GREEN BAY – It didn't take long for Aaron Rodgers to get right to the point.
"Tonight, we had a couple of good quarters and a couple stinkers," he said within seconds of starting his postgame remarks. "That's just not consistent, winning football."
It was enough to beat the Panthers, 24-16, on Saturday night at Lambeau Field, but just barely.
An offense that started on fire with three straight touchdowns morphed into a struggling unit that was dropping passes, taking sacks, and hardly moving the chains.
During a span of five possessions through the second and third quarters, the Packers had just three first downs, went three-and-out three times, and let a lesser opponent back into what had been a 21-3 game.
Then, needing one first down to close it out, they went from second-and-3 to fourth-and-18 after a stuffed run and season-high fifth sack, forcing them to punt for the sixth time in a stretch of seven drives.
It was frustrating as well as concerning with a playoff-caliber opponent in Tennessee visiting next week and the real playoffs starting soon enough. The Packers are two wins away from securing the NFC's No. 1 seed, a first-round bye, and home-field throughout, but there wasn't much celebration of that status following such a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance.
"We just know that type of football in the second half (is) not gonna get it done in the playoffs," Rodgers said. "That's where we're going."
Stating a review of the film is necessary to fully understand what went wrong, Rodgers and Head Coach Matt LaFleur offered some immediate thoughts.
For one, Davante Adams (seven catches, 42 yards) didn't get enough chances and the Packers didn't adjust when the Panthers focused on taking him away. Adams' team-record streak of games with a TD catch ended at eight. He had just two catches for four yards in the second half, and LaFleur regretted not moving him around and putting him in motion more.
"We gotta keep finding ways to get him the ball because he's just so dynamic," Rodgers said. "And we'll look at all of it. It is frustrating, but we're 11-3, we won the game. That's a good problem to have."
There were regrets for not sticking with the running game, too. Aaron Jones rushed for 114 of his 145 yards in the first half. The Panthers clamped down on him a bit, but Jones still had runs of 10, 5 and 7 yards in the second half, and more commitment there could have taken some of the heat off Rodgers. It didn't help that Jamaal Williams left with a quad injury, but Jones still had just eight carries in the second half.
"It definitely there was more pressure on our quarterback tonight than we've seen probably since the Tampa Bay game," LaFleur said. "It seemed like once it started to snowball, we could just never get out of the rut."
The Packers get an extra day to parse through this one, having played on a Saturday, and they'll use it. Rodgers said "just nothing felt good" and admitted his history-making 40th TD pass was "bittersweet." LaFleur will review his play calls with a critical eye.
The epitome of the struggles was probably the third-and-4 with just under two minutes left to close out the game. The Panthers were out of timeouts, so a first down ends it.
Lambeau Field hosted a Week 15 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.
Last week in the same situation, a play-action bootleg pass worked smoothly to tight end Robert Tonyan, and that was that. This time, the play-action boot led to a 14-yard sack when Carolina's leading sacker, Brian Burns, was somehow left unblocked on the play side to which Rodgers was rolling.
Was the call too predictable? Was it a missed assignment? Should somebody have recognized the play was doomed and done something different?
All will be part of the postmortem discussion. The league's highest-scoring offense hasn't gotten bogged down too often this season, but when it has, it's been hard to snap back into form.
The last three quarters at Tampa were forgettable. A lengthy lull at Indy proved costly. Those are playoff teams. So are next week's Titans.
"Tonight, as fun as the first couple quarters were, it's not going to be the easiest night of sleep thinking about the second half," Rodgers said.
"We've got to figure out offensively what happened there and get ready for a good football team coming in."
And more good ones next month, too.