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Panthers 31, Packers 24: Rodgers’ 3 INTs and Green Bay’s defense flush playoff hopes away

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There was another dramatic near-comeback attempt, but it fell short as

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Carolina Panthers Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Rodgers returned for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers; the Packers’ winning ways did not, and now they need to hope for help to have any chance at the playoffs.

Rodgers showed signs of rust, underthrowing several passes and throwing a trio of interceptions in Charlotte. Combined with a poor effort by the Packers’ defense against the Panthers’ multifaceted offense, that put Green Bay in a two-touchdown hole late in the game, and Rodgers was not able to complete a comeback. A fumble by Geronimo Allison sealed the deal with the Packers driving in an effort to tie the game.

Rodgers threw for three touchdowns and those three picks, hitting Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, and Richard Rodgers for a score apiece. Still, it was a rusty game for Rodgers and a frustrating one for Packers fans as they saw Adams, one of the team’s top playmakers knocked out of the contest by a brutal, dirty hit.

Meanwhile, Green Bay’s defense allowed over 150 rushing yards and did not force a turnover, giving the offense little opportunity to convert on any short fields.

Here’s how it happened.

First Half

Rodgers got his first crack at the start of the game, as the Packers received the opening kickoff. Following a quick slant to Davante Adams on the first play of the game, Rodgers was a bit off-target on passes to Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb to set up a punt.

On the Panthers’ first offensive series, Cam Newton led the team down the field steadily, with four completions to Christian McCaffrey and three third-down conversions. The Packers were able to get pressure on Newton on a few occasions, but either they had the right calls lined up — a few screen and swing passes beat the pressure — and Newton’s mobility was responsible for a few dramatic escapes. On second and goal from the 8, Newton found McCaffrey on an angle route over the middle as Josh Jones was too slow to react to the route, and he scored an easy touchdown to put the Panthers up 7-0.

On the opening drive, McCaffrey had five rushes for 20 yards and four catches for 40 yards and the score.

The Packers’ second offensive drive saw Aaron Rodgers get into a groove. He found Randall Cobb up the middle for a 23-yard gain, and scrambled a few times for positive yardage as he drove the offense down into the red zone. On a third and nine from the 13-yard line, Davante Adams ran a perfect post route, head-faking to the outside and freezing safety Kurt Coleman. Rodgers hit the wide-open Adams for a touchdown, tying the game at seven:

The Green Bay defense maintained their level of performance on the next Panthers drive, however, giving the lead right back. Clay Matthews had one of his poorest drives in recent memory, committing a neutral zone infraction and running himself out of plays left and right. It was another methodical drive, with the longest play being a 14-yard pass to Greg Olsen. The Packers held in the red zone, however, forcing a field goal to make the score 10-7.

However, instead of leading the Packers down the field, Aaron Rodgers made a poor decision on the ensuing series. With a pocket collapsing around him, Rodgers threw off his back foot to Adams deep up the left sideline. The throw floated short, and Daryl Worley made an easy interception at the Panthers’ 40-yard line.

With the Packers’ defense already worn down by two straight long drives, they needed a quick stop or a turnover. They got a critical three-and-out, and Rodgers took over at the ten-yard line after the Panthers punt.

Aaron Jones quickly got the Packers out of the shadow of their own end zone. Jones took a shotgun handoff up the middle, bursting through the line for a 23-yard gain. Two plays later, he broke another 20-yard gain to cross midfield. However, the passing game bogged down a bit and Justin Vogel came on to punt, pinning Carolina at their own five-yard line.

Blake Martinez was the star of the next drive, as he recorded a tackle for loss and a pass breakup — the latter on a third down pass to Christian McCaffrey, as the Packers forced another punt.

The Packers took the lead on the ensuing series, as Rodgers ran some hurry-up offense inside of two minutes. He threw passes to Adams and Richard Rodgers to move the ball across midfield again, then found Randall Cobb for a huge play. Rodgers escaped the pocket to his right and as he was being tackled, flipped the football to a wide-open Cobb, who hauled the pass in one-handed. Cobb then split a pair of defenders and juked out another, leaping into the end zone for a 14-10 Packers lead just before the half.

Second Half

Carolina came out to start the second half using Cam Newton more as a runner, breaking out a heavy dose of read option and quarterback draws. However, it was Newton’s arm and a blown coverage by Josh Jones that gave Carolina the lead. Jones bit badly in coverage on Greg Olsen, leaving the tight end wide open in the end zone. Ahmad Brooks hammered Newton as he released the football, but it was too late and he delivered the pass on the money for a 17-14 Carolina lead.

Another Aaron Rodgers interception cost the Packers more than just the football. He threw the ball deep to Randall Cobb, but the ball was painfully underthrown and got picked off by Colin Jones. on Jones’ return, Thomas Davis threw a horribly dirty head-to-head block on Davante Adams, knocking Adams out of the game. Davis was not ejected, but will face a fine and likely suspension later this week.

On the ensuing drive, the Panthers extended their lead on a questionable review. Following a pass interference penalty on Jermaine Whitehead on third down, Newton threw to Damiere Byrd in the back of the end zone. Byrd bobbled the football and appeared to land out of bounds after regaining possession, but Ron Rivera challenged the play and won — the referees ruled that Byrd’s left butt-cheek came down in bounds before the rest of him landed out of bounds. That made the play a touchdown and gave the Panthers the lead at 24-14.

Rodgers had his third pick of the day on the Packers’ second drive of the second half. With Jordy Nelson behind the Panthers’ coverage deep, Rodgers rolled right and unloaded the football; however, it was underthrown again, forced Nelson to slow down, and instead landed in the arms of cornerback James Bradberry.

Thankfully, the Packers forced a three-and-out, culminating in a sack by Kenny Clark on third down. A field goal on the next drive — after Rodgers skipped in a throw to Geronimo Allison on third down — brought Green Bay back within a touchdown at 24-17. That was short-lived, however, as the Panthers drove right down the field and Newton connected with Byrd for another score, this time with no review needed.

Without Adams, the Packers had little opportunity to move the ball downfield, and instead reverted into their extremely short passing game. They moved into Panthers territory, picking up a 4th-and-5 along the way, but back-to-back sacks on third and fourth down — with Julius Peppers beating Jason Spriggs for the second one — all but closed the book on the game and the Packers’ season.

Still, the Packers continued to fight, with Aaron Rodgers finding Richard Rodgers for a couple of explosive plays. First, he found the tight end for 36 yards up the sideline, then hit him over the middle for a 24-yard touchdown to pull back within seven points. Then, the Packers, out of timeouts, recovered an onside kick after McCaffrey could not come up with the football. Marwin Evans landed on it, keeping hope alive.

Instead, Geronimo Allison coughed up the game. On a quick slant, Rodgers hit Allison, who started to turn upfield. James Bradberry punched the football out, and Carolina recoverd. The play stood on review, and Carolina was able to kneel out the clock.

Injuries

Wide receiver Davante Adams left the game with a concussion and did not return. Outside linebacker Nick Perry left the game with a knee injury and also did not return.