Sunday, December 29, 2013

Packers win the North in a rough, gritty contest with the Bears - how much farther can they go?

The final Packer scoring drive of the game felt entirely desperate. There didn’t seem to be a coherent plan, just take whatever the Bear defense gave them. But, upon further review, I think I saw the only possible plan that would result in a win: keep the Packer defense on the bench no matter what.

The fact that this strategy proved successful is a testament to the intellect of the Packer offensive brain trust...and the truly wretchedness of the Packer defensive brain trust.

All last week I was saying, to whomever I could get to listen, that the outcome of this game was not going to hinge upon Lacy, Cobb or even Aaron Rodgers. It would be the ability of the Packer defense to rise above their mediocrity. How’d they do? 
Watching the Bears’ scoring drives was extremely disheartening. No pass rush on pass plays, no coverage on pass plays, no contain on running plays. Even the normally dense Troy Aikman noticed the fact that Forte was making his living by simply running around the Packer defenders. To sit there and watch defensive linemen get rolled up and knocked down, linebackers look like they weighed 800 pounds wave at nothing and defensive backs fall all over themselves made me feel like I was watching an NFL offense versus a grade school defense.

The pass defense was similarly terrible. The big Bear receivers had no problem making Shields and Williams look foolish and our safeties, well, it hurts my head to think about what a crappy game Burnett and Jennings had. 

I do have to give credit where credit is due: At the end, with the result still in doubt, the Packer secondary stepped up, provided the final defensive plays (defended passes! An interception!) to seal the victory. Thinking back to the magical championship 2010 season, you could almost count on the Packer defenders to end games by picking off desperate QB’s. They did it today and it was a wonderful, wonderful thing to see. 

The Packer offense, led by the resurrected Aaron Rodgers, was a puzzlement. Call it rust or call it injuries or call it just another Sunday but the Packer offense looked alternatively world-beating and weak. Both Eddie Lacy and James Starks ripped off several fantastic runs but on many occasions they were completely stoned - by the WORST run defense in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers showed us all his skills and decision making are undiminished and yet he had two picks and a fumble in the first half. If they had been operating at full power, we probably should have witnessed a 28-0 Packer first half.

I know I’m being quite negative here but I can’t help but reflect on how this team looked before Aaron Rodgers was injured and how they look now. I look at the 2010 season when the Packers got hot late and went on a roll and won it all. This team feels like they’ve stumbled and fallen and they barely were able to crawl across the finish line.

But they did finish, didn’t they? They finished on top, too. The wretched NFC North was going to be won by someone and who amongst us would turn that down, no matter how it happened. During that final, tense drive, they could have failed at any moment. They could have put their defense back on the field (result = Packer loss),  they could have fumbled or thrown a pick (result = Packer loss), they could have simply failed to move the ball ((result = Packer loss). When Aaron Rodgers scrambled away from the pressure and spotted Randall Cobb running free behind the Bear secondary, I could feel the entire Packer Nation rise up as one. As Cobb waited for the ball to come down, I could feel the collective inhalation. When he caught the ball and dove into the end zone, the cheer that went up must have been heard around the world. I myself almost slung my cell phone across the room (I can’t watch a Packer game without texting after every play with Brother Russ) in just pure joy.

Why? I don’t know. The Packers have been a severely troubled team this year. The loss of Cobb, Finely, Rodgers, Jolly, Matthews (etc., etc., etc, ad nauseum) created a feeling of “well, maybe this just isn’t our year”. The QB carousel, with uneven results, lent an air of “can this season just be over?” To fight through all of that, to beat all the odds and actually make the post-season, well, it feels sweet. Very sweet.

So, having taken care of Da Bears, we move on. With their last-second victory over the Cards, the San Francisco Forty-Niners punched their Wild Card ticket for a trip to Lambeau Field next weekend. I can sense some of you out there, upon hearing that match-up, give a little sigh and maybe a small “Oh, no. Not them again.”

I’ll say this here and I’ll say it loud - I am THRILLED we get to host the Niners in the playoffs! Why? Simple - look at any (ANY) of the potential opponents in the post season and you see in each one of them a clearly superior football team. Can your mind imagine what the aerial attacks of Carolina or New Orleans will do to our secondary? What about the fast-break offense of the Eagles? Picture the Seattle defense, at their stadium, facing our boys on offense. So why do I want the Niners, a team that has beaten the Packers three times in their last three meetings, including an epic beating in the playoffs last year? Redemption, pure and simple. If we’re going to get into the championship tournament against a roster of teams that can and should beat us, why not go out big? Nothing at all to lose, you want to play the team that each and every pundit and talking head will be picking to utterly destroy you at home. Why not play for that shot at redemption, that moment when you have the opportunity to prove the world wrong and do it against the team that made you look like pre-schoolers on tricycles, like the game of professional football had passed you by? No, I WANT the Niners. I want them at Lambeau and I want them in the snow. Win or lose, I want the opportunity to prove my team is still relevant and can still beat our newest nemesis.

There’s nothing I like more than NFL football unless it’s playoff NFL football. And my team, my wounded, flawed team, has made it into the playoffs and I will love every freakin’ minute of it, however long it lasts.

So come on, Niners. Let’s go.

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