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High turnover count not enough for Green Bay

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Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
September 23, 2013

Cincinnati—Players couldn’t believe it themselves. The numbers don’t compute. Four turnovers on four straight possessions and they … lose?

Blasphemy. This defied logic.

Inside the Green Bay Packers locker room after Sunday’s 34-30 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, a few defensive backs chuckled in disbelief. You’d think they did enough to win at Paul Brown Stadium.

“I guess not, since we lost,” said cornerback Davon House, bewildered. “I guess we have to get five turnovers. I really don’t how we lost the game. Maybe you can tell us what happened.

“It’s amazing. I don’t know.”

In one manic flurry of turnovers, the Packers should have buried the Bengals in the first half. Instead, they left this state 1-2. All the turnovers were for nil. Takeaways must fuel a Dom Capers defense. From 2009-11, they did. Last season was average.

And for one four-drive stretch at Cincinnati, they binged off turnovers. A defensive coordinator couldn’t script a more chaotic, beautiful mash-up of offensive miscues.

Yet it wasn’t enough. That’s what was so disheartening for the defense.

On demand, A.J. Hawk, Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, House, none of them—“Never. No, never,” House emphasizes—could remember a game at any level when they forced four turnovers and still lost.

“I have to go back to the film and see what we can do better on defense,” House said. “But that’s kind of unheard of—losing a game after four turnovers.”

The run began with Shields cloaking A.J. Green up the sideline. The fourth-year cornerback stuck with Green and picked off Andy Dalton, leading to a Green Bay field goal. Next up was Brad Jones. The Green Bay linebacker stripped the ball from Jermaine Gresham, but Aaron Rodgers and the offense failed to capitalize. Three plays later, the Packers punted.

On third and 1 the next drive, Clay Matthews dived, tackled BenJarvus Green-Ellis and popped the ball out in made-for-TV work of art. As Matthews celebrated, M.D. Jennings scooped the ball up and trotted 24 yards into the end zone.

And soon after, Matthews struck again. The outside linebacker forced a fumble, Jones recovered and the Packers settled for another field goal despite starting at Cincinnati’s 21.

When the dust settled, the Packers still trailed, 14-13. The first half was a virtual “How to” in squandered opportunities.

“The defense did a hell of a job,” tight end Andrew Quarless said. “The offense, we didn’t capitalize on those opportunities.”

The end line in site, the Packers’ offense self-destructed on cue. Three plays. Three plays again. Seven plays. Six points. It all caught up with the Packers. In the second half, the infrastructure of Green Bay’s defense began to crack. Dalton shredded the Packers for 168 yards on 13-of-16 passing with two touchdowns—and those turnovers weren’t coming anymore.

Tying his shoes at his locker, Williams shook his head. Green Bay made history. The last time the Packers forced four turnovers in a half was Dec. 31, 2006. Any game, this should be enough.

“You definitely think you would win the game, no doubt,” Williams said. “When you’re around the game long enough, you see stuff like that happen. It’s crazy. It unfolded the way we didn’t want it to.”

As Hawk points out, the Packers didn’t consciously think about the missed opportunities as they unraveled. Rather, once Green Bay built a lead—a 30-14 lead—the thought process was “If we do our job, we’re going to win,” Hawk said.

Instead, receivers started leaking free. Rookie Giovani Bernard turned the jets back on. And those four turnovers were diminished to a footnote in Packers history.

“This was a crazy game, a crazy battle on both sides,” Hawk said. “We just couldn’t find a way to keep the momentum we had. … It’s up to us now. I think we have to prove we are high-character guys and have guys who will buckle down and work.”

Maybe this turnover parade will manifest into something greater. Week after week, Capers repeats the importance of takeaways. His first three years, the defense averaged 2.41, 2.15 and 2.29 turnovers per game. Last season, only 1.5.

Capers has been looking for a new wave of playmakers. In that sense, Sunday was promising.

“We played lights-out ball on defense,” House said. “We scored a touchdown. Four turnovers.”

Yet for one game, anyway, all those turnovers were good for nothing.



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