Sunday, December 15, 2013

After a historically bad first half, the Packers engineer a historically great comeback

Make no mistake: the Green Bay Packers were toast. They were beaten. Stick a fork in them - they were done. After embarrassing themselves for the first thirty minutes and clawing back to within 5 in the 4th quarter, the Packers would have been totally justified in laying down on the turf of their latest Super Bowl triumph and just accepting their fate.

There they were, down by five, having almost (almost!) revived themselves from a historically awful first half. They had given up the most first-half yards ever in Cowboy history that reaches back into the Packer decade of the  1960’s. They had managed only a measly field goal against the worst defense (no matter how you measure it) in the entire NFL. But something happened at halftime, just as it did last week. On the first play from scrimmage, Eddie Lacy ran for sixty yards and three plays later Flynn hit Jordy Nelson for the TD and the comeback was on!

But the comeback would be delayed! Tramon Williams made a diving interception that the refs found to be not entirely pure and gave the ball back to the home team. On the next play, the ‘Boys right tackle would flinch and draw Neil offsides and the Packer penalty (what???) would give Dallas a first down and the ensuing drive (did some money pass from Jerry Jones’ coffers to the ref’s accounts?) would put “America’s Team” up and in position for a victory.

Sigh. The Packers had been so awful in the first half! Dom Capers’ defense was unable to stop the run, unable to cover anybody and unable to get any pressure on Romo. If the Cowboys had been a better team or had their coaches ben able to call a coherent game, they would have been up by at least 35 at the half and maybe more. Matt Flynn was doing a masterful job playing himself out of a guaranteed gig backing up Aaron Rodgers for the 2014 season. Think about what the Bears (an fairly mediocre team) had done to the Cowboys last week and you had to love the Packers chances to rack up big yards in both the running and passing games, but as has been the norm for the last six weeks, the Packer offensive line couldn’t muster enough blocking for either it’s running back or its quarterback.

Then a funny thing happened: The Packer offense started playing like a professional football team should. The Packer defense, dismayed and dishonored by the atrocious referee calls, shook it off and produced yet another interception, this time one above reproach (and beyond Jerry Jones’ ability to buy off). 

When the Packers took over with 2:46 to play, you could almost feel the inevitability of the ensuing score. A combination of Flynn passing and Lacy running, culminating in the rookie running back putting the Packers up for good felt like sweet, sweet redemption. What had started as potentially one of the most embarrassing losses in Packer history ended up as one of the greatest comebacks in Packer history. As awful as the first half had been, the second half looked suspiciously like a football game, something that has been conspicuously absent from the Packer portfolio since October.

Make no mistake, this team is still flawed, maybe fatally so. Their defense can look worse than third graders one minute, then stiffen and force punts or field goals. Clay Matthews, the supposedly best defensive player on this team, was almost completely absent (he had two assists and a half-sack) yet somehow the defense was able to clamp down. The secondary, seemingly oblivious a football game was going on during the first half, came up with two picks in the second half (should have been three) to set up the winning TD and seal the victory. The offense, horribly inept in the first half, exploded for 34 points in the second. What. The. Hell?

Pending the Lion’s result on Monday night, the Packers will either be a half game behind the Bears or a half-game behind the Bears and Lions. The Browns, those lovable losers, couldn’t hold on to a second half lead and got waxed by Chicago, a game that could have propelled the Packers to the North lead.

I’m still afraid of the horror I might witness if the Packers get into the playoffs but I’m totally intrigued by the prospect of the post-season itself. I can’t imagine the Packers will beat any playoff-worthy team, but just getting there would be a stunning achievement in itself. With the return of Aaron Rodgers looming, with the possible return of Randall Cobb, with the sudden resurgence of the will to win in Green Bay, I have to say I’m suddenly invested in the possibility of more Packer wins. A few weeks ago (the memory of the Debacle in Detroit will take a long time to fade) the Green Bay Packers looked incapable of winning another game in 2013. Now, they are feeling like they can pull off a win against anybody. I don’t think that’s true but remember: Belief is a powerful force.

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