Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tough, NFC North matchup winds up (somehow) as a Packer victory.

The first half of this big, big North Division game was an exercise in ineptitude for the Green Bay Packers. How did they fail? Let me count ways:

  • Jordy Nelson dropped an easy pass that would have been a first down.
  • There were two holding calls and a false start on the offense.
  • There was a blow to Stafford’s head that resulted in a first down instead of a punt.
  • Mike McCarthy decided to eschew a 49-yard field goal attempt and the offense could not convert the fourth down.
  • He also didn’t challenge a reception by Johnson that sure looked like an incompletion on replay.
  • Tramon Williams forgot he was supposed to be covering Calvin Johnson.
  • Mason Crosby missed the same field goal twice.
  • Aaron Rodgers threw a pick two plays after the Packers had picked off Stafford.

Is that all of them? I’m sure it’s not but that’s all I can remember. Worst of all, six penalties for 50 yards plus two that were declined. HOLY CRAP, Batman! That’s a pretty awful half of football. The worst one was the Rodgers interception as a Packer drive for a score after a turnover would have completely altered the complexion of the game, but the Packers were only down by 3 at the half. 

After giving almost the entire third quarter over to the Lions, (the only scoring the Pack could manage was M.D. Jennings EXCELLENT pick six) and giving them the lead back when Calvin Johnson scored on a 25-yard pass (which somehow magically was not picked off) it set up a big, big fourth quarter.

After a Detroit field goal, the Packers were able to score on a fantastic catch by Cobb and get a one point lead. The defense then came up HUGE on two series with everything coming down to a failed Lions fourth down attempt. With their field position, the Pack were able to tack on a field goal and then just had to withstand some desperation attempts by the Lions to cement the win.

You know, the Lions are not that good of a team. I’ve seen them play and saw quite a bit of their loss to the Vikings last week and I cannot for the life of me figure out why this was such a hard game for the Packers. If you look at their secondary vs. our passing attack, this should have been a track meet with Green Bay racking up score after score. But that’s not how it went down. With the poor first half, the Packers seemed bent on giving the Lions every single opportunity to beat them. It was very telling watching Rodgers get slammed around on most passing plays. The shuffling of the offensive line, so successful last week, had to have some effect on it. Rodgers did not have much time in the pocket and his usual ability to scramble and roll out was negated. Why the Packers did not shift into their normally effective hurry-up offense is a mystery to me. I have to say, there were a few moments in this game where I thought Mike McCarthy was either asleep, drunk or busy playing Star Wars Angry Birds. 

The Packer pass rush, while not stellar, was certainly not awful either. Without the services of Clay Matthews, the Packer pass rush tends to evaporate and opposing QB’s can easily pick apart our secondary. I would have loved to see Stafford on his back a few more times but I’m more than happy with the productivity: Erik Walden had a pair of sacks and Desmond Moses got one, plus two from the secondary. There were many hurries and hits as well. More importantly than the sacks were the interceptions by Hayward and Jennings with the latter going for six. On a day when the defense would be shorthanded and sorely tested, I have to say the Packers won that battle.

And now on to the most painful topic that we are all going to be talking about in the weeks to come: Mason Crosby. Up until this season, Crosby was one of the most accurate kickers in the NFL. For some reason, he has come completely unraveled. Mike McCarthy had obviously lost confidence in him when he passed on a 49-yard FG attempt in order to go for it on fourth-and-and four. Failed. Crosby got his chance later but missed the same field goal twice (thanks to an ill-timed timeout by Detroit) to end the first half. He missed another one in the second half and just about shanked an extra point. When the Packers had an opportunity to cement the win with a 39-yarder with 24 seconds left in the game, you could almost see his entire football career coming to an end. But he made it, thank the football gods, and will live to play another week. Kickers are notorious head-cases and it looks like our guy has gone way ‘round the bend. His confidence is shot, he’s second-guessing himself, overcompensating and I fear we will have to deal with his inconsistency the rest of the year. Will Mike McCarthy make a change? Is Ted Thompson scanning the waiver wire or shopping someone in a trade? We might all hope so but that would be totally out of character for both our coach and our general manager. They are thoughtful, measured men (almost to a fault) and are not prone to panic-induced measures. Crosby is our kicker for the foreseeable future and all we can do is hope he can break out of it (a few short attempts would be nice, offense) and he doesn’t cost us a game down the line.

The Packer season has had several interesting segments: First we had the four-game opening stretch against really tough opponents. The Pack came out of that 2-2, thanks to the replacement refs and The Inaccurate Reception in Seattle. Next came a three-game road trip which ended up 2-1 with the loss coming to the surprisingly tough Colts. Then came a two-game pre-bye stretch where, as expected, the Packers came away 2-0. That was some exciting damn football and while we all wished for a better record, I thing 6-3 was a pretty good tally. Now, we come into the most important segment where we have the final seven games, five of which would come against NFC North teams and one against the New York Giants, the team that so throughly humiliated the Packers in the playoffs last season and would eventually claim the Lombardi Trophy. I have only one way to describe such a schedule: I LOVE IT! You want to find out who the best team in the North is? We’ll find out, won’t we? Not by fighting it out with AFC teams or some bottom-feeders but by playing North teams. Want revenge on the Giants for that drubbing last season? Kick their asses next week! You just can’t ask for a better stretch of football if you are truly a fan of the sport. If the Packers are the better team, ask them to prove themselves in the crucible of this seven-game stretch. If they are not the better team, we will find out. Sure, it would be nice to finish up the season against weak-ass opponents but won’t it be so much more fun to do it like this? Beating the Lions in this gritty, tough game was nerve wracking but, in hindsight, necessary. To both this team and to this season. We will start to see some starters back from injury and we will see just how good this team really is. Saddle-up and strap in tight, football fans; It’s gonna be good!

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