It was the great sleeping beast, the elephant in the room that the Green Bay Packers knew they eventually had to confront: for the past 3 seasons, the Packers had the dubious distinction of being one of the NFL’s most penalized teams.
Only the Oakland Raiders, renowned as the NFL’s most undisciplined team, was consistently flagged more than the Packers in recent seasons. Mike McCarthy’s frustration was palpable. He preached accountability and he preached intelligence. He’d plead with his team to read the rulebook, for crying out loud! He did what every other team in the NFL did—bring a league referee to training camp to talk about the rules—and he’d have game officials watch practices and call penalties.
Nothing seemed to work and yet, somehow the Packers often overcame penalties by sheer ability, and yes, luck.
But on a key early season Monday Night matchup in Chicago those demons finally came home to roost for the frustrated, embarrassed Packers. Ultimately, Green Bay lost to the unbeaten Bears when Robbie Gould kicked a 19-yard Field Goal with 4 seconds left in the game. The seeds for that loss were sown much earlier in the contest.
The Packers were called for a staggering team-record 18 penalties for 152 yards and they were penalties of all sorts—from off-sides to personal fouls to pass interference—that kept Bears’ drives alive. It was, in short, a complete breakdown few in the NFL could remember seeing previously. While the Packers vigorously disputed a number of the calls, facts were facts, and those penalties went a long way toward the Packers losing their first game of the season.
What made it even more frustrating for the Packers was the fact that despite the lack of discipline, they still outplayed the Bears in nearly every category. Green Bay’s offense outgained Chicago 379-276. The Packers kept the ball more than 35 minutes. The Packers defense held the Bears running game to just 77 yards & allowed just three of nine third-down conversions.
The Packers committed 2 crushing turnovers and allowed Bears return magician Devin Hester to run back a punt 62 yards for a touchdown early in the 4th quarter that changed momentum.Yet, with all that was seemingly going against the Packers, they still took a 17-14 lead with 6:52 to play on Rodgers’ 3 yard touchdown run. Then came the final collapse.
On the Bears next series, linebacker Frank Zombo was flagged for a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty. Later in the drive, safety Nick Collins was called for unnecessary roughness, another 15-yard penalty. That eventually led to Gould’s 25-yard game-tying field goal with 3:59 to play.
Shortly after that, Packers wide receiver James Jones fumbled at the Green Bay 46 and a pass interference penalty by Packers rookie safety Morgan Burnett set up the game-winning field goal.
“We didn’t play our best and we still won.” Bears coach Lovie Smith said with a straight face after the game. “That has to mean something.”
McCarthy was barely able to control his rage afterward. Whether it was directed at his players, referee Terry McAulay, or a combination was hard to say.
“Can’t win that way,” he said, tight-lipped. Still, there were bright spots.
Rodgers played his best all around game of the young season, completing 34 of 45 passes for 316 yards, his first 300 yard passing game of the campaign. He also directed the Packers on a slick 12-play, 72-yard drive in the 4th quarter for a touchdown that, by all rights, should have been the game-winner.
The Packers also saw what their new weapon at tight end, Jermichael Finley, was capable of accomplishing. Taken in the 3rd round of the 2008 NFL Draft out of the University of Texas, Finley was barely 21 years old and at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, the Packers envisioned him as an offensive force—eventually.
After some growing pains and injuries slowed him down, Finley headed into the 2010 season a matchup nightmare for rival defenses and a featured player in the Packers offense. Against the Bears he caught 9 passes for 115 yards, big numbers for a tight end and just the beginning of what the Packers felt he could do.
However, McCarthy was in no mood to celebrate what he had seen. The Packers had big issues to iron out and very little time to do it.