With Green Bay just a game out in the postseason standings, the #FireCapers crowd in full throat, and the Packers in a position to beat a wounded team at home, the defense played well enough to win.
They sacked Joe Flacco three times, picked him off in the red zone, and forced seven punts, including four straight in the second half. Dom Capers’ unit also posted nine tackles behind the line, allowing just 58 yards on 26 carries on the ground.
But the offense never got on track as turnovers torpedoed promising drives in the first half and continuity never developed in the second.
The Ravens never appeared to be dominating the game, but the scoreboard read otherwise, with the final lights flashing a 23-0 embarrassment at Lambeau Field.
It was the first shutdown at home for the Packers since 2006 against the New England Patriots.
Mike McCarthy doesn’t read Twitter, but he clearly understands the criticism of his team’s inability or unwillingness to push the ball down the field.
So on the first drive, McCarthy let Brett Hundley take the wheel and the first-time starter mashed the gas. A 17-yarder to Jordy Nelson got the drive going.
A slightly underthrown ball to Davante Adams for 33 put the Packers in scoring position, and Hundley used his strength and speed to avoid a sure sack.
This was progress. Or so it seemed.
Then, the inexperience against a top pass defense got exposed, as that aggressiveness turned into an interception when Jimmy Smith came off his man to make a terrific play against Hundley.
On the next possession, the offense again looked potent with Hundley driving the car ... that is until a flailing duck turned into another interception, this one by Eric Weddle.
Was this why McCarthy had been hesitant to hand the keys to Hundley? Or was this simply the normal progression of a young player facing a difficult test in a frigid game against a stingy defense?
In either case, the Packers defense needed to step forward.
Three first-half turnovers after a fumble by the rookie Devante Mays, in for the injured Ty Montgomery, yielded just three points for the Ravens.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix dropped an interception in the red zone, or it may have been zero. The 2016 Pro Bowler made up for it with a pick in the red zone to end a promising Baltimore drive.
Nick Perry provided pressure off the edge, as did Clay Matthews before he left the game with a groin injury, and the back end rallied to the ball on underneath throws.
Despite a trio of turnovers, the Packers trailed just 6-0 at halftime, and after the Ravens scored on their opening possession of the second half to make it 13-0, Green Bay forced four straight punts, which should have given Hundley and the Packers ample opportunities to score some points and get back in the game.
Consider them opportunities squandered.
Hundley once again looked uneasy in the pocket, indecisive, and unable to create anything in the passing game. The only bright spot for the Packers offense was Davante Adams who finished with 126 yards on eight catches, the only player who consistently made plays for his quarterback.
Green Bay turned it over three times on downs as the offense approached (that’s being generous) ineptitude after some early flashes of creativity and effectiveness. A sack-fumble in the fourth quarter essentially sealed the game, a fitting end to a pathetic showing from Hundley and this offense.
A late interception was just icing on the cake for the Ravens who added six sacks and a whopping 11 hits on the quarterback.
The Packers also consistently fell behind in field position, beginning seemingly every drive inside their own 20.
With early miscues in the passing game, the run game never got a chance to mitigate the inconsistency of Hundley who finished 21-36 for 239 yards and three picks to go along with the fumble.
Green Bay can’t have been expected to play well against one of the top defenses in football, but four turnovers never gave them a chance to compete.
For the first time in a long time, it was the offense that let down the defense in a critical game and it was the critical mistakes from the quarterback that did the Packers in.
Now, with Green Bay’s playoff hopes on life support, any talk of the return of their other quarterback has to be put on hold.
The failings of the current quarterback and a coaching staff’s insistence on his potential have come into focus.
Sunday’s offensive embarrassment embodies those failings. At this point, whether it was hubris or simple misevaluation doesn’t matter.
This level of offensive play simply isn’t good enough if the Packers want any chance to play into January, regardless of who is under center.