A Bitter Pill To Swallow.Posted:Jan 22nd, 2022 10:47 pm
It’s what we feared all season.
Despite another MVP season from Aaron Rodgers and a much improved defense, the specter of a special teams collapse loomed over the team all season. And what looked like a team destined to finally get back to the Super Bowl, instead ends its season with maybe the most disappointing playoff exit in recent memory.
Matt LaFleur’s disastrous decision to promote Maurice Drayton to special teams coordinator backfired in the most spectacular way. His units hit the trifecta on Saturday night: a blocked field goal, a blocked punt and having just ten men on the field for the game winning field goal. Toss in the long kickoff return by Deebo Samuel to start the second half while we’re at it.
And then there’s the offense, which surprised us all by taking the opening kickoff right down the field and scoring for just the fourth time all season. When Marcedes Lewis fumbled on the next series with the Pack in 49ers territory (his first fumble since 2013), it seemed to take all the air out of the offense. And after Rodgers connected with Aaron Jones on the long pass play in the final minute of the first half, it looked like they finally had their mojo back. But they settled for the field goal attempt, and we know how well that worked out.
Credit the San Francisco defense for sure, but how do you explain targeting Davante Adams and Aaron Jones exclusively through three quarters, save one pass to Josiah Deguara, which was dropped? How do you not find a way to get Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb involved, with all of the attention being paid to Davante Adams? Where was the creativity? Where was the pre-snap motions and RPOs? And where was the MVP? The Packers managed 58 yards in the second half. 58. Playing at home in the cold with your MVP quarterback. It's unfathomable.
It beckons some questions: with David Bakhtiari unable to go, why not start Josh Nijman at left tackle and put Billy Turner on the right side, where he's more comfortable? Dennis Kelly had a horrible night at right tackle. And we have to question LaFleur's play calling late. The offense looked like a shell of its former self.
Imagine losing a home game as the top seed in frigid conditions on a night your defense doesn't give up a touchdown. A night where your defense dominated all night, led by Rashan Gary and Kenny Clark. When the defense--and specifically Gary--got the fourth down stop with six minutes to go and landing 10-3, that should be the ballgame. Now the ball is in Rodgers' hands. We've seen this act before. The offense punishes the tired defense on the ground with some play action magic sprinkled in and runs the clock down before scoring at the end of the game. But there was no AJ Dillon to play the part of battering ram--he was out with a chest injury. And the Pack delivered yet another three and out. The third down prayer downfield to Adams felt like a Hail Mary. It was as if the offense just gave up.
This one stings. There's no doubt about it. This was supposed to be the Pack's year--unbeaten at home and getting healthy at just the right time. Instead, it's a year that feels like the end of an era. If you can't get to the Super Bowl as the number one seed in back to back seasons, then what are we doing here?
As I write this 45 minutes or so after the game ended, it feels like this was Rodgers' last game in a Packer uniform. All season long, I've felt this would be his last year, but the way things unfolded and hearing him say this was his favorite year, I held out hope that maybe a Super Bowl ring, or at least a Super Bowl appearance, would cause the front office to tear up his final year and sign him to a new three year contract to keep the band together.
After this debacle, I don't see that happening. I think we just watched Aaron Rodgers' final game as a Packer.
And that is a bitter pill to swallow.