The Packers took on the 1-1 Cincinnati Bengals this week along the Ohio riverfront. Much like Aaron Rodgers' first game against the Bengals, this one was sloppy and marred by poor play and turnovers on both sides. In the end, the Bengals emerged victorious on the heels of the recovery of a Johnathan Franklin fumble that was returned for a touchdown. In winning this game, the Bengals became the first team in NFL history to lead a game by 14 or more points, trail that same game later on by 16 or more points, and eventually come back to win (hat tip to the FOX stats guys who showed that stat on the broadcast).
The game started off in about the worst possible manner for the Packers. After giving up a touchdown on a long opening drive by the Bengals, Jeremy Ross muffed the ensuing kickoff and Cincinnati ran the ball up the gut for another touchdown on the next play from scrimmage to take a 14-0 lead.
But after the first six minutes of the game, the Packers defense was the story for the remainder of the first half. First, Sam Shields intercepted an Andy Dalton intended for A.J. Green along the sideline, leading to a Mason Crosby field goal. Two plays later, Brad Jones forced a fumble on Jermaine Gresham, and A.J. Hawk recovered. No score ensued, but the field position battle was flipped.
On the next drive, the Bengals lined up to run on third and one, but Clay Matthews anticipated the snap count and brought BenJarvus Green-Ellis down from behind, forcing a fumble that was picked up by M.D. Jennings. The Doctor got up and took the ball 24 yards into the zone for the first Packer touchdown of the day. The Packers then proceeded to force a fourth straight turnover - Andy Dalton escaped a sack from Davon House, but he was brought down by Matthews and Datone Jones, losing the football in the process as Brad Jones recovered. That led to yet another Crosby field goal, and Crosby kicked a third three-pointer as the first half clock ran down to zero.
The big story of the first half on offense was injuries and ineffectiveness, but the first drive of the second half put at least some of those concerns to rest. With Jermichael Finley out due to a concussion suffered in the first half and James Starks hurting a knee late in the first half, the tight ends and running backs were down to a skeleton crew. Johnathan Franklin was in at running back, and he caught a pass for seven yards and ran the ball four times for 20 yards, finishing off a solid drive with a touchdown on a run wide to the left side to put Green Bay up 23-14.
Franklin was the star on the next drive, as he showed great patience and found a seam before shaking a tackler and running 51 yards up the sideline. Jordy Nelson made another great tip-toe catch on the right sideline before James Jones caught a bullet from Aaron Rodgers in the corner for a touchdown to make the score 30-14.
The Bengals came back firing though, as Giovani Bernard broke through the line for a big gain and Dalton found A.J. Green for a touchdown in the corner to pull the Bengals back within two scores at 30-21. James Jones then cut a slant route short and left Aaron Rodgers hanging out to dry as his pass was intercepted by Terence Newman near midfield. Two sacks on the ensuing drive (by Tramon Williams and Mike Daniels) forced the Bengals into a long field goal attempt of 52 yards, which Mike Nugent missed wide left.
The Bengals continued to move the ball with Clay Matthews limited and off the field with a hamstring issue, as Bernard and Marvin Jones picked up big gains through the air, with Jones ending up on the receiving end of a touchdown from Dalton. Jones shook Tramon Williams in coverage and was wide open for a diving catch to pull the Bengals within three points, but Datone Jones was able to get penetration on the extra point attempt and block it to keep the game at 30-27.
The Packers moved the ball well on the next drive, but after Randall Cobb was ruled to have picked up a first down at the 35, Marvin Lewis challenged the spot and won, putting the Packers at a 4th-and-inches. They handed it to Franklin, who fumbled the football, and the Bengals defense recovered it and returned it for a go-ahead touchdown to put the Bengals up 34-30 and in the lead for the first time since the first half.
Rodgers got the ball back with just under four minutes to go and two timeouts, down by four. Short passing got the Packers into scoring territory, but from the 23-yard line, Rodgers had passes tipped at the line of scrimmage on both third and fourth down to put the final nail in the coffin.
Among the Packers suffering injuries today were Jermichael Finley (concussion), James Starks (knee) and Clay Matthews (hamstring, dammit). Thankfully, a bye week next Sunday means that they'll have a full week off to recover.
The Packers drop to 1-2 heading into the bye, while the Bengals are now 2-1 with a trip to Cleveland on deck next week.