By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Green Bay’s defense shows improvement, but unbeaten Rams still eke out 29-27 win
GREEN BAY, Wis. – For a player whose poor judgment led him to return a kickoff and fumble away a chance to win, Ty Montgomery showed good sense in refusing to talk afterward.
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Why bother? The tired refrain “my bad” wouldn’t quite cut it.
Not this time. Not after that loss. Not when he was told by his coaches to take a knee, but instead elected to go off script.
Montgomery’s fumble with 1:56 to play sealed the Packers’ fate in a well-played, hard-fought 29-27 loss to the Rams Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The Rams (8-0) are unbeaten and untied. The Packers (3-3-1) are neither.
Afterward, Aaron Rodgers echoed the disappointment felt by Packers’ fans. Both believed a game-winning field goal was in reach until the football slipped from Montgomery’s grasp.
“That play didn’t lose the game,” Rodgers said. “But it definitely took away an opportunity for us to go down and win it.”
The game’s abrupt ending was unexpected and unnecessary.
Davante Adams had the game-winning drive all mapped out.
“The game was won,” he said. “I already worked out in my head how everything was going to happen. All we needed was the ball. It’s disappointing. Our defense played a great game against a tough offense, but at the same time we’ve got to finish.”
A reporter asked Adams how much he felt for Montgomery. Frankly, it was a ridiculous question.
“How much do I feel for him?” Adams replied. “Obviously, he’s not trying to fumble the ball, but you’ve got to be smart in situations like that. I know he’ll learn from it, but at the same time that doesn’t change what happened today.”
Perhaps head coach Mike McCarthy will consider bringing return specialist Trevor Davis off injured reserve. Maybe he’ll consider – as I suggested weeks ago – using rookie speedster Marquez Valdes-Scantling to return kickoffs.
Or maybe McCarthy will continue to be his stubborn self.
If he stands pat with Montgomery as kick returner it’s a mistake. Montgomery’s too slow to break a big return and he’s unreliable in terms of ball security and doing what he’s told to do.
Meantime, the Packers’ lost opportunity could haunt them. They would’ve been in first place in the NFC North while preparing for a Sunday night game at New England.
Now, they’re scrambling to get back to .500.
Rodgers, who has two late game-winning drives to his credit already this season, appeared to be on track for a third.
He had completed 18 of 30 passes for 286 yards and a touchdown on the day. He’d erased a 10-point deficit late in the third quarter with back-to-back touchdown drives. He was ready to get the Packers into field goal range for the win.
Then he never got the chance.
“The plan there is to stay in the end zone,” McCarthy said.
Sadly, Montgomery’s awful decision killed a chance to capture what could’ve been a season-turning victory. Perhaps the Rams’ defense, led by All-World Aaron Donald, would’ve stymied the Packers’ final drive. Unfortunately we’ll never know.
Clay Matthews, who had his best game of the season, is hopeful that the tough, narrow loss might be a galvanizing moment.
“It better be,” Matthews said. “That’s the best team in the NFL. We hung toe-to-toe with them and had a chance at the end to win it. We’ve got to take that moving forward. I know we lost, but we’ve got to take that capability moving forward.”
Matthews played his best game of the season.
So did the Packers’ defense.
Kenny Clark racked up two sacks and performed like the Pro Bowl player McCarthy said he is.
Blake Martinez had 12 tackles, two for losses, and a sack. This is how good the Rams’ Todd Gurley is: Martinez played him tough and he still rushed for 114 yards and caught six passes for another 81 yards and a touchdown.
Jaire Alexander shadowed the Rams’ Brandin Cooks all day. He finished with an NFL season-high five passes defended and played superbly. If not for Alexander, the Rams’ Jared Goff would’ve had a huge day playing catch with Cooks.
Aaron Jones rushed 12 times for 86 yards and a 33-yard touchdown. However, McCarthy only called his number four times after halftime. One of the four went for the touchdown.
Jones’ talent demands more touches, which would lead to more touchdowns.
Valdes-Scantling hauled in a 40-yard touchdown pass with 8:50 to play that put the Packers up 27-26. He has proven he is worthy of an expanded role.
Meantime, the Packers need to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get ready for the Patriots and Tom Brady.
Clearly, there’s no such thing as a moral victory for Rodgers.
“The urgency has to pick up, so maybe it does that,” Rodgers said of the narrow loss. “But there’s no momentum gained from a loss, in my opinion. We can play with anybody, but we knew that before this game. It wasn’t like there was some revelation, ‘Oh, Ok, now, yeah, we can probably play with the Rams.’ No, we can play with anybody.
“I’m disappointed because our defense really played well and we were just really slow going in the first half and couldn’t get a lot of things going. By the time we got back up ahead, we just had one drive to finish the game off and didn’t come up with it.”
The Packers still should contend for the division title, especially with the Vikings (4-3-1) in the midst of a difficult stretch. The Packers’ problem is their margin for error grows slimmer with each opportunity lost.