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Turnover ratio key to winning Packers football

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Brian Carriveau
December 1, 2010

As with most close football games, one play can make the difference between winning and losing.


That was the case Sunday when the Green Bay Packers lost 20-17 to the Atlanta Falcons. The one play that made the difference was a fumble in the red zone by quarterback Aaron Rodgers that, in essence, took points off the scoreboard.


“We felt coming in here it was going to be a 60-minute football game, and that’s clearly what it was, and Atlanta made one more play than we did,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said. “We need to do a better job of making one more play than the other team in these close games.


“Atlanta won the field-position battle, we had the one turnover in the red zone, and they had obviously the big return there at the end—all big plays in the game.”


Sure, a lot of factors contributed to the loss: poor special-teams play hurting field position, and penalties. Many will blame the lack of a running game.


But running the ball never has been the Packers’ forte under McCarthy. In fact, it hasn’t been since Mike Holmgren became the Packers’ coach in the early 1990s. For better or worse, the Packers are a passing team, first and foremost.


When asked about the Packers’ short-yardage struggles, Rodgers didn’t find fault solely with the ground game.


“We just need to convert those, whether it’s running it or throwing it,” he said.


That fumble, however, was a singular, decisive, game-changing, momentum-swinging moment that turned the tide in favor of the Falcons. It was the type of play where you could point a finger and say, “That was the difference in the game.”


One could argue whether the Packers should even have called a quarterback sneak, although it would be a circuitous debate coming to no convincing conclusion. The point is, the Packers fumbled, and there’s no way to change it.


A common theme in Green Bay’s four losses this season is turnover ratio. In three of their losses, the Packers had more turnovers than their opponent. In their only other loss, they had the same number of turnovers.


In a league that’s marked by parity, the margin for error is razor thin. That’s especially true on the road, where intangibles more often than not favor the home team.


The Packers can’t afford to turn the ball over more often than their opponent—if at all—and expect to win.


“When you play a game like this against a good team, you got to play well, and you can’t turn the ball over, and you can’t take points off the board,” Rodgers said.


Rodgers, however, doesn’t deserve to be the only one held accountable for losing the turnover battle. The defense didn’t force any, either.


Whether it’s an interception or a fumble recovery, the defensive linemen, linebackers and secondary also should shoulder some of the blame.


In several games decided by one more turnover than the opponent, it not only seems like the Packers are losing close games this season, it’s a reality. Each of their losses has come by three points.


“It’s four losses by a total of 12 points,” said guard Daryn Colledge. “And that hurts because that’s a lot of games that could’ve swung in the other direction.”


To think the Packers could have pulled out all four of those games would be foolhardy. But had they been able to sneak by their opponent in just half of those losses, their record could be 9-2 instead of 7-4.


Each loss from here on becomes increasingly costly. The most recent loss probably cost them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The next might cost them a home game. Another may cost them a playoff spot altogether.


With tough games coming up against the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears and Super Bowl-contending New England Patriots, among others, even one turnover can turn a victory into a defeat.


Protecting the ball on offense and forcing turnovers on defense will be at a premium.



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