When the day started with the Green Bay Packers (1-2) deactivating two of their four running backs before kickoff, there was bound to be some kind of trouble from the start. The Cincinnati Bengals (1-2) defeated the Packers, 34-30 at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday afternoon, as the Packers got off to a sloppy start and ended in horrendous fashion.
In a game of runs, the Bengals led the Packers early in the first quarter, 14-0. The Packers responded by scoring 30 unanswered points from the tail-end of the first quarter through the midway point of the third quarter. The Bengals though countered the Packers scoring craze, finishing the game with 20 unanswered points of their own.
The Packers were without running backs Eddie Lacy (concussion) and John Kuhn (hamstring), but the Packers running game played very well despite the notable absences in the offensive backfield.
Veteran James Starks and rookie Johnathan Franklin combined to rush for 158 yards and one touchdown. Franklin had 103 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut in relief of Starks, who suffered a knee injury late in the second quarter. The Bengals defense though provided fits for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had his worst game of the season.
Rodgers completed 26 of 43 passes for a season-low 244 yards and one touchdown, while throwing a season-high two interceptions. The Packers and Bengals defensive units both forced four turnovers and recorded four sacks, but the difference in the game was fourth-quarter production and redzone touchdowns.
The Bengals outscored the Packers 13-0 in the fourth quarter and all four of the Bengals’ redzone possessions resulted in touchdowns. The Packers had four offensive possessions in the redzone, but only two of those possessions resulted in touchdowns (the other two resulted in field goals).
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said earlier this week he and his staff had been preaching to the players to “finish” better in everything football-related leading up to Sunday’s pivotal AFC-NFC showdown. The message didn’t quite sink-in though, as opponents have outscored the Packers 39-7 in the fourth quarter through three games.
Both defensive units also forced their opponents to convert on less than 50% of their third downs, but the Packers were unable to connect on two crucial fourth-down conversions.
With the Packers leading the Bengals 30-27 and driving deep into Bengals territory in the fourth quarter, Rodgers completed a 3rdand 12 pass to wide receiver Randall Cobb for an initial first-down. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis challenged the spot of the ball and replay showed that Cobb was just short of a first down, resulting in fourth and inches at the Bengals 30.
Instead of attempting a 47-yard field goal, McCarthy decided to keep his offense on the field and the worst thing that could happen did happen. Franklin fumbled while leaping above the trenches, the scrum for the loose ball was picked up by Bengals cornerback Terrence Newman at the 42 and returned 58 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
On the ensuing possession for the Packers, from the Bengals 25, Rodgers 4thand five pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage by tall and lanky defensive end Michael Johnson, sealing the game for good.
Johnson finished with seven total tackles, 1.5 sacks and one tackle for loss. Newman finished with six tackles, one tackle for loss, an interception and the game-winning fumble recovery for a touchdown.
The bottom line is, the Packers couldn’t finish yet again. Injuries and late-game mistakes have haunted the Packers through the first three weeks of the season and the team’s by week couldn’t have come at a better time.
We'll have more on the loss later Sunday on Packers101.com.
Other News and Notes: Starks, tight end Jermichael Finley (concussion) and outside linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) all left Sunday’s game with injuries.
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