GREEN BAY, Wis. — It has happened more than once this season: The Green Bay Packers come out of the gates rolling, jump to a big lead and then hang on for dear life.
Sometimes it kills them.
Two of the Packers’ three losses saw them blow double-digit leads: 10-0 at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who beat them 38-10 in Week 6; 28-14 at halftime at the Indianapolis Colts, who beat them 31-28 in overtime in Week 11.
Green Bay survived Saturday night against the Carolina Panthers. The Packers scored on their first three possessions, jumped to a 21-3 lead and then managed only a field goal the rest of the way after five straight empty possessions. The Panthers had the ball in the fourth quarter down only one score before the Packers’ defense got the stop it needed to preserve a 24-16 victory.
When it was over, Aaron Rodgers spoke fearfully about what might happen if the Packers go cold like that again when the playoffs begin in three weeks — or four for Green Bay (11-3) if it can hold onto the NFC’s No. 1 seed and earn the first-round bye that comes with it.
“That type of football in the second half,” Rodgers said, “not gonna get it done in the playoffs.”
It might not get it done on Sunday night against the Tennessee Titans, either. The Packers already wrapped up the NFC North with last week’s win over the Detroit Lions. That by itself assures at least one home playoff game.
“We win these next two, we’re gonna be the 1-seed,” Rodgers said. “So we need to play better these next two weeks.”
Saturday’s performance wasn’t the worst stretch of offense the Packers have played this season, but it was the worst in recent weeks. Their longest span without points was 10 straight possessions against the Buccaneers, but five straight against the Panthers felt bad enough.
The Packers averaged 7.3 yards per play, gained 13 first downs and scored 21 points on their first three drives without a punt versus Carolina. They averaged 2.8 yards per play, gained just seven first downs and punted six times the rest of the way. Their only points in the second half came on a 51-yard field goal by the ever-reliable Mason Crosby, whose only misses this year have been on extra points.
Part of the problem was an inability to get wide receiver Davante Adams going. Yes, he caught seven passes to run his season total to 98. His career high of 111 — one off the franchise record — is within reach. But his longest reception against the Panthers was just 14 yards, and his total for the game was just 42. (Adams also had two of the Packers’ four drops.)
“I don’t think we motioned him probably as much as we have a lot this season,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said of Adams. “So we’ve got to find ways to get him the rock. He’s such a valuable part of, obviously, this football team, and when he’s doing well, usually we’re doing well on offense. But it’s not just him. If teams are going to zero in on him, we have to find ways to consistently move the ball, and that obviously didn’t happen in the second half.”
Adams’ franchise record streak of eight straight games with a touchdown catch ended.
“We need to keep finding ways to get Davante involved because he’s such a difference maker,” Rodgers said. “And it didn’t feel like we were able to get him involved a whole lot [Saturday night].”
Not down the field, anyway.
Rodgers averaged just 4.55 air yards per pass attempt, tied for his lowest in any game since he became a starter 2008, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Only four of Rodgers’ 29 attempts (he completed 20 of them for just 143 yards and a touchdown) flew more than 10 yards down the field.
“We just haven’t put together a four-quarter game,” Rodgers said. “We’ve had some really good stretches I think in that stretch, but just not four quarters of football way too many times. Tonight, we had a couple of good quarters and a couple stinkers. That’s just not consistent, winning football. So we’ve got to figure out offensively what happened there in the second half and get ready for a good football team coming in.”
At least the Packers seem to have running back Aaron Jones rolling. He rushed for 145 yards on Saturday, resulting in his second 100-yard game in the past three weeks. Last season, he had three of his five 100-yard games in the final month of the season. Of his 10 career 100-yard games, five have come in the month of December.
“We’ve got to start the second half the same way we started the first half and just put a complete game together,” Jones said.