’t cap it off to go tie it up.”
The big hole was due to rough going on both sides of the ball. The offense, which struggled with picking up Carolina’s blitzes throughout the game, managed just two scoring drives through three-plus quarters.
Meanwhile, the defense was gashed for numerous big plays in the first half in allowing 27 points. Newton had three completions of 39 yards or more, plus a scramble of his own for 23 in the first half alone.
“I don’t think we could have played any worse,” defensive back Micah Hyde said. “We went out there, tried to make some pays and did, but at the end of the day we gave up too many big plays.”
The frustrations boiled over at one point on the sideline in the second half, as TV cameras caught a few Packers defenders getting emotional amongst one another.
After the game, the players shrugged it off as an “in-house, family issue,” according to defensive lineman B.J. Raji. Whether it sparked them or not is up for debate, but after the sideline incident following Carolina’s final score in the fourth quarter, the defense produced a three-and-out and Randall’s interception to give the offense a shot.
“This tells us that when you come to play in this league, you have to come to play for the full 60 minutes, plus,” Raji said. “You can’t play a half and expect to beat good teams, expect to beat any team in this league.
“We have a lot of work to do from that standpoint, but there’s still a lot of games left, and we still have a chance.”
At 6-2, the Packers now embark on a stretch of four straight games in the NFC North, a division that’s now tied at the top with the Vikings also 6-2.
“We’re a good football team, but we definitely weren’t a good football team for 60 minutes today,” Raji said. “If we start faster, maybe we have a chance.”
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