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Packers hammered in loss to Broncos

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The Sports Xchange

GREEN BAY — The first loss of the season not only was humbling from the perspective of Mike McCarthy, but the blunt head coach didn’t mince words about the unfamiliar outcome.

“I haven’t had my ass kicked like that in a long time,” McCarthy said after the Green Bay Packers were throttled 29-10 by the host Denver Broncos in a mismatch between NFL unbeatens Sunday night.

The favored Packers (6-1) allowed a previously struggling Peyton Manning to rediscover his fabulous youth as he directed an almost unstoppable Denver offense. They also couldn’t keep a destructive Broncos defense from nearly pitching a shutout against Aaron Rodgers, save for a couple key penalties that prolonged Green Bay’s only two scoring drives.

“It is one game, but when you don’t perform well enough, you’ve got to take a hard look at it,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “You’ve got to take a good look at what’s going on internally with the guys, and you’ve got to correct it. You just can’t throw this one away.”

While a sack-less and rarely pressured Manning threw with ease in leading a balanced Broncos attack that amassed 500 yards, his similarly high-profile counterpart at quarterback no doubt wants to discard the game from the memory file.

Denver’s top-rated defense never allowed Green Bay to get in sync offensively. The Broncos went exclusively with a base scheme of crowding the box with seven players to stifle the run and blanketed Rodgers’ receiving options with aggressive man-to-man coverage and a single-high safety.

The Packers mustered all of 140 total yards, their lowest output in two seasons. They finished with a net passing mark of a minuscule 50 yards, as Rodgers took three sacks, had a fumble that resulted in a safety and passed for just 77 yards, his career worst in a game he didn’t leave because of injury.

“People don’t realize that was Aaron Rodgers,” Denver cornerback Chris Harris said. “You know we are the real deal. We are the only secondary that could do that.”

The Carolina Panthers defense might have something to say about that. The Panthers went into their Monday night game against the Indianapolis Colts trying to remain the last undefeated team in the NFC after the Packers’ quest to stay perfect fell by the wayside.

The Packers must get back on the road later this week to play the Panthers on Sunday.

“This is the kind of thing that will make everybody a little more on edge this week,” Rodgers said about the debacle in Denver. “We have another tough road challenge in Carolina. These two games are going to show us how good we are after a 6-0 start. We weren’t good enough (Sunday night).”

REPORT CARD VS. BRONCOS

–PASSING OFFENSE: F. Aaron Rodgers was held below triple digits for passing yards for only the third time as a starter in his highly prolific pro career. Unlike the previous two anomalies that came about when he left those games early because of injury, Rodgers’ sickly 77 yards Sunday night was for the entire game. Subtract the 27 yards from Denver’s three sacks of Rodgers, the Packers’ already-sputtering offense of recent weeks hit rock bottom with a net total of 50 passing yards. More so than the Broncos’ potent pass rush, which didn’t intensify until the second half, their defense flourished by clamping down on Green Bay’s receivers with tight man-to-man coverage. Consider that James Jones and Davante Adams, who returned from a three-game absence for an ankle injury, each was targeted only two times and combined for all of two catches for 10 yards. Top wideout Randall Cobb managed to get free for nine throws from Rodgers, but Cobb’s team-high six receptions amounted to just 27 yards, one of which covered 17 yards. Rodgers threw the ball only 22 times, completing 14. He finished with an unsightly 69.7 passer rating and lost the football on a sack by linebacker DeMarcus Ware that became a safety when tight end Richard Rodgers, who failed to block the blitzing Ware on the perimeter, made the recovery in the end zone. Green Bay’s lone touchdown drive, which covered 80 yards in 10 plays, was gift-wrapped by a roughing-the-passer penalty on Aaron Rodgers’ incomplete pass on third-and-6 near midfield.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: D. Eddie Lacy capped that extended touchdown excursion by bulling up the middle on a two-yard run to get the Packers on the scoreboard late in the first half after they spotted Denver a 17-0 lead. Lacy had a powerful 15-yard run off tackle two plays earlier. Otherwise, the woeful season for Lacy continued. He contributed only 38 yards in 11 carries, barely leading the team in rushing. Two big scrambles from Rodgers amounted to 31 yards with a long of 17. Just as Lacy was next to nonexistent with only four carries in the previous game against the San Diego Chargers, the Packers endured a disappearing act by James Starks. His 112-yard, two-touchdown performance in the win over the Chargers two weeks earlier was a distant memory as Starks managed but nine yards in five rushing attempts. The Packers finished with 90 rushing yards in 21 attempts, many of which were done in by feeble blocking.

–PASS DEFENSE: D-minus. From the first play of the game, Green Bay’s defense made previously maligned 39-year-old Peyton Manning look like the league’s only five-time MVP in his prime. Manning hit Demaryius Thomas for an 18-yard completion down the middle, the first of many big connections between the two, and a second straight atrocious performance by the Packers’ defending the pass was on. Manning didn’t come close to the 503 yards thrown by the Chargers’ Philip Rivers on Oct. 18, settling for 340. Then again, Manning didn’t have even half of the 65 pass attempts by Rivers, thanks to the lopsided nature of the game in the Broncos’ favor down the stretch. Manning went 21-of-29 throwing. Though he didn’t have a touchdown pass, Manning impacted the outcome greatly by completing 11 passes for at least 15 yards with five different receiving targets involved. The imposing Thomas manhandled the cornerback duo of Casey Hayward and rookie Damarious Randall, racking up 168 yards with eight receptions (long of 47) in 11 targets, as the Packers played most of the game without top corner Sam Shields (shoulder). Green Bay’s longstanding deficiency of not being able to cover capable tight ends also was exposed. The tandem of Virgil Green and Owen Daniels had their way over the middle, each catching three passes for a combined 105 yards. Worse yet for the Packers, they rarely sniffed Manning in the pocket with only three hits and zero sacks, ending their team-record streak of 42 regular-season games with a sack. About the only bright spot was an instinctive interception by Randall on a Manning throw to the outside for an interception in the fourth quarter for the game’s only takeaway.

–RUN DEFENSE: D. It’s been feast or famine this season with Green Bay’s run defense. The ugly came to the forefront Sunday. Alignment errors and missed tackles factored into the Broncos’ domination on the ground. They had five runs of at least 15 yards and piled up a season-high 160 rushing yards, averaging 4.7 yards with 34 attempts. Denver’s 30th-ranked rushing offense almost had its season average of 85 yards by halftime with 83. The assertive and elusive pairing of Ronnie Hillman and Pro Bowl player C.J. Anderson off the bench had Green Bay’s defenders chasing and lunging for air on arm tackles more often than not. The brief departure of star linebacker Clay Matthews to an ankle injury in the third quarter opened the door wide open for the Broncos to send Anderson up the middle on a third-and-2 call, catching replacement Joe Thomas out of position as Anderson broke free for a 28-yard touchdown to put the Broncos ahead 24-10. Anderson averaged 7.2 yards, running for 101 yards in just 14 carries. Hillman set the tone early with big runs to the outside, finishing with 60 yards and two touchdowns in 19 carries.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: C. Green Bay’s established kicking combo of Mason Crosby and Tim Masthay may have been the team’s co-MVPs on an otherwise horrendous night. Crosby relied on his expertise of kicking in the mile-high altitude in college at Colorado to comfortably connect on a 56-yard field goal that had the Packers in striking distance down 17-10 early in the third quarter. Crosby also continued to excel on kickoffs with three touchbacks and helping to limit the Broncos’ lone runback to 13 yards. Masthay was no less impactful. He was busy with five punts and posted a solid net average of 43.8 yards as the Broncos’ Emmanuel Sanders had little room to run, finishing with a total of 12 yards in three returns with two fair catches. Green Bay was no more successful with its returners. Micah Hyde’s only punt runback went for nine yards. Hyde and Jared Abbrederis split the duties on kickoff returns, each running back one for 23 and 22 yards, respectively. Abbrederis’ ill-advised return came from the back of the end zone.

–COACHING: F. The Packers were downright embarrassed in prime time on national TV, resembling more of a winless team than the unbeaten credentials after six games they brought with them to Denver. Head coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged afterward that counterpart Gary Kubiak outcoached him with regard to the noticeable disparity in game tempo played by the two teams. Green Bay’s dysfunctional offense certainly couldn’t withstand the relentless execution and precision by Denver’s dialed-in defense. Tom Clements’ play calling wasn’t so much the issue as it was the coaches not having the receivers properly prepared, especially with an extra week to do so coming off the bye, to win the one-on-one matchups with the Broncos’ cornerbacks. Ditto for the inexcusable breakdowns by Green Bay’s defense as well as the preponderance of explosive plays allowed in the air and on the ground. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers resisted using a lot of pressure against Manning, and the iconic quarterback predictably capitalized with great success. McCarthy’s notorious game-management decisions came into play again at the end of the first half. He essentially tossed away two timeouts at his disposal when he didn’t stop the clock with about 45 seconds left and the Broncos faced with a third-and-31 play, thus denying the Green Bay offense a shot to get the ball back with time to spare and possibly move into position to kick a field goal.


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