By Jake McCormick
The Packers’ season ended a week later than it did in 2008, but the playoffs have a way of magnifying the cracks in a team that the regular season can’t do. Between the missed field goal and overtime turnover flashback to the 2007 NFC Championship game and deja vu scoring of the Packers/Steelers game earlier this year, Green Bay’s offseason begins on a bittersweet note.
Coming back to tie a road playoff game after being down 31-10 in the third quarter showcased the never-say-die attitude that sums up the second half of the Packers’ season. The team is resilient as they come, but even that doesn’t help if you dig a hole that Donald Driver couldn’t jump out of. Of all the things that happened during the loss, three things stand out to me as the offseason sets in.
1. We are who they thought we were
The overall rating method for determining successful NFL defenses is as subjective as a Gene Schalit movie review. You could argue that average points per game and average yars per game can be skewed by a bad/good offense and a bad/good stretch of games. Hopefully a Bill James disciple somewhere is sitting in his basement coming up with a formula that creates a stat like the PER, QB rating, or VORP to definitively grade a defense year to year.
Although the Packers arguably held the title of one of the best statistical defenses during the 2009 season, anyone who watched them play knows that they have some big gopher holes in the secondary. A depleated and simply overmatched secondary was the biggest culprit in a remake of the loss to the Steelers earlier this year. The playoffs have a way of producing Denny Green “They are who we thought they were” mental blowups after a loss. Rest assured the Packers’ 2010 draft will mainly feature players with S, DB, or CB next to their name, with a few dabbles of G, T, and RBs.
Ted Thompson will no doubt continue to successfully add to the roster through the draft, but this is an offseason similar to that of Doug Melvin’s Milwaukee Brewers. Having too much talent in one area of the game can’t make up for an extreme deficiency in another crucial part of it. The Packers will have a lot of money to play with, whether there is a salary cap or not, and this will be a referendum on Thompson and McCarthy’s abilities as administrators. I’m calling it right now, because Packer fans won’t take another regressive step with this talented of a roster and the flexibility to add missing pieces any way they want. Like, I don’t know, maybe a kicker and punter that make the decision to try a 54-yard field goal a little easier.
2. Aaron Rodgers isn’t afraid of anything
In his first career playoff game (against the Mariano Rivera of postseason quarterbacking, Kurt Warner, I might add) Rodgers did something his predecessor never did in a Packer uniform: Score 45 points and throw for over 400 yards in a playoff game, including over 300 in the second half. Troy Aikman commented on how amazed he was at Rodgers’ stoic expressions during the Packers final two drives, and Rodgers added two crucial fourth down conversions after, ironically, throwing an interception on his first postseason pass.
Thompson and McCarthy absolutely made the right decision to name Rodgers the Packers’ starting quarterback, and fans can take solace in the fact that they will be pampered with an elite quarterback for another 10 years. His biggest problem continues to be his pension for holding the ball too long, but I’ll take that over folding under pressure, forcing passes into double coverage, and simply taking a step back developmentally.
Rodgers, much like in 2008, was not able to personally fill the holes in the secondary and offensive line, so I have no argument to his abilities in those areas. What we do know is that Rodgers is trekking closer to Steve Young’s path than those of Jay Fielder, Quincy Carter, or Brian Griese. As painful as it was to watch Rodgers make the first and last mistake of the game, it was his first step into a larger world and will not be his last.
3. Potential rule changes
The Packers can only control the Packers, but there were a few larger issues that could apply to almost every team in the league. The first was supposed to be a problem in Sunday’s early game (protecting the quarterback), and the second is the overtime format.
There were at least three instances of debatable call/non-calls of roughing the passer, including a Cardinal-induced hit of Kurt Warner inside the red zone and a facemask/illegal hands to the face of Rodgers on the deciding play of the game. The league wants to protect quarterbacks and will put up thicker shark cages around proven stars like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Kurt Warner because they are the league’s top representatives at its most important position. It would be nice to see more consistency in those types of calls for anyone other than established stars, but that would be like Andre Iguodala asking for Kobe Bryant-like calls from NBA referees.
I’ve never been a fan of the sudden death ruling for the NFL’s overtime policy. When two teams are playing neck-in-neck on top of their game, people don’t want to see a game that features 900 combined yards of offense decided by a conservative drive and a field goal. The league should keep the sudden death ending on touchdowns only, but the opposing team should be allowed one last chance to tie/win the game if a field goal is kicked. This situation obviously didn’t play out in this game, but it’s one that always leaves a sour taste in the losing team’s mouth.
The Packers were undoubtedly one of the top six teams in the NFC this year, and they are also one of the youngest in the entire league. The 2010 season will be more defining for the coaching staff and personnel department because of the success tasted by a Thompson-dominated roster. Most of the pieces are in place for this team to make a bigger splash next year, but like the other 24 teams watching the playoffs from their living rooms, I’m prepping myself for the hopefulness of the NFL Draft.