GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers calmly surveyed the secondary, swiveling his helmet and rolling out to his right until he found his chosen target.
Rodgers eventually located athletic tight end Jermichael Finley over the middle and delivered a spiral that hit him in stride for a 19-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
It was a microcosm of the entire game Monday night as it exposed the Baltimore Ravens’ defense as being a step behind and unable to harass Rodgers into any mistakes of real consequence as he threw three touchdown passes to defeat Baltimore, 27-14, before 70,286 at Lambeau Field.
Between the chronic problem of defensive penalties, including four pass-interference infractions, and the absence of two Pro Bowl defensive starters in free safety Ed Reed and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, the secondary was put in precarious position against a potent passing game.
And the Ravens’ furious comeback attempt after falling behind 17-0 by halftime was derailed by quarterback Joe Flacco throwing a season-high three interceptions. Two of his passes were picked off in the fourth quarter, including one grabbed in the end zone with nine minutes remaining.
Trying to buy time by scrambling out of the pocket to his right while looking for wide receiver Demetrius Williams, Flacco’s errant pass thrown across his body settled into the hands of cornerback Tramon Williams in the end zone for a costly interception.
“It was a stupid decision and a worse throw,” Flacco said. “It was second down so you don’t really need to make a play there.
“You can give yourself another shot on third down and still kick a field goal. I didn’t set my feet, I didn’t get enough on the ball and I underthrew him.”
Ultimately, Rodgers continued the trend of top quarterbacks’ mastery of the Ravens’ traditionally stingy defense.
And the Ravens’ offense came up short when it counted the most.
Prior to Flacco’s interception, running back Willis McGahee was thrown for a two-yard loss by cornerback Charles Woodson on a terrific goal-line tackle with no one else standing in the way of his path to the end zone.
“He came through and tripped me up,” McGahee said. “It was a great play. He’s a Pro Bowler.”
One drive later, Flacco was picked off over the middle by linebacker A.J. Hawk while trying to hit tight end Todd Heap.
Flacco wound up completing just 15 of 36 passes for 137 yards and one touchdown while being sacked three times, turning in an unsightly 27.2 passer rating.
In the chilly conditions of the NFL’s coldest outpost, the Ravens’ playoff outlook took an icy hit.
They squandered a prime opportunity to catch up with the Jacksonville Jaguars (7-5), who rank one game ahead of them in the wild-card standings.
With four games remaining in the regular season, they’re stuck in a logjam trio of 6-6 teams all vying for the second wild-card spot in the AFC.
“We are fighting for our lives right now, but we are still breathing,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We are still alive. I think our character and heart will show through as we finish up the season.”
The Ravens (6-6) are tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins.
And the Ravens are now two games behind the Denver Broncos (8-4) for the first wild-card berth.
Packers kicker Mason Crosby hit a 32-yard field goal for the final margin with just under two minutes remaining.
Following a high snap, an earlier kick from Crosby pushed a 38-yard attempt wide right to open the fourth quarter.
The flubbed field goal followed a potentially costly facemask penalty on middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who flung wide receiver Greg Jennings to the ground.
The Ravens lost a prime opportunity after the shanked kick.
Flacco heaved a pass deep up the left sideline to wide receiver Derrick Mason for a 46-yard gain. However, it was negated by Mason’s offensive pass interference penalty as he grabbed and moved cornerback Charles Woodson out of position.
Mason compounded the setback with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing with the officials.
“That shouldn’t happen,” Harbaugh said. “You keep your poise, you come off the field. You’re upset about it. Derrick has to keep his poise, come off the field and not compound the problem. We tell our guys, ‘Something happens, don’t compound the problem.’”
The Ravens and Packers combined for 23 penalties for 310 yards with Baltimore flagged a dozen times for 135 yards and Green Bay hit with 11 penalties for 175 yards.
“The penalties have to improve,” Harbaugh said. “There were too many penalties. Obviously it was a two-way deal. The game was called a certain way."
After halftime, the Ravens capitalized on two turnovers for a pair of touchdowns within a 34 second span.
First, cornerback Chris Carr jarred the football loose from Donald Driver with Frank Walker recovering.
Then, Flacco engineered an 11-play, 71-yard drive.
Flacco capped the drive by squeezing a pass into wide receiver Kelley Washington for a 12-yard touchdown. Washington managed to find a bit of room in the corner of the end zone.
The score was upheld following an instant-replay challenge that cost the Packers a timeout.
On the Packers’ next play from scrimmage, a Rodgers pass hit Donald Driver in the knee and the hand before popping up into the hands of linebacker Jarret Johnson.
The turnover set up the Ravens’ second touchdown.
Two plays after Williams’ 41-yard defensive pass interference penalty for disrupting Demetrius Williams, McGahee busted into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown run.
The Ravens had their power offense in the game with offensive guard Chris Chester in the game as well as defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and fullback Le’Ron McClain delivering powerful lead blocks.
Flipping the football out to his left to Finley in the second quarter, Rodgers celebrated as Finley reached the end zone. Then, Finley bounded into the stands for an emphatic Lambeau Leap
Minutes after Rodgers staked the Packers to a 10-0 advantage in the second quarter with his scoring toss to Finley, he replicated his red-zone artistry.
Set up by his 23-yard scramble up the middle for a first down when the Ravens failed to pressure him, Rodgers connected on an eight-yard pass to Driver for his second touchdown of the night.
Rodgers completed 26 of 40 passes for 263 yards and two interceptions for an 87.8 rating.
The Ravens trailed 17-0 at halftime despite Tom Zbikowski, starting in place of Reed, intercepting Rodgers once.
In the first half, Rodgers completed 16 of 24 passes for 147 yards, two touchdowns and a 93.6 passer rating.
Conversely, the Ravens managed to gain only 72 yards on 26 plays in the first half as running back Ray Rice was held to 11 yards on seven carries for a 1.6 average.
He also lost a rare fumble when rookie outside linebacker Clay Matthews popped the football out of his hands with safety Nick Collins recovering.
It didn’t lead to points, though.
“It’s my fault,” Rice said. “I’m not known as a fumbler. I protect the ball well. It’s something I’ll get corrected.”
Rice finished with just 54 yards on 14 carries and only caught three passes for 17 yards.
Aware of Flacco’s tendency to use Rice as a checkdown option, the Packers were spying Rice out of the backfield constantly.
“They made sure they did a good job of following him out on screens and making sure that they had a guy spying him so that he couldn’t get any momentum going,” Flacco said. “You have to credit those guys.”
On the ensuing play, the Ravens nearly took the football back on an apparent fumble by running back Ryan Grant caused by rookie linebacker Dannell Ellerbe recovered by Foxworth.
However, the officials overturned the ruling on the field after an instant-replay challenge determined that Grant’s knee was down before he lost possession.
Following Zbikowski’s interception, a Flacco heave intended for Mason was picked off by Collins and returned 25 yards to nearly midfield.
The Packers struck first on a methodical 12-play, 47-yard drive before Crosby connected on a 27-yard field goal for a 3-0 first-quarter lead.
The Ravens remain winless in seven all-time road games against NFC North franchises.
Now, the Ravens probably need to win their four remaining games against the Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Steelers and the Oakland Raiders to earn a wild-card berth.
“We’ve got no choice now,” Johnson said. “We’ve backed ourselves against the wall. I don’t think 9-7 is going to get it done.
“We’ve done this to ourselves. Across the board, we didn’t play well enough to win. We need to win four games.”
NOTES: Wide receiver Mark Clayton injured his hamstring. … Kicker Billy Cundiff and offensive lineman David Hale suffered mild concussions. … Nose guard Kelly Gregg has a shoulder strain. .. Offensive tackle Jared Gaither injured his foot.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.