ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – The Packers lost their fourth straight game Sunday night in Buffalo, falling 27-17 to the Bills at Highmark Stadium.
Here are five takeaways from the defeat:
1. The Bills are awfully good, but that doesn't make the result any less frustrating.
The Packers, now 3-5, fell behind 14-0 out of the gate and were facing a multi-score deficit most of the game. That's no place to be against one of the best teams in the league and a potential favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
"They came out with more intensity early on and put us in too big of a hole to climb out of," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said, who lamented that a strong week of practice lead to such a sluggish start. "Certainly our guys are disappointed, I'm disappointed, but we've got to find a way to right this thing."
2. Green Bay's defense continues to suffer through rough stretches, and the good moments aren't enough.
After an early three-and-out, the Packers' defense allowed the Bills to score on five straight possessions (three TDs, two FGs), making the score 27-10 midway through the third quarter.
Bills QB and MVP candidate Josh Allen did what he normally does, with fewer pass attempts than usual (13-of-25, 218 yards, plus 49 yards rushing), buying time to find open receivers and scrambling for key yards himself.
"Josh Allen is such a problem," LaFleur said. "He's a dynamic player, man."
Receiver Stefon Diggs had six catches for 108 yards, scoring a 26-yard TD on an out-and-up move, as big plays continued to hurt the Packers. Diggs also had a 53-yard grab, running back James Cook got loose for a 41-yard reception, and running back Devin Singletary had a 30-yard run, accounting for almost half of his 67 yards.
The Packers held the Bills to just three points in the second half and got two interceptions off Allen in the fourth quarter, but those defensive stands were too little, too late.
See scenes from the Sunday night matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium on Oct. 30, 2022.
3. The Packers found their running game, and the rookie receivers made some plays – but missed opportunities still haunted the offense.
Rookie receivers Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure also caught a TD pass each. Doubs' TD was a spectacular catch, one of two highlight-reel plays in the game among his four receptions for 62 yards. Toure's 37-yard grab on an improvised route in the fourth quarter went for his first NFL score.
"Romeo made some unbelievable plays in this game," LaFleur said. "That touchdown catch he had was fantastic. I was happy with the way they competed."
But two failed fourth downs in Buffalo territory – the second on fourth-and-1 early in the fourth quarter on a run call LaFleur regretted with the Bills playing no safeties back – and a TD catch by tight end Robert Tonyan wiped out by offensive pass interference when he aggressively shook off contact from a defender, all proved pivotal in the end.
"Just the discipline aspect, we're getting killed in penalties, and it's taking points off the board, it's extending drives," LaFleur said, referring to eight flags for 58 yards on the night.
"We had opportunities where we didn't always cash in. Having Bobby's TD come off the board, a bad fourth down call by me – they played cover zero – that's tough sledding. We just have to finish drives, and you can't get that far behind against one of the premier teams in this league."
4. The great running game isn't going to be enough to turn things around by itself.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn't surpass 200 yards passing until very late in the game, and explosive plays through the air remained hard to come by.
"I think we've got to find that balance," LaFleur said. "I'm super proud of our ability to come off the ball. The backs were running hard. Aaron did a fantastic job getting us in and out of good looks. But we have to be able to mix it up a little bit, and that fourth down is a great representation of that."
Theoretically, a strong running game should open up more passing options, but Rodgers was under duress much of the night, even though he was sacked only two times.
"Early on we had a hard time holding up (in pass protection)," LaFleur said. "It seemed like the pass rush, the whole pocket engulfed on him. We need a little more variance I would say (with line calls or pocket movement) to protect him to allow him to get back there and do what he does."
5. Playing shorthanded certainly didn't help, due to injuries and a damaging, self-inflicted ejection.
The Packers determined before the game left guard Elgton Jenkins (foot) couldn't play, so rookie Zach Tom stood in. Receiver Christian Watson (concussion) was lost on the first series of the game, and linebacker De'Vondre Campbell (knee) also exited.
Fellow inside linebacker Quay Walker's ejection in the first half was the most upsetting though, as he shoved a non-uniformed member of Buffalo's sideline personnel at the end of a play. With him and Campbell both out, the Packers were down to Isaiah McDuffie and newly acquired Eric Wilson in the middle of the defense.
"I don't know exactly what happened, I could not see it, but like I told him on the field, it's always the second guy, and you've got to keep your poise," LaFleur said. "It's something we talk about, we stress all the time, and we showed clips of guys around the league losing their mind.
"It's an unfortunate lesson that he's got to learn, and I hope it's a good reminder for everyone on our football team. That's the kind of stuff I have zero tolerance for. Mistakes are going to happen in this game, but losing your cool, losing your poise, putting your team in jeopardy, I've got no tolerance for that."