LOS ANGELES -- If the Green Bay Packers' season ends up in ruins -- and it looks like it could be headed that way -- it might be traced to what happened in the final minutes on Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams.
Or what happened at their own 1-yard line late in the second quarter.
Either way, those two sequences could be what prevents the Packers from salvaging their season.
And the shame of it is, they ruined what could have been a season-changing victory.
Maybe the Packers will take their near-takedown of the unbeaten Rams and use it as a galvanizing moment but the way this season has gone, that looks less and less likely with each passing week.
“It better be,” Clay Matthews said. “That’s the best team in the NFL, we hung toe to toe with them and had a chance at the end to win it. We’ve got to take that moving forward. I know we lost, but we’ve got to take that capability moving forward."
The Packers, twice in control of the game, let it get away from them not just at the end of the first half but in crunch time, too, in a gutting 29-27 loss.
The final blow was Ty Montgomery's fumbled kickoff return that the Rams recovered with 1 minute, 56 seconds to play.
But before that, it was former Packers cornerback Sam Shields' tip-toeing in front of the goal line to down a punt and pin the Packers. Then, whatever you think of coach Mike McCarthy's play call -- a run with Aaron Jones up the middle -- it didn't work, and the snowball kept rolling downhill. An improbable 10-0 lead over the NFL's only unbeaten team was all but lost after Jones got stuffed for a safety with 2:47 left and the Rams scored on their ensuing possession.
Just when it looked like they survived that -- and regained the lead thanks to more second-half magic from Aaron Rodgers -- a Packers' defense that played perhaps its best game in years, couldn't hold it. To be sure, they didn't get much help at the end from rookie punter JK Scott, whose 25-yard kick gave the Rams a short field for the go-ahead score. And just to make sure the Packers would have no chance at all, Montgomery fumbled it away.
To that point, almost everything had come up green and gold.
From a Los Angeles Coliseum that was close to half Packers fans to a dominant start by defensive tackle Kenny Clark (two first-half sacks) to pass breakup after pass breakup from first-round pick Jaire Alexander (an NFL-high five) to Jones' fast start (eight carries for 44 first-half yards), the Packers looked poised for a hallmark victory. That's just what they needed to start a bruising stretch that takes the Packers to New England next and then to Seattle and Minnesota after a home game against Dolphins.
As he usually does, McCarthy had his team ready to go after their bye week, but it wasn't sustainable.
Now, they're stuck at 3-3-1 in a season that began with legitimate Super Bowl expectations.
Of course, there is such a thing as a losing performance that can turn things around. That's about all the Packers can hope for at this point -- that hanging with the NFC's Super Bowl favorite will mean something more than just a moral victory.
“The urgency has to pick up, so maybe it does that,” Rodgers said. “But there’s no momentum gained from a loss, in my opinion. We can play with anybody, but we knew that before this game. It wasn’t like there was some revelation, ‘Oh, OK, now, yeah, we can probably play with the Rams.’ No, we can play with anybody. I’m disappointed because our defense really played well and we were just really slow going in the first half and couldn’t get a lot of things going. By the time we got back up ahead, we just had one drive to finish the game off and didn’t come up with it."
They'll need more than that if they're to survive the upcoming stretch.
And that's why an opportunity lost like the one they had Sunday could come back to cost them in the end.
“I think they’re really good,” Rodgers said of the Rams. “I think we’re pretty good, too.”
But they're running out of time to show it.