Another of those rare stinkers unexpectedly unfolded Sunday night when the Denver Broncos ran roughshod over the Packers, 29-10, before 77,043 at Sports Authority Field.
Coming off a bye week, the Packers strangely looked slow, stale and unfit to battle one of the best teams in the National Football League.
Statistics bore out the Broncos’ sheer dominance: 500 to 140 in total yards, including 340 passing from Peyton Manning compared to 77 for Rodgers.
The Broncos (7-0) performed like a team with a chip on its shoulder. They had been disrespected by oddsmakers, who favored the Packers by 2 ½ points. It was the first time Denver had been an underdog at home in 28 games, counting playoffs.
It would be hard to say if the Packers were more impotent on offense or defense. Despite their unbeaten record, they showed barely a pulse.
Their margin in the NFC North Division was sliced to one game over the Minnesota Vikings (5-2), with a major NFC test coming Sunday against the high-flying Carolina Panthers (6-0) in Charlotte, N.C.
“That’s a humbling loss,” McCarthy said. “I haven’t had my ass kicked like that in a long time.
Broncos safety David Bruton smashes into Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, drawing a penalty. Rodgers was harassed into one of the worst games of his career with just 77 passing yards. -Photo by Mark Hoffman
“Frankly, Gary Kubiak had his team playing a lot faster than I had my team playing tonight. That was evident early and often.”
Just the fourth meeting ever between a pair of 6-0 teams was a mismatch. The Packers had been 8-1 coming off byes under McCarthy but it was the Broncos that were the sharper and more physical team.
“Obviously, the bye really helped us as a team,” Kubiak said. “We just played fresh. It was the best we looked in a while.”
The Packers were seeking to become just the sixth team in franchise history to start a season 7-0. With a long gain of merely 17 yards, they had no chance.
“A good amount they (the wide receivers) were covered,” said Rodgers, whose passer rating was 69.7. “They were covering good. That’s all you can point to.”
On defense, the Packers laid a second straight egg after allowing 548 yards two weeks ago in a 27-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers, another AFC West team.
Manning, who entered the game ranked 31st in passer rating at 72.5, finished with 96.9 in by far his finest performance of the season.
“Obviously, he played spectacular tonight,” said Kubiak. “He’s the leader of our football team.
“We played well as a team. We played hard. We played physical.”
Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was the focus of the Broncos’ game plan on offense, particularly when covered by cornerback Casey Hayward. Thomas, who had been dropping way too many passes, caught eight of his 11 targets for 168 yards, and much of the damage came at Hayward’s expense.
The Packers’ defense against the run was equally inept. Running back C.J. Anderson, who didn’t start, finished with 101 of Denver’s 160 rushing yards.
“Peyton had us in the right plays,” said Kubiak. “We did a lot of checking. I’ll give him a lot of credit.”
The Packers looked overmatched on their first three possessions against the Broncos’ top-ranked defense, all of which ended in punts. They had two first downs in the first series, one in the second and none in the third.
It wasn’t that Denver’s pass rush was overwhelming. The pressure was steady, but the Packers’ offensive linemen usually were able to bow up and seal the pocket.
Rodgers, however, struggled to find receivers open downfield and appeared reluctant to take chances trying to make a play.
Several times, he found a lane to extend the play but wasn’t able to make it successful.
“We got there but we couldn’t finish,” said Kubiak. “We covered extremely well, and then in the second half we got home more often.”
Meanwhile, the Packers’ ground game was neutralized by the active, stunting Denver front. The low point came in the second quarter when, facing second and 2, Eddie Lacy failed to gain a yard on second down and then DE Derek Wolfe tackled Lacy after a yard gain on third down.
Green Bay finally got it going midway through the second quarter. The drive appeared to be stymied when a third-and-six pass fluttered incomplete, but safety David Bruton was penalized 15 yards for roughing Rodgers.
By this stage, the Packers were making liberal use of Randall Cobb from the backfield trying to get somebody open. Cobb gained 10 on a reverse before Lacy eventually capped the drive on a 2-yard run.
Covered frequently by cornerback Chris Harris, Cobb’s lost that matchup with six receptions for 27 yards.
On defense, the Packers were unable to generate any pressure on Manning, who was able to step into his throws and riddle the Packers secondary. Largely immobile at 39, he wasn’t sacked.
“Denver ran its offense very efficiently,” said McCarthy. “It starts with the run. That was my No. 1 coaching point for the defense. We need to stop the run and get after their pass protection and make sure we get Peyton Manning off the spot.
“We didn’t accomplish that at all.”
Manning went after Hayward on the first three plays of the game. Thomas beat him on an 18-yard curl before Thomas drew a long pass-interference penalty.
Julius Peppers pressured Manning into a short completion, and the Broncos had to punt. In the Broncos’ next three possessions, they mounted scoring drives totaling 17 points and 214 yards.
Manning was in complete control. Both the run and pass were working, and the Packers were off balance.
Mixing runs by Ronnie Hillman and Anderson, the Broncos covered 83 yards in nine plays. It was this series when cornerback Sam Shields suffered a shoulder injury and didn’t return.
After four runs gained 36 yards against a leaky defense, Thomas hauled in a 30-yard pass on Hayward with an outstanding run after the catch. Hillman piled over from the 1 and it was 7-0.
Manning also found success with short crossing routes against Micah Hyde, the starting nickel back. It was a 19-yard reception by tight end Virgil Green that began Denver’s second touchdown drive.
After a screen to tight end Owen Daniels picked up 13 following a missed tackle by Damarious Randall, Manning threw 47 yards off a play-action fake to Thomas, who beat Hayward on a takeoff route.
On first and goal from the 15, Hillman was bottled up over center. Suddenly, he spied an avenue to the left and outran Hyde to the end zone.
Starting from his 22, Manning hit Daniels for 18 on a shallow cross against the inside linebackers. On third and 2, Anderson made Nate Palmer miss near the line and turned it into a gain of 19.
The Packers, however, stiffened inside the 40 and Brandon McManus came on for a 50-yard field goal to make it 17-0.
Using another third-down penalty against Denver for impetus, the Packers swept 41 yards in 11 plays to set up Mason Crosby’s 56-yard field goal early in the third quarter. Safety T.J. Ward was penalized 14 yards for pass interference on a third-and-11 incompletion.
Rodgers scrambled for 17 on third and 10, but the drive fell apart when Bryan Bulaga was detected holding.
Immediately, Denver extended its lead to 24-10 on a 28-yard run by Anderson through the heart of the Packers’ dime defense. Other big plays were a 20-yard in route to Thomas against Randall and a 24-yard pass to Caldwell within a zone.
McManus’ 24-yard field goal finished off a 74-yard drive, and then Rodgers lost a fumble on a sack and the ball was recovered for a safety.
“I was trying to flick it to John (Kuhn),” said Rodgers. “He knocked it out.”
The Packers, in turn, were knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten with their most lopsided defeat since 44-23 last year in New Orleans in Game 8.
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