Sunday, December 8, 2013

Packers find it within themselves to muster a narrow victory in cold and snow Lambeau Field

Mrs. MMQB, upon being informed of the final result of the game (she quit watching at halftime) and the implications of the Detroit loss summed things up better than I ever could: “What a screwed up season!”

That’s right, Packer-backers, with the improbable victory recorded at frigid Lambeau Field and the failure of the Lions in the snow at Philly, Green Bay suddenly finds themselves only a half-game out of first place in the NFC North. Despite all the injuries, despite Aaron Rodgers being absent since October, despite the mid-season regression of the defense from top ten to bottom ten, your Green Bay Packers have a shot at the playoffs with only three games left in this season.

Do they deserve it? Are they a team that should really in contention for anything? Well, if you have paid any attention during the month of November, you’d have to say “no”. This is a severely dysfunctional football team with gaping deficiencies in just about every position except for maybe kicker and punter. And yet, here we are.

Truly, the only reason we are even mentioned in the post-season equation is due to the 5-2 record put up by Aaron Rodgers and that other Packer team, the one during the first half of the season that looked like it was going places. Fortunately, you can’t separate that team from the buffoons who took their places in week 7.

Full disclosure here: I was only able to watch the first half and small chunks of the second. I did get to watch the last three series and the eventual clinching interception (another one? Unheard of!) and the unusual sight of a Packer victory.

While watching the first half, I have to say I quickly lapsed into a “here we go again” mindset. Our team kept showing brief moments and flashes of their former selves but would quickly regress to that group that was handed their collective jock straps by Detroit on Thanksgiving. When Flynn was strip-sacked, it hurt. When that ricochet interception was returned for six, I became almost indifferent. How can a fan bring himself to care about a team that appears to have completely lost the will to win?

Make no mistake - the will of the players, their belief they can beat an opponent, is a major factor in football games. I’ve been watching the NFL since the 1960’s and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen inept, overmatched teams get the idea in their heads that they can win and darned if they don’t go ahead and do just that. Think back to the 2010 Super Bowl season. There was a point in that year, after they’d lost to the Patriots (with Rodgers on the bench after a concussion the week before) where this team had to question their worth. I think many Packer fans were doing the same. The team had been devastated by injuries all season long and their arrow was definitely pointing down. They had two games left and would need to win them both to have a shot. Something happened as they welcomed the Giants the following week: the Packers began to believe in themselves again. They destroyed New York and then went out and outplayed the Bears and the drive  for the championship was on. They were able to overcome a crisis in confidence to win it all.

I don’t bring this up to tell you I think this team is going to win the Super Bowl. I don’t even believe this team will get to the post-season. I bring this up to illustrate why the Packers won this game today. There wasn’t any one single moment that did it. They just kept working, kept pounding and did just enough, just enough, to win the game. The Falcons certainly didn’t look like a team with only three wins (the Packers of late have had a way of making poor opponents feel much better about themselves) and should have easily put this game out of reach after going up 21-10 at the half. Somehow, some way, the Packer defense found some untapped reserve of resolve and held the Falcons scoreless over the final half. Somehow, some way, the Packer offense found a hidden pocket of desire, just deep enough to squeak out two field goals and a touchdown to Quarless with 12 minutes left in the game. And I think that’s the answer - the Packers had to want it more. I’m sure they wanted to win all those other games but for some reason, that little bit of desire was just enough to carry the day today.

Whatever happens the rest of the way, the Packers can point to this game and say, “yes, we were down, we were beaten. After our worst game in ten years, we came out and could have just laid down on the cold, snowy turf and let it happen again. But we didn’t. We rose up. We didn’t play all that great, but we played well enough. It might mean exactly zero, but today, it was enough. We proved we can win a game without Aaron Rodgers.”

So now, with three games to play and the possibility of Rodgers’ eventual return, Mike McCarthy has a lot to think about. The offensive line is still leaking like a sieve. Do you trust this makeshift group to protect your franchise quarterback? If Rodgers takes the kind of pounding Flynn took today, would he survive it? If the Packers had lost today, that answer becomes a simple one - you sit Rodgers. Now, with the win and the Lion’s loss, the equation gets much more complicated. If this week’s bone scan clears him, Rodgers is going to play. He might be a little rusty, but his presence on the field is so important to this team that you just can’t keep him on the bench while still playing meaningful games.

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