DENVER – It was a long night right from the start.
Losing starting cornerback Sam Shields to a shoulder injury in the opening quarter didn't help. Letting the Broncos establish a running game did even more damage.
By night's end, it was another 500-yard struggle for the Packers defense, and this time the offense wasn't able to pick up the slack in a 29-10 Sunday night loss in Denver.
"It's unfortunate to put that kind of product out there like that," linebacker Clay Matthews said. "That's not indicative of this defense. We'll take a hard look at the film and figure out what went wrong."
The Green Bay Packers faced off against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday night. Photos by Jim Biever, Packers.com.
The reports of Broncos QB Peyton Manning's demise were clearly exaggerated. The Packers didn't buy into that talk all week and Manning proved them right.
He started by connecting with receiver Demaryius Thomas, who had more than 100 yards in the first half, and stayed efficient throughout (21 of 29, 340 yards). Thomas finished with eight grabs for 168 yards, and it didn't seem to matter who was guarding him.
With running backs Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson combining for 161 yards and three TDs on 31 carries, the Broncos had a balanced attack the Packers just couldn't slow down.
"If we're not stopping the run, we can't call certain things to try to stop the pass," cornerback Casey Hayward said. "As a defense, we made it hard on Dom (Capers)."
Rookie cornerback Quinten Rollins left with a shoulder injury, leaving the Packers thin in the secondary. Matthews also exited briefly with an ankle injury and later returned, but not before Anderson burst right up the middle for a 28-yard TD run that broke the game open in the third quarter.
The Packers came into the game allowing a league-best 16.8 points per game, but the Broncos had 17 by the early stages of the second quarter. Denver racked up 16 explosive gains of 15-plus yards on the night (11 pass, five run), taking chunks of yardage time and time again and reaching exactly 500 yards by game's end.
"They played faster than us," defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. "It's a good team, at home, they played better than us tonight. That's the facts of the matter.
"I have a lot of confidence in this defense. It's still a long season, but you can't play like this and expect to win."
It wasn't any better on the other side. Aaron Rodgers passed for just 77 yards and the offense gained only 140 total.
Denver's top-ranked defense lived up to its billing in every way, swarming to every tackle and keeping Rodgers moving in the pocket all night.
"They're extremely athletic up front, and they're able to run their twists and games and blitzes a little faster than other people," center Corey Linsley said. "We knew this defense was good."
Explosive plays were rare, as the offense didn't have a play longer than 17 yards in the game, and sustained drives were equally difficult to execute. Green Bay was just 2-for-8 on third downs.
"Regardless of whether we have (a big play) or not, we have to be able to move the ball," right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. "It doesn't matter if it's methodically, or if it's three big plays and a touchdown. You have to be able to put points on the board."
The Packers got a touchdown late in the second quarter and a field goal to start the third, pulling within 17-10, but still no rhythm or momentum was to be found.
The next three possessions, when needing to stay in the game, produced just two first downs, plus a sack-fumble-safety that epitomized the ugly night.
The only good thing about it is it's over, and it's never too soon to move on. Unbeaten Carolina, and an even bigger game relative to the NFC pecking order, is up next.
"We haven't lost a game in a long time," guard T.J. Lang said. "It obviously hurts, it's tough to swallow, but we're 6-1. Still got a lot of football left.
"In this league it's such a fast turnaround to the next opponent, you don't have time to really sulk about your loss. You've got to get over it pretty quick."