Marvin Lewis won a critical challenge.
And because of it, the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Green Bay Packers 34-30 on Sunday.
With the bruised-and-battered Packers nursing a 30-27 lead, it faced a third-and-12 in Bengals territory. Aaron Rodgers threw a quick pass to Randall Cobb, who appeared to get the first down with a lunge just before going down. Lewis challenged the spot and won, with the officials correctly marking Cobb a half-yard short of the first down.
On fourth-and-1 from the 30, coach Mike McCarthy kept the offense on the field. The call went to rookie running back Johnathan Franklin, who provided a shot in the arm to an offense that was without Eddie Lacy (concussion) and James Starks (knee) to injuries. Franklin, however, was stripped while trying to leap over the pile. Cincinnati’s Reggie Nelson recovered and was stripped by Cobb. Terrance Newman recovered that fumble and sprinted 58 yards for a touchdown to give the Bengals a 34-30 lead with 3:47 to go.
After a touchback on the kickoff, the Packers needed to go 80 yards for the winning touchdown, with 3:47 on the clock and two timeouts.
That was too tall an order for Rodgers, who entered the season 0-18 when trailing in the fourth quarter against teams with at least a .500 record. Rodgers drove the Packers to the 20. His third-and-5 pass was batted down by Carlos Dunlap and his fourth-down pass was deflected by Michael Johnson.
"It was a frustrating game," Rodgers said. "We spot `em 14, score 30 in a row and they get 20. I played poorly and the defense played well enough for us to win."
For the third consecutive week, the Packers were guilty of poor play in the fourth quarter. After blowing a lead at San Francisco and letting the Redskins rally last week, the Packers coughed up a 16-point lead and were outscored 13-0 in the fourth quarter.
"We've lost two games in the fourth quarter, which is what we emphasized," McCarthy said. "This team will grow from it."
A week after Rodgers threw for 480 yards and the offense rolled to almost 600, Rodgers was limited to 244 and a passer rating of just 64.5. The Packers managed 399 yards but went a combined 4-of-15 on third and fourth down, and they scored two touchdowns on four trips in the red zone. Franklin ran for 103 yards on 13 carries — giving Green Bay a 100-yard rusher for the second consecutive week after going 44 straight games without one.
The game was lost at the bitter end. Or was it lost at the start?
The Bengals drove 80 yards for a touchdown on their first drive. Jeremy Ross muffed the ensuing kickoff, setting up Cincinnati at Green Bay’s 2-yard line and resulting in another touchdown.
Trailing 14-0, Green Bay forced turnovers on the next four possessions. One of those was a fumble returned for a touchdown by safety M.D. Jennings. The offense, however, managed just two field goals on the other takeaways.
The Packers took command in the second half. A nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive was capped by a 2-yard run by Franklin. A five-play, 92-yard touchdown drive was highlighted by a 51-yard Franklin run and capped with Rodgers’ 6-yard scoring toss to James Jones.
The next two drives, however, ended with interceptions by Rodgers. The second of those turnovers came on a first-down throw with Green Bay nearing the red zone, with Leon Hall smothering Cobb on an out-and-out. Cincinnati capitalized with a 92-yard touchdown drive. Tramon Williams gave up a 22-yard completion on third-and-8 and compounded the problem with a late hit, then gave up an 11-yard touchdown to Marvin Jones.
The Packers’ next drive ended with their third consecutive turnover, the Newman return for the winning score.
"Crazy," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. "It was wild with regard to the calls and the plays that happened."
Green Bay is 1-2 after three games for the second consecutive season. The bye comes at a critical time with safety Morgan Burnett (hamstring), cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring), Lacy and fullback John Kuhn (hamstring) out with injuries, and Starks, Jermichael Finley (concussion) and Clay Matthews (hamstring) lost during the game.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.