Don't Flip Out: Pack Stood Tall in Defeat

I'm beginning to wonder what would happen if Aaron Rodgers ever gets the chance to touch the ball in overtime.

As far as punches to the gut go, this one doesn't hurt as much as last year, but it still leaves you feeling empty when the Pack engineer a game-tying drive for the ages, but a coin flip and one blown coverage by the defense combine to end the season.

The game unfolded as we hoped, with the defense playing with a vengeance, bent on containing running back David Johnson and the Cardinals’ big play passing attack. The pass rush was on fire early, forcing Carson Palmer into quick decisions and mistakes. Johnson was never able to get untracked—they held the high powered offense to ten points over the game’s first 56 minutes.

Arians and the Cards made adjustments in the second half that allowed them to engineer two long scoring drives, but it was two flukey plays late that we’ll be thinking about during the long offseason. First, the dropped interception by Sam Shields and then the touchdown that bounced off Damarius Randall’s arms, bounced in the air and landed in the hands of Michael Floyd.

I find it hard to rip Shields, who had two possible picks fall through his hands in the game. His return to the field changed everything for the defense, giving Dom Capers the confidence to blitz freely and harass Palmer from all angles.

As strong a game as it was for the defense, it was that bad for special teams. Nothing alarmingly bad, but too many penalties on returns that set the offense back and forced longer fields. Tim Masthay had a bad night—he may have sealed his fate as he becomes a free agent.

As for the offense, they struggled all night on first down, unable to get in favorable down and distance and forced Rodgers to deal with second and third and long all night. Outside of Eddie Lacy’s 61 yard “burst,” the running game was pretty much stuck in neutral.

You can’t overstate what the loss of Randall Cobb meant in this game. After an early drop, he made one of the catches of the season on a play that was called back—little did we know that would be his last play of the season. We saw him spitting up blood and then we saw him carted off. Next thing we know: he’s out for the game with a chest injury.

For a passing attack that was already without Davante Adams, they were forced to play the final three quarters with just three healthy receivers. With Patrick Peterson shadowing James Jones all night, it was up to Jeff Janis and Jared Abbrederis. If everyone returns from injury next year, these two will start out fifth and sixth on the depth chart. Yet they combined for 11 catches for 200 yards.

Which brings us to the Pack’s final drive. I can’t ever remember a more unlikely scoring drive in all my years of watching Packer football. Fourth and 20 from the four, 55 seconds left and no timeouts. But Rodgers found Janis for 61 yards and the Pack still had a faint pulse. Some strange clock management and a penalty game the Pack two chances to score. Once again, a Hail Mary on the final play found pay dirt as Janis demonstrated that he is up to the challenge. We’re left to wonder what goes on behind closed doors. Why was he not given more opportunities this season for an offense that was desperate for speedy downfield threats.

A caller on my show bemoaned the fact that the Pack didn't try a two point conversion to win the game at that point. Gotta be honest: I didn't give it a second thought. You execute a drive for the ages to tie the game and take your chances in overtime. If the Pack had Nelson, Cobb and Adams, maybe you take a shot. But with a bunch of backups who likely haven’t practiced two pointers much, I would've hated to put the pressure on them to make that play. Same goes for the previous TD, when the Pack took a 12-7 lead and kicked, rather than go for two to go up by seven. Too much time left in the game to give up a point, in my opinion, even though it might have made the difference, as things worked out.

The Packers have now lost five playoff games in overtime, most in league history, including the last two seasons. Rodgers is now 0-7 in overtime games—of course he hasn't touched the ball in the last two. He wasn't happy that he didn't get a chance to change his call when the ref decided to re-flip the coin. When the ref showed him the coin the second time, it was tails side up, so Rodgers wanted to change his call to heads. Sorry, Aaron, we were fortunate up the official decided to re-flip. You don’t get a do over on the call. I know he was frustrated, but that’s the way the coin flips.

It was a season marred by big injuries and unspeakable home losses, but on the biggest stage the Pack showed they were up to the challenge against the Super Bowl favorites. If not for a couple of crazy bounces, dropped interceptions and one big blown coverage, we might be preparing for another title game.

This roster will turn over quite a bit, but the main pieces remain in place. The offense should be considerably more potent next season, and the defense is young, more athletic than it’s been in years and will be led by Matthews, Daniels, Shields, Randall, Burnett and Clinton-Dix. It will remain a strength of this team as Ted Thompson fills in the blanks to replace a number of free agents who will move on.

The Packers won't be Super Bowl favorites when next season kicks off, but they will be contenders. And they will be on a mission to get back to the Big Game for the first time in six seasons. Let’s just hope we can avoid overtime games along the way.

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