When Green Bay Packers fans asked for Aaron Rodgers to play like the old Rodgers, they didn’t want the old defense back along with him. A vintage performance from Green Bay’s quarterback came up short as two potential game-tying drives went begging in the fourth quarter with the Eagles flipping the script on the Packers: their defense made the plays to win 34-27.
Rodgers marched his team down the field twice looking to even the game, but four passes from the 1-yard line ended in a turnover on downs. After Green Bay got a stop, a tipped ball turned into an interception in the end zone with 28 seconds left, ending the Packers scoring chances, and with it, any chance of winning the game.
Pre-snap penalties, special teams miscues, and a brutal fumble undercut a brilliant first half from the Packers offense. Aaron Rodgers looked like the player we’ve become accustomed to seeing, slinging the ball on a dime. It was never more apparent than on a dime to Davante Adams down the right sideline for 58 yards on the team’s first possession, the longest play of the year for Green Bay on what ended up as their longest drive.
The game opened much the same way the first three weeks went down, with the Packers taking a 10-0 lead and looking well-oiled. Davante Adams out-gained the Eagles in the first half 158 to 146 on eight catches. Head coach Matt LaFleur said they wouldn’t force feed Adams. Maybe he was playing coy, or maybe Adams was just on an all-time heater. Jim Schwartz’s defense lost Ronald Darby earlier in the week and ended up without Sidney Jones with a hamstring injury. Philly had no answers for No. 17 in green but Adams left the game in the fourth on the first of those goal line stalls, not available for the game’s decisive plays.
But a 67-yard kick return from Miles Sanders set up an Eagles touchdown to cut the Packers’ lead to 10-7. After LaFleur settled for a field goal on fourth-and-2 from the 13, the Eagles marched down the field to take the lead on a Dallas Goedert touchdown on Will Redmond. Mike Pettine, who had played Josh Jackson at safety the previous week at times, could have gone to Jackson in that matchup as he had on earlier drives, but Redmond got beat twice on the touchdown drive, once by each stud Eagles tight end.
After thoroughly outplaying the Eagles, the Packers found themselves down for the first time since the second quarter of Week 1. On the second play of the drive, Derek Barnett swooped around the block of Marcedes Lewis and chopped the ball out of Rodgers’ hands inside the Packers own 20. Three plays later, Jordan Howard made it 21-13 Eagles.
With 59 seconds and no timeouts, Rodgers did what Rodgers has always does: sorcery. A ridiculous escape from the pocket, tossing a wobbly ball down the seam to Geronimo Allison, set Green Bay up deep in Philly territory with a field goal all but secured. Not enough for Rodgers, who said after the Broncos game he expects greatness from himself. After a spike, he got it. The two-time MVP quick-snapped the ball, hoping to catch the Eagles substitution with 12 men, but call or no, Rodgers hit Allison again with a laser shot to close the half with the Packers down just a point at 21-20.
Matt LaFleur told Erin Andrews at halftime they wanted to keep the pedal down offensively, but came out with a conservative gameplan in the second half. A pair of ugly runs and a heave down the sideline ended in a punt, although a dubious non-DPI call, even after a review, should have extended the drive.
Wentz, who, along with Doug Pederson read Mike Pettine’s mail all game, led the Eagles on a touchdown drive that ended on a 20-yard catch-and-run from ex-Bears running back Jordan Howard. Pederson went for two to try and make it a two-point game, but failed, giving the Packers life down 27-20.
After the teams traded punts, Rodgers went to work on an 8-play 72-yard touchdown drive to tie the game at 27 with a little throwback, backyard football. Alex Light came in for an injured Bryan Bulaga and had no answer for Eagles standout rusher Brandon Graham, so Rodgers did what Rodgers has always done. Manipulating the pocket, rolling out, firing on the run, the still-springy quarterback hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling for 26 on 3rd-and-7 and then used his legs to beat the blitz on a touchdown to Jimmy Graham, evening the game at 27.
But the Packers defense couldn’t get a stop, again getting gashed by Miles Sanders and a run that trucked Green Bay’s defense all night. Philadelphia put up 176 yards on the ground, out-gaining Wentz’s 160 through the air and truly testing the “run defense doesn’t matter,” mantra. Jordan Howard came back to bite his former NFC North nemesis with 87 yards on 15 carries with two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score.
Rodgers and Co. had their chances late but couldn’t find a way to break the proverbial seal, a fitting metaphor for an offense still in search of a breakthrough. Rarely does a team put up 491 yards of offense, watch its star quarterback go for 422 and two touchdowns, and lose at home with a top-5 defense.
The game came down to red zone execution. Through three weeks, Green Bay scored a touchdown on every single red zone trip, but went 3-7 on Thursday night. Meanwhile, the Eagles went 4-4. Two of those drips involved no Davante Adams or Bryan Bulaga and another a fourth-and-2 field goal. Matt LaFleur came to Green Bay for innovation and there was plenty of like about what we saw Thursday, but in those moments, he came up short. Matt Nagy would have had a special play at the goal line, a two-point conversion play, something to punch the ball in. So would Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan.
For better or for worse, those are the names he’s battling, because those are the guys he has to beat in the NFC, not just for bragging rights at offseason get togethers.
Rodgers showed word of his demise had been greatly exaggerated, and if Davante Adams is healthy, he’s as good as any receiver in the league. We’ve seen this defense dominate games, and now we’ve seen the offense do the same. If they can put those two together, they can be as good as any team in the NFL, but that includes learning from these moments.
They’re still 3-1, remain in first place, and just saw their All-World quarterback play like the Marvel character he’s been most of his career (but wasn’t most of last season).
The Eagles came in the desperate team and they played that way. They have the Super Bowl pedigree this young Green Bay team lacks, for now. How this team responds with extra time off and a trip to NFC powerhouse Dallas next week will offer important insight into what kind of team this is and where LaFleur is in his coaching development. This loss won’t define the season unless the Packers let it.