GREEN BAY — Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers had spent much of the short week saying over and over again how No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams needed to be more involved in the Green Bay Packers’ offense.
Thursday night’s 34-27 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles proved them right — in two very different ways.
Adams caught 10 passes for 180 yards to resuscitate what had been the Packers moribund offense during a defense-fueled 3-0 start, but it was on his 10th and final catch with 10 minutes, 52 seconds left in the game.
It was after that play — a 13-yard reception by Adams that gave the Packers the ball first-and-goal from the 8-yard line, trailing by a touchdown — that it became even more painfully clear how much the Packers offense needs Adams.
Adams suffered what the team termed a toe injury on the play, and he limped off the field and into the blue sideline medical tent. Without him, the Packers had two opportunities to tie the game and couldn’t get it done without their prime target.
“It is what it is. It’s next man up,” LaFleur said afterward. “We have faith in those other guys. Certainly you never want to lose a player of Davante’s caliber. He’s an elite No. 1 (receiver). We had some young guys who were forced into action.
“It’s just one of those things you’ve got to deal with in football.”
After Adams went out, a pass interference penalty on the Eagles at the goal line gave the Packers first-and-goal at the 1. But on four consecutive passes without Adams on the field, Rodgers and tight end Jimmy Graham couldn’t connect on first- and fourth-down throws, and Rodgers was pressured into throwaways on second- and third-down plays. Both the throws to Graham, especially the fourth-down pass, would have been tough catches but could have been made.
Despite being stopped on that drive, the Packers got another chance to tie or win the game after the defense forced the Eagles to punt with 5:02 to play — but they once again couldn’t get it done without Adams.
Starting at their own 11-yard line, Rodgers dinked-and-dunked his way down the field, with Rodgers picking up their first third-down conversion on the drive with a bold 11-yard scramble on third-and-8. A pass interference flag kept the drive going on a third-and-8 incompletion to Graham, and a clutch 17-yard catch by Marquez Valdes-Scantling got the Packers into the red zone.
With 1:06 to play, the Packers got a 4-yard run from Jones on first-and-goal from the Philadelphia 7. But on second down, Rodgers tried to squeeze in a quick slant to Valdez-Scantling at the goal line but Eagles cornerback Craig James — called up from the practice squad two days earlier and playing after injuries had ravaged the Philadelphia secondary during the game — deflected the ball as it arrived.
The ball caromed into the hands of linebacker Nigel Bradham for a victory-clinching interception.
The interception put a stop to a back-and-forth game that had seen the Packers (3-1) take an early before the Eagles (2-2) stormed back.
The Packers opened the game’s scoring with yet another impressive first drive — with Aaron Jones’ 3-yard touchdown run marking the third straight game that the Packers have scored on their opening possession. Adams caught three passes for 71 yards on the drive, including a 58-yarder that set up Jones’ score.
Green Bay’s defense, which had carried the team through the first three weeks of the season, forced the Eagles to punt on its first two series, and it looked like the Packers might be on their way to a blowout win. Rodgers directed a 15-play, 78-yard drive on the Packers’ second possession, but the drive bogged down at Philadelphia’s 12-yard line and Green Bay had to settle for a 30-yard Mason Crosby field goal to make it 10-0.
A special teams bust by the kickoff coverage unit shifted the momentum, though, as Miles Sanders’ 67-yard kickoff return set up the Eagles’ first touchdown, a 6-yard Carson Wentz-to-Alshon Jeffery strike to make it 10-7.
The Packers got another Crosby field goal on their next possession to make it 13-7, but they surrendered the lead when Wentz found tight end Zach Ertz for a 3-yard touchdown and a 14-13 lead with 2 minutes, 45 seconds left.
Two plays after the Eagles took the lead, they took the ball away from the Packers with defensive end Derek Barnett stripping Rodgers on a sack and fellow defensive end Brandon Graham grabbing the loose ball at Green Bay’s 17-yard line. Eagles coach Doug Pederson gave running back Jordan Howard the ball on four consecutive plays, with the last one resulting in a 1-yard touchdown and a 21-13 lead.
But Rodgers and the Packers answered, with the quarterback orchestrating a seven-play, 70-yard touchdown march that included a spectacular leaping 31-yard catch by Geronimo Allison to set up Rodgers’ 19-yard scoring pass to Allison on the very next play to make it 21-20 at the half.
The Eagles extended their lead to 27-20 on their first possession of the second half, driving quickly down the field for a 20-yard touchdown catch-and-run by Howard to make it 27-20. Instead of kicking the extra point to make it an eight-point game, however, Pederson decided to go for a 2-point conversion. When it failed as Wentz’s pass to Jefferey was broken up by Packers cornerback Kevin King, the difference remained seven points.
That allowed the Packers to tie the game two series later, with Rodgers miraculously eluding a sack early in the drive and turning into a momentum-generating 14-yard scramble. Then, on third-and-7 from the Packers’ 45-yard line, Rodgers stepped up and found Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 26-yard gain to keep the drive going. Three plays after that, Rodgers again escaped pressure and threw a strike to Graham for a 14-yard touchdown. Crosby’s extra point tied the game at 27-27.
But the Eagles answered again, starting their ensuing drive with a 30-yard Sanders run and converting a crucial third-and-10 from Green Bay’s 34-yard line with a 16-yard Wentz-to-Jeffery completion. Two plays later, Howard scored from 2 yards out to make it 34-27.
Jason Wilde covers the Packers for ESPN Wisconsin. Listen to him with former Packers and Badgers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays from 9 a.m. until noon on “Wilde & Tausch” on 100.5 FM ESPN Madison.
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