Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Bucky Five: Packers Make it Dramatic

1. A Little Too Close For Comfort - I don't think there was any moment during the week last week where I felt good about the Packers' upcoming game against the Chicago Bears. Obviously, the whole fact that Lovie Smith gets off on beating us played into that feeling, but all week long my gut was telling me that the Packers weren't just going to be able to walk over the Bears and head into the playoffs. Even though reports started to trickle out of Chicago that the starters weren't going to play much, I fully expected the Bears to try to win the game for as long as the game was close. That's exactly what happened, and in fact Chicago almost came away with a victory. I think it's pretty clear to everyone that if the Bears would have scored on their final drive, they would have likely went for the two point conversion instead of just kicking the extra point to head to overtime. Oh, what a terrifying moment that would have been.

Thankfully, the tense feeling that we had on Sunday afternoon can subside, as the Packers beat Chicago 10-3 and are now headed to Philadelphia for the first round of the playoffs. I'm not sure exactly how proud I am of the Packers though after the big victory. On one hand, we did just beat the Chicago Bears, a team that won the NFC North and had eleven wins on the season. On the other though, it took us 59 1/2 minutes to beat a team that had absolutely nothing to play for other than rivalry and pride. And even though the Bears did play their starters the whole game, it was clear to me that they weren't really playing at full throttle. Likely not wanting to give away too much on the game film, I thought the Bears played a bit vanilla, employing a "if we beat them, we beat them, but if not, whatever" strategy. Even with that suggested attitude though, the Packers still could only put up ten points on the Bears. It's a good thing that happened to be enough.

2. The Play-calling Debate - No member of the Packers organization is taking as much heat as Mike McCarthy has been in the last couple of weeks, mainly regarding his misuse of challenges and his sometimes questionable play-calling. The issue of his play-calling methods came up again in week 17, but I'm not too critical of the job he did today. I admit, the fact that we keep getting denied on three straight opportunities from the goal line is getting a little frustrating, but I blame that more on the offense not getting their job done rather than the calls being made by McCarthy. The Rodgers fake sneak then toss to Brandon Jackson play garnered a lot of heat but the play would have worked if Rodgers wasn't short on the pitch. Also, I think if the John Kuhn sneak doesn't work the first time, it should probably be abandoned for the rest of the game, instead of used at every occasion. But overall, I blame other factors instead of the play calling for why the Packers didn't blow past the Bears this week. The receivers' inability to catch the football. Aaron Rodgers seemingly getting worse when he needs to be clutch. Bryan Bulaga's horrendous afternoon. The lack of a consistent running game. While McCarthy has made some boneheaded moves this year, I still think it's more in the hands of the players than the coaches, and there are more times when the players just don't execute as they should.

3. Special Teams Doing Work - As much heat as McCarthy has gotten this season, it really doesn't compare to how hated the entire special teams of the Green Bay Packers is at times. The unit stepped up though on Sunday, in all facets of the game. Jarrett Bush was superb on punt coverage. Tim Masthay had a career day, not only just keeping it out of Devin Hester's hands but continually pinning the Bears deep in their own territory. Tramon Williams had some key returns when the Packers needed them most. Mason Crosby made an extra point. Great day all around.

4. Where's Walden! - Kudos to Shep for the reference, as Erik Walden was actually very easy to find on Sunday. Because he was everywhere. Starting in place of the injured Frank Zombo, Walden continuously applied the pressure to Jay Cutler and even had a couple of sacks. He had eleven tackles on the day, a stat that led all Packers defenders. The Packers defense as a whole played another excellent game (six sacks and two interceptions; the sixth time this season they've held an opponent to under single digits), but Walden was the star on this afternoon. Not bad for a castoff from the Miami Dolphins that we signed just over a month ago.

5. The One Team I Don't Want to Face - When the Packers beat the Eagles in week one of this very season, I said right then and there that they'd be the one team I did not want to face in the playoffs. It's their defense, it's their speed, but mainly it's Michael Vick. The feeling at the time was that Michael Vick played so well in relief of Kevin Kolb during week one because the Packers didn't really scheme for him. Watching him that day though, he already looked like he was like his old self, even better. Throughout the season he proved that he is in fact the real deal, rushing better than ever before with a more perfect throwing motion than ever before as well. With a full week, I think the Packers have the defensive personnel and the right coordinator to put together the right gameplan, but I'm still a bit nervous in giving Vick and the Eagles another crack at the Pack.

Overall, after all that this season has taken us through, I'd say that no matter what happens I'm satisfied with our year. Sure, at the beginning of the season I was talking Super Bowl, but I've sort of been doing that every year since.... well, forever. With the multitude of injuries that we've experienced, with the heartbreak of all the close losses, with the satisfaction of finally beating Favre, I'd say that this season has already been a success. But this Packers team is hot right now, and with how even the NFC is they could possibly make a run. Having to win three on the road scares me more than the teams we'll actually be playing. I still think that the confidence earned in the Patriots loss will take us a long way similar to the year the Giants won the Super Bowl by knocking off New England when they were undefeated. I've seen a lot of analysts pick the Packers over the Eagles already (Sunday 3:30pm on FOX), and I really can't say yet what I feel at this point. We could win the Super Bowl. We could lose by twenty this weekend. Neither one would surprise me.

But I'm ready for the ride.


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