GREEN BAY, Wis. — Marcedes Lewis hasn’t been a big part of the Green Bay Packers’ offense this season, but if their season is to be saved — and that seems like a big if — it might be because of the veteran tight end.
Not because of anything Lewis will do on the field — because at 38 years old, he’s only a part-time player with one catch for 2 yards this season — but with his locker room presence and veteran guidance.
It was Lewis who pulled the team together after Sunday’s 23-21 loss to the Washington Commanders at FedEx Field, where the Packers saw their losing streak grow to three games.
“One thing I told the guys … in times like this, individually, when I’ve had, whether it’s a couple bad plays, play a couple games you’d rather have back, you just lean on your work,” Lewis said. “We go out there and we bust our butt every day. It’s about finding our rhythm, and all it’s going to take is one, and they come in bunches after that. Time to get back to work.”
That message wasn’t just for the offense.
Cornerback Jaire Alexander, the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback, said it came through clearly to him. A week earlier, defensive coordinator Joe Barry finally let him shadow a No. 1 receiver for most of a game. Against the New York Jets, he got the better of Garrett Wilson. Against the Commanders, Terry McLaurin won the individual matchup.
“It’s not much panic in my eyes or in my voice,” Alexander said. “Every dog have their day. I’m still the best. Hey, I already know that, so I just think you got to lean on your craft. In times like this, you got to lean on the hard work that got you here. Marcedes Lewis said that earlier, so that’s perfect.”
Still, it must manifest.
After the second of the three losses in this streak, quarterback Aaron Rodgers called for a simplification of coach Matt LaFleur’s offense. Whatever changed — or didn’t change — the end result was much the same.
“We scored 14 points [on offense against Washington] — seven in a two-minute [situation], seven on a short field,” Rodgers said. “Last week, we scored 10 points — three in a two-minute, seven in a no-huddle. It hasn’t been winning football on offense.”
The problem, at least on offense, might be personnel. Or a lack of personnel.
If their most trusted receiver is Allen Lazard, and if the shoulder injury he sustained late on Sunday against the Commanders keeps him out for any length of time, then it’s an even more dire situation.
Rookie receivers Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson have not helped. Watson has missed the past two games because of a hamstring injury and has played in only four of the seven games so far. Doubs had his worst game on Sunday, failing to catch any of the four balls thrown his way.
One play demonstrated just how off the offense has been. Late in the first quarter on Sunday, Rodgers rolled to his right. Doubs, who was in the right slot, took his deep route to the left. That, according to LaFleur on Monday, was the right move on paper. But Rodgers saw there was a busted coverage and figured Doubs would see it, too, and adjust his route to the right. That’s where Rodgers threw it, and Doubs was nowhere in the vicinity.
“I think these are some of the things that you’re just going to go through with younger players,” LaFleur said. “And you would love for him just to notice that there’s nobody out there, throw his hand up. But I can’t fault him for that. I think he’s trying to do everything perfect, and I think that’s just something that comes with experience.”
To top it off, Yosh Nijman, who made his first start at right tackle, was called for holding, so the play would have come back regardless.
While Rodgers did not mention any one play in particular, he could have been talking about that play when he said: “There has to be something inside that has the accountability for performance where we’re just having way too many detail mistakes.”
“It could be a total wrong route or it could be a wrong stem or it could be the release, we’re just not good enough to overcome some of those things right now,” Rodgers added. “We have talent on our team, for sure, but it has to consistently show up from all of us, otherwise why would we have any confidence moving forward?”
It didn’t help that the Packers had to scramble just hours before the game because David Bakhtiari’s left knee became problematic again. They practiced all last week with a new-look offensive line that, from left to right, was Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Josh Myers, Jon Runyan and Nijman. It was shuffled in large part to get Jenkins back to his Pro Bowl left guard spot instead of playing right tackle.
After Bakhtiari was declared inactive, rather than moving Jenkins back to right tackle and Nijman to left tackle, they plugged rookie Zach Tom in at left tackle to make his first career start.
To top it all off, LaFleur had to use more shotgun snaps than he intended because taking snaps from under center bothered Rodgers’ sore right thumb. He played the second half with tape on his thumb after not taping it the previous week or in the first half against Washington.
Yet Rodgers insisted he believes this season can be salvaged, and he believes that should be the universal belief as well.
“I mean, it should be,” Rodgers said. “Unless they don’t think they’re the right person for the job. I think I’m the right person for the job. So, might have to ask them.”
The recently completed stretch was supposed to be the easy part of the schedule, but the Packers lost as favorites to the Giants, Jets and Commanders. Now, they’re 3-4 and huge underdogs going into Sunday night’s game at the 5-1 Buffalo Bills (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC), who are coming off their bye.
As of Monday, the Packers were a 10.5-point underdog against the Bills, according to Caesars Sportsbook. If that line doesn’t drop, the Packers will be the biggest underdog they’ve been in Rodgers’ career as a starter. The Packers haven’t won a regular-season or playoff game when they have been an underdog of 7 points or more since Week 10 of 2005.
“It feels eerie,” Lewis said of the state of the team. “Like weird, almost. Just think about whenever you go out there and you got an answer for everything. I just feel like we haven’t gotten to that point yet, whether it be injuries up front, guys shuffling in and out at the receiver position. Offense, it’s tough. You need that groove. You need to be able to trust the man next to you. When you got guys in and out, it’s tough to do that. Obviously, there’s no time to sit and lick our wounds.”