GREEN BAY – It seems almost inconceivable.
A team from Arizona, with a 2-9 record, coming to a snowy, blustery, 34-degree Lambeau Field in early December, is the type of opponent the Packers routinely defeat, no matter how the season is going.
But even the apparent perfect tonic for a struggling squad didn't produce a victory for Green Bay on Sunday, as the Packers fell, 20-17, when veteran kicker Mason Crosby's 49-yard field goal try as time expired sailed wide right.
"We didn't play well today, I'm not going to sit out here and try to sugarcoat it," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said moments after his team fell to 4-7-1, virtually out of the NFC playoff picture, with its fifth loss in six games since the bye week.
"Not good enough. Disappointing, and that's where we stand."
A sluggish third quarter saw the Packers' offense stuck in the middle of eight straight failed third-down conversions and their defense suddenly start hemorrhaging big plays.
Arizona's 10 straight points gave the Cardinals a 17-10 lead, and the Packers didn't respond until midway through the fourth quarter, with a 95-yard touchdown drive.
The string of failed third downs ended with a completion to Davante Adams (eight catches, 93 yards, TD), and then Adams' spinning, toe-tap catch for 19 yards along the sideline set up Aaron Jones' game-tying 8-yard touchdown run, giving the Packers a chance to avert disaster.
But even a first-down sack by Dean Lowry on the Cardinals' next drive didn't hold up, as newly signed safety Eddie Pleasant dropped an easy interception from Arizona QB Josh Rosen that hit him right in the chest. After a delay of game made it third-and-23, Rosen then found a diving Larry Fitzgerald for 32 yards, and a handful of plays later, the Cardinals were kicking the go-ahead field goal with 1:41 left.
"Extremely disappointed in the outcome today," McCarthy said. "But we made too many mistakes, and you can't win games like that. We got into a tight game, and they made the big play there in the fourth quarter."
Down to one timeout, the Packers gave themselves one final shot. A fourth-down pass to tight end Jimmy Graham kept the game alive. A scramble by Aaron Rodgers and a quick flip over the middle to Randall Cobb put the ball on the Arizona 31 in the final seconds, but Crosby missed.
"I felt pretty confident we were going to have a chance to score," McCarthy said. "We were not as clean as you'd like on that final drive, but anytime you give Mason a chance you feel pretty good about that."
Only it shouldn't have come down to that, not against the 30th-ranked run defense and a team with a rookie quarterback who completed less than half of his passes (11-of-26) playing in Packer conditions.
But the Packers, who lost two starters on the offensive line to injury again, this time on the right side, managed just 98 yards rushing (half of them on Rodgers scrambles and two reverses to rookie receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling). The defense gave up five gains between 23 and 39 yards in the second half, and the offense – as has been the story all season – couldn't convert on third down. The final numbers were 3-for-14, after starting the game 2-for-2.
"It's the same things we unfortunately say every week," Rodgers said. "I hate to repeat myself, but it's applicable. We're just not on the same page consistently, not executing the right way.
"It's the same stuff. Poor throws, not on the same page with the receivers, wrong depth, protection – we all have a part in that, and we've all picked our time to mess up a third down."
Rodgers' unsightly 79.8 passer rating actually topped Rosen's paltry 61.2, and the Packers QB was only sacked once, but the stagnation on offense from early on returned after a 10-point second quarter gave Green Bay the halftime lead.
Four consecutive second-half drives netted just three first downs and 31 total yards prior to desperation time. Even then, Rodgers was frustrated at some off-target throws that didn't give his receivers much opportunity to gain yards after the catch, but the periodic drops were damaging as well.
"I gotta make some of those throws, we have to catch the ball," Rodgers said. "We had chances and it just wasn't pretty.
"It's just frustrating. This is a game we have won in the past, expected to win. A dome team, 35 degrees, snow, wind, playing right into our hands, and we just came out flat."
Again, it's inconceivable, given what was at stake, but the Packers now will be playing out the string in a second consecutive playoff-less season after eight straight trips to the postseason.
"End of the day, there's no excuses," McCarthy said.
"I didn't do a good enough job today. I felt we were ready for the game, but we just weren't sharp enough, and you could make the case they made one more play than we did. We missed a number of opportunities throughout the game."