Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Packers Post-Mortem: Plenty of Blame to Go Around

Yes, we know. The Packers lost.

It was glorious, assuming you're not a fan of the Packers. And I don't blame you one bit for thinking it was glorious. Packer fans can be an insufferable bunch, especially when their favorite team looks like it's going to repeat.

The team isn't going to repeat now. A virtual no-show against the New York Giants Sunday made that a certainty.

(GIVE CREDIT TO THE OPPONENT. I don't think I should have to. The Giants played well, but the Packers coughed the ball up more in one game than virtually the entire season, Aaron Rodgers was as sharp as a pillowcase, and the Giants turned the game's momentum on a Hail Mary pass before halftime that never should have happened in the first place. Green Bay would have lost to Miami on Sunday, they played so badly.)

It just wasn't Green Bay's day. As I saw someone point out, the Giants' star players all played well. Osi Umenyiora had a huge strip-sack in the third quarter. The secondary locked up the Packers' receivers all night. Rodgers was harassed and appeared to alternate between being skittish to throw downfield and holding on to the ball entirely too long, allowing sacks and hits he never should have taken. The running backs -- Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs -- made some big plays.

Conversely, Rodgers was off all night. Receivers were dropping passes. Ryan Grant looked terrible. The offensive line -- namely left tackle Chad Clifton -- struggled. Defensive stars Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson were only known to be on the field because you could see them chasing after Giants running down the field.

Mike McCarthy didn't have his best day, foolishly calling a timeout to help set up the Hail Mary pass, going for it on a fourth down in the fourth quarter when the Pack was only down a score, and calling for an onside kick with five minutes left in a ten-point game, while the Packers had all three timeouts. His aggression has benefited more often than not, and this was a case where it probably did not. That doesn't change the fact that I'd much rather have an aggressive coach who takes chances than a passive one who sees fourth down and sends on the kicking team almost every time, regardless. Mistakes of aggression are always easier for me to stomach than the opposite.

These things happen. Teams aren't always going to be at their best, and that's part of why it's so freaking hard to win championships. You have to get your team to play consistently enough to get in the playoffs, then your reward for a high seed is the challenge of keeping rhythm and cohesiveness going through a long layoff.

Regular readers and listeners know I hate when coaches pull back in Week 17 and rest guys when they know a bye week is coming. I think it's a huge mistake to take them out of their routine right before the important games. McCarthy did it this year, taking guys like Rodgers, Matthews, and Woodson out of the lineup for the game against Detroit.

It might have seemed like a good idea, because Matthews and Woodson were dinged, and Rodgers was working behind a patchwork offensive line.

It blew up in the Packers' faces, because none of the players who sat in Week 17 played well. It's not that anyone else really did, but these three were the ringleaders all year long. When they're off, it's going to be tough on anyone else to get going.

There's plenty of blame to go around. It's not on one individual, or one unit. Lots of guys screwed up, and most of the team failed to play to its potential.

It's sad for Packers fans, but it's hard to complain about a team that won 21 of 22 before the Giants game, and a team that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy not even 365 days ago.

Hopefully, it isn't 15 years before the team gets back, because the 1997 team failed to repeat, and we all thought the window of opportunity was still wide open before Randy Moss showed up in the NFC Central.

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