The last time Aaron Rodgers played at the LA Coliseum, a virtuoso performance from the Cal star wasn’t enough to beat the No. 1 USC powerhouse. Even by Hollywood standards, the script was remarkably similar heading into Week 8 with the underdog Packers heading to the West Coast facing the best team in the NFL. The two-time MVP was set to re-write the script, have the upstart team come to Hollywood and stun the heavy favorite.
Instead, Ty Montgomery fumbles the kickoff with 1:56 left in the game and Rodgers never even gets a chance, as the Packers fall 29-27 in a gut-wrenching fashion.
Much like that 2004 game, where hit his first 23 passes to set an NCAA record, the Packers started hot coming off the bye. Mike Pettine clearly did his homework, stopping the Rams with sacks on their first three possessions of the game, and forcing punts on the first four possessions for the first time since 2015.
Offensively, the Packers showed balance early, giving Aaron Jones the snaps he needed —although the puzzling running back carousel continued. A 10-0 lead had the 3-2-1 Packers feeling like they could shock the world.
Then the game changed on a play by a former Packer.
Sam Shields downed a Johnny Hekker punt inside the one yardline and Mike McCarthy made an unforgivable mistake running up the middle out of heavy personnel. The Rams monstrous middle of Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh were waiting for him in the end zone and a safety flipped the game on its head.
Instead of driving down the field with under three minutes to go in the half to make it a three score game, the Packers now led just 10-2 and had to give the ball back to one of the most dangerous offenses in the league.
A late touchdown, featuring two replay reviews for big plays made the game 10-8 at halftime and an enormous opportunity went begging for McCarthy and Co.
Despite the momentous change, Green Bay turned around a critical trend for the season. Coming into Week 8, the Rams were +57 in first halves, while the Packers were -37. The run defense held, allowing just 34 yards on 13 carries from Todd Gurley and Green Bay had actually out-ran the Rams 59-34 through two quarters.
But that late touchdown was just one of three straight the Rams scored to turn a 10-2 deficit into a 23-13 lead. Josh Reynolds, with just one career touchdown, scored a pair, and the Packers were on their heels.
The story was playing out the way the Vegas oddsmakers envisioned, a 10-point opening underdog suddenly playing like one.
Then, Rodgers answered. He found Davante Adams for 41 yards on third-and-9 to set up a 33-yard Jones touchdown run to cut the deficit down to three, 23-20. It was the longest run of the season for the Packers on the heels of one of Adams’ five catches for 133 yards. Green Bay’s offense, coming off a record-setting two straight games of 529 yards or more, once again found life.
A field goal extended the lead to 26-20, but Rodgers brought his team back once again. A beautiful 40-yard touchdown to Marqueze Valdes-Scantling retook the lead and the discount double-check even made an appearance. If the Packers could just get one stop, they might have a chance to spring the upset.
Clay Matthews’ sack of Jared Goff did give the Packers the ball back, but Aaron Donald returned the favor on third-and-six to keep a back-and-forth contest on the teeter totter.
On the ensuing drive, Todd Gurley shocked Packers with third-and-6 draw for 23 to put the Rams in scoring position, but a big holding call on Roger Saffold forced the Rams into conservative mode with and an eventual field goal to make it 29-27 with just over two minutes to go.
More than enough time, with one timeout, for Aaron Rodgers to take his team down the field and give Mason Crosby a chance.
The Montgomery fumble was a twist no one saw coming, robbing the Packers of the chance to get a much-needed victory coming off the bye and entering the toughest stretch of games on their schedule.
Defensively, the Packers did enough to win. Pettine called a magnificent game and Jaire Alexander had a breakout performance shadowing Brandin Cooks. This defense has a chance to be much better than we saw for much of the first month and a half of the season. To waste that on a play where Montgomery likely never should have left the end zone, leaves everyone around Packers Nation feeling hollow, empty.
They should have won the Vikings game. It’s a tie. Should have beaten the Rams. It’s a loss. These are games that could prove monumental when it comes to deciding who is playing in January.
On offense, the running back brigade has to end. It’s currently unclear what Montgomery brings to the offense in its current form. There’s no reason Aaron Jones shouldn’t be playing 80% of snaps, and Davante Adams can’t be covered. Get him the ball.
Not every team boasts pass rushers like the Rams, but the interior of the offensive line leaked in the second half at crucial times, something that must concern this team moving forward.
This wasn’t an embarrassing performance, and there were plenty of pundits calling for a boat race. Goff and Gurley didn’t hang a 50 burger on this defense. They did enough. A costly turnover at the worst possible time — a special teams blunder no less — had this game feeling very much like the 2014 NFC Championship.
The defense plays surprisingly well to build an early lead. A blown McCarthy call near the goal line (albeit this time his own). A special teams gaffe. And the Packers lose with Rodgers ever getting a chance to win it.
Unlike in 2014, there’s season to heal from this loss, but a gut punch of this magnitude could have debilitating effects. The Packers proved they’re capable of standing toe-to-toe with the top dog, but also of blowing a game they rightfully should have won. That’s at least twice this season. At what point does that built up and wear on the psyche of this team? At what point does management believe those issues are intractable and the coaching needs to change?
Those are questions for another day. For now, the Packers have to figure out if this loss pushes them forward with the confidence and knowledge they can beat anyone, or looms over them the rest of the season.
Either way, the New England Patriots await.