Packers struggle to close out close victories

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- At first glance, it seems like a harsh indictment of Aaron Rodgers' ability to win close games: Since he took over as the starting quarterback in 2008, the Green Bay Packers are 2-12 in games decided by four or fewer points.

A closer look shows that Sunday's loss at Atlanta wasn't the first time Rodgers successfully led a late-game Packers comeback, only to watch it turn into a loss. Each of the Packers' four losses this season was by three points, despite some strong fourth-quarter drives by Rodgers and the offense.

Rodgers has heard the criticism that he hasn't yet found his fourth-quarter quarterbacking mojo, but he says it doesn't bother him.

"It really doesn't," Rodgers said. "That's a stat that gets thrown out there. I'm trying to win games. (Twelve) of my 19 losses are by four points or less. Some people look at that as a negative. Well, we've been competitive in every game. How many times have we been blown out?"

Not many, but Rodgers probably has to pull off a few more memorable fourth-quarter wins to make that stat go away.

And more important, the Packers' special teams and defense have to perform better.

In nine of the Packers' 12 close losses since 2008, Rodgers and the offense drove for a touchdown or field goal to either tie the score or take the lead at some point in the fourth quarter -- but the Packers still lost. In the other three, the Packers were in position to kick a decisive field goal, but they missed or it was blocked.

Most of those games came in 2008, leading to the dismissal of most of the Packers' defensive coaching staff. But it has become an issue again this season.

With the Packers trailing by seven Sunday at Atlanta, Rodgers executed a masterful 16-play, 90-yard drive that included a pair of fourth-down conversions -- including a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson on fourth-and-goal to tie the score with 56 seconds remaining.

"I have never seen a quarterback, in my time here, play to that level in the passing game," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said this week. "I'll make that statement clearly here."

But the Packers' special teams promptly gave up a big kick return and committed a personal foul, giving the ball back to the Falcons near midfield. The defense couldn't hold, and Atlanta kicked the game-winning field goal with nine seconds left.

"We've done that a few times this season," Rodgers said. "When we've had to have a drive, we've been able to come up with a big drive, and, unfortunately, we've come up on the short end of a couple of those games. There's an urgency level that is there.

"I think when adversity hits this team, it's the thing I'm most proud of: We meet it head-on, and we've been able to make some plays in those situations. I think the urgency needs to be there a little bit more. Obviously, every play in the game."

Rodgers took the blame for his fumble on an attempted quarterback sneak near the goal line in the second quarter.

"I told the guys before the game last week: I said, 'It's going to be a 60-minute game, and it could be a play that happens in the first, second, third or fourth quarter that wins the game or loses the game,'" Rodgers said. "And, unfortunately, I was foreshadowing a play in the second quarter that possibly could have cost us the game. But, unfortunately, you never know when that play is going to be."

When it comes to winning close games, McCarthy said there isn't one specific thing holding the Packers back.

"You don't line up on Sunday afternoon and you're given one opportunity to win the game," McCarthy said. "There's hundreds of different types of opportunities that go on inside that game, and you can break it down by play. Did you win the play or did you lose the play? And when you're winning 60 percent-plus of your plays, you should be winning those games. There was a lot of offensive production this past week, but the bottom line is we didn't get in the end zone enough."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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