In Cincinnati & Around the NFL, A Strange Day Indeed

It was a strange Sunday in the NFL. The 49ers got pounded at home by the Colts. The Giants got shellacked 38-0 by the Panthers. The Browns won at the Metrodome. OK, maybe that wasn't so strange. But what happened in Cincinnati, in the day's most entertaining game, was one for the ages.

Never before had a team taken a 14 point lead, fallen behind by 16 and then come back to win. But the Bengals accomplished it, thanks to a doomed fourth and inches call that Mike McCarthy will be replaying in his mind all night, and for the next few nights. After a challenge took away a Packers first down, McCarthy was faced with either sending Mason Crosby out for a 48 yard attempt to increase the lead to six, or he could go for it and try to punch it in and seal the win. He chose the latter, but then handed off to his slight rookie, Johnathan Franklin, whose brilliant second half was erased by a fumble on the play--one that was scooped up and taken in for the winning touchdown.

I don't fault McCarthy for trying to get the first down, but why not sneak Rodgers for the few inches you needed, rather than hand it to his small, exhausted rookie seeing his first action as a pro and ask him to move the pile. It was merely the last of many turnovers on the day and fittingly, the team that coughed it up last, lost.

When the Pack fell into a 14-0 hole before Rodgers had even taken the field, you had the feeling it was too big a hole against a playoff team at their place. But the Bengals turned generous, turning it over four times in the second quarter. When Green Bay settled for field goal after field goal, you felt a little uneasy that you were leaving points on the table.

A two-point lead at the half grew to 30-14 in the third quarter, despite the news that James Starks (knee) and Clay Matthews (oh no, not the hammy again) were done for the day. Franklin got things cooking on the ground and some Bengals penalties assisted a passing game that was off kilter all afternoon, especially after losing Jermichael Finley early to a concussion.

The Packers played the second half without Lacy, Kuhn, Starks and Finley on offense and without Matthews, Burnett and Hayward on defense. That's a short-handed team that still almost stole a road win against a quality team. Mike Zimmer's defense made just enough plays, got just enough pressure, knocked down just enough balls to eke out the win.

Now the team has two weeks to try to get as many players back healthy as possible. They'll also be on the lookout for a new return guy. I think there's a good chance Jeremy Ross has seen his last action as a Packer returner. The fumble in the first quarter was inexcusable and he almost made a boneheaded play in the fourth quarter, when he touched a kickoff at the two--just as it went out of bounds. He almost put his offense at the goal line at a critical point in the game.

Road losses in San Francisco and Cincinnati won't kill you. You might recall the Pack lost a heartbreaker in week three last year too (in Seattle) to fall to 1-2. They rebounded to win 10 of their last 13 and we could be in for a repeat. The schedule loosens up in October, beginning with the Lions at Lambeau. If the team gets most of its key injured guys back in two weeks, we could see the beginning of a nice run.

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