Sunday, November 24, 2013

Packers fall way behind, replace their QB, claw back in, get ahead, end up with a resounding tie

The saying goes that a tie is like kissing your sister. If that is so, the tie managed by the Packers was like full-on tongue with your sister.

Don’t get me wrong - I think the fact that Green Bay and Minnesota ended their 4-hour long contest with the scoreboard knotted up is a fantastic result. After driving his team downfield in the first quarter, Scott Tolzien capped off the drive with a twisting scramble for six that will make every highlight reel in the nation. And then he lost his mojo. After what seemed like several days of excruciatingly poor play, he was pulled in favor of Matt Flynn. I like Scott Tolzien. I think he has what it takes to play in the NFL. I believed he would play well today but I cannot fault Mike McCarthy for giving him the hook. Tolzien was not the reason the Packers had lost three games in a row but against the Vikings, it was obvious he was not going to be the reason we won one.

Matt Flynn, lately an NFL vagabond since his record-setting outing against the Lions two years ago, was signed by the Packers after Rodgers and Seneca Wallace went down and the move looks like sheer genius right now, although most Packer fans are more of the “what took you so freakin’ long???” opinion. Flynn came in and led the Packers to 16 points in the fourth quarter to get things back to even and gave his once-and-current team a shot at victory. He didn’t set the world on fire (21-for-36, 218 yards and a TD) but he did provide the spark that started the comeback.

Speaking of sparks, you’ve got to love (LOVE!) the fire in the belly of Eddie Lacy. He ended the day on the sideline with what might have been a minor injury but he chipped in 110 yards on 25 attempts and 1 TD. More importantly, many of those runs were pounding, slamming, tumbling variety, runs that keep drives alive. If our early quarterback play had been up to snuff, Lacy’s running would have demoralized and destroyed the Queens defense, likely controlling the game all by himself.

As powerful as Lacy’s running was, he was out-shone by Adrian Peterson, who re-imposed his dominance over the Packer defense again. Peterson ran for 136 yards and a score (kind of a ho-hum day for him playing the Packers) but I’m thinking maybe it wasn’t so much about the running of Peterson as it was about the total domination by the Vikes O-line over the Packer defense. When AP needed a breather after gashing the Pack, Toby Gerhardt (8 rushes for an astounding 91 yards!) came in and made our front seven look foolish. Our inability to stop the run is directly tied to the fact that Johnny Jolly was out and it has become an all too familiar refrain during our Rodgers-less interlude.

In the passing game, our severely depleted secondary continued to underperform. Christian Ponder, one of the least capable quarterbacks in the NFL, passed for 233 yards and 1 TD. It’s often painful to watch him play but today he looked like he was much improved. Of course, with the Packers conceding just about any throw he wanted to make (love the see the Packers “passes defended” stats - probably all zeroes) it wasn’t too hard. It’s always puzzling to me while watching the Packer games how our receivers are always tightly covered and have to fight and make outstanding plays on every pass and somehow our opponents always seem to have at least one guy wide open on every pass.

Did everybody miss Clay Matthews? I know I did. In his third game back after breaking his thumb, Clay Matthews finally started to play like...well, Clay Matthews. He had two sacks, three tackles and one assist but he was the main reason his fellow defenders recorded four more. Without this pressure, I think the score might have gotten out of hand and completely out of reach. It was heartening to have him back and performing at such a high level and it gave me some hope that there is the slightest glimmer of hope for this defense. Sure, they can’t stop the run and can’t cover on the pass but if they can pressure QB’s into making mistakes, maybe they can make some big plays. And no, I don’t mean interceptions - our defense seems to be allergic to them and I wouldn’t want to provoke some sort of rash. 

Now the big question of the week: who will be the Packer’s quarterback on Thanksgiving day?That’s a question that really hasn’t been relevant since 1992 but it’s one that is uppermost in Cheesehead Nation quite often of late. Will Aaron Rodgers be ready to play? Is Scott Tolzien still the starter? Will Mike McCarthy view the game film and decide Flynn is The Man? Personally, if Rodgers isn’t ready to go, he has to name Flynn the starter and do it quickly - it’s a short week and he’ll need every snap in practice to be ready.

The game in Detroit on Thursday suddenly becomes HUGE. The Packers could not take advantage of the losses by the Lions and Bears but the tie leaves them only a half-game behind both teams. Despite the absence of Aaron Rodgers and the painful three-game losing streak, the tie muddies the playoff waters and muddy water works to our advantage. Look at the standings and you have to conclude that the only way the Pack can get into the post-season is to win the North. Too many good teams surging right now so the Wild Card will not be an option. The Packers have already beaten the Lions once and won and tied over the Vikes. IF we can somehow pull out the win over the Lions on Turkey Day, our path to the playoffs will be in our own hands. If we cannot pull off the win, we won’t be mathematically eliminated but for all practical purposes, we’ll be done. 

The Minnesota Vikings posses the worst (as in #32) defense in the NFL and one of the worst offenses and it was all the Packers could do to scratch out a tie. Something has to change.

So, if Dom Capers has an ounce of coaching smarts left in him, he needs to find a way to cover wide receivers with a bunch of third-teamers because Megatron is coming. He needs to figure out how to get his team to shed blockers and tackle because Reggie Bush is licking his chops. Mike McCarthy needs to figure out how to block pass rushers with Marshall “Turnstile” Newhouse anchoring his line. He also has to hope that Matt Flynn can catch lightning in a bottle for the second time against the Lions. Because this is a playoff game for the Packers, despite what the schedule says. 

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