Archive for June, 2011
December 19, 2010 – Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusettes
There were no flowery pre-game speeches for this one. Nothing Knute Rockne-esque or Vince Lombardi-like about what the Packers needed to do or what the future held.
This was backs-against-the-wall-time for the Green Bay Packers & they knew it better than anyone. They had to travel to Massachusettes and face the hottest team in football, the New England Patriots. It would be a tough assignment even with all their pieces in place.
The Packers would have to play without Aaron Rodgers, their leader and best offensive player. Rodgers suffered a concussion the week before against the Lions and had not passed the NFL-mandated tests required to go back on the field.
So that was that. The Packers wouold go to war with Matt Flynn, a capable backup with the heart of a lion but no meaningful experience. In public, the Packers spoke glowingly of Flynn, a smart guy who had the moxie to lead LSU to a national championship 3 seasons earlier. Privately no one really knew how he’d perform on a national stage.
December 12, 2010 – Ford Field, Detroit Michigan
Everyone knew it but no one talked about it. As it had been for all those years with Brett Favre, so it was now with Aaron Rodgers. These Green Bay Packers would go as far as their quarterback would take them. If he got hurt…well…that thought was too awful to contemplate.
But that couldn’t happen–could it? Rodgers, who had been criticized in 2009 for holding the ball too long and absorbing too many sacks, had grown a lot smarter in 2010. He was getting rid of the ball quicker, eluding tacklers better & throwing the ball away when necessary. All was good, right??
There was 1 thing Rodgers still hadn’t learned or at least would not do with any consistency–at the end of a scramble, he needed to give himself up with a feet first slide. Too often, he’d dive headfirst and take a blow he didn’t need to take. Coach Mike McCarthy, a one-time QB coach, harped on his star to follow the standard procedure but either Rodgers forgot or didn’t care for the policy.
Ultimately, Rodgers hubris caught up with him on the unforgiving artificial turf of Ford Field in Detroit Michigan.
Under 2nd year coach Jim Schwartz, the Lions were developing into a pretty good team. Though they had won just twice in 2010, they had played hard every week & were a break or 2 away from becoming a team to reckon with. The Packers needed no more evidence of this than their 1st meeting in early October when they escaped with a 2 point win.
December 5, 2010 – Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisconsin
From the moment starting tailback Ryan Grant went down with a season-ending ankle injury in the season opener vs. the Philadelphia Eagles, the Packers knew they would, eventually, have to deal with the issue of their crippled running game.
Conventional NFL wisdom has always stated that teams do not advance (or at least don’t advance very far) in the playoffs without some semblance of a rushing attack. Balance is required, if for not other reason than to give an opposing defense something else to think about besides a QB dropping back & looking for an open receiver.
For 11 games, the Packers had been getting by with a rushing game bound together with chewing gum & chicken(boy) wire.
Brandon Jackson tried but lacked the power & speed to be a true breakaway back. John Kuhn was a fullback first, last and always, though he did his best. Indeed, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was probably Green Bay’s best option running the ball. He could scramble but, more to the point, he was elusive in the pocket & had slipped away from more tackles than anyone could count. However, a running QB is a recipe for disaster.
November 28, 2010 – Georgia Dome – Atlanta, Georgia
Through their 4 game winning streak, the Packers had met two teams that were the very definition of dysfunction–the Minnesota Vikings & the Dallas Cowboys. The third team, the New York Jets, possibly didn’t take the Packers all that seriously and it cost them.
Such was not going to be the case against the Atlanta Falcons, an exciting young team that was playing with as much, if not more, confidence than the Packers. The Falcons featured an unflappable 3rd year quarterback in Matt Ryan, who had lost only once in the Georgia Dome. Sitting at 8-2 and all but assured of a playoff spot, the Falcons were positioning themselves for an NFC South title, the best record in the NFC and a critical first-round playoff bye.
There was not a whiff of turmoil with Mike Smith’s team, and they took the Packers very seriously. The result was a terrific game that offered a glimpse of what might come in the post-season. It was a game that encompassed all that was going well with the Packers in recent weeks. However, it also revealed a few nagging issues that kept Green Bay from attaining the elite status it was looking for.
The Falcons grabbed a quick 3-0 lead on a Matt Bryant field goal. The Packers responded with a nice drive from their own 15 to the Atlanta 4 that ended in a Mason Crosby field goal.
Then came a turning point and the first sign that what had been going so well the previous month might be absent on this day.
November 21, 2010 – H.H.H. Metrodome
No team needed a break more than the 2010 Green Bay Packers. It had, quite frankly, been one hell of a season & the most important part still loomed like gathering storm clouds on the horizon.
The roller-coaster began with a 2-0 start. It then degenerated with 3 losses in 4 games that had nearly everyone questioning the Packers skill, tenacity & heart. The wild ride continued with 3 straight wins, including a rout of the once proud Dallas Cowboys that had forced the mid-season firing of Wade Phillips.
While many teams might have wanted the recent upswing to continue uninterrupted, the Packers were one of the last teams to celebrate their bye week, and they welcomed it! Nine straight weeks of football and an unceasing array of injuries had emptied the teams tank. A week off had allowed the players to heal up & offered the opportunity for the collective team mentality to recharge for what promised to be an engaging stretch run.
The first order of business was a rematch with the Minnesota Vikings in the Metrodome, a place that, more often than not, had been a house of horrors for the Packers. So Green Bay knew they could not take anything for granted–especially against this team, this quarterback and in this venue.
November 7th 2010 – Lambeau Field
One mark of a good team is how it handles an opponent that is desperate and on the ropes. Does it allow that team to stick around and gain confidence? Or does it further perpetuate that teams misery and never, ever give it a chance to gain hope, much less victory?
A month earlier the Packers had been the kind of team that nearly ran itself out of the playoff race before it even really had begun. They allowed the likes of the Redskins, Dolphins and Lions to remain competitive in games in which they had no business being competitive. The result? 2 overtime losses and a close win.
Since that time, the Packers had learned a few lessons about how to start & finish a game. They now knew that once you had a team down, you had to be ruthless and unapologetic. Put the hammer down and move on to the next game. Facing them on a Sunday night national stage at Lambeau field was the prime example of a team spinning out of control–the Dallas Cowboys.
Tabbed as a Super Bowl contender before the season began, Wade Phillips’ team was a mess. They had lost 5 in a row. Their record is at 1-6 & had lost their starting QB, Tony Romo, to a broken collarbone. It was going so badly for the once-proud franchise that rumors were swirling that owner Jerry Jones would fire Wade Phillips if things got much worse.
Things were about to get much worse if you’re a Cowboy fan.