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Missed chances, penalties hurt Packers as 23-21 loss to Commanders drops them to 3-4

Plenty of self-inflicted wounds hurt the Packers once again on Sunday as they dropped below .500 and find themselves in a three-game losing streak.

Green Bay Packers v Washington Commanders Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The last several games for the Green Bay Packers have seen them give up huge runs of points to their opposition. Last week, the New York Jets scored 14 straight points early in the third quarter to pull away from Green Bay. The week before in London, the Giants put up 17 straight.

On Sunday afternoon, following the Packers opening up a 14-3 lead over the Washington Commanders, the Taylor Heinicke-led Commanders scored 20 straight points from the late second through the early fourth quarters, eventually taking a two-possession lead over the green and gold midway through the final stanza. Late-game heroics were not meant to be in this one, as the Pack

Early on, however, Packers fans had every reason to feel good. Even without David Bakhtiari, the Packers chose not to scrap their plans to move Elgton Jenkins to guard, doing so with Yosh Nijman at right tackle and by giving rookie Zach Tom his first career start in Bakhtiari’s traditional left tackle spot. Then early on, the team clearly matched up All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander on Washington’s number one receiver, Terry McLaurin, delivering on some of the calls dominating the conversation around the team.

The Packers even got a defensive score with their first takeaway in three games, a pick-six from linebacker De’Vondre Campbell. But early missed opportunities — the Packers had multiple chances for more picks early on that they dropped — and frequent penalties all game long kept the team from having any consistency. To make matters worse, the two combined to cost the team seven points as an illegal contact call on Eric Stokes wiped away another defensive score, a would-be fumble return touchdown for Rasul Douglas.

Then there was Amari Rodgers’ failures on punt returns rearing their ugly heads again. Rodgers muffed one punt that led to Washington’s first points and let another bounce outside the 10 only to be downed at the one-yard line.

There’s all that and Aaron Rodgers’ brutal game once again barely even registered yet. He finished the game 23 of 35 for 194 yards and two scores, both to Aaron Jones, but that stat line does not do justice to how out of sync he looked, both with his receivers and his play-caller. All of those factors combined to drop the Packers to 3-4 on the season with their 23-21 loss to Washington.

The big story coming out of the tunnel was the Packers’ starting offensive line. With David Bakhtiari out, there was some concern that the team would scrap its plan to move Elgton Jenkins back to left guard. Instead, the Packers stuck with that plan and started Zach Tom at left tackle instead, going with a lineup of Tom-Jenkins-Josh Myers-Jon Runyan-Yosh Nijman from left to right.

On the opening drive, the Packers also delivered on their promise to get Aaron Jones more involved early on. He touched the ball on each of the first four plays of the game, moving the chains once, but a drop by Allen Lazard on an early third down sent Pat O’Donnell on to punt. He angled a beautiful 55-yarder out of bounds at the three-yard line, helping the Packers’ defense force an early three-and-out from Washington.

After a holding penalty on the Commanders on the first punt attempt, Amari Rodgers returned the second attempt to Washington’s 42-yard line. The Packers got an early lead, with Aaron Rodgers going back to Lazard twice for gains of 11 and 12 yards on the series. On 2nd and goal from the six-yard line, Rodgers hit Jones on a short pass in traffic and the running back weaved through the Commanders’ defense to the end zone and a 7-0 Packers lead.

Another quick three-and-out for the Commanders led to a punt, but Amari Rodgers went back to doing Amari Rodgers things. He muffed the catch on the kick, and Washington recovered at the Packers’ 17. The defense held, however, forcing an incomplete pass on 3rd and goal and yielding a chip-shot field goal as Washington got on the board.

The Packers’ offense went into its shell on the ensuing drive, however, put in a bind by a holding penalty on first down and punting back to the Commanders three plays later. But after a nice pass from Heinicke to Curtis Samuel, he tried to throw short to J.D. McKissic out of the backfield and De’Vondre Campbell stepped in front of the route. Campbell snatched the football away from McKissic and rumbled 63 yards for a touchdown, the first points of the season for the Packers’ defense and just the fifth turnover the unit has forced all season.

Of course, the Packers’ defense taketh away, but it also giveth, and the next drive saw them giveth up multiple big chunks of yardage on the ground. After a 20-yard gain by Antonio Gibson, Rashan Gary lost the edge on a Brian Robinson run that went for another big gain. Robinson appeared to cough up the football after making contact with the ground. The Packers challenged the down by contact ruling, however, with Robinson indeed losing control, but he re-established control on the ground before it popped back out and the 24-yard gain was upheld. Three plays later, Heinicke found Gibson in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown as Washington got back within a possession at 14-10.

Once again, the Packers’ offense put itself in a bind, as Aaron Jones lost six yards on first down and Nijman got called for another holding penalty the next play. After another punt, the Commanders took over and the Packers’ defense appeared to have its second touchdown of the day. Rashan Gary sacked Heinicke and forced a fumble that Rasul Douglas scooped up and returned for an apparent touchdown, but the side judge threw a penalty flag for illegal contact on Eric Stokes — a very questionable call at best that wiped away the score. Luckily, the Packers didn’t give up points as a third-down pass breakup from Douglas led to Joey Slye doinking a 47-yard field goal attempt off the right upright.

Yet another holding penalty got the offense far behind the sticks and led to a punt with about 90 seconds left, but the Packers defense forced a punt of their own to give the offense one last chance with just under a minute left. Of course, Amari Rodgers found a new way to make a mistake, allowing the ball to bounce outside the 10-yard line and get downed at the 1, so the Packers ran out the clock on the half instead.

At halftime, the two teams had combined for just 87 passing yards — the lowest number in the first half of any NFL game this season — and 66 penalty yards.

Coming out of the half, the Commanders worked in some run game wrinkles, getting across midfield on a quick end-around to Curtis Samuel. A few plays later, Heinicke tried his first real deep pass attempt of the game and he delivered a strike, finding Terry McLaurin over Jaire Alexander’s coverage for a 37-yard touchdown. That gave Washington its first lead of the game at 17-14, forcing the Packers to respond.

They did not.

The Packers picked up one first down on a pass to Allen Lazard — which saw him banged up after the tackle — but Rodgers’ pass to Romeo Doubs on 3rd and 2 from near midfield went incomplete. Rodgers’ throw was off-target, but still catchable, and Doubs was unable to haul it in once again, yielding O’Donnell’s fifth punt of the game.

As has been the case so often in the second half of games this season, the Packers’ defense found itself unable to get off the field. Washington’s next drive saw them pick up five first downs and eat up almost nine minutes of clock before a stop in the red zone forced a field goal and kept the game within a touchdown. Joey Slye hit from 31 to make the score 20-14 in favor of the Commanders, but the stop was also a costly one as Rashan Gary left the field to be evaluated for a concussion.

The final play of the third quarter was the start of Green Bay’s next drive, and Rodgers got off to a good start with a 17-yard gain on a slant. Another pair of Aaron Jones carries moved the chains a second time, but yet again the offense stalled out just across midfield. This time, it was a 4th-and-1 on a designed quick pass to Romeo Doubs, but again he bobbled the football rather than catching it cleanly — with an assist from Sammy Watkins forgetting to block his man on the outside — and saw the attempt fall incomplete.

The Commanders would extend their lead to two possessions a handful of plays later, with the big play coming on a third-and-8 pickup to Curtis Samuel that saw 15 yards tacked on for an unsportsmanlike conduct call on Eric Stokes. Yet another red zone stop near the goal line set up Slye to kick a short field goal to put Washington up by nine.

Finally, for the first time all game, the Packers drove the length of the field for a score. An 8-play drive benefitted from a pair of Commanders penalties, including a big defensive pass interference call, before Rodgers scrambled and found Aaron Jones on a broken play. The two connected for a 21-yard touchdown, pulling the Packers back within two points at 23-21.

With 3:26 to play and all three timeouts, the Packers elected to kick away to the Commanders. They would not see the football again until there were just seconds left, failing to prevent Washington from gaining a pair of first downs Both came through the Heinicke-to-McLaurin connection, with the second taking place on 3rd-and-9 just before the two-minute warning after the Packers had used their final timeout. McLaurin was forced out of bounds, however, giving the team a tiny chance of getting the football back with a bit of time remaining if they could finally get a stop.

They did, and Washington punted away and the Packers took over at their own 18 with 23 seconds left. Rodgers found Sammy Watkins for a 30-yard gain to near midfield, but there were just five seconds remaining when the Packers managed to spike the ball to stop the clock. The ensuing miracle attempt was a mass of humanity, with the Packers completing a series of at least four laterals before Rodgers ended up with the ball back in his hands deep downfield. But his cross-field pass skipped through the legs of Jon Runyan and out of bounds, and the Packers finally, and officially, dropped to 3-4 on the season.

The Packers head to Buffalo next week to play the Bills on Sunday Night Football.