Wake Up Call? Bah Humbug!Posted:Dec 19th, 2011 2:41 am
So this is what a loss feels like. I made the four hour drive to Madison right after the game ended, giving me a lot of time to consider what went wrong at Arrowhead and what it means. To put it simply, the Packers lost to a more motivated team on Sunday. Doesn't sound good, but from the opening kickoff the Chiefs played with more urgency, intensity and purpose and that is the reason the Packers lost for the first time in 364 days.
So no more talk of history. No more talk of perfection. A loss to a team like the Chiefs means that the aura of invincibility is gone and the Packers need to regroup quickly and re-establish things at Lambeau, where they hope to be playing their next four games. One more win or one more loss by San Francisco will wrap up the #1 seed in the NFC, the next goal--one that is ultimately more important than a perfect season.
We all wanted a chance at 19-0, a chance at the Packers being considered the greatest team of the Super Bowl era. The truth is, if they win their next five games they'll still be in the conversation. But a lot of things need to get fixed, beginning with the offensive line. We'll learn more about Bulaga's injury on Monday. If he's okay for the playoffs, the Pack will have a chance to suit up both opening say starting tackles, Bulaga and Chad Clifton, with Marshall Newhouse waiting in the wings. If Bulaga is out, along with rookie Derek Sherrod who broke his leg on Sunday, the line will get overhauled. You'd probably see TJ Lang move to right tackle and Newhouse move in at left guard. Shuffling the offensive line this late is not a recipe for Lombardi trophies.
The offense was out of sync from the start, with four drops by Finley in the first half and Nelson frustrated by two phantom offensive pass interference calls. Rodgers was not sharp either, serving up his first clunker since the middle of last season. Clearly the absence of both Greg Jennings and James Starks robbed the offense of two key playmakers who may have helped cover for Rodgers' off day.
Even McCarthy had a bad day. I couldn't believe he didn't throw the red flag on the Leonard Pope catch near the end zone where he clearly fumbled into the end zone. I was explaining the rule to my son Jackson and couldn't explain why they didn't let the officials take another look. It would have wiped three points off the board and who knows what might have happened.
Just as confounding was the play of the defense, without Ryan Pickett and Desmond Bishop and unable to stop the run or the screen game and unable to put much heat on Kyle Orton who clearly out-played Rodgers on this day. The unit once again stepped up in the red zone, forcing four field goals, but they couldn't stop the Chiefs in the fourth quarter when the Pack cut the lead to 19-14 and they couldn't stop the run on the final series. Mike McCarthy made it clear what he thought of the unit's chances when he tried an onside kick with just over two minutes to play and all three of his timeouts.
Every team is allowed one of these games. The Packers had been exempt until this day in Kansas City, where the Chiefs played hard for Romeo Crennel and drew up a game plan that other teams will try to emulate: ball control and ball security. This was the first time all season that the defense did not get a takeaway.
It's not time to panic. It was a great run, the second longest winning streak in NFL history. If the Packers with their two home playoff games to return to the Super Bowl and then win a second straight title, this loss won't mean much. But right now, it doesn't feel like the wake up call some teams need. It feels like a flat, uninspired effort that has raised a number of questions. They'll have a chance to put it in the rearview mirror on Christmas night against the Bears. I expect they'll respond like champions. They'd better.