Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Bucky Five: Every Loss is the Same

1. There's No Other Way to Say It, This is Getting Really Old - Make it four losses this season, all by three points a piece. On one hand, it's nice that we're not getting embarrassed by teams when we lose, but on the other hand watching these kind of games isn't very good for the cheese-laden aorta's of Packer fans throughout the state. The Packers 20-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday had a very similar feel to it as all of the previous losses that Green Bay has been involved in this season. Just like the others, this was a close game that the Packers could have won had it not been for one or two mistakes. In Sunday's affair, it was the untimely fumble by Aaron Rodgers at the goal line as well as a non-challenged play that would have prevented Tony Gonzalez and the Falcons from getting a first down in a key moment. Two mistakes across sixty minutes doesn't seem like a big deal, but when you are playing the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome - a building that always seems to give the benefit of the doubt to the Dirty Birds - two mistakes is two too many. Let's analyze those mistakes a bit more, shall we?

2. McCarthy Under the Microscope - One of those aforementioned mistakes was the non-challenge of a Tony Gonzalez completion on a fourth-and-3, on a drive that eventually lead to a Falcons score. Gonzalez never actually caught the ball that was ruled a completion, but McCarthy never threw the challenge flag. You could see several Packers such as Nick Collins asking for the challenge flag to be thrown, but it never was. In the post-game presser, McCarthy said that he got the information about possibly wanting to challenge the play a little too late, and suggested that you're not able to see the replay as quickly when you are on the road. The announcers (Brian Billick and the always dreadful Thom Brennaman) were quick to praise the Falcons for getting the next play off quickly when in reality the play clock nearly expired, it's just that McCarthy didn't seem to have any intention of throwing the flag.

I think McCarthy was aware that this was a play that might want to be given a second look, but because he was a bit unsure he didn't have the stones to ask for the challenge. That's just my suspicion, not fact. It's hard to make that decision in real-time like that, and it's easy to second guess it later, but getting those decisions correct and using the challenges correctly may be what separates the winners from the losers. In this game, you can definitely say that his decision not to challenge hurt us in the end and eventually had a hand in the Packers loss. Last week I deemed McCarthy a coach of the year candidate, but he needs to be more confident in when to challenge before he's going to get showered with awards and accolades.

3. That Was Not a Running Game - The other major issue in this game for the Packers was their absolute lack of a running game. Aaron Rodgers led the Packers with 51 yards rushing, and for some reason he ran the ball a whopping 12 times. Rodgers almost seemed determined to run the ball whenever possible on Sunday, and I'm not sure if that was part of the game plan or if the Falcons secondary is just that good where Rodgers felt he didn't have any options down the field. Brandon Jackson ended up with 26 yards, but only got into the positive yardage category when the Falcons were anticipating the pass. It was a dreadful running attack in this game, and I don't care how good the other team's run defense is, the Packers have to find a way to run the football if they are going to be a playoff team.

The ineffectiveness of the Packers running game put the ball in Aaron Rodgers hands at the goal line instead of in the hands of a running back, and that led to disaster. Rather than pounding the ball in with someone like Jackson or Dimitri Nance, or even a fullback, McCarthy and the Packers felt that a QB sneak was the way to get into the end zone. Usually, I'm alright with the call, but in this particular circumstance the result was Rodgers' first fumble of the season and the Falcons recovered the fumble in the end zone for a touchback. But there is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to the running game in this one, including the poor blocking of everyone on that offensive line.

4. Matt Ryan is Not Better Than Aaron Rodgers - Despite the fumble that prevented the Packers from getting on the scoreboard, I was more than pleased with the play of number 12 this week. In addition to being the team's leading rusher, Rodgers collected 344 yards through the air including ten on a fourth-quarter touchdown to Jordy Nelson. With the Packers down seven and time running off the clock, Rodgers was brilliant on the drive, converting two passes on separate fourth down plays. One of those plays was a shovel pass to James Jones, while the other was the touchdown to Nelson after Rodgers bought some time with his legs. Rodgers has proven he can lead the fourth quarter drive, it's just that every time he does, the defense and special teams can't seem to stop the opponent. So while Rodgers led a five minute drive to tie the game in the fourth quarter, Matt Ryan is the hero because he drove the Falcons twenty-some yards into field goal territory after Atlanta had a big return on the kickoff. Matt Ryan looks like the hero, when his drive was a hell of a lot less impressive than the one Rodgers put together.

I used to consider myself a Matt Ryan fan, but add him to the list of people I liked before they beat the Packers (Sidebar: I call it my McNabb list. I used to be in the tank for McNabb for whatever reason, going as far as purchasing a McNabb bobblehead as well as his jersey t-shirt. It may have been influenced by a trip to Philadelphia I took when I was younger, but for whatever reason I used to love the guy. Then the 4th and 26 game happened, and all that love turned into hate. It's actually one of three McNabb lists I have. The other two are for people who get a free pass because of something Rush Limbaugh said, as well as for people who quit when the game is on the line. For instance, LeBron James is on the McNabb list for his performance last year against Boston in the playoffs.) Anyway, Matt Ryan seems to have the Midas touch down in that building, because no matter what happens the Falcons always seem to find a way to win at home with him. It's more often dumb luck than it is skill, which makes it more annoying. And when it happens against the Packers, it makes me hate you. Sorry Matty Ice, but we're through.

5. Outside Looking In - I'm normally never one to bring up how bad the NFC West is, but come on man, this is getting embarrassing. You're telling me that the Rams are currently 5-6 and right now would have a playoff spot, while the 7-4 Packers are on the outside looking in? Doesn't seem right. I remember last year when I was very confident about the Packers and how they were going to make the playoffs, but then they lost that heartbreaker to the Steelers and everyone started to panic a bit. That's kind of how I feel right now. The thing is, this game against Atlanta wasn't really one I even had high expectations for. Sure, I was hoping for a win, but if we lost on the road to Atlanta I knew it wasn't going to be the end of the world. But with the way that we lost this one, I think we have the better team. And I desperately want to see the rematch, even if it means we have to face them in Atlanta during the playoffs. But the question is, will we even see the playoffs?

All season long I've been pretty confident that we are a shoe-in for the postseason tournament, but the Chicago Bears are trying to throw a kink into that plan. With their win against the Eagles this week, Chicago is somehow 8-3 and are the leaders in the NFC North. My worry is that if the Bears keep playing well, we may have to be a Wild Card team if we want to get into the playoffs. And because one of those playoff spots are guaranteed to the NFC West, the competition to get in as a Wild Card becomes that much more tight. I'm pretty confident that the Packers will beat the Bears in the rematch in week 17 at Lambeau, and I really can't see us doing worse than 10-6. But 10-6 might not cut it because one of the playoff spots is going to go to a division winner that may not even have a .500 record. As of now, the Packers sit at the eight spot in the NFC, and by doing the math we can all figure out that eight teams can't squeeze into a six-team field.

Ahead of us right now for the Wild Card spot would be Tampa Bay, New York, and and New Orleans. We play the Giants at Lambeau on December 26th, and where earlier in the season it looked like that game would be for home-field advantage in the playoffs, now it may be for a playoff spot alone. We are getting into December football here, and every week becomes that much more crucial, especially if you're playing catch-up. I still fully expect the Packers to make the playoffs, and I'm really just thinking out loud here, but the point needs to be illustrated that the road to the playoffs might be a little tougher than we thought it would be, mainly because of Chicago.

My main worry is that a game we thought we'd be safe to lose might turn out to be the game that we needed most to get into the playoffs.


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