My mantra when the season started was this: give us a healthy #12 in January and we’ll take our chances. Yeah. So much for that.
What we learned after 16 games is that the Packers’ offense was a house of cards, listing terribly when it lost its only deep threat and collapsing in a heap without its left tackle. Super Bowl contenders are supposed to be able to withstand crippling injuries. Last year’s participants, the Patriots and Seahawks, were both hit by the injury bug much harder than the Pack this season, but it would surprise no one if they met again in the big game.
Ironically, the Packers’ defense has been up to the challenge this season. No one is calling for Dom Capers’ head this time around, because that unit has pretty much kept the team afloat over these last 10 weeks, as the Pack limped to a 4-6 record, including losses to all three division teams at home.
Turnovers decided this NFC North division title clash as expected: the game turned moments after Micah Hyde’s highlight reel one-handed interception. When Everson Griffen shot past “left tackle” Josh Sitton and stripped Rodgers, allowing Captain Munerlyn to take it to the house, the 10 point lead was suddenly 17 and the game was, for all intents and purposes, over.
How does a team with a roster that most teams in the league would trade for (yes, it’s true Vikings fans) not have a suitable backup left tackle? Granted, David Bakhtiati started his first 50 games, but everyone gets hurt eventually and the Pack were ill-prepared to deal with it when it happened. Moving Sitton from guard to tackle, a position he hadn’t played since high school, was desperation of the highest measure. It weakened the line at two positions, making things ever more difficult for a sluggish offense.
McCarthy came into the game knowing he had to stay committed to running the ball, which worked so effectively in the first matchup. But the Vikes were ready for it this time around and controlled the line of scrimmage after the Pack’s first drive, which ate up more than half of the first quarter, but resulted in only three points. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
Trailing 20-3 in the fourth quarter, McCarthy finally opened things up and Rodgers and the offense found some success. But as you know, it was too little too late and the Vikings had wrestled the NFC North crown away and will get to host a playoff game next Sunday.
For the Packers, the season isn’t over; it just feels that way. I can’t ever remember entering the post-season with less optimism, less hope. Yes, there’s a chance the Pack will get back Bakhtiari and Sam Shields for the wildcard matchup in Washington. With or without them, they have a good chance of winning. The game is listed as a toss up. The ‘Skins didn’t beat a team with a winning record this season (their best win came against Buffalo). A win would likely set up a rematch with the Cardinals. Anybody excited to watch that?
Bottom line: it’s not easy to win five straight division titles, but the Pack was poised to accomplish it. Kudos to the Vikings for making enough plays to get the job done. I would’ve thought that if the Pack had held AD to 67 yards rushing and Teddy Bridgewater to 91 yards passing that the Pack would have taken care of their business at Lambeau. But such was not the case.
The offense could not deliver, despite the defense’s solid play. That’s been the unusual story line of this bizarre season. It will likely end soon and Thompson and McCarthy will regroup. This will be an offseason with more questions than usual, with priority #1 being fortifying an offensive unit that has taken a back seat in recent drafts.
There’s no doubt we’ve been spoiled watching Rodgers ply his craft over the years. What we learned this season is that his supporting cast is really much more than that.