Plays of brilliance, plays of ineptitude, plays of mediocrity. The Packers displayed all three types of plays described above on Sunday in Washington. But when it counted, mediocrity and ineptitude repeatedly reared their ugly heads. Sunday’s Packer game seemed to peel away like an onion. The longer you watched the more your eyes stung. It’s the type of sting that most fans will feel as Sunday roles to Monday and through next week. There are pieces on this team that work. Whether the coaches and players can come together is seeming less likely as each game is played. But this game seemed, in the first quarter, to have the potential of an easy blowout. Instead, the offense, defense and special teams did just enough to lose to the Washington Commanders and their backup quarterback, Taylor Heinicke.
The Packers started Sunday’s game successfully by putting on the Aaron Jones show. In the Packer’s first offensive drive, Jones had his number called on four straight plays. Three runs and one pass gave the Packers a first down and then a third and four. The Packers tried the air to Lazard but Rodgers’ accurate pass to Lazard was dropped, forcing a punt. After a quick three and out forced by the defense that almost saw two interceptions by Rasul Douglas on consecutive plays, Amari Rodgers had a nice punt return setting up the offense. Aaron and company delivered the offense put together a seven play touchdown drive that concluded with Rodgers finding Jones on a short pass.
Jones caught the quick inside toss, then spun free and drove into defenders on his way into the end zone. A moment of brilliance. When the defense came up with a big third down stop on Alexander’s good coverage, knocking a pass away, it looked like the Packers were rolling. Then Rodgers muffed his punt return, and the Commanders recovered. Still, the Packer defense forced a field goal. That was nearly the end of the offense for the Packers, but the defense came up big with a huge pick-six by De’Vondre Campbell. The interception was contested by the Commanders wide receiver, but Campbell high pointed the ball and then turned, running sixty yards for the score. The Packers were ahead 14-3. They were making plays on both sides of the ball. Packers fans didn’t know then that those three points off the muffed punt would prove the difference in the game.
Most Packer fans wished they would have turned the TV off at that point. In three drives started by the offense in the second quarter, their total ended up with negative yardage. Their first drive gained four yards. That was the highlight. The second lost 15. The third lost two yards. The third quarter was worse because the defense gave up a touchdown and a field goal while the offense sputtered. The hype bubble surrounding Romeo Doubs burst in Washington as he dropped two crucial catches ending drives. The bigger question is why the Packers continue to pass on 3rd or 4th and one. Isn’t the run game the strength of this team?
If you had turned the game off you would have missed a nice scramble throw by Rodgers that ended with a spectacular leaping catch by Aaron Jones for a touchdown. Another moment of brilliance. But it was not enough. The defense had two good players get burned repeatedly on Sunday. Jaire Alexander was burned for a long touchdown and then repeated third down conversions that basically ended any hope of victory.
Rashan Gary seemed to get burned repeatedly on outside runs to his side. For a player as talented as he is, it is frustrating to watch him jog after a runner after he blows containment. His best play, a sack and forced fumble, was erased by an iffy home town penalty on Eric Stokes. That penalty was part of Washington’s touchdown drive that spelled the change in momentum in the game.
For the second week in a row, Aaron Rodgers was outplayed by an opposing quarterback. The stats and quarterback ratings may not support that statement, but it was Heinicke that made the clutch throws his team needed, over and over, to win the game in the second half.
Taylor Heinicke grew up a Packer fan and the photos of him as a kid were a highlight during the game. The second stringer was given opportunities to throw after a first quarter pick six and he delivered when he needed clutch throws. As Daniel Jones last week, Heinicke was able to find open receivers on clutch plays to keep drives alive against the Packer defense. The Packer pass rush was a step too late for most of the game, and Heinicke and his receivers made Green Bay pay time and again.
After last week, much was said about needed changes in the offensive line. The Packers made changes. But those changes were sideswiped by David Bakhtiari’s new injury that kept him out of the game. Zach Tom made his first career start at left tackle. Elgton Jenkins moved to left guard and Runyan moved to right guard. Yosh Nijmam made his first start at right tackle and his multiple penalties contributed to the second quarter negative yardage.
Besides the penalties, they kept Rodgers pretty clean, although their average per rush was only 3.2 yards. Of course that was partially because the Packers only ran the ball 12 times. On the third or fourth down and short they passed every time. In the end, the offensive line blocking is not what lost this game. The Commanders’ high ranking D-line did not dominate. It was penalties (9 penalties for 69 yards), incompletions, and dropped passes that contributed to the offense going 0-7 on third and fourth down, that cost this Packer team a victory. This loss is a gut wrencher… and the Buffalo Bills are waiting next week.