Monday, January 10, 2011

Packers Find a Way

Survive and advance.

Survive and advance.

This is the mantra when you get into tournament play, no matter the sport, no matter the level of competition.

It's especially true in the high-stakes world of NFL football, where the ability to move on in the playoffs can often be directly tied to a missed field goal or two, one underthrown pass, one foot out of bounds, one first down, or one sequence of bend-but-don't-break plays by a big-play defense.

For the Green Bay Packers, it took all of those things to overcome two fumbles, a critical drop of a perfect throw that could have put the game out of reach before halftime, and an offense that couldn't do much of anything after halftime.

It all added up to a 21-16 win in Philadelphia Sunday that:
  • Kept the Packers' season alive.
  • Showed they could win a close game away from Lambeau Field after losing so many (they had lost their last three road games by a total of 11 points, and their five total road losses were by a total of 17).
  • They don't need Aaron Rodgers to throw for 400 yards to win.
  • They can run the ball, after all.
Yes, there were hiccups. Rodgers' fumble in the third quarter was awful and preventable. James Jones would have been seeing that drop before halftime -- a sure touchdown -- in his sleep had the Packers lost. The Packers played a bit of prevent offense after halftime, especially once they got up 21-10.

But Dom Capers' defense came to play again, and while Tramon Williams' game-clinching interception was the only turnover they forced, they did a very good job containing Michael Vick. They were physical, stopped the run very well, and did a great job of stretching Philadelphia's only touchdown drive of the game.

(Their third-quarter touchdown came after Rodgers coughed it up at the Packers' 24. That's hardly a touchdown drive.)

The reward is another road game for a team still under .500 for the season away from Lambeau. They play No. 1 seed Atlanta on Saturday night. The short week and invigorating road win help.

So does the indoor venue. We still haven't seen definitive proof that Rodgers is a good cold-weather quarterback, and this is hardly the time to go asking for that. Instead, here's hoping the indoor venue is not of a serious advantage to the Falcons, who play in one of America's worst sports towns. It strikes as the kind of game where the Packers can take the crowd out of it by simply scoring first and making a defensive stop.

My long-standing motto has been to kick off to start a game whenever possible. I'm a big fan of letting the defense make a stop, and I like the idea of my team getting the ball to start the second half, because that's usually a more important time for momentum in the game.

Saturday might be an exception. Let Rodgers and Company on the field first. A six- or seven-minute touchdown drive could be the best possible way to start this road playoff game. Let "Matty Ice" stand on the sideline and watch as the Packers kill all their pregame momentum.

Then we'll see if Matt Ryan can live up to his stupid and largely unwarranted nickname.

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