Sunday’s rollercoaster of a game initially seemed like a foregone conclusion, given that the Green Bay Packers trailed the Cincinnati Bengals 21-7 going into halftime. The lopsided first half also produced two rare occurrences: Packers fans booing their team at Lambeau Field, and Aaron Rodgers throwing a pick-six.
Despite these setbacks, the Packers never gave up. Behind the heroics of Rodgers and an excellent defensive showing in the second half, Green Bay came back to defeat Cincinnati 27-24 in overtime. It was Rodgers’ first overtime win, as well as his first victory against the Bengals (he has now beaten every NFL team, with the exception of the Packers).
While the unusually brutal heat in Green Bay – at 90°F, the hottest game ever played there – certainly didn’t make things any easier, injuries proved to be the Packers’ greatest hurdle. Seven Packers were listed as inactive before Sunday’s game:
- WR Randall Cobb
- S Kentrell Brice
- CB Davon House
- LB Jake Ryan
- LB Nick Perry
- T David Bakhtiari
- DT Mike Daniels
Cobb, the Packers’ top receiver in week 1, was sorely missed during the first half, as the Packers were barely able to get anything going on offense after their initial drive. It wasn’t until midway through the third quarter that the Packers’ receiving corps began to carve up the Bengals’ secondary. Jordy Nelson casually hauled in a pair of touchdown passes, giving him 66 for his career—good for second all-time on the Packers’ receiving touchdown charts, ahead of Sterling Sharpe (65) and behind only Don Hutson (99). Geronimo Allison also stepped up in Cobb’s absence: the second-year receiver caught six passes for 122 yards, including a 72-yard bomb in overtime which set up Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal.
Other units had far less wiggle room, however. Without Ryan, House, Brice, and especially Perry and Daniels, Green Bay’s defense struggled to stop Andy Dalton and A.J. Green in the first two quarters. Before Sunday, the Bengals had not yet reached the endzone this season. Dalton, who was abysmal in weeks 1 and 2, threw two touchdown passes in the first half, the first of which was secured by Green. Without their top pass rushers and a depleted backfield, the Packers simply were unable to pressure Dalton and his receivers effectively early on. (In fairness, it’s tough to get a stop when your offense’s ineptitude constantly forces you to take the field in 90° weather.)
Green Bay’s patchwork defense improved dramatically after the half, limiting Cincinnati to just three points. Most notably, two Packers rookies stole the show on the defensive side of the ball: safety Josh Jones sacked Dalton twice, and cornerback Kevin King provided solid coverage in the secondary. What’s more, Jones, who filled in for the injured Brice, was moved by Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers into the Nitro package—a scheme which essentially utilizes a safety as a supplementary linebacker. Give both rookies credit for stepping up, as well as Capers for making the best of a defensive unit missing several of its premier playmakers.
Even more undermanned than the defense was the offensive line, which took the field without Bakhtiari for the second straight week. Bryan Bulaga started on Sunday, but his ankle clearly wasn’t 100%. He left the field during the second half, and remained sidelined for the rest of the game. Kyle Murphy and Justin McCray filled in for Bakhtiari and Bulaga, but given that Rodgers was sacked a whopping six times – five of which came in the first half – it’s glaringly obvious that the Packers’ offense won’t survive without the veteran starters. On top of this, starting left guard Lane Taylor came off the field for a short time, reaffirming beliefs that Green Bay’s O-line, while talented when at full strength, is cursed.
Thankfully, the Packers prevailed without adding to their list of (major) injuries, though the short period of rest they have between now and Thursday’s game against the Chicago Bears certainly won’t be doing them any favors. We’ll have to wait and see just how much Cobb, Brice, Bakhtiari, and company improve over these next few days.
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