CHARLOTTE, N.C. – T.J. Lang didn’t care that the Green Bay Packers made a game of it on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, that rookie cornerback Damarious Randall’s fourth-quarter interception gave Aaron Rodgers a short field for a game-tying drive in the final minutes.
The Packers right guard wasn’t going to let himself -- or his struggling team -- slip into a false sense of security.
Rodgers couldn’t finish off the drive, missing a wide-open Randall Cobb on fourth-and-goal from the Panthers’ 4-yard line and instead throwing a game-sealing interception, and that left many in the loser’s locker room at Bank of America Stadium to deal with the reality that the 37-29 loss to the NFC’s lone unbeaten was at one point a 23-point rout in the fourth quarter.
“I know we had the chance, but they put it on us for most of the game,” Lang said. “That’s the thing that is probably the most disappointing, is just the holes that we’re digging ourselves. It’s something that we’ve got to get the mistakes corrected. There’s too many guys doing the wrong thing, guys just kind of slipping up, taking their turns having their bad plays. I think it’s bad timing. We’ve got to get back to what we were doing in the first six games, and we were winning.”
Don’t be fooled by their 6-2 record. The Packers can’t be reasonably classified as a respectable outfit right now, and here’s why: Their only substantive offense came in what Rodgers called “school-yard ball” late in the game, and their defense has shown holes in back-to-back losses to the Broncos and Panthers that defensive coordinator Dom Capers can’t seem to fix.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Yeah, we’re 6-2. We should be happy about it,’” Lang said. “Just the way these last two games have gone, there’s a lot of frustration. We need to get better.”
Capers, Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy will have that chance. This week starts a run of four straight NFC North games, a must-win stretch considering they have fallen into a division tie with the Minnesota Vikings.
By now, the ugly details of the Packers’ second-straight loss have been sufficiently rehashed -- from the offensive struggles, to the sideline scuffle among defensive teammates to the injuries, most notably to running back Eddie Lacy.
“There's a lot of fight, a lot of grit,” McCarthy said. “We're just not performing to our standard, and that's what I think clearly everybody's frustrated at. No one to blame but ourselves.”
It’s a lot for McCarthy and his staff to fix in a short time. Those next four games -- home against the Lions, at the Vikings, home against the Bears on Thanksgiving and at Detroit -- take place in an 18-day stretch.
Even if they turn things around during it, who’s to say they can consistently win games on the road against teams such as the Panthers, who now have the inside track for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
“We’ve shown in the past we can win on the road,” said Rodgers, who rebounded from his 77-yard passing performance against Denver with 369 yards and four touchdowns (and the one interception). “I feel confident that we can do it down the line.”
At this point, however, there’s a lack of hard evidence to support Rodgers’ claim.
“We’ve played two really good opponents, who were undefeated, at their place,” Rodgers said. “I think we flip those home and away there, and I think we could be 8-0 sitting here. We’re not, obviously. We’re 6-2. We’ve got eight games in front of us. We have a tough stretch right now but I feel great about our football team. I think we’re moving in the right direction. Guys are making plays. We’ve just got to clean some things up mentally.”