Tale of two halves: Packers suffer tough loss

A 21-3 halftime lead for the Green Bay Packers was the type of first-half performance that the team expected. The second half, however, was a struggle for the Packers in nearly every area of the game as Green Bay (2-3) lost to the Indianapolis Colts, 30-27.

Five things we learned from the Packers’ loss:

1. A loss like this can’t happen. 

If the Packers are going to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender this season, these are the losses that just can’t happen. Losing to the 49ers was not a good way to begin the season, especially at home, but it was only Week 1 and San Francisco is arguably the most well-rounded team in the NFC. Losing a game to the Seahawks due to a missed call by replacement referees certainly allows for plenty of valid excuses that it should have actually counted as a win for Green Bay. But losing to the Indianapolis Colts, a team that gave up 41 points in a loss to the Chicago Bears and wasn’t even good enough to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars at home two weeks ago, that’s not what great teams do.

This loss was perhaps the clearest indication so far this season of the quality of team that the Packers currently are. Yes, the Colts were playing with heavy hearts and plenty of motivation knowing that their head coach, Chuck Pagano, was in the hospital while battling the early stages of leukemia. Those types of real-life, off-the-field situations can be unifying, character-building moments for a team, and it seemed to help carry Indianapolis in the second half. But emotions aside, Green Bay failed to hang on to a 21-3 lead against a rookie quarterback, and great teams don’t allow that to happen. Considering the Packers were 15-1 last season and have all of their key players back, it’s surprising that they’ve struggled to this extent through five games in 2012.

2. That second-half collapse was truly rare.

With a 21-3 lead late in the second quarter, Green Bay was in firm control. The Packers’ offense scored touchdowns on three of their first five drives. Defensively, they held the Colts to just three points on the first seven drives. Everything was going well for Green Bay and there did not appear to be any signs of that changing in the second half.

According to ESPN Stats Info, this 18-point blown halftime lead by the Packers is the franchise’s worst since November 1957. That puts into perspective just how much the game changed in the second half.

Starting with the ball in the third quarter, Aaron Rodgers was intercepted on the third play of the drive. Five plays later, working with short field position, Indianapolis capitalized on the turnover with a touchdown. Green Bay then punted on four of its next five drives, with one missed field goal mixed in. It wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter, now trailing by one point, that the Packers scored another touchdown.

An interception by rookie cornerback Casey Hayward early in the fourth quarter was about the only positive play from Green Bay’s defense in the second half. Other than that, the Packers allowed quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts offense to march down the field on five second-half drives that ended with points on the board.

3. The offense needs Cedric Benson and Jermichael Finley.

Already playing without wide receiver Greg Jennings due to a groin injury, the Packers needed to keep the rest of their primary weapons healthy. But that didn’t happen. First, running back Cedric Benson went down. That was a significant loss to Green Bay’s offense because Benson had been a focal point of the play-calling throughout the first quarter. Without Benson, the balance of successful run and pass plays lessened and the Packers became a much more one-dimensional offense. Though Alex Green had a terrific 41-yard carry late in the game, the Colts defense was able to adjust their strategy and play more effectively with Benson off the field.

Six plays after Benson left the game, nose tackle. B.J. Raji was injured and did not return. Without Raji in to anchor the defensive line, Green Bay struggled to stop Colts running back Donald Brown. Given that the Packers decided to release backup nose tackle Daniel Muir at the end of preseason, Green Bay had to work defensive ends Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson and Jerel Worthy in those spots, all of whom are not nearly as big as Raji and don’t take up the same amount of space.

Later, tight end Jermichael Finley injured his shoulder and did not return to the game. With Finley and Jennings unavailable for Rodgers to throw to, Indianapolis forced more pressure in the pocket and had a lot of success containing the remaining Packers receivers.

4. Tramon Williams and the Packers secondary is struggling.

In Week 4, Saints wide receiver Marques Colston had nine catches for 153 yards with one touchdown against Green Bay. This week, Colts veteran receiver Reggie Wayne could not be stopped. Wayne finished with 13 catches for 212 yards and one touchdown.

Cornerback Tramon Williams was absolutely dominant in Week 2 in coverage against Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall, but the past couple games have been a struggle for him. Williams is expected to be the Packers’ shutdown cornerback, the player that defensive coordinator Dom Capers can count on to prevent receivers like Wayne and Colston from being game-changers. But Williams, while receiving little help from the rest of Green Bay’s secondary, has been unable to answer that challenge the past two games. If this continues, especially with Houston Texans standout receiver Andre Johnson coming up next Sunday, Capers may have to adjust his defensive strategy.

5. Mason Crosby couldn’t help when the Packers needed him.

Kickers are mostly noticed when they don’t perform well, and that was the case Sunday for Crosby. Entering the game without a single miss this season, the typically accurate Crosby missed both of his attempts. Granted, neither kick was a short chip shot, they are field goals that Crosby is expected to make.

First, Crosby missed from 52 yards out midway through the third quarter. Then, with the possibility of tying the game in the final seconds of regulation, Crosby wasn’t even close on his 51-yard attempt. Field-goal kickers can make the difference in wins and losses, and this week, Crosby’s two misses played a big role in this Packers loss.

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