Who are you handing the goat horns to?
Posted January 23rd, 2017 @ 04:01pm
Well, that didn't go as planned.
My first bit of indigestion bubbled up when Mike McCarthy deferred, as always. Generally, I like this tactic, but not against a historically great offense in their house. You knew the Pack would be in an instant 7-0 hole.
It snowballed from there. The missed field goal. The Rip fumble. The completely overmatched defense. It was a day when you knew the offense had to be perfect--and it was far from it. When news broke that Jordy Nelson would play, along with Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison, it provided some hope that the Pack's offense might be potent enough to keep up in a track meet. It wasn't.
There's no question this performance was a disaster of epic proportions, but let's put our frustration aside for a moment and look at the big picture. Eight of the ten playoff games this year have been blowouts. The Pack administered one and were victimized by one. As painful as it was to watch, for me it was much easier than dealing with the way the team exited the post-season the last two years. Yes the team played infinitely better in both of those losses, but they were gut-wrenching, especially the title game two years ago.
The Falcons demonstrated that a world class offense, when firing on all cylinders, is no match for the Packers defense as it's presently constructed. The crater-sized hole at cornerback was clearly the biggest issue this season. Losing Sam Shields in week one was the one thing the roster couldn't withstand and that's on Ted Thompson. His two second year corners regressed and his decision to let Casey Hayward walk in free agency turned out to be a monumental blunder. Asking LaDarius Gunter to handle, in consecutive weeks, OBJ, Dez and Julio is unfair.
When Aaron Rodgers cryptically said following the game that the team needs to go all-in next season, he was speaking to the front office. The time is gone to depend on undrafted free agents. It's time to bring in a few veteran re-enforcements on defense through free agency. The Jared Cook moved worked out well. This team needs upgrades at corner and outside linebacker, maybe even at inside linebacker.
Clearly the last five #1 picks, all defensive players, have not provided enough difference makers. For that reason, the Pack may decide to kick Thompson to some kind of emeritus scouting role and hand the job to either Eliot Wolf or Brian Gutekunst (I'm not buying the John Dorsey steam).
I saw a stat that the Packers have given up 44+ points in three playoff games with Rodgers as a starter. Tom Brady has never had a defense surrender 44, regular season or playoffs. It's time to fix that unit and give Rodgers and the offense a chance. Obviously, that side of the ball will need some tweaks. They have to figure out the running back position, maybe add a receiver, sign Cook and decided what to do with TJ Lang (let's hope his injury isn't as bad as it looked).
The title game was a disaster. But the last eight or nine weeks were both unexpected and enthralling. Watching Rodgers do his thing week in and week out has spoiled us. He still has six or seven good years in him and this team will be favored along with Atlanta and Dallas in the NFC next year. Let's see what the organization does to bolster their weak spots. And let's see if we can take it a step further and spoil the purple party at US Bank Stadium next February.
Posted January 20th, 2017 @ 02:01pm
Those who watch the Packers like to rib us fans, constantly telling us that our team consists of Aaron Rodgers and 50 anonymous, interchangeable parts. On Sunday, we may find out whether that is actually true.
With the wide receiver corps thinner than Matt Ryan's postseason resume, the Packers may have to turn to rookie Trevor Davis and Jeff Janis to try to keep up on the scoreboard with the Falcons in Sunday's NFC title game.
Mike McCarthy admitted on Thursday that if this were a regular season game, Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison would be ruled out. But we all know the Pack is 60 minutes away from the Super Bowl and the team and players will do everything they possibly can to play. My guess is that Adams and Allison will be active, though I doubt Allison plays. At best, Adams will likely be limited and serve as a decoy, rather than a threat.
Obviously, in a perfect world the team lines up Nelson and Adams in a game where you might need 35 points to win. But the way Aaron Rodgers is dialed in, he'll likely be productive no matter who joins him in the huddle. Randall Cobb and Jared Cook will probably get the most attention, but Ty Montgomery will probably be called on to split out wide a bunch, and Richard Rodgers reminded us last week that he can be counted on for a big play when called upon.
And let's not forget, in the first meeting the Pack was without Cobb, Cook and Montgomery (ironically the three healthiest guys right now) and still put of 32 points on the Falcons' average defense (more on that unit in a bit).
I'm focusing on the offense here because let's not kid ourselves. The Packers are not going to stop the Falcons on Sunday. Ryan and company finished the season as one of the league's most prolific offenses of all time. Their two headed running game with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman is the best 1-2 punch in the league. Julio Jones is the NFL's most athletically gifted wide receiver (though he's bothered by a toe injury) and Ryan has role players like Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel who are capable of big plays at any given moment.
The key for the Packers is to disrupt Ryan; force him into mistakes. But the Falcons' rise this season has coincided with much better offensive line play, led by center Alex Mack. They're protecting the presumptive MVP and as a result, he's been comfortable in the pocket and has made less bonehead plays. Atlanta is +11 in the give take this season, better than the Pack's +8.
Getting Morgan Burnett back would be monumental, more important than the injured wide receivers, in my book. The Georgia Tech alum and Atlanta native wants desperately to play in this one and the feeling is mutual. The defense desperately needs him to try to contain the prolific Falcons offense. My guess is he plays through the quad injury.
Atlanta supporters will point to their team's rise defensively, particularly in the last six weeks. But the QBs they played in the final six games are in a different galaxy, except Drew Brees in the finale--and he put up 32 points. They've lost their second best pass rusher, Adrian Clayborn, to a torn triceps last week. Their best guy, Vic Beasley, is a beast. But in the first matchup he didn't get close to Rodgers, thanks to great play by Bryan Bulaga. Dwight Freeney can still make a play or two, but isn't as productive as fellow old-timer Julius Peppers.
Their secondary lost its leader CB Desmond Trufant earlier in the season. The Packers passing game has the decisive edge in this matchup, no matter who is lined up at wide receiver.
Special teams are always magnified at this point in the season and the Pack should have the edge. Their kickoff and punt coverage units have struggled all season. Devin Hester broke a long one last week and when Trevor Davis was asked to return punts in the first matchup, pretty much by default, he broke a 55 yard return. If the Pack can tilt field position it will help on a day where they're short-handed.
As for the other intangibles, the Packers obviously come in with a QB and coach who have won title games, the Falcons cannot say the same. The Birds have home field, but they did in 2011 as well when Rodgers came in and delivered a virtuoso performance in a 48-20 Packers upset.
After what we witnessed last Sunday and what we've seen over the past eight weeks, how can you not believe that these Packers are destined to reach the Super Bowl. It will likely come down to which team gets the ball last.
20 years after Brett Favre, Reggie White and Desmond Howard led the Pack over the Patriots, it feels like we're going to get an encore. Trailing 34-31 late, Rodgers delivers one more time to win it.
Packers 38 Falcons 34
Posted January 16th, 2017 @ 04:01am
So, I had a decision to make. Son Jackson's eighth grade basketball team had a championship game at 7pm in Shakopee--about a 30-minute drive away. Do I watch the end of the game or listen to Wayne? I decided to head to Shakopee after Mason Crosby nailed the 56 yarder that put the Pack up 31-28 with a minute and a half to play.
I figured we might be looking at overtime and I really didn't want to miss the whole basketball game. I have to say, there's something very satisfying about listening to Wayne and Larry, rather than the network crew. When the Cowboys tied it, I figured I'd be dialing up the game on my phone as I made my way to the gym at East Junior High.
The last thing I expected was that the Pack would win the game while I was still rolling down Highway 169. 35 seconds and two timeouts? No problem for mighty Aaron, who added another amazing chapter to this storybook season, this time with an amazing sideline throw on third and 20, caught brilliantly by Jared Cook, who has earned a multiyear extension with his playoff heroics.
And what can you say about Mason Crosby, who became the first kicker to hit two 50+ yard field goals in the final two minutes of a playoff game? His 23 straight postseason field goals is as clutch as it gets and these last two will go down as the biggest of his career, in light of the circumstances. When I got home, I watched the final two possessions. I'm really glad I wasn't watching live, that game winner was a little too close for comfort.
The game couldn't have started any better for the Pack. They got off to the quick start we had hoped for. The 21-3 lead was bigger than we could have imagined and they needed every point, as the defense wore down and started to collapse in the fourth quarter. The quad injury suffered by Morgan Burnett on that first quarter collision with LaDarius Gunter could have been fatal, but rookie Kentrell Brice stepped up and made just enough plays in his place.
As expected, the Cowboys got their yards. Zeke, Dez and Dak all had big days, but as it turned out the team stats were almost identical: total yards, total plays, yards per play, third down conversions (both were 6-11), turnovers--all were almost identical. it came down to the closing seconds and Rodgers and Cook made the play of the game.
It was just the second time since 1990 that the #4 beat the #1 in the NFC (the Giants' win over the Pack six years ago was the other). And I have to say, it feels extra special to knock out the Cowboys. There's obviously some great playoff history between these teams, from the Ice Bowl to the frustrating losses in the 90s to the Dez non-catch a couple of years ago. This year's edition marks the start of a fun, new era in Big D, but their magical 13-3 season ends with a one and done in the playoffs and they haven't won beyond wildcard weekend since 1995.
Meanwhile, a moment of appreciation for Mike McCarthy, who two months ago felt the need to remind everyone that he's a highly successful football coach. Now he can add that he's won more playoff games in Green Bay than Vince Lombardi.
And now he finds himself two wins away from tying Vince with a second Super Bowl title. Vince had Bart, Mike has Aaron. And Aaron is proving that he will not be denied as he looks to lead his team back to the mountaintop.
Oh, and for the record, the night was golden all the way around. Jackson's basketball team knocked off Prior Lake for the championship.