For the Green Bay Packers' prolific offense, there's another step to take, according to receiver Greg Jennings. Especially when the game is tight.
"We're able to win the close games, but we've gotten to the point where we need to just close the game out," Jennings said.
Closing a game out. It's easier said than done in the NFL.
For all the efficiency the Packers' displayed in their season-opening triumph over New Orleans last week – scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions, tallying five touchdowns in all and not turning the ball over even once – it almost went for naught because the offense failed to get a first down late in the fourth quarter that would have sealed the game.
To recap: Leading 42-34, the Packers recovered an onside kick with 2:14 left on the New Orleans 43-yard line. The Saints had one timeout plus the two-minute warning to stop the clock. The Packers would need one first down to avoid giving the ball back, but they went three-and-out and the Saints used the final 1:08 to drive 79 yards to the 1-yard line, where Green Bay's defense finally stopped them, saving the victory.
From the offense's point of view, it was a dramatic finish that was unnecessary.
"You want to close a game out on offense any chance you get," guard T.J. Lang said. "The goal is to get a couple of first downs and take a knee on the ball and end the game, and not put the defense in a tough situation where they have to make a last-minute stop."
The situation Lang is describing is what's called the "four-minute offense." The objective isn't to score points, because points aren't needed. The objective is to burn the clock by staying in bounds and moving the chains.
Generally, teams employ their four-minute offense when one, two or maybe three first downs will end the game, depending on the number of timeouts the opponent has remaining. It becomes critical when the point differential is one or two scores, and the losing team still has hope.
The offense wants to quash that hope, and no matter how much confidence offensive players have in their defensive teammates, it doesn't sit well to leave the field and be forced to view the game's conclusion from the sideline.
"It's definitely tough," Jennings said. "Just as a competitor, you want to be the one on the field vs. having someone else on the field and you can't control the outcome."
If there's been one discomfort in what is now a seven-game winning streak dating back to the start of last season's playoff run, it's that the offense hasn't put away some games it could have.
The NFC Wild Card win at Philadelphia was the classic example, right down to the time on the clock. Ahead 21-16, the Packers took over on their own 22 with precisely four minutes left. As Green Bay picked up one first down, the Eagles burned their remaining two timeouts.
One more first down would have iced it, but on third-and-10 just before the two-minute warning, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked and the Eagles got one more shot with 1:45 left following a punt. It took Tramon Williams' interception of Michael Vick in the end zone to advance.
In the NFC Championship, the Packers had the ball on their own 25 with 4:38 left, protecting a seven-point lead. After a three-and-out, the Bears got the ball back with 2:53 left and still had two timeouts. The Packers needed Sam Shields' late interception to seal it.
Even in the Super Bowl, the situation was slightly different, but no less frustrating. Leading 28-25, the Packers had first-and-goal on the 8-yard line with under four minutes left but failed to stretch the lead to two scores with a touchdown. The field goal Mason Crosby made forced the Steelers to score a touchdown on their final drive, but they were still in the game.
Then came New Orleans last week, when a stop on an untimed down from the 1-yard line prevented a possible overtime.
"I think it takes a toll on you, putting your defense in a position where their back is always against the wall," Jennings said.
Instead of leaving the "door" open, the offense would rather put together another display of crunch-time dominance like the one against Detroit at Lambeau Field last year. In that Week 4 win, the Packers led 28-26 and got the ball with 6:32 left. Eleven plays – eight runs, two passes, one Rodgers scramble – and five first downs later, the Packers were kneeling on the ball, victory secured.
"You know they're going to bring extra guys down in the box, they know you're going to run the football, but you still have to execute your fundamentals," center Scott Wells said.
Fans can get caught up in the play-calling at that stage, debating whether running or passing is better. Stay aggressive or go conservative. Truthfully, a good four-minute offense is a mixture of both, and the players don't worry about what's called. Lang explained that it's about attitude as much as anything. Time to impose the will.
"It's a mindset," Lang said. "You have to get all 11 guys doing the right things, everybody on the same page, and execute the plays."
Against the Saints, the Packers did that impressively and efficiently for more than 3½ quarters. One additional first down and the performance becomes almost fool-proof.
The unit is striving to be flawless, or as close to it as possible.
"I think that's the next step we have to take as a team, as an offense, where we can execute our four-minute offense to perfection," Jennings said. "I think we have the pieces to get it done. Our defense would definitely love that." Additional coverage - Sept. 15