Sunday, December 22, 2013
Packers weekly comeback falls short in sloppy, mistake-filled game
As I’m writing this, the Bears are busy getting completely smoked by the Eagles, keeping hope alive in Titletown.
That’s right, loyal readers, even after the Packers lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, they still have a shot at winning the NFC North and moving on to the post-season. That seems like a silly statement to make, given the outrageous fortune suffered over the course of last seven weeks.
Think back, way back, to the last game Aaron Rodgers played in. The Packers were 5-2, basking in the glory of a running game growing in power and effectiveness every game. Rodgers was once again running a passing offense that might have led to his best season ever. The defense was stout against the run, not-awful against the pass. New, young players were rising up. Then, in the midst of what should have been a TD drive against the Bears, a small bone cracked and a team and a season went completely off the rails. If you look at that remaining schedule and how those teams were playing, the Packers had a real shot at running the table, finishing 14-2 and sliding into the playoffs, primed for another run at the Lombardi Trophy. I’m not saying this as a Packer fan or a homer - I truly think with Rodgers under center it would have come to pass.
Alas, Rodgers did go out, the back-up QB’s were found lacking, the defense unraveled and the month of November was lost before Matt Flynn could come in and provide some hope.
The last two games, both victories by the slimmest of margins, followed similar scripts: fall behind by playing awful on both sides of the ball and then turn things around in the second half to pull out the miracle. Down by ten in the second half, Flynn and his compatriots were able to get things back to even, thanks partially due to some questionable calls by the ref’s. Then the wheels totally fell off. I suppose if you live on the edge and count on the miracle finish every week, you’re eventually going to get burned.
Despite several opportunities to pull out the win, sloppy penalties would ultimately close the door. The Packers were flagged nine times for 90 yards, the last one a false start on Don Barclay with the ball on the Pittsburgh 1-yard line with time running out. A ten-second run off was also assessed and the Packers were left with one rushed play, an incompletion in the end zone, and the game was over.
Matt Flynn, so sharp in the second halves of the Atlanta and Dallas victories, was erratic, putting many passes out of reach for his receivers. Between some iffy play-calling by his head coach and some questionable decisions, Flynn did not have a stellar afternoon.
Injuries also played a part in the defeat. Earlier this week Johnny Jolly was placed on the IR with a neck injury and Mike Neal then went out during the game. Clay Matthews got the one and only sack on Ben Roethlisberger and re-injured his thumb in doing it. Eddie Lacy, after setting the team record for both rushing yards and touchdowns by a rookie, limped off the field with another ding to his oft-injured ankle. The cascade of injuries through the entire season has weighed heavily on this team and it’s showing more and more every week.
One effect of so many injuries is to disrupt our special teams. By my count, special teams failures led directly to 17 of Pittsburgh’s 38 points. Eliminate those mistakes and you are probably looking at an easy Packer win. NOT a fun day for the Packer faithful in the stands at Mighty Lambeau.
So the season will come down to the game against the Bears next week. You can’t ask for a better scenario, can you? Final game of the year, division foe, winner goes on to the playoffs, loser goes home and wonders what-if. The drumbeat for Aaron Rodgers to play has already started up and will get louder and louder with every passing minute. I can only hope he’ll be ready but I’m not optimistic: The MMQB Research Center reported a tweet (citing “inside sources”) stating that Rodgers is not even close, that the risk of a catastrophic failure of his healing collarbone is real and tangible. This puts Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy in a very precarious position - clear Rodgers and you risk not only the playoffs this year but the continued fortunes of the team next year. Fail to clear him and get beat next week and face the combined wrath of thousands of fans second-guessing you.
I do not envy their task.