In a regular season filled with exceptionally difficult non-divisional matchups, the Green Bay Packers gained an enormous rare win on the West Coast with some late heroics. A final drive from Aaron Rodgers led to a game-winning field goal from Mason Crosby, finishing a hard-fought game in style for Green Bay.
While Rodgers’ valiant comeback efforts were covered in length following the victory, it was some of his mistakes in the drives leading up to the final plays that put the team in that position. Today’s musings recap those troubled possessions, while taking a look at a unique matchup within the Packers’ upcoming battle with slumping Pittsburgh.
Sunday is one of the few meetings between former Packers draft prospects TJ Watt and Kevin King — if they play
During the 2017 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers owned the 29th selection and were faced with an interesting scenario. There was a deep group of prospects still available at a variety of areas of need for Green Bay. The main contenders appeared to be Kevin King or TJ Watt - much needed defensive talent at cornerback and edge rusher. Would the team trade down or make a choice?
The result was trading the selection to Cleveland for the first pick of the second round. In the last draft of the late Ted Thompson’s career, the Packers valued the first pick of day two to re-examine their draft board before making their selection. Ultimately, Green Bay chose Kevin King to shore up their secondary after Watt was selected 30th overall. Fast forward to 2021 and Watt is one of the league’s premier pass rushers on a gigantic second contract. King, signed to a one-year deal in the offseason, is likely finishing up his final season in Green Bay after a short career filled with injuries, inconsistencies, and memorable big plays allowed.
Only once before, as rookies, have Watt and King faced off against each other. A reunion is up in the air. Both players were dealing with injuries last week - Watt hampered by a groin injury and King by a concussion. While Watt looks to be a go on Sunday at this point, King will probably be a game-time decision. As both players move in opposite directions in their careers, Sunday will be another unfortunate reminder of what could have been for Green Bay in 2017.
Aaron Rodgers’ comeback attempt was fantastic, but the Packers’ offensive possessions leading up to the final drive need to be recognized
The Packers’ win last weekend was jubilant, relieving, and a reversal of many similar scripts of years past in which Green Bay had failed to pull away and eventually given up its lead. A 37-second drive to earn the win adds to Rodgers’ career performances of note. However, if the quarterback and his offense had taken care of business on the previous two drives, the Packers would not have needed the rallying effort.
With under eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Packers had a crucial opportunity to extend their three-point advantage. Starting from their own 25-yard line, they failed to gain a yard. Rodgers threw three straight deep passes. One was to Davante Adams in double coverage that could have been caught had a helmet-to-helmet collision not occurred. The next was an ill-advised, over-thrown ball to Marquez Valdes-Scantling in double coverage. And the final play was another deep pass to Adams after a timeout, in which Rodgers missed a window to hit Adams down the sideline. An extremely poor possession with low-percentage throws led to a punt.
After being lucky to recover a fumble on the ensuing San Francisco drive, the Packers then got the ball in 49ers territory at the 38-yard line. After effectively running the ball for three plays, the Packers were faced with a third-and-four. Again, a touchdown for Green Bay could have put the game almost out of reach with less than three minutes to play. Instead of focusing on getting the first down, Rodgers and the Packers were greedy again, attempting a deep back-shoulder throw to Adams down the sideline that fell incomplete. The field goal resulted in an opportunity for the 49ers to grab the lead on their next possession.
For the Packers, this has been a sight way-too-often seen the past several seasons. While being aggressive has its benefits, there are moments in which Green Bay clearly would have benefited from drawing up and executing high-percentage plays to achieve first downs. Green Bay was able to prevail Sunday night, but it was just another example of greedy, uncreative possessions nearly costing the Packers a win.
Don’t overlook the resiliency of Mike Tomlin and the Steelers
The start of the 2021 season for Pittsburgh has been a far cry from the team’s beginning to 2020 in which the Steelers cruised to an 11-0 record. After a miserable performance on both sides of the ball against Cincinnati, especially on offense, Pittsburgh dropped down power rankings among every major outlet this week. Still, if there is one thing learned about Mike Tomlin’s teams during his tenure as head coach, they are able to bounce back in time.
In 2019, Pittsburgh was in a similar situation, opening the season 0-3 and winning one of its first four games. The Steelers would still finish 8-8 that season with the help of a four-game winning streak starting in Week 6. They also began 1-2 during the 2014 and 2015 seasons before eventually closing with 10-6 and 11-5 records. The Ben Roethlisberger that the Packers will face this week is a shell of his former self during his prime. Still, there may be no one more motivated to silence the critics of the past week and atone for his mistakes than Roethlisberger. With talent on offense, including Najee Harris, Chase Claypool, and Juju Smith-Schuster, the Steelers are still dangerous for a Packers defense that struggled as last week’s game moved along.
Pittsburgh beat a good Buffalo team in Week 1. Coming off an exciting win, Green Bay cannot overlook a Steelers team that needs an emphatic rebound.