Sunday, November 24, 2013
Defense spoils Matt Flynn's comeback
By Rob Demovsky
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Matt Flynn took the field to a hero's welcome from much of the 77,871 at Lambeau Field on Sunday when he entered the game midway through the third quarter.
He walked off as just another victim of a blown opportunity by the Green Bay Packers' defense.
Not even Flynn's remarkable relief effort could make up for the defensive deficiencies that have befallen the Packers ever since Aaron Rodgers' broken collarbone altered this season's path on Nov. 4.
Point to the quarterback carousel all you want. Few, if any, teams could thrive playing four quarterbacks in as many weeks. But in the transition from Rodgers to Seneca Wallace to Scott Tolzien and now to Flynn, there have been issues elsewhere, too.
"We haven't handled Aaron Rodgers' departure [well]," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "I haven't talked about it on purpose. That hasn't worked, and we all need to step up as a football team and take advantage of these opportunities."
Sure, the Packers' ended their three-game losing streak on Sunday. But they didn't win, either. No one -- not even Flynn -- was celebrating the 26-26 tie with the Minnesota Vikings that left the Packers at 5-5-1 and prevented them from moving into a three-way tie with the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions -- both Sunday losers -- for first place in the NFC North at 6-5.
McCarthy called the Packers' first draw since Sept. 20, 1987 against the Denver Broncos "an empty feeling."
"You go out there and you didn't lose the game," he said, "but you feel like you didn't really accomplish what you set out to do."
Flynn nearly did that.
McCarthy turned to him after Tolzien, who was making his second straight start, went three and out on his first series of the second half. Flynn inherited a 20-7 deficit when he took the field with 8:22 remaining in the third quarter. The deficit grew to 23-7 before Flynn started to look like he did in 2011, when he last played for the Packers and set single-game team records for passing yards (480) and touchdown passes (six) in a Week 17 start against the Detroit Lions before he left in free agency the following offseason.
In throwing for 218 yards on 21-of-36 passing with one touchdown, Flynn rallied the Packers from a 16-point deficit -- with some help from the defense, which actually finished regulation with three straight fourth-quarter stops -- to get the game to overtime. He directed three straight fourth-quarter scoring drives, two touchdowns and a field goal. He then led an overtime drive that Mason Crosby capped with a 20-yard field goal to give the Packers their first lead since it was 7-6 in the second quarter.
"I had no doubt," said Flynn, who was re-signed on Nov. 12. "Looking at the guys' eyes in the huddle, I don't think there was any doubt, especially when we started to make some plays. I think that hyped up the sideline, hyped up the guys and we just felt like we did some stuff. That's how you've got to go about it. That's the mentality you have to have. I'm proud of the guys for fighting. But we've got to finish."
He couldn't do that on the first possession of overtime. On third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Flynn had Jordy Nelson on a fade route but badly overthrew him.
"I wasn't exactly sure what angle Jordy was going to come out and he came out flat and I just haven't gotten enough reps with Jordy," Flynn said. "I was set to throw it a little bit higher than he was. I could've maybe at the last minute tried to stick it in there, but I didn't want to take any chances when we're down there. I knew we'd come away with points. I didn't want to make a throw that I wasn't 100 percent sure about."
A touchdown would have ended the game, but the field goal put the game back in the hands of the defense.
Three weeks ago, the Packers had a top-five run defense. The past three weeks, they've been blown off the ball. The Vikings nearly had two 100-yard running backs. Adrian Peterson rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries, and Toby Gerhart added 91 yards on eight carries.
In the past three games, the Packers have surrendered 514 yards rushing. In the first six games of the season, they allowed just 474 yards rushing.
"It's just the same old problems -- missed tackles and not fitting where we're supposed to be," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said.
Still, there was a chance for redemption in overtime after Crosby gave the Packers the lead. After Mike Daniels sacked Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder for one of the Packers' six sacks, they were two plays away from a win on third-and-9. But in a flash, Peterson ripped off a 15-yard run to keep the drive going. Gerhart then had gains of 9, 12 and 11 yards that led to Blair Walsh's game-tying 35-yard field goal with 3:49 left in overtime.
And with that, the improbable story of a comeback victory led by Flynn was no more. A comeback tie doesn't quite have the same magic.
"I would've been amazing," Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "I felt like the tide was shifting. We were trying to take the momentum back. We got some big stops at the end defensively to get it into overtime, and we just couldn't find a way. That's kind of been the story of this season, especially defensively. We couldn't find a way to get off the field and make that play when we needed to to end the game."