Bungle in the Jungle - Bengals: 34 Packers: 30
Heading into the bye, there are so many things I want to be happy about. I want to be excited by the promise the Packers are showing as a running team, especially the last two weeks. I want to enjoy the performance of a defense that's shown flashes of competence, especially against the run. I want to relish every catch by Randall Cobb, who's developing into an outright star before our very eyes.
But I can't do those things, because the Packers keep underperforming as a team.
I'll grant you that the win over Washington was nice, but it seems hollow now. Washington has looked like little more than a JV team these days. In the other two contests so far, the Packers have basically beaten themselves, with stupid turnovers, penalties, and generally poor play. And while there have been good points in both losses, at the end of the day, the Packers are still 1-2.
We're only three weeks in and the excuses are starting to pile up like an analogy about things that get sorted into really big piles. First it was injuries. Now it's injuries again, but different injuries. And once you get past the injuries, it's bad calls, or a freak turnover here and there, or any of a host of other things that only distract from the main point: the Packers really didn't deserve to win against San Francisco, and they certainly didn't deserve a victory this week, mostly because they're playing like a team that doesn't care about winning.
Yeah, there's a long way to go, and nobody else in the NFC North has a defense as good as Cincinnati or an offense as punishing as the 49ers. But make no bones about it: the Packers are in a deep hole, and there's a lot of digging to be done to get out.
Sam Shields (3 tackles, 1 INT) - Shields was tasked with shadowing all-world receiver A.J. Green for most of the day, and the returns were pretty good. Green totaled just 48 yards and a touchdown on four catches, but 20 of those yards came on one play. Yeah, the touchdown is a bummer, but all things considered, Shields played a pretty darn good game.
Clay Matthews (2 tackles, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles) - The most impressive part of Clay's day on Sunday is it all happened before halftime. The least impressive part of Clay's day was when he had to spend the second half on the sideline because of (stop me if you've heard this one) a hamstring issue. Matthews has dealt with balky hamstrings his entire career, and although he said sitting out was "preventative," (whatever that means), it's hard to believe that the Packers would keep one of their best players on the sideline as the Bengals rallied. Either way, a heck of a half by Matthews.
Johnathan Franklin (13 carries, 103 yards, 1 TD, 3 catches, 25 yards) - The fumble was devastating, but we finally got to see Franklin as he was advertised post-draft: a quick, deceptive, and versatile runner. Franklin showed burst we hadn't seen so far, and if he's able to put the fumble behind him, he'll be a nice change of pace once the rest of the running back stable is healthy.
64.5 - Aaron Rodgers' passer rating in Sunday's game. It's his lowest passer rating since December 12, 2010, when he completed just seven of 11 passes for 46 yards before leaving the game with a concussion. Given what we've seen from Rodgers recently, this is almost certainly an aberration. He's got two weeks to figure it out.
182 - Packers rushing yards Sunday. Yep, you read that correctly. Between Franklin (103), Rodgers (24), and James Starks (55), the Packers put together a semblance of a really nice rushing attack, for the second week in a row, no less. If they can keep a semblance of that performance going, they might be really dangerous.
4 - Take your pick: sacks, turnovers forced, or receptions by A.J. Green allowed. 4 was a pretty good number for the Green Bay defense on Sunday. The 34 points are a lot, but seven came on a fumble return, and as we've discussed already, Jeremy Ross put them in a tough situation with his fumble. So all in all, not a terrible day by the defense, but still not good enough to come away with a win. Get better soon, Clay, Morgan, and Casey!
Running Revelation - I don't want to keep beating a horse that may or may not have lost the game, but I couldn't be more excited about Johnathan Franklin's day on Sunday. Why? Because he's a different kind of runner than Eddie Lacy and Starks. He relies on quickness and making moves in space rather than raw power and athleticism. If he can duplicate his performance in upcoming games, he'll be a nice change of pace when the Packers take the field again.
First Rounder Arrives - They don't show up on the stat sheet, but Datone Jones was involved in a couple big plays on Sunday. He was in on at least one of the Packers' forced fumbles and blocked a PAT late. Could he finally be the one to fulfill the prophecy? You know, the one that went something like...
The brother of Kris shall embrace brotherly love. And though they won glory in his stead, the largest of the Sons of Winter shall be beset by failure. But one shall rise in the west to take his place.
Could it be? Or did I just go to a weird place? Both are possible.
Toe Tapper - Another week, another fantastic sideline catch for Jordy Nelson. He makes them seem routine. I don't know how he managed, but he may have upstaged his catch against San Francisco in Week 1. He's fun to have around.
Hit Man - Let's try not to be too on the nose, but Aaron Rodgers is getting hit a lot. Whether it's the sacks (four of them), trying to throw a block for his running back (seriously?), or getting cracked in the head as he tries to scramble for a touchdown (more on that in a second), the franchise is spending a lot of time on his back. I don't know what the solution is, but the Packers absolutely must reduce the amount of hits on Rodgers. If only they had invested some really high draft picks in their offensive line over the past few years.
Jeremy Ross - I have no witty line here. Jeremy Ross has just made me really sad on special teams lately. The fumble on the kickoff was an absolute traveshamockery, and it's happened often enough now that it's almost becoming a habit. If they Packers really want to keep Randall Cobb off special teams, they need to find a more reliable solution.
And while he might not have the alleged return chops Ross has, the Packers cut someone who was proven to be a more reliable receiver than Ross in the preseason: Tyrone Walker. If you follow him on Twitter, you'll know Walker's been weighing in on the performance of a certain Packers' receiver from time to time. In the first half, when Rodgers and Ross failed to hook up deep in the red zone, leading to a Rodgers scramble and a big hit from the defense, Walker dropped this little nugget:
Think he might be a little bitter? Me too.
Ball Skills - I never want to advocate someone getting a personal foul, and this was definitely a bad play for the Packers overall, but there are certain situations that merit retaliation. Getting punched in the junk is one of them. Ryan Taylor, I'm putting you in the "bad" category, but I'm in your corner, bro.
Up Next - The Packers are off next week. They head into the bye a disappointing 1-2.