Green Bay Packers: Michael Johnson

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers were on the field for 2,216 plays combined on offense and defense this season and several hundred more on special teams.

As we look back on the season, we will examine 10 plays, subjectively chosen, as the ones that most shaped the Packers' season that ended with Sunday's 23-20 NFC wild-card playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field.

The list, so far, in reverse order:

No. 10: Micah Hyde's near interception.

No. 9: Enter quarterback Matt Flynn.

Here's No. 8:

Date: Sept. 22, 2013.

Location: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati.

Game: Packers vs. Bengals.

The play: Running back Johnathan Franklin's fumble that Bengals cornerback Terence Newman returned 58 yards for a touchdown with 3:47 remaining.

Why it mattered: The Packers were clinging to a 30-27 lead when they faced fourth-and-1 from the Bengals' 30-yard line. Coach Mike McCarthy decided to go for it figuring that if they converted it, they probably could run out the clock. But when Franklin tried to leap over the pile for the first down, he fumbled, setting off crazy play that ultimately decided the game. Defensive end Michael Johnson forced the fumble, which was recovered by safety Reggie Nelson. Packers receiver Randall Cobb then stripped the ball from Nelson, but Newman picked it up and went the distance. The loss dropped the Packers to 1-2 heading their bye week.

Quotable: “Probably over-thought it because my initial thought was to kick the field goal,” McCarthy said. “I'm paid to make those decisions. When they go wrong, I'm responsible.”

Fines signal officiating mistakes

September, 27, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When players are fined for hits that were not penalized during the game, it’s essentially an admission of an officiating error.

For the second straight week, that applied to a Green Bay Packers' opponent.

On Friday, the NFL announced it fined Cincinnati Bengals safety George Iloka $15,000 for his unpenalized hit during the first quarter of Sunday’s game that left Packers tight end Jermichael Finley with a concussion.

A league spokesman said Iloka was fined for “unnecessarily striking a defenseless player in the head and neck area.”

Finley could not return to the game, and his status is unknown for the Packers’ next game, following their bye, against Detroit on Oct. 6.

That fine came a week after Washington Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather was fined $42,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Packers running back Eddie Lacy, who also was forced to leave the game with a concussion. Lacy did not play against the Bengals. Like in the case with Iloka, the game officials did not call a penalty on Meriweather.

Also on Friday, the league announced that Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was fined a total of $31,000 for two infractions against the Packers -- one that was called a penalty and one that was not. He was docked $21,000 for “unnecessarily striking a defenseless player (Packers receiver James Jones) in the head and neck area” and another $10,000 for “striking” Packers tight end Ryan Taylor in the groin area. Burfict was not flagged for striking Taylor, who was penalized but not fined after he retaliated against Burfict.

Two other Packers players who were called for personal fouls -- linebacker Nick Perry and cornerback Tramon Williams -- were not fined. Neither was Bengals safety Reggie Nelson for his roughing the passer penalty against Aaron Rodgers, nor defensive end Michael Johnson for hitting Rodgers low, which also wasn’t penalized.

Examining the fourth-and-1 fumble

September, 22, 2013
CINCINNATI -- The question perhaps shouldn’t be about Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Cincinnati Bengals’ 30-yard line late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game at Paul Brown Stadium.

Rather, it might be about the play he selected.

McCarthy’s decision was an aggressive one. Pick up the first down, and the Packers might have been able to melt away the final four minutes of the clock and escape with a 30-27 victory.

But calling running back Johnathan Franklin's number was a risk that blew up on McCarthy. Without trusted fullback John Kuhn (inactive with a hamstring injury) to block, the 5-foot-10, 205-pound Franklin did not have a lead blocker to follow. And when he tried to leap for the first down, Franklin fumbled, setting off a wild play that ultimately decided the game.

Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson forced Franklin’s fumble, which was recovered by safety Reggie Nelson. Packers receiver Randall Cobb nearly prevented a disaster when he knocked the ball away from Nelson, but Bengals cornerback Terence Newman picked it up and ran 58 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 3:47 to play.

“Obviously, I thought that we could convert it; that’s why we called the play,” McCarthy said. “We didn’t get it done. That’s the profession of play-calling. When it works, it’s excellent execution by your players and when it doesn’t, it’s the play-caller.”

McCarthy said his first thought was to attempt a field goal. But with time to think about it after the Bengals successfully challenged the spot on the previous play in which Cobb was initially ruled to have gotten a first down on a third-and-12 reception, McCarthy went for the kill shot.

“Probably over-thought it because my initial thought was to kick the field goal,” McCarthy said. “I’m paid to make those decisions. When they go wrong, I’m responsible.”

The problem was Franklin, being a small back, couldn’t power his way through the line. When a player leaves his feet, the ball often becomes more exposed. Perhaps an outside run or a toss play – or even a sneak by quarterback Aaron Rodgers – might have worked.

Franklin’s inexperience also may have played a role in his fumble. The rookie had not played a snap on offense the first two weeks but was forced into duty because James Starks, who started in place of the inactive Eddie Lacy (concussion), was lost to a knee injury late in the second quarter.

Until his fumble, Franklin was working on an heroic debut. He rushed for 103 yards on 13 carries -- all in the second half -- and scored his first NFL touchdown on a 2-yard run in the third quarter.

“I’ve just got to keep it high and tight,” Franklin said. “It’s no excuse for what I was doing or how I was doing it. It’s all about technique. It’s a big play, a big down, and I’ve got to make a play for my team regardless of whether it’s my first game or not. If they call on me, I’ve got to do my job.”

Combined with Starks’ 132-yard rushing performance in Week 2 against the Washington Redskins, Franklin gave the Packers back-to-back 100-yard games by running backs since Weeks 16-17 of the 2007 season with Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson.