“We’re in every game. . . I think it’s going to make us a better team at the end. I know people don’t want to hear that. They’re tired of hearing that, oh we’re young. Young teams have to learn how to win.” -Aaron Jones
For the second consecutive game—pre- and post-bye week—the Green Bay Packers lost a game that was certainly winnable.
The Packers’ 19-17 loss to the one-win Denver Broncos and their NFL worst defense at Encompass Field at Mile High Sunday afternoon was a crushing one, especially coming off their bye week.
And the defeat came in the same frustrating fashion as Green Bay’s loss in La Vegas on October 9th: the Packers offense struggles mightily in the first half, team falls in a two-score hole, battles back in the second half, and ultimately squanders a chance to win the game on their final possession with an interception.
Against the Broncos, the Packers trailed just 9-0 at halftime—thanks to Green Bay’s defense, which lost three starters in the game’s first 30 minutes—that held Russell Wilson and the Denver offense to field goals instead of touchdowns.
Conversely, the Packers blew an opportunity to get points on the board in the final minute of the half. Rookie kicker Anders Carlson missed a 43-yard-field goal attempt wide left—his first miss of the season.
“Obviously, extremely disappointing,” head coach Matt LaFleur said. “We just keep digging ourselves a hole. . . It’s disappointing to have no points at the half. . . I think anytime you hold somebody under 20 points in this league, you need to do enough to win from an offensive standpoint. We obviously aren’t. It’s just way too fragmented, not consistent execution.”
The Packers have scored just six points total in the first half of their last four games. When asked in his post-game press conference on progress made during the bye week on the lethargic starts, LaFleur was candid: “Obviously, zero.”
LaFleur had no answer for a follow-up query on why: “That’s a great question,” he responded.
The spotlight is now firmly on the head coach/play caller and the quarterback, who has thrown interceptions in each of Green Bay’s last four games and seven over that span—including three in the Raiders game.
Love said last Wednesday that his three-pick, no touchdown, 32.2 passer rating performance in Las Vegas impacted him over the bye week.
“It’s not a great feeling, definitely left a very sick taste in my mouth the whole week,” he said. “I’ve had three-interception games before. You’ve got to find a way to bounce back.”
The 1-5 Broncos, on paper, appeared to be the perfect opponent for Love and the Packers to show improvement and notch their third win of the season. Optimism was high with the return of play-maker Aaron Jones, but the slow starts continued for the offense.
The Packers responded in the second half, scoring on their first possession after a stalled drive in the red zone resulted in a 29-yard field goal by Carlson. Denver answered with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Courtland Sutton for a 16-3 cushion, but Green Bay pulled within 16-10 on Love’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Romeo Doubs near the end of the third stanza.
The Packers took the lead 17-16 midway through the final quarter with a huge stroke of luck. Love’s sidearm bullet bounced off the hands of Doubs and into the hands of Packers receiver Jayden Reed in the end zone. The lead would be short-lived.
Wilson rebounded from a horrific performance in a loss to Kansas City with what proved to be the game-winning drive, as Wil Lutz drilled a 52-yard field goal with 3:50 remaining for a 19-17 lead.
On the Packers’ final drive, Love launched a long pass on 3rd-down-and-20 to Samori Toure just after the two-minute warning. The high pass hung up long enough for backup safety P.J. Locke to streak from the other side of the field and intercept the ball to secure the Bronco’s first home victory of the season—and the first under new head coach Sean Payton at Mile High in four attempts.
“We dialed up a play. . . made for that coverage,” Love said. “Tried to get a shot over the top for Samori, but the backside safety made a good play on it. You can look back on it and say we could’ve done so many different things. . who knows? One of those things, what if.”
On the play, Love passed up on throwing to AJ Dillon on an underneath route which would have probably resulted in a fourth down and 10 or so, depending on yards after the catch. But a crucial holding penalty on Elgton Jenkins loomed large in the final stage of the drive, as it pushed the Packers back into an unfavorable down-and-distance situation when nearing field goal range at the Denver 44-yard line.
“That was critical, another critical penalty at the end of the game,” LaFleur said. It seems like there’s a lot of those critical mistakes that keep popping up. Those are things that cost you.”
Love echoed the team’s frustration with the failure to win another close game. Three of the Packers losses this season are by one score.
“Everyone’s very frustrated,” Love said. “We’ve gotta find a way to win these games.
“We’ve been put in these positions multiple times on the offense to go win the game, and we haven’t capitalized on it. We’re not capitalizing on these end-of-game situations, and the situations are going to keep coming.”
As Jones alluded, this young team must learn how to win the close games. A confident Dillon said afterward, “Nobody’s pushing the panic button. . . I think we have a lot of talent. . . it’s going to click.”
Green Bay, 2-4, trails first-place Detroit (5-2 after 38-6 loss to Ravens) in the NFC North division. The Packers host border rival Minnesota (2-4 before MNF game vs 49ers) at 12 noon Sunday at Lambeau Field after being on the road for four of their first six games of the 2023 season.