CHARLOTTE – Their fast start must now become a second start. Midway through the season, the Packers are tied with the Vikings for first place in the NFC North.
"We're 6-2 and headed into our division," Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said following a 37-29 loss to the undefeated Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
It was a tale of two halves. The Packers lost the first half, 27-7. They won the second half, 22-10, and came within a pass completion and a two-point conversion from completing a furious rally that would've sent the game into overtime.
"Tough loss, gritty loss for us," McCarthy said. "We made way too many mistakes. Slow start, gave up big plays, digging ourselves a hole, fighting back."
It was capsule analysis of a second consecutive loss. The Packers gained 402 yards, but it wasn't enough to win because the Panthers gained 427 yards, won third down, made several big plays and, ultimately, made the play of the game when linebacker Thomas Davis intercepted Aaron Rodgers on a fourth-and-4 play from the Panthers 4-yard line.
"The last play is very disappointing," Rodgers said. "I had an easy opportunity for a pitch-and-catch touchdown."
Randall Cobb was to be the intended receiver. He came free quickly, but Rodgers got pressure in his face from Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short.
"The play call was heavy in protection. I didn't see if the quick throw was there," McCarthy said.
Rodgers believed it was and blamed himself for not completing it.
It would've completed an improbable comeback for a team that has been struggling in recent weeks to gain yards, score points and, most of all, convert third-down plays. The latter continues to be a problem.
"We didn't convert on third down. I missed a couple of passes. We've got to look at our preparation and go back and fix some things before this division stretch of schedule," Rodgers said.
"Aaron did some good things at the line of scrimmage, but our third-down conversions aren't where they need to be," McCarthy said.
McCarthy regretted having "burned two timeouts that could've helped us in the end," but he brushed off TV cameras having caught a sideline squabble between Packers defensive players.
"It's football. Things happen on the sideline. It's a product of us not playing to our standards. I have no concerns," McCarthy said.'
"We're a close-knit group, so I'm sure we'll address that. There's frustration when you don't play up to your potential," Rodgers added.
Rodgers completed 25 of 48 passes for 369 yards, four touchdowns, one interception and a 96.6 passer rating. His counterpart, Cam Newton, threw for 297 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a 104.4 passer rating; he also added 57 yards and a touchdown rushing.
"We don't take losing lightly. We're just not performing to our standard. We have no one to blame but ourselves," McCarthy said.
The Packers will host Detroit, travel to Minnesota and host Chicago in the next three games.