For a team that’s riding the fourth-longest winning streak in the NFL and seems destined to get back to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus, the Packers have a gigantic chink in their armor.
The Green Bay Packers went into halftime with a 191-114 edge in yards and a time-of-possession advantage of almost 4 minutes. The beating was so thorough that the fans gave a standing ovation after the Bears got a first down in the second quarter. Yet because the Bears’ offense managed to get its act together to mount a 13-play scoring drive late in the first half, the Packers had to settle for a 13-7 lead at halftime.
“I think we definitely left some points on the field during the first half, when your defense is playing that well and your special teams is doing a very good job with the coverage unit,” coach Mike McCarthy lamented after his team’s 21-14 win at Chicago. “We had favorable field position, and to only have 13 points, I definitely feel like we left points on the board offensively.”
The Packers scored on only 1-of-4 trips inside the Bears’ 20-yard line on Sunday. That includes going 0-for-2 in the first half, when they had to settle for short field goals by Mason Crosby. The first came when Aaron Rodgers was sacked on third-and-7 from the Bears’ 10-yard line. The second came when Rodgers threw too low to an open Donald Driver on third-and-7 from the Bears’ 8, a play preceded by a false start on right tackle Mark Tauscher. Convert just one of those into a touchdown, and the Packers take a two-score lead into halftime. Throw in a 19-yard catch-and-run that tight end Jermichael Finley turned into a fumble in the final 10 seconds of the first half, and it left a frustrating feeling.
“We punted the ball once in the first half. We moved the ball very well,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “We didn’t finish enough drives off. Until the last play of the half, we were doing almost everything we wanted to do. We didn’t protect the football on the last play. We should have got some points right there. At halftime, I certainly felt confident in what we were doing and our plan was good and we were moving the ball, but we just didn’t score enough points, which is the problem we’ve had.”
Entering the game, the Packers had scored a touchdown on 52.3 percent of their red-zone possessions, a conversion rate that ranked 13th. So, while the Packers aren’t exactly horrendous inside the 20 when compared to the rest of the league, their goal-to-go success rate of 64.0 percent ranked a much more troublesome 20th. The Packers went 1-for-2 in goal-to-go against Chicago. Their conversion came when Ryan Grant pounded into the end zone on first-and-goal from the 1; their failure came at the end of the game, when the Packers took a knee to run out the clock.
Between the red-zone failures, Finley’s fumble, Rodgers’ fumble at the Bears’ 29-yard line to open the third quarter and Crosby’s missed 42-yard field goal that would have sealed the game in the fourth quarter, trouble signs abound for a team that seems equipped to make a playoff run in practically every other phase of the game.
“Nobody likes to settle for field goals,” Rodgers said. “We couldn’t put the ball in the end zone. We have penalties inside the 10-yard line, you can’t have those if you want to score touchdowns.”
Crosby has never made more than 80 percent of his kicks in a season in a league in which 85 percent is considered good. This year, he has hit only 75 percent of his field goal attempts. Only Dallas’ Nick Folk (67 percent) is worse among the teams that are playoff hopefuls. In his last two seasons, Crosby is 27-of-35 (77.1 percent) from 30 to 49 yards. In the playoffs, when games inevitably are close and the margin for error shrinks, shoddy field-goal kicking is a ticket to postseason heartbreak.
Crosby said was guilty of “not finishing through” on the miss and said he has to be better.
“Just like last week, I look at the snap, the hold and the kick, but Mason needs to kick the ball through the uprights,” McCarthy said, adding that he’s not worried about Crosby. “The snapper needs to put it where it needs to be snapped and the holder needs to put it where it needs to be held. It's no different than offense. We need to put the ball in the end zone when we're down there. Point production, if you're looking for your negative story, yeah, we did not put enough points on the board. But we won a football game, a division, tough archrival game in Chicago. We feel good about that as a team. There are a lot of positives for our football team that we have picked up from one another. But today we did not score the amount of points that we had the opportunity to.”
Outside of the Thanksgiving game at Detroit, the Packers have had to sweat through the other four games in their winning streak – despite being the statistically dominant team in every game.
“It would be nice (to get an easy win),” Rodgers said. “The way we started, I felt like we were going to blow them out by two or three touchdowns.”
That’s not going to happen until the Packers begin turning field goals into seven points and missed field goals into three points.
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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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.