December 18, 2011
It's the easy ones that always get you.
The Green Bay Packers' undefeated season came to an end Sunday when they were stunned 19-14 by the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. The loss dropped Green Bay to 13-1 on the season and ensured that the 1972 Miami Dolphins will remain the NFL's lone unbeaten team for at least another season.
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Presumptive league MVP Aaron Rodgers had an uncharacteristically shaky performance in the loss, going 17-for-35. The loss of his prime receiving target, Greg Jennings, who is out for the next three weeks with a sprained knee, was a clear factor, as was a swarming Chiefs pass rush. Rodgers rushed for a touchdown to give the Packers a chance at victory late in the game, but an unsuccessful onside kick and an inability to stop the Chiefs rushing attack sealed the loss.
When looking ahead to a possible 16-0 record, the easiest game remaining on Green Bay's schedule figured to be a road visit to last-place Kansas City. The team had lost quarterback Matt Cassel, running back Jamal Charles and star defender Eric Barry. Coach Todd Haley was fired on Monday and replaced by former Browns head coach Romeo Crennel. No games in the NFL are ever easy, but this figured to be the team's last cakewalk before finishing the year with division games against the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions.
It didn't turn out that way. Kansas City set the tone early, driving down the field on its first possession, eating six minutes off the clock with a balanced rushing attack and patient throws by quarterback Kyle Orton. A short Ryan Succop field goal put the Chiefs up 3-0. The team would never relinquish that lead.
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Green Bay's day was summarized by missed opportunities. Passes were overthrown. Easy receptions were dropped. Holes weren't hit by running backs. Perhaps the biggest miss came early in the fourth quarter when coach Mike McCarthy left the challenge flag in his hand on a Leonard Pope fumble. Replays showed that Pope may have fumbled the ball out of the end zone before stepping out of bounds. Because McCarthy never challenged, the ball was spotted at the two-yard line and Kansas City eventually scored a field goal. Had the play been reversed, Green Bay would have gained possession on the Chiefs' 20.
The story of the Green Bay Packers' season won't be written on a pre-Christmas Sunday in Kansas City, but on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field early next year or in Indianapolis at the Super Bowl. For as historic an achievement it would have been to finish the year 19-0, the ultimate goal is winning the title and repeating as Super Bowl champs. And no matter what happened on Sunday, the Packers' chances of doing that are still as good as ever.
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