This was the Packers’ chance, coming off their bye week, as healthy as anyone could hope for, this was their chance to establish themselves as legitimate NFC contenders. Yeah, so much for that.
The Pack had surprised us by winning eight of their first ten games, including a 4-1 record against teams that currently have winning records–that’s tops in the NFL. Their return to contender status appeared a year ahead of schedule. But here’s the reality, following the debacle by the Bay.
Their rookie head coach suddenly looks like a rookie head coach. With two weeks to prepare for the 49ers, a team with a gaudy record, but one that was coming off a couple of shaky performances, the Pack looked lost from the moment they took the field. Despite a healthy roster and just a few weeks removed from a shockingly plat performance in LA, the team was awful in all three phases.
Let’s start with the offense: a unit that for some reason seems much more fluid and productive when their best wide receiver is sidelined. Since Adams’ return, the passing game has stalled, the running game has been up and down and third down production has been abysmal. Sunday night, with Rodgers under center, the Packers were 0-13 on third down. Yes, you read that right. Heck, you see it for yourself.
Losing Bryan Bulaga early in the night to a knee injury didn’t help matters, but the Pack did little to help Alex Light deal with the NFL’s best front four, rarely providing help, which had Rodgers running for his life. The good news is it appears Bulaga dodged a serious injury and should be back for the Vikings game, at the latest.
Defensively, the team held their own through most of the first half, bending but not breaking and holding the Niners to mostly field goals. But then their Achilles heel reared its ugly head: their inability to cover the middle of the field, where productive tight ends roam, where guys like Kelce, Henry and Olsen have torched them in recent weeks. Not surprisingly, they had no answer for the best in the game, George Kittle, who torched the Pack despite playing on a bum ankle.
And then there’s special teams, and the punt units. Both sides were horrific on Sunday night. After a great start to the year, JK Scott suddenly looks like BJ Sander (look him up), doing nothing to help the Pack’s beleaguered defense. And don’t get me started on punt returns. They’re on a historically inept pace when it comes to punt returns, with negative yards for the season. A legit punt returner and a legit special teams coordinator need to be high on the organization’s to do list in the offseason.
It will be easy to overreact to this butt-kicking and the reality is that this team will likely win its next three games (at the Giants and home against the ‘Skins and Bears), but we won’t learn much about this team’s resolve until the Monday night week 16 matchup against the Vikings, potentially with the division on the line.
Yes, barring a complete meltdown, the Pack will return to the playoffs this season. But there’s a lot to fix and for really the first time all season, their rookie head coach needs to prove he’s up to the challenge.