Who gets your game ball?
Posted December 9th, 2013 @ 03:12am
A thing of beauty it wasn't. But with the Pack making just enough plays to eke out a win over the Falcons, we can continue to dream about an NFC North division title, at least for one more week.
It was a strange viewing day for me. I was at Eden Prairie High School for most of the game, watching my ten year old son's hoops tournament (they took home third place, for those who were wondering). You've gotta love 21st century technology. I handed off my scorekeeping duties and kept one eye on the game and one eye on my Droid Maxx, where the Sunday Ticket app allowed me to watch the game from my seat in the bleachers.
I wasn't able to give the game my complete attention of course, but I saw Matt Flynn play a much more solid game, completing 75% of his passes and engineering a number of long drives on a very cold day--it definitely took something out of the Falcons defense in the second half, when the Pack moved the ball fairly easily and completed its comeback.
I got home in time for the fourth quarter pass that Jarrett Bush intercepted to put an exclamation point on things. After a very shaky second quarter that had the Packers reeling and trailing by double digits, the defense came on strong in the second half. I'm still not crazy about the run defense--Steven Jackson shouldn't average give yards a carry against anyone these days.
But they made plays on this day when they had to. And then Mike Neal made the biggest one of the day, forcing the fumble that put the Pack in position for the go ahead score. It made up for the fluky pick six that ended a promising Packer drive before halftime and gave the Birds an 11 point lead at intermission.
It was nice to see Flynn get production out of the tight end position. Andrew Quarless had a career day and Brandon Bostick caught a couple. They combined for eight catches and nearly 100 yards--along with Quarless' TD pass that put the Pack ahead to stay.
It was 42 days between victories for the Packers and at 6-6-1 they're still on life support, when it comes to the playoffs. But the Lions did their part, blowing a two touchdown lead in the snow in Philly. They channeled the Packers run defense and allowed LeSean McCoy to run them off the field. The loss pulls the Pack to within a half game of the division lead. The Kitties need to lose one more time if the Pack is to steal the division by winning its next three.
Which brings us to Aaron Rodgers. Let's not kid ourselves. The Packers aren't winning in Dallas without him. Tony Romo is in a dogfight for the East division and can't afford to slip up at home. They'll be coming off a short week, after the Monday night game in Chicago--that benefits the Pack. But Rodgers needs to be out there.
The Packers passed their first playoff test on Sunday. If Rodgers returns to the stage where he orchestrated his greatest victory at the house that Jerry built, they'll have a good opportunity to pass their next one. One week at a time, and hopefully with #12 at the wheel.
Posted December 6th, 2013 @ 07:12pm
We learned on Friday what most of has surmised: that Aaron Rodgers would not return in week 14 against the Falcons. The Packers hope that seven more days will allow the broken collarbone to be sufficiently healed to allow for a return for a tough road test in Dallas.
Of course, if the Packers lose on Sunday and fall out of the playoff picture, they may decide to shelf him for the last three games. More on that later.
If the Packers, led by Matt Flynn, can't beat a 3-9 dome team at home on a cold, snowy day in December, then we shouldn't be concerned with the playoffs anyway. This was originally a Sunday night game, but the network goochies figured the rest of the nation wouldn't be waiting all day for Sunday night to watch these two struggling teams go at it.
What we expect to see is two teams that will lean heavily on the run game. Eddie Lacy should have a big game against Atlanta's 30th ranked run defense. But he's never even seen snow before, so we don't know how he'll react to the wintry conditions. The banged offensive line is also a concern. It sounds like center Evan Dietrich Smith will miss this game after injuring his ankle in practice (he was already dealing with the nee injury suffered on Thanksgiving Day). David Bakhtiari is dealing with the flu, so it remains to be seen how he'll rebound from his worst day as a pro.
The Falcons will provide a heavy dose of Steven Jackson, who's dealt with an injury-riddled season, but has looked healthy and fresh the last few weeks. Atlanta entered the season as a Super Bowl favorite, but injuries early to the offensive line and their stud wide receivers zapped them of their firepower and they're enduring a horrific season.
You never know the mindset of a 3-9 team in December, particularly one that believes it can be a Super Bowl contender again next year--where a few high draft picks could mean a world of difference to the roster. When they take the field and their snot starts to freeze, they may start fighting each other for space on the heated benches on the sideline.
The Pack on the other hand still has everything to play for. If they can win their last four, they have a realistic chance to win the North (assuming here that Rodgers returns for the last three. If he doesn't, they've got no shot, obviously). If they're going to catch the Lions though, they'll need some help from the Eagles on Sunday--the toughest game left on their schedule. If Detroit wins in Philly, they'll be a lot closer to the North title.
If the Packers lose this game, put me in the camp that Rodgers should finish the season holding a clipboard. Yes, next week's Dallas game will have playoff implications for the Cowboys, but the Packers will know their post-season hopes are gone and they'd be better served by letting that collarbone heal completely and start looking ahead to 2014. Same thing holds for Randall Cobb. There's no guarantee he'll be healthy enough to play anyway, but a loss on Sunday should shelve him for the year as well.
The Packers will have had ten days to think about the Thanksgiving Day massacre. Ten days to hear about what was the most embarrassing loss of the Mike McCarthy era. If they've got any pride at all, we'll see a focused effort from the team on both sides of the ball. Nothing we've seen in the last five weeks makes us feel really confident that that will happen. The Falcons can't sack the quarterback. That should give us hope. After all, sometimes, you just gotta believe.
Packers 20 Falcons 17
Posted November 29th, 2013 @ 03:11pm
I feel like putting as much effort into this blog as the Packers gave on Thanksgiving Day, but I think I've already got them beat.
I doubt many of us can remember watching a Packer game as one-sided, unless you recall the 70s. Where did this come from? Both teams came in desperate and hoping to begin a late season run to the division title. Granted, the Pack was still without Rodgers, but the return of Shields, Jolly, Perry and Barclay was supposed to infuse some energy into a team that had played a five quarter game just 3 1/2 days ago.
So much for that. The Packers were an embarrassment on both sides of the ball, particularly on defense. The three early takeaways were a breath of fresh air, but from that point on the air reeked like a football locker room. 561 yards. Are you kidding me? The Packers defense appears lost, unsure and a step slow. They need to address upgrades on all three levels, particularly at inside linebacker and safety.
Unlike Sunday, the offense was unprepared to bail out the defense on this day. The offensive line got beat up from the opening snap, helped in part by Josh Sitton's inflammatory words that no doubt fired up the Lions' imposing front four. They had Matt Flynn running for his life all day and Flynn couldn't do anything. The line's inability to provide any running lanes for Eddie Lacy didn't help matters.
You often hear coaches, after a putrid performance, say 'we're going to burn the videotape and move on.' Well, there's no forgetting this one. There's no moving on. The Lions put an exclamation point on a historically bad November that saw the Pack go 0-4-1 without their leader. If and when Aaron Rodgers comes back, he'll need to do more than lead the offense. He'll need to play tackle, D line, linebacker and safety. And if he could help out on special teams, that would be nice.
At 5-6-1, no one should be uttering the 'p' word. This team looks nothing like a playoff team right now. If they win their last four to finish at 9-6-1, they'll still need the Lions to lose two of their last four (at Philly, home to the Ravens and Giants and at the Vikings). And if the stars align and the Packers somehow claim the division title, they'll get to host a team like the 49ers, Saints or Panthers in the wildcard round. You like their chances against any of those teams, after watching the Packers play their last four or five games? Me either.
I don't know about all of you, but my turkey still tasted good. I still had a wonderful day with my family, culminating with our traditional poker game. I have a lot to be thankful for and Thanksgiving Day provided an opportunity to reflect on that.
Putting the Packer game out of my head was easier than I thought. When you get thoroughly embarrassed it's a little easier to do that. How the team responds over the final quarter of the season will provide a glimpse at the future. The future should be what we're thinking about right now, because the 2013 season appears to be a lost one.