Last week, Mike McCarthy voiced his own version of Rick Pitino’s timeless “all the negativity in this town sucks” diatribe. He was annoyed by the constant questions about what what was wrong with his team.
He snapped back that the team was 10-4, had lost three games on the final play and got beat by Denver. Those of us that have watched this team all season knew it wasn’t as simple as that. They got taken apart by Denver and Carolina in back to back weeks, and though the home losses to Detroit and Chicago were close, the truth is the Pack got outplayed in both games. Which brings us to Arizona.
This one felt exactly like the Denver game and the first half of the Carolina game, when the Packers were basically run off the field. The latest fiasco completely turned late in the first half, when the Pack, trailing 10-0, but knocking at the door thanks to a brilliant interception by Mike Daniels, saw their hopes disappear when Aaron Rodgers got picked off in the end zone (for the second straight week). The Cardinals took it down the field in an instant and scored. Suddenly, what looked like a one possession game was 17-0 and we all knew this one was over.
This one was lost up front, where the offensive line was completely overpowered by a defense that ranked near the bottom of the league in rushing the passer. They sacked Rodgers eight times, hit him 12 and basically assured that Olivia would be kissing boo boos all over his body for the next few days. With David Bakhtiari out, Don Barclay made Dwight Freeney look like, well, Dwight Freeney, vintage 2009.
There’s not a lot more to say about this stinker. The Packers are who they are this season. A team capable of beating average teams, but seemingly unable to compete with the big dogs. It’s exceedingly difficult to picture the Pack waking from its slumber and becoming a force in January.
Of course, January begins next Sunday night at Lambeau, when the confident Vikings will come to town with a taste for revenge, looking to wrestle away the NFC North title and make it a complete sweep by division foes in Green Bay this season. They saw the formula that seems to unnerve this team: crowd the line of scrimmage and take away the run. Then dare the receivers to try to make plays in one on one coverage.
A Packers victory and a fifth straight divisional title will ensure a home game the following week, most likely against Seattle. If the Seahawks lose at Arizona, they drop to the sixth seed and will face the winner of the North. The Cards will take the field at the same time as Carolina, so they will be playing for a shot at the #1 seed in the NFC.
A loss to the Vikings would drop the Pack to the fifth seed and a trip to the nation’s capital and a date with Washington, not a bad consolation prize should they fall flat in the season finale. So, win the North and you likely host Seattle, lose and you head to Washington. Wrap your head around that one and tell me which you’d prefer.
Their fate on Sunday night will depend on a number of factors: will they get their injured tackles back, will the defense see the return of Shields and Raji and most importantly, how will they respond to the most lopsided loss of the Rodgers era against a hungry team that sees blood in the water?
The Packers have owned the Vikings in recent years, but unless they all look in the mirror and consider how badly they want this, Sunday night could become the dawn of a purple reign in the North. At least for this season.