GREEN BAY, Wis. — There’s a reason it had been 55 years since the last time the Packers lost a game after leading by 18 points at halftime. For any NFL franchise, that’s a large enough margin for even the poorest of second-half performances to still sneak by with a win.
But Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, Green Bay lost despite its 21-3 halftime lead and showed just how different things have been so far this season. Last year, the 15-1 Packers won eight games by double digits. When they pulled ahead by more than 10 points, it was over. In seven games won by nine points or fewer last season, Green Bay always found a way to make the necessary plays to come out with a victory.
As Sunday’s loss demonstrated, this year’s Packers have a lot of work to do in order to get even close to the dominance they displayed in 2011.
“Those are games we would blow guys out last year when we would get up like that,” offensive lineman Josh Sitton said Wednesday. “That’s something we have to get back to. We’re growing right now as an offense and molding and jelling to who we’re going to be this year.”
Through five games, Green Bay’s offensive identity is that of a below-average team. The Packers are ranked 21st in the NFL in total yards and 18th in scoring. With a 2-3 record, there are 17 teams that sit above them in the league standings.
But for some players in Green Bay’s locker room, the confidence from last year hasn’t been lost, even if the statistics no longer back up the boast.
“We feel like we’re still one of the best teams in this league,” wide receiver James Jones said. “We’ve got a lot more to give, and we’ll be all right.”
With a matchup approaching Sunday in Houston against the undefeated Texans, even a well-played game may not be enough to get Green Bay a win. That’s why, even though the halfway point of the season is still a few weeks away, this game may be about more than just having a strong performance.
“I think it’s a must-win for us,” tight end Jermichael Finley said. “It’s not a must-win for our record, but it’s a must-win for us just to get us on board.”
Not every player looks at this game with quite the same urgency, though.
“I really don’t want to just sit here and say we need to go out there and it’s a must win and all that stuff,” Jones said. “We just need to go out there and play well, stack success and go on to the next game and play well. We’ve got too many ups and downs right now where, at times, we play well and then we’re inconsistent.
“We just need to go out there and play a complete game and look up at the scoreboard when it’s all said and done.”
“We’ll start talking about must-wins when we get into December,” he said.
After showing the rest of the NFL that an 18-point lead is not impossible to overcome against the Packers, it’s also possible that the fear factor of playing Green Bay is dissipating.
“We’ve got to bury them coming out of the half, and having the ball, it should have been 28-3,” Finley said. “We’ve got to check ourselves on that one. It’s not the coaches, it’s not the game plan. Obviously, the game plan was going well if it’s 21-3 at half.”
It hasn’t been the same problems in each game, either. The Packers allowed seven first-half sacks against the Seahawks in Week 3, then gave up only one sack in the next eight quarters of football. That included allowing zero sacks to the Saints in Week 4 and keeping the Colts from sacking Rodgers at all in the first half of Week 5.
Green Bay’s defense also has lacked consistency. Facing Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears in Week 2, the Packers had four interceptions and looked dominant. But in the other four games combined, rookie cornerback Casey Hayward’s interception of Andrew Luck in Week 5 represents the only takeaway. The Packers are the only team in the league to not force and recover a fumble this season.
“We talked about it last week going into Indianapolis and that’s to play a complete football game,” coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday. “We have not accomplished that yet. That part hasn’t changed. You knuckle down in practice and just heighten the urgency and awareness. You don’t overreact.
“I’m not a panicker. I think it’s a punk mentality, frankly. I think it’s a loser mentality. It’s time to increase the urgency.”