Early on, Jermichael Finley took a scary shot to the head and left the game with a concussion that seemed to impact some of Mike McCarthy's play calling. Ryan Taylor and Andrew Quarless both had drops in the game, and while Packer fans may be used to more than a few from Finley, there's no doubt that he draws a more respect from the secondary than either of his replacements.
Surprisingly, it was big plays by Green Bay's defense that brought this game back into reach after Cincinnati marched down the field with relative ease on the opening drive, then recovered a botched kick by Jeremy Ross at the Green Bay 12. Cincinnati then punched it in on the next play to take a 14-0 lead in just 12 seconds (Ross was cut by Green Bay on Monday). Without Morgan Burnett at safety and both Jarrett Bush and Casey Hayward at cornerback, the entire defensive unit stepped up, forcing 4 turnovers in the span of just 9 snaps, allowing the Packers to climb back into the game. Unfortunately, both Clay Matthews and James Starks, who had been on pace for a second straight 100-yard game, went down with hamstring and knee injuries respectively, and neither played in the second half. This, combined with an uncharacteristically mediocre performance by Aaron Rodgers, ultimately led to a Bengals comeback and a heartbreaking loss in Cincinnati.
The Packers must use this time wisely, not only to get healthy, but to address some serious flaws that they have in all 3 phases of the game. An area of particular concern is one that is often overlooked - special teams. Before being cut Monday, Jeremy Ross had returned 6 kicks for a total of 75 yards and a long of just 21. For those of you too lazy to do the math at home, that's an average of just 12.5 yards per attempt - the lowest in the NFL of any kick returner with at least 1 return per team's games played. In fact, the second lowest average in the league is almost double that; 20.0 by Washington's Chris Thompson. Even a mediocre Rodgers can't consistently score from that far out. The offense needs better field position, but they need to do it without risking the health of their star receiver Randall Cobb.
Another area to watch closely will be the offensive backfield. After ending Green Bay's 45 game streak without a 100-yard rusher, James Starks did what he does best: got hurt. This made room for 4th round pick Johnathan Franklin to step in, and he did in a big way. Andrew speaks more to that in his One Takeaway column. It's not all bad news for the Packers, though. With Eddie Lacy likely to return in week 5 and the strong showing by Franklin, fans can be hopeful that the green and gold got the 1-2 punch they were looking for in April's Draft. It will be a nice change of pace if McCarthy can use the week off to develop a more balanced attack to support Rodgers and the rest of the offense heading into their week 5 contest in Detroit. After failing to lead the division so far this season and being two games behind 3-0 Chicago, the Packers need this divisional win. Let's just hope they're ready come October 6th.