Friday, November 25, 2011

MMQB: Turkey Day and another pretender is dealt with by Green Bay

Wednesday, right before leaving work, one of my fellow Packer fans asked me how I felt about the Thanksgiving day match-up between Green Bay and  the surprising Detroit Lions. I answered as honestly as I could: “I feel good about this game. Lions are going to be tough but I’ve seen them play a few times this year and I can’t see them beating the Packers right now.” Deep in my pessimistic MMQB lizard brain (the part that makes us fearful little animals instead of top-of-the-food chain predators) I knew that this game had the markings of a problem for the Packers. The relative strengths and weaknesses of the two teams did not bode well for our guys. To wit:
  • Lions have an excellent front four that can get after a quarterback without blitzing - The Packer offensive line has not given Rodgers the kind of time lately he needs.
  • The Lions biggest weakness is run defense - Packers have good backs but they are never going to win games by dominating on the ground.
  • The Lions have a pretty good QB in Stafford and a legitimate star in Calvin Johnson - The Packer defensive backs tend to make even mediocre QB’s look like Hall-of-Famers.
 But this is why you play the games. This is why stats and tendencies can lie. This is why the pundits like to look at a game like this and teams like this and say, “yup, time for the Packers to lose one.” And Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson say, “nope, not going to happen!”
This team is starting to get into a groove and a rhythm that seems very familiar to me. It was the 2007 season and the almost-perfect New England Patriots were tearing up the entire NFL. Teams would play them tight and close and do everything right and they’d still look up at the scoreboard ten minutes into the game and be down by 21. You could almost hear them think “how the hell did that happen?” And the Packers are getting like that too. Teams have been giving it their best shot (well, maybe not the Vikings two weeks ago) and are still ending up on the short end of the stick. The Bucs played one of  their best games of the season and the Packers won. The Lions stayed nose-to-nose with the Packers in a typically gritty, first half, only to get smoked. 
Think about this team and what they have already accomplished: 11-0 record, pretty darn good. 17 wins in a row going back to last year, outstanding. Beating good teams of all stripes and schemes, can’t get any better. Here is the big one: winning three games in 11 days, against maybe our biggest division rival (Vikes), an up-and-coming team (Bucs) and the biggest revival of fortunes in many years (Lions). 
We have a lot of reasons to be thankful for this year, and as is my habit, I want to tell you mine:
I’m thankful that the Lions have such and undisciplined team. Seriously: 11 penalties for 82 yards is bad enough but two of them allowed the Packers to score touchdowns instead of field goals, total no-no’s in the NFL. Add in the ejection of Mr. Suh (if you’ve heard his after-the-game denial/shifting of blame/explanation, you know this guy is a total head case) and it all totals up to a pretty dysfunctional team. If you want to hand out a game ball, hand it to the Lions: they found a way to keep our drives going for us!
I’m thankful that Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy saw fit to hang on to James Jones. The Lions must have got word that Jordy Nelson could burn you if you took away Jennings and Finely. In their attempt to cover all three of those guys, they forgot about #89 for that one brief moment it took for Aaron Rodgers to find him. BOOM! Touchdown Green Bay. 
I’m thankful for a team that has grown and matured so much in the last three seasons. Not that long ago a sack or penalty or a lack of execution or concentration would have meant a stalled drive and a punt. Now we can rise above the mistakes and make positive plays. We don’t get impatient with ourselves. We know we can overcome adversity.
I’m thankful for team depth. Mike McCarthy deactivate not one, not two but three linebackers before the game and we had the misfortune to have both of our starting inside backers (Hawk and Bishop) go out with injury. A bad day for Green Bay? Nope. We saw DJ Smith and Robert Francois step right up and shoulder the load. Were they perfect? No, that’s why they aren’t the starters. But just like last year, if someone goes down, someone else comes in and plays at or above the level of the starter. Francois even got an interception. THIS is the kind of team character champions are made of.
I’m thankful for the bend-but-don’t-break defense. It can be awfully trying to watch but you just cannot deny it’s effectiveness. The opportunistic nature of this defense would seem to be something you shouldn’t be able to count on but week in and week out, they get the job done! When Charles Woodson RIPPED the ball from a receivers hands, you just had to smile and marvel at our good fortune.
Most of all, I’m thankful for Mindy, Matt, Sean, Becky, Dora, Toni, Jim, Mary, Fred, Joan and all my excellent friends, teammates and co-workers. I’m thankful for all of you read this little rant and from time to time, tell me you like it. I’m thankful for all the fine folk that contribute (in money, support and sweat) to our yearly biking/fundraising quest to eliminate the scourge of MS from Planet Earth.
The Packers have earned some time off before they take on the Giants and so have you. Bask in the afterglow, get yourself a big ol’ slab of white meat and take a few days to appreciate all you have.

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