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Bills-Packers: What we learned

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills bolstered their playoff chances with a dominating defensive performance.

The Bills made life difficult for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, forced three turnovers, kicked four field goals and added a punt return touchdown to stay alive in the AFC wild-card race with a 21-13 win over Green Bay on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

After ending Petyon Manning’s streak of 51 games with a touchdown pass a week ago, the Bills (8-6) held Rodgers to a career-worst 34.4 passer rating and limited the NFL’s top scoring offense coming in to its second-lowest point total of the season.

“This is a huge confidence booster for the whole defense to allow, not one quarterback, but two of the hottest quarterbacks in the league to no passing touchdowns,” said Bills safety Bacarri Rambo, who intercepted Rodgers on consecutive possessions in the second half.

Rodgers completed 17 of 42 passes for 185 yards, threw two interceptions and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time all season as the Packers (10-4) had a five-game winning streak snapped and gave up ground in the race for homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs.

“It was frustrating,” Rodgers said. “They did a good job on defense, kind of slowed us down a little bit. We had some opportunities and didn’t execute very well on them.”

“We were expecting to shut them down,” Bills safety Aaron Williams said. “We went up against a Hall of Famer last week, why couldn’t we do it again this week?”

Buffalo sealed the game with a late safety. After Mason Crosby kicked a 34-yard field goal to cut Buffalo’s lead to 19-13 with 4:53 remaining, Green Bay took over at its own 10-yard-line with 1:58 left on the block and no timeouts. Defensive end Mario Williams stripped Rodgers at the goal line, and running back Eddie Lacy recovered in the end zone.

Receiver Chris Hogan caught the Packers’ onside punt attempt to allow the Bills to run out the clock.

Rambo, who was signed by the Bills four weeks ago after being released by Washington in September, intercepted a Rodgers pass that bounced off the hands of receiver Jarrett Boykin after the Packers had driven from their own 2-yard-line to the Buffalo 34. Rambo’s 28-yard return gave the Bills a drive start near midfield and Dan Carpenter converted a 43-yard field goal to put the Bills in front 19-10 with 9:23 left in the fourth quarter.

Rodgers was intercepted for the first time in six games when Rambo made his first career pick late in the third quarter. It was also the Packers’ first turnover in five games. Despite a drive start at the Packers’ 29, however, the Bills could not capitalize on the turnover.

“The Bills’ defense really played the game,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “They overloaded some formations and coverages. I thought the upfront battle was good. I thought their coverage was all over us and we just didn’t make enough plays.”

Rambo entered the game in the third quarter after safety Duke Williams sustained a concussion. Williams was starting in place of Da’Norris Searcy (hamstring).

“That’s just the kind of depth we have in the secondary,” Aaron Williams said. “We feel like everybody could start. Duke came in and did a great job before he got hurt and Rambo did a hell of a job.”

The Bills led for most of the second half despite failing to produce an offensive touchdown. Quarterback Kyle Orton was 14-of-27 passing for 158 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. The Bills rushed for 117 yards, led by running back Fred Jackson, who had 20 yards on 71 carries.

“As long as our defense keeps us in the game and keeps making plays like that, we know we have a chance to win,” Jackson said.

Buffalo took a 13-10 lead on the opening series of the second half on Carpenter’s 51-yard field goal.

Carpenter’s 35-yard field goal put the Bills up 16-10 with 4:18 left in the third quarter. A 40-yard reception by running back Bryce Brown put the Bills in scoring range.

Green Bay opened the scoring on Crosby’s 45-yard field goal with 4:27 remaining in the first quarter.

The Bills took a brief 7-3 lead when Marcus Thigpen returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown.

Trailing for the first time in six games, the Packers responded with an 80-yard scoring drive. Lacy rushed for 57 yards on the drive, culminating with his 1-yard touchdown run that put the Packers up 10-7. Lacy finished with 97 yards on 22 carries.

Carpenter kicked a 27-yard field goal to tie the score at 10-10 with 8:04 left in the second quarter.

Williams blocked Crosby’s 53-yard field goal attempt on Green Bay’s next possession.

What the Bills said:

“Everybody in this locker room believes in ourselves, and we made plays in every different phase of the game. That was what we needed to do to get a win, as long as you keep believing in yourselves and believing in the guys in the locker room, there’s nothing you can’t accomplish.” — Running back Fred Jackson.

What the Packers said:

“You have to show up every week, and we didn’t show up today, or some of us didn’t. I think the offensive line and the running backs played extremely well. They ran the ball extremely well, but I didn’t do my part at all and need to do a better job.” — Wide receiver Jordy Nelson.

What we learned about the Bills

1. Buffalo’s defense is as good as any in the league. Ranked in the top 10 in just about every measureable category, the Bills have now held two of the game’s premier quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, under 200 yards passing with no touchdowns in consecutive weeks. The Bills’ defensive line has been dominant all year, but the secondary got into the act Sunday. “Our secondary played tremendous out there,” defensive end Jerry Hughes said. “It’s the no-fly zone for a reason.”

2. Despite another non-descript performance, quarterback Kyle Orton is likely to finish out the season as the Bills’ starter. Coach Doug Marrone maintains that Orton gives his team the best chance to win. Had Buffalo lost Sunday to fall out of the playoff picture, the team may have elected to give second-year quarterback EJ Manuel some playing time down the stretch. However, now that the Bills have a chance to end their 14-year playoff drought, they will stick with Orton.

–S Bacarri Rambo wasn’t on the Bills’ roster a month ago, and he had yet to be activated for a game until Sunday. However with starter Da’Norris Searcy out due to a hamstring injury, and backup Duke Williams leaving with a concussion, Rambo was thrust into action in the third quarter. He responded with interceptions on consecutive possessions. “I prepared all week like I was the starter,” Rambo said.

–K Dan Carpenter was the Bills’ leading scorer Sunday, making all four of his field-goal attempts. He now has 253 points in his two seasons with the Bills and has moved ahead of Cookie Gilchrist into 10th place on the team’s all-time scoring list. “In those (windy) conditions, it was tough throwing the ball down there,” QB Kyle Orton said. “To be making 48- and 51-yarders in that is something special.”

–PR Marcus Thigpen wasn’t a member of the Bills a month ago, but his 75-yard score in the first quarter proved to be Buffalo’s only touchdown of the game. “That’s why they brought us here,” said Thigpen, who started the season in Tampa Bay after two seasons in Miami. “They put trust in us, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to be here and just trying to take advantage of it.”

What we learned about the Packers:

1. Green Bay’s hopes of securing home-field advantage in the playoffs took a major hit. The Packers are now tied with the Detroit Lions atop the NFC North and also with the Seattle Seahawks for second place in the NFC behind Arizona (11-3). Having lost at Seattle in the season opener and at Detroit in Week 3, Green Bay is not in a favorable tiebreaker situation. The Packers play at Tampa Bay next week, and they finish the season at home against the Lions.

2. The Packers have issues on special teams. Kicker Mason Crosby had a 53-yard field-goal attempt blocked late in the second half. It was the sixth time this season Green Bay has had a field goal, punt or point after try blocked, the most in the NFL. The Packers also gave up a 75-yard punt return touchdown that was partly attributed to Tim Masthay’s lack of hang time on the punt, but also coverage errors while Bills returner Marcus Thigpen was weaving his way toward the end zone.

–QB Aaron Rodgers is not invincible. He sure looked as much during the Packers’ five-game winning streak, throwing for 1,580 yards and 16 touchdowns without turning the ball over once. Rodgers tossed two interceptions Sunday and had a fumble that led to a safety. His 33.4 passer rating was the lowest of his career. It was the first time he played a full game and failed to score a touchdown, passing or rushing, since the third game of the 2012 season.

–WR Jordy Nelson was one of the most productive players in the NFL this season with 73 receptions for 1,210 yards and a league-leading 12 touchdown catches through the first 13 games. His numbers Sunday weren’t terrible — five catches for 55 yards — but he didn’t have much of an impact on the game. He also dropped a long pass from QB Aaron Rodgers in the third quarter that may have turned into an 80-yard touchdown, considering how open Nelson was on the play. “We had exactly what we wanted,” Nelson said. “I short-armed it and dropped it.”

–RB Eddie Lacy was one of the lone bright spots on the Packers’ offense. Lacy opened up the game with a 12-yard rush and finished with 97 yards on 15 carries. He rushed for 57 yards on the Packers lone touchdown drive, which ended with Lacy barreling into the end zone from a yard out. However, when Green Bay fell behind late, it had to abandon the running back. The Packers ran empty-backs sets for much of the fourth quarter, and when they didn’t, WR Randall Cobb lined up in the backfield.


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