Sunday, December 23, 2012

Packers play their first complete game of the year in an ass-kicking for the ages.

The Green Bay Packers waiting until week 16 of the 2012 NFL season to finally (finally!) put together a complete game. Sure, the Tennessee Titans are not exactly what you would call a powerful football team, even under the best of circumstances. Even more injury-ravaged than the Packers, the Titans are the NFL poster-children for the term “undermanned”. They have all five of their starting offensive linemen on the IR list. Even so, they are a professional football team and it takes nothing away from the achievement of Mike McCarthy and his team pulled off this afternoon. 

On offense, they not only threw the ball with their customary aplomb but they stayed with the rushing attack and, while it netted 140 yards (not earth-shattering but pretty good for the Packers) the bigger factor were the four TD’s the Pack scored on the ground thanks to Rodgers, Harris and Ryan Grant, who put two scores up.

The defense was equally dominating. You might call the Titan offense “inept” or “disjointed” or even “piss-poor” but you have to acknowledge the power and the glory of Clay Matthews and his cohorts, limiting  Locker to only 140 yards through the air, picking him off twice and sacking him seven times. If you take away Locker’s 39-yard pass to set up the 2-yard TD throw deep into slop time, the Packer defense put up a performance for the ages. Until that late lapse, the Packers were on the verge of the largest margin of victory since the pre-NFL Green Bay Packers hung a 62-0 thrashing on DePere in 1920. I’m sure it hurt to give up the shut-out (the Packer defenders appeared to be pretty disinterested at that point) but the win is what matters the most.

As critical as we’ve all been of Mason Crosby and his struggles, you have to give him props today. He went out there and made both of his field goal attempts and all seven of his extra points. Sure, his first make was aided by doinking the ball off the right upright from 48-yards out, but I’m sure he (and we) will take any and all help we can get. His kick-offs were a little inconsistent but I’m sure that’s just because his leg was getting tired late in the game. Which is a GREAT problem to have!

As much as I’d love to wallow in the victory, there is one key point I’d like to make, something more important to the continued success of this team in the coming weeks: Mike McCarthy kept his foot on the gas. This is not something he does. He likes to get a lead, establish the run, chews up some clock. All good things to do but it does afford lesser opponents the opportunity to get themselves back into football games. Today, however, with the game firmly in hand, Mike McCarthy declined the opportunity to coast to victory. Here we were, in the latter minutes of the third quarter and everybody and his mother are thinking “pull Rodgers, this game is done.” MM does not pull Rodgers. What he does do is call a masterful West Coast-style 80-yard drive for a touchdown. Here we go...

  • Packers ball at their own 20, 3:31 left in the third, up 34-0. First play is a run for no gain. Then we light things up - short pass to Jones turned into a 27-yard gain. Short pass to Finley for 18. Rush by Grant for no gain. Short pass to Taylor for 11. Short pass to Jennings for four. The quarter ends and suddenly the Packers are set up at the Tennessee 24. Another short pass to Jennings sets up a 12-yard TD to James Jones, Packers up 41-0.

Did you see what I saw? Not only did I see a coach who is normally conservative with a lead go for the jugular but I also saw him do it with controlled, high-percentage quick passes. No bombs forty yards down the field on third-and-short. This is now yet another way the Packers can take control of game and score. Not just with Rodgers’ laser-guided cannon for an arm. Short, ball-control offense that methodically eats up a defense, one bite at a time. I hope this is a sign of things to come from McCarthy. Too often, he counts on Rodgers’ obvious skills to complete passes far downfield. It’s fantastic to have that in your quiver, but if you can shift from a quick-strike, downfield attack to the short game and back again, there isn’t a defense in the league that can stop you.

This game was not without it’s costs: We saw Randall Cobb go out with a leg injury. As of this writing, all we know is that MM thinks it’s “not serious”. Davon House went out with a shoulder injury (possibly similar to the one he suffered in the preseason). Grant went out late with an unknown ailment. The injury to Cobb is, obviously, the most concerning. His contributions in both the return game and in the passing game are this year’s most welcome. Without Cobb, this season might have been lost given the games that Jennings and Nelson have spent in street clothes. Jennings is back in but not the deep threat he was pre-injury. Nelson in progressing but no one can say if he will be anywhere near 100% next week or beyond. That leaves James Jones as your primary receiving threat (and a big threat at that!) with Finely, Driver and a host of rookies to pick up the slack. Jeremy Ross (the guy who fumbled the ill-conceived backwards pass from Cobb last week) looks like he’s got some skills in the return game but if Cobb misses any significant playing time, the offensive production will suffer.

The tilt against the Vikings next week certainly has some meaning for both teams. The Packers need to win that game (and get some help from the Seahawks tonight!) to secure the #2 seed and a week off to start the playoffs. We can debate all day on the merits for and against the bye, but for a team as beat up as the Packers, a week to get healthier is nothing but good. Minnesota will not only be playing for a playoff spot but to put Adrian Peterson over the top for the single-season rushing record. They’d love to do both and I’m sure the playoff slot is the bigger prize but it will be a double-dose of motivation for the Vikes. The Packers can do no worse than the #3 seed even with a loss but we all know the importance of momentum and playing hot to end the season. Here’s hoping that Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Packers can keep their collective feet on the gas and power their way into the playoffs.

Mrs. MMQB and I wish all our readers the happiest of holidays. We plan on spending the next few days celebrating with family, enjoying excellent meals and sublime libations. We encourage you to do the same!

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