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First-half struggles by Aaron Rodgers & Packers offense bear major blame in loss

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Another dreadful first-half performance from the Green Bay offense put the team in a hole it couldn’t afford.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons
Green Bay’s offense once again started slowly and turned the ball over.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Seven points in two weeks. An Aaron Rodgers-led offense, one that features weapons like Jordy Nelson, Ty Montgomery, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, and Martellus Bennett managed just seven points in the first halves of the last two games ... total.

Here’s a look at the first-half drives for Green Bay:

7 plays, 51 yards — Interception
11 plays, 32 yards — Punt
6 plays, 23 yards — Punt
3 plays, 3 yards — Punt
9 plays, 28 yards — Punt

11 plays, 75 yards — Touchdown
3 plays, -3 yards — Punt
6 plays, 19 yards — Punt
2 plays, -2 yards — Interception

Rodgers nearly threw a pick-six to open the game against Seattle, though Green Bay had been moving the ball downfield prior to that errant throw. The rest of the first half heard crickets from the offense.

On Sunday, the Packers made it look easy without their starting offensive tackles, marching it down the field, and punching it in the end zone to tie the game at seven on their opening possession.

In the three subsequent drives, they put up 14 total yards and turned it over deep in their own territory.

Green Bay’s defense struggled to contain Julio Jones Sunday night, and perhaps if they’d needed to, the Falcons could have scored more than the 34 that ended the night lighting up the scoreboard. But the Packers offense started slowly once again, turned it over in uncharacteristic ways (particularly for Rodgers), and has clearly yet to fully gel.

In fact, the Packers defense only allowed 27 points against the Falcons (against Matt Ryan and Julio Jones it’s only 27), but Rodgers and Co. mustered just 23. The 34 points scored by Atlanta was one point more than they recorded in the regular season meeting between these two teams last season, only Green Bay put up 32 in that contest.

It’s not just that Green Bay couldn’t stop Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense the last three times they’ve met; it’s been that the offense hasn’t been able to outscore them either.

Now, in fairness, in the last two games the Packers have had to play Justin McCray and Letroy Guion on the offensive line thanks to myriad injuries. Randall Cobb didn’t play against the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game, and Jordy Nelson was playing with broken ribs.

Nelson left Week 2’s matchup in the first quarter with a quad injury and neither David Bakhtiari or Bryan Bulaga were healthy enough to go, forcing Kyle Murphy to make his first ever start at left tackle (and second start overall) and McCray to make his first ever start.

Correction: to play his first ever snap.

But crooked numbers like 31-0 or 31-7 are crooked because the defense is giving up points and the offense isn’t putting up scores of its own.

Not being able to slow down Julio Jones and the Falcons offense isn’t a deadly sin. Not being able to score when the team has Aaron Rodgers is.

And the mistakes are coming from Rodgers. Aaron Rodgers, the two-time league MVP, most dynamic quarterback in league history, breaker of chains, father of dragons, and king in the North.

That guy.

It took two dubious calls on the same play to negate his interception from leading to points against Seattle. Each of his two turnovers against the Falcons resulted in touchdowns, one directly when Desmond Trufant returned his sideways backward pass to the house.

It’s been a microcosm of seasons past: slow starts followed by stretches of excellence, both from Rodgers and the Packers team as a whole.

In the second halves of games this year, the Packers’ drive chart looks like this

5 plays, 10 yards — Punt
1 play, 6 yards — Touchdown
9 plays, 75 yards — Touchdown
12 plays, 53 yards — Field Goal
12 plays, 48 yards — End of Game

2 plays, -10 yards — Fumble (Returned for a TD)
11 plays, 65 yards — Field Goal
13 plays, 75 yards — Touchdown
8 plays, 85 yards — Touchdown
7 plays, 30 yards — End of Game

In ten second-half drives, the Packers have scored on six, and a seventh was the game-ending, clock-killing variety.

The field goal last night came only after a touchdown was wiped off the board thanks to a dubious offensive pass interference call, or this list might look even more impressive.

Not that it means much, but the Packers actually outscored the Falcons in the second half of the last two games. They just happened to spot Atlanta big leads in the first half.

Losing to the defending NFC champions in Week 2 without four of the team’s best five players is a hole out of which the Packers should be able to dig this season. Still, this loss was disheartening to watch for Green Bay fans who believed this team may finally have the kind of defense that could take the Packers back to the Super Bowl.

One loss without the defense’s best player doesn’t prove that optimism was misplaced. We won’t know about that answer until January.

Furthermore, the failures of this Packers offense, particularly with sloppy turnovers from the best player in football, shouldn’t continue all season. But the inconsistency of this offense, particularly in the first half, should be concerning.

A healthier offensive line and the return of the team’s top target could be enough against a non-Seahawks defense to get this offense back on track. But even with those injuries, the uncharacteristic mistakes from Rodgers could have been avoided. His story suggests as the season wears on, the most efficient quarterback in league history will do a better job taking care of the ball.

Unfortunately, history also suggests this early-season inconsistency for the Packers could last a few more games.

Maybe a game against an 0-2 Bengals team that has failed to score a touchdown yet this season is just what they need to break out of it.