Thanksgiving Night at Lambeau: A Feast for the Eyes, Ears and Emotions

Posted November 25th, 2015 @ 03:11pm

It's that time of year when we reflect on all that we are thankful for. Hopefully we will be spending Thanksgiving Day with our loved ones and friends to renew annual traditions, eat, and watch football (not necessarily in that order).

For some of us especially lucky ones, we will conclude the day at Lambeau Field, where the Pack will host its first Turkey Day game since 1923, hosting the hated Bears in the series' 192nd game. It's the tenth straight year the teams will meet in prime time.

And then there's the halftime ceremony, where goosebumps will be in play. Brett Favre's triumphant return to see his name and number retired on the Lambeau Field wall, besides greats like Bart Starr, who will make his final appearance at the place he helped immortalize, to honor the career of the old gunslinger.

As much as I hated the way things ended with Favre, the time has come to move on and celebrate the unparalleled career he had. For 16 years, he dazzled us, perplexed us and wowed us and of course, he was always out there--an ironman streak that will never be challenged by an NFL quarterback.

Sandwiched around the memorable halftime ceremony, the Pack will need to take care of business and dispatch with the Bears, a team they beat in the opener. The Bears looked lost in the first month of the season and appeared headed to a top three pick, allowing them to choose Jay Cutler's successor.

But a funny thing happened since then, the Bears awoke and started to win, most notably by three touchdowns in St. Louis a couple weeks back. Amazing what good coaching will do for you. The Bears have seven new starters since that first meeting, including three on the offensive line, which has helped jump start the offense. Cutler is playing more confidently and they are moving the ball on the ground with both Matt Forte and rookie Jeremy Langford. It appears Forte will return from injury for this one.

Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is also back after sitting out on Sunday, but the Bears will be without defensive leader, safety Antrel Rolle, who injured his knee last Saturday and missed the Broncos game.

Defensively, the Bears are figuring things out after switching to a 3-4 with new DC Vic Fangio. They're giving up just 20 points per game over the past month and are getting solid play from some youngsters who have taken over for slipping veterans.

Both teams are dealing with a short week after a physical game on Sunday. It usually translates into a sub-par Thursday night game as players' bodies for the most part aren't ready for another game so quickly. As banged up as the Packers are, it will be interesting to see how they respond, especially on the offensive line.

Sunday's statement in Minneapolis feels like a turning point. With a chance to continue that momentum with divisional games these next two Thursdays, the Pack has a chance to reach most of their season goals when they start the final quarter of the season. But after the last home game, they can take nothing for granted.

The Bears will come in loose, unafraid and ready to try to spoil our Thanksgiving feast. But it's hard to believe the Packers won't be ready for them. On an emotional night when the greatest Bear killer of them all (not including that Bloomington dentist) is in the house, I expect to see a strong performance from the Pack.

A win on Thanksgiving night will tie the all time series at 93-93 (with six ties), something Green Bay hasn't accomplished since the '30s. With Bart and countless other luminaries in the house from Packers teams past, I can't see that not happening.

Packers 23  Bears 14


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Pack D Throws a Sack Party at the Bank

Posted November 23rd, 2015 @ 03:11am

After watching that one, I can't get the "Welcome Back Kotter" theme song out of my head.  It was a day of welcome backs. From Eddie Lacy and James Jones on the offense, to the overall pass rush and dominance up front from the defense. And big picture: a welcome back to the Packers we thought we knew.

They took a little three game hiatus, which may cost them a home game come January, but this incarnation of the Pack will compete against anyone, anywhere. Let's hope they're here to stay.

The defense set the tone in the first half, containing Adrian Peterson and making life miserable for Teddy Bridgewater, whom many Vikings fans will blame, but who got very little help from his linemen and was running for his life all afternoon. Mike Daniels and Datone Jones were dominant--three sacks between them--they set the tone for the unit. Teddy was sacked six times and was hurried and pressured too many times to count. Where in the world has that been all month? Clinton-Dix was all over the field and the Pack contained the Vikings receivers (if not the tight ends), holding Wallace without a catch and keeping Diggs in check.

But what really set the tone was the job they did on Peterson, holding him to less than 3.5 yards per carry and then punching the ball out for a crucial fumble which served as the dagger in this one.

As I preached all week, the Pack needed to run the ball to turn their offensive fortunes around. They ran it 34 times, led by the resurgent Lacy who looked like the Lacy of old, running hard, breaking tackles and breaking the 100 yard mark, finally. Kudos to the banged up offensive line for stepping up in a big spot and winning the battle against the Vike's vaunted front seven. JC Tretter stepped in for the injured Corey Linsley and handled his business, not bothered by Linval Joseph and company.

The passing is getting closer. There were still too many drops, by everybody by most notably Randall Cobb. But James Jones' Top 10 worthy catch in the first half that set up a touchdown was a thing of beauty, as was his toe tapping TD in the second half. He needs to be an every week playmaker from here on out as the Pack deals with injuries at WR. Jeff Janis finally got a little run, targeted twice by Rodgers deep. His 70 yard kickoff return showed just how dangerous he can be. You have to think he will continue to get more and more chances.

Rodgers didn't crack the 100 mark in passer rating, in part thanks to a lot of drops and in part because of some bad passes. But he made all the plays he needed to make at just the right time and orchestrated a solid performance with two TDs and no picks--he was sacked twice.

This was precisely the kind of performance we dared hope for, but couldn't possibly predict. The Packers played like the team that had more to prove, that needed to demonstrate that rumors of its demise were a tad premature. They did that on this night in Minneapolis, winning for the fifth time in the last six years. Never again will they get to play them here outdoors, which is a shame, but as I recall they've had pretty good success indoors as well.

What the Packers did on this day was remind the Purple that the NFC North continues to run through Green Bay, as it has the last four years and counting. They'll get another shot in week 17. We'll see where both teams sit in six weeks. The Vikings have a tougher road ahead and will need to go down to Atlanta and take care of business in Week 12.

With two more divisional games left in this all NFC North quarter of the season, the Pack has a chance to enter the fourth quarter of the season with most of its goals still reachable. If they continue to play with this kind of energy and emotion, they will be tough to beat on most Sundays...and Thursdays.

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Vikings Smell Blood in the Water.

Posted November 19th, 2015 @ 08:11pm

It's been an uneasy week for Packer fans, who are treading in unchartered waters, suddenly questioning everything about their football team. Funny what a home loss to the Lions will do for your psyche.

Clearly, the biggest issues this team is facing right now reside on the offensive side of the ball, where virtually every starter appears to be playing to less than their potential or to a lesser level than we've seen them play.

As long as #12 is around, the passing game should be what sets this team apart from most others. In today's NFL, an average defense and mediocre special teams can be masked by a maestro at the controls of a high powered offense. Only, that offense has been grounded most of the season. Rodgers hasn't looked right since early in the Denver game and his appearance on the injury report this week to his shoulder injury should not come as a surprise.

Add to that the fact that defenses are not respecting the Pack's outside receivers, challenging them physically at the line to take away what Rodgers likes to do best: get rid of the ball quickly and let his receivers operate in space after the catch. It's causing Rodgers to hold on to the ball too long, hoping to see some separation, and when he doesn't, the play breaks down and drives stall.

The running game has also failed to get going, no matter who is getting the football. Before this three game skid, the team was eighth in the league in rushing. In these three losses they've ranked 28th. If the offense is to get untracked, it starts with running the football effectively and it won't be easy this weekend at TCF Bank Stadium. But it won't be impossible, either. The Vikings are middle of the pack against the run and the Pack needs to commit to running the ball. 61 pass attempts, 29 in the 4th quarter like last week and the Pack won't have a chance.

The passing game will continue to be shorthanded, with Jared Abbrederis out for a few weeks and Ty Montgomery dropping out of practice on Thursday. If this isn't the week Jeff Janis gets a shot, I don't know what is. This guy must be one lousy practice player to not be given snaps during games. We've seen him shine bright in limited opportunities this season and in the last couple preseasons. It's time to see if he can serve as a deep threat. Opposing defenses aren't taking the deep pass seriously right now. Janis and Davante Adams present the only real options on the roster.

Defensively for Green Bay this week it obviously comes down to containing Adrian Peterson for four quarters. A month or so ago, they did a good job against Todd Gurley, holding him to three yards per carry until he busted open a 55 yarder late when the game was already decided. There were positive signs form this unit in the fourth quarter in Carolina and last weekend. The Vikings have been held under 20 points in regulation in their last two home games against the Chiefs and Rams. I think the Pack has a chance to keep them near that number on Sunday.

After watching their last three efforts, I find it difficult to see them rising up and playing at the level needed to beat a supremely confident Vikings team that smells blood in the water.  But a couple of intangibles work in the Pack's favor. They come in as the more desperate, angry, embarrassed, focused team. Their demeanor might give them a slight edge against a team suddenly being told how wonderful they are and one that's wearing t-shirts this week exhorting them to beat the Pack.

Whatever happens on Sunday will not signal the beginning or the end of anything. A win by the Vikes gives them a two game lead in the North, a head of steam and a little breathing room with the Falcons, Seahawks and Cardinals looming (a letdown next week would be very possible). A win by the Pack would slow the Viking love nationwide and right the Pack's ship, in time for two straight Thursday night divisional games on tap.

We all know these two teams will meet again on January 3rd. I had hoped a month ago that game might mean nothing. Regardless of what happens on Sunday, it looks like it might mean everything. For now, I expect the Vikes to  grab the upper hand.

Vikings 20  Packers 19

Want to go to the Week 17 showdown at Lambeau and watch the game with a friend and with me in a suite with outdoor seating, including unlimited food and non-alcoholic beverages?  Online auction is live now and ends Tuesday night, with money going to Loaves and Fishes. Includes two newly licensed 60x72 comfy NFL  blankets, made by Denali in the USA.



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Power Rankings

The Baker's Dozen Why 13 and not 10? To celebrate the Pack’s 13 NFL titles, of course. 11/18/15

  1. New England (1)
  2. Carolina (3)
  3. Arizona (3)
  4. Cincinnati (2)
  5. Vikings (7)
  6. Pittsburgh (11)
  7. Packers (6)
  8. Denver (5)
  9. N.Y. Giants (13)
  10. Kansas City (-)
  11. Seattle (8)
  12. Atlanta (12)
  13. Chicago (-)
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