- Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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A review of four hot issues from the Packers' 34-30 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday:
All about Rodgers: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn't the one who ran the wrong route, an error that led to the first of his two interceptions. That was receiver James Jones, who admitted his mistake. Rodgers wasn't the one who fumbled on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter, an error that led to the Bengals' game-winning touchdown. That was running back Johnathan Franklin, who admitted his mistake. Yet the bottom line is the Packers need their quarterback to play well in order to win. Sure, that could be said about most NFL teams, and give Rodgers credit for admitting Sunday that he "played poorly, and the defense played well enough for us to win." Rodgers' frustration boiled over in the second quarter, when he and coach Mike McCarthy had a heated exchange on the sideline. Whatever their issues are, if there are any, they need to be ironed out immediately, because the Packers need Rodgers to be on top of his game.
Change of plans: When tight end Jermichael Finley got knocked out of the game with a concussion on the Packers' first series, it changed their offensive plans. Finley had been on a tear the first two weeks with 11 catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns, and he was going to be a major part of the game plan against the Bengals. "You have to be able to adjust on the sidelines," McCarthy said. "Losing Jermichael early like that, he was a featured player [Sunday]. So, you adjust, and I thought Ryan Taylor did some good things. I thought Andrew Quarless started slow, but he did some good things. It affects your rhythm. The guy that ultimately is probably affected the most by that is our quarterback." Finley got drilled by Bengals safety George Iloka on a seam route, something he hasn't run a lot of early this season. In fact, just last week he said he was fine with the short throws that have allowed him to show off his ability to break tackles and run after the catch. "I'm getting 25 [yards] on a drag route so why not nickel and dime them instead going down the seam and getting my head knocked off," Finley said last week.
Defensive differences: For all the production by the Packers defense, the unit wasn't the same without linebacker Clay Matthews in the second half. Matthews forced two of the Bengals' four first-half turnovers but then left late in the second quarter with a hamstring injury he sustained while forcing his second fumble of the game. The Packers didn't have another defensive playmaker step forward in the second half. Last year, the Packers lost Matthews for four games because of a hamstring injury. In three of those games, they had either zero or one sack.
Return questions: McCarthy and special teams coach Shawn Slocum might have to think long and hard about putting receiver Randall Cobb back on kick return duties full time. Given Cobb's importance to the offense, it would be risky, but it's hard to imagine them living with another mistake by Jeremy Ross. On Sunday, he misplayed a kickoff in the first quarter, when he failed to run up far enough to cleanly field a short kickoff and fumbled it. The Bengals recovered at the Packers' 2-yard line and scored an easy touchdown. It was the second time in four games dating to last season that Ross mishandled a kick. He muffed a punt in the playoff loss at San Francisco last January.