NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Justice has more important priorities than the NFC North. And so there was no recourse Sunday for the Green Bay Packers, who lost their hold on the division lead even while taking the league's top team to overtime.
|Doug Benc/Getty Images|
|Aaron Rodgers' two turnovers cost the Packers.|
The Packers gave the Titans (8-0) arguably their toughest game of the season, amassing nearly 400 offensive yards and coming within 10 yards of position for a potential game-winning field goal. But when Rod Bironas' 41-yard field goal split the uprights with 9:36 left in overtime -- lifting the Titans to a 19-16 victory -- the Packers had no choice but to accept their 4-4 record and a one-game deficit in the NFC North.
(We'll save the Chicago Bears first-place status story for another day, upon further inspection of their comeback victory against Detroit.)
"We're a good team," Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said. "But the reality is we're 4-4. What you take from this game is that close ain't good enough. ... These are the type of games that test teams and let you know exactly where you are and where you aren't. We're a good team but not good enough to get over that hump right now."
Two Packers mistakes and a late spurt from Titans rookie runner Chris Johnson were the only differences between the teams Sunday. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers committed two turnovers, one an interception in the end zone and another a fumble that Tennessee recovered on the Packers' 17-yard line. The Titans converted the latter mistake into a 22-yard field goal midway through the third quarter.
"That gave them three points," Rodgers said. "And that's the margin of victory. You can't do that. That makes me very disappointed in the way I played."
The Titans didn't commit a turnover, but they also didn't take control of the game until overtime. Green Bay limited them to 57 offensive yards on their first six possessions of the second half, and it wasn't until late in the fourth quarter that Johnson found his footing.
Johnson gained 50 of his 89 rushing yards on the Titans' final two drives, putting Bironas in position for a pair of attempts. (His 47-yarder at the end of regulation hit the right upright.)
The Packers had twice battled back from six-point deficits, and more than a few Packers players were convinced the overtime coin toss decided the game.
"It might have been different if we had won the coin toss," linebacker Brandon Chillar said. "Not to make excuses, but that's how it is. ... I'd like to play them again and see what happens."
I'll one up you, Brandon: I've already heard from some Green Bay advocates who are livid about a late call that might have given the Packers a victory in regulation had it gone the other way.
The situation: Score is tied at 16. It's second-and-four at the Packers' 35-yard line with 3:31 remaining. Rodgers spots receiver Greg Jennings streaking toward the post with a step on Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan.
The ball slips through Jennings' hands amid heavy contact from Finnegan. Officials don't call pass interference, leading Jennings into a high-energy protest that will probably draw a second look from the NFL office this week.
Worse-case scenario, the Packers would have gained control inside the red zone with a chance to take a lead -- either with little time remaining or having stripped the Titans of their timeouts. Instead, the Packers' drive stalled at the Titans' 45-yard line.
Jennings left little doubt about his opinion of the non-call -- "Did it look like I thought it was pass interference?" he said -- but appropriately refused to pin the loss on it.
"That's a play that I should make," Jennings said. "The way I play the game, I make that play. Those emotions were moreso that I thought it was pass interference. But at the same time I was more upset about still not coming out with the ball."
Later, he added: "That just shows how slim the margin of error is."
Yes, in all fairness, the Packers needed to play a perfect game to win Sunday. Two turnovers and a "dropped" pass were all it took. They don't need to be perfect to win the flawed NFC North, but as Woodson said: "Even though our division is up for grabs, we've still got to come up with wins sometime."
A few other notables from the Packers' locker room:
- Defensive tackle Justin Harrell made his season debut and was credited with three tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage. His presence gave the Packers a four-man rotation for their interior defense, which undoubtedly helped them keep Johnson at bay for most of the game. "I felt good just being out there," Harrell said. "But I'm just as disappointed [as] anybody in this locker room. I didn't want to come out here and just be happy that I played."
- The Packers started rookie Jeremy Thompson at right end, one day after the release of veteran Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. But the player who was all over the field was defensive end Mike Montgomery, who finished with a team-high 10 tackles, including one for a loss, along with a sack and a tipped pass.
- We mentioned during the game that Packers left tackle Chad Clifton was standing on the sideline, forcing the Packers to shuffle three positions along their line. According to coach Mike McCarthy, Clifton fell ill late Sunday morning and could have played if necessary in the second half. As it turned out, it was only the second game Clifton has missed since the start of the 2003 season.
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