Monday, December 22, 2008

It's Not So Bad

(AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

There are few joys more delicious than beating the hated Chicago Bears...except maybe beating them at home and crushing their playoff hopes.

The Green Bay Packers were an outstretched arm from accomplishing this feat. Having played some good football with magnificent interceptions and great catches, the Packers hopes of ruining the Bears season and sweeping their 2008 series against each other was blocked by the Chicago field goal defense on an apparent chip-shot for Packers kicker Mason Crosby.

With the Bears dazed by two second-half interceptions by Charles Woodson and Nick Collins, the Packers appeared to be in the drivers seat late in the game. But then the Bears running game found some of the blatant holes in the Packers defense that everyone else has found late in the games this year. They exploited it to tie the game.

Then Green Bay got a big break with a stupid Bears horse-collaring penalty on the kick return and drove down to the Bears 38-yard line where once again the Packers ended coming up short - this time by getting Crosby's field goal blocked.

The Bears took very little time in the Overtime period to kick their own field goal and became another team to steal a game from the Packers in the 2008 season.

So close, but yet so far away has turned out to be the theme of this year. This has manifested itself in many ways, but the inability to score late in the fourth quarter while at the same time being unable to stop the opponent in that time frame summarizes a hopeful and disappointing season. The only way it could get worse would be to lose to the win-less and hapless Detroit Lions next weekend.

It is one thing to have a terrible team and a 5-10 record; it is another thing to have a thrilling offense, loads of talent and more promise than payoff.

However, despite the record, this year's team leaves Packer fans with an arm-load of hope instead of the empty futility from teams from the 1980's; this team is different. Disappointed? Yes. Bitter? Unbelievably, no.

This year's team put out an exciting product. Aaron Rodgers stayed healthy and proved himself to be a worthy successor to Brett Favre, Ryan Grant put out some great efforts, the Packers receivers showed that they are the best revceiving corps in the NFL, and Charles Woodson played about as well as a defensive back can play and might have had as fine of a season as any DB has had - ever.

And though this author has slammed general manager Ted Thompson repeatedly this season, the likelihood of his departure from his role with the Packers is small. And if he concentrates his resources on getting a solid defensive line, the Packers have every reason to expect to be fierce contenders next year.

So though this season did not go where the Cheesehead nation thought it would, the Packers are only a few short steps away from being a great team. Only this time we won't have to wait 29 years, but only about 6 meaningless months.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Jags Smackdown Pack; Thompson's Pudding is Cooked

The proof is in the pudding. And the pudding that Packers General Manager Ted Thompson has concocted with his own, personal choices of ingredients is fully cooked and ready to taste. The only problem is that it tastes so bad everybody keeps spitting it out of their mouth, leaving only one question: is Thompson's devastation, castration and dismantling of this team finished yet or do we all get to sink even lower, perhaps back to 1980's status?

The Packers showed signs of having a potent scoring attack against the Jaguars, but several critical Aaron Rodgers overthrows put the fork in the offense's ability to extend their second-half lead. So instead of applying the death-blow to an average Jacksonville team, the Packers once again let them hang around long enough for the Green Bay defense to fall apart on two late, quick Jacksonville scoring drives.

Has this not been the story all season long? Aside from a few one-sided affairs, the Packers could have won another five or six games. But nothing ever got fixed so that they could compete at a playoff-team level. Instead they are struggling to end the season as a mediocre team. Perhaps if Thompson had given coach Mike McCarthy enough tools to compete in the NFL some things could have been fixed, but McCarty really has a bad defense to work with, aside from a few bright spots.

As it is now, this team is a few moves from obscurity, but also a few moves from contention with a lot of talent on offense. Ted Thompson has had his time in the kitchen and what he has produced is lousy by any standard. It is bland, disappointing and forgettable.

Unless Packer management wants to return to the tasteless 1980's-form, they had better push Thompson down the road before he can do any more damage to what could be a good team. His own decisions have sealed his own fate and his future cannot include the Green Bay Packers.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

New Lambeau Mistique...How Can Packers Win at Home?

(AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Aaron Rodgers is exciting; Donald Driver is exhilarating; Greg Jennings is fantastic; Charles Woodson is nearly immortal; Green Bay plays thrilling games and the fans have fun. It's all good...except they can't win.

With many successful displays of certain aspects of the game and an incredible turnover-forcing ratio, what the Packers lack, besides a pass rush, or the ability to stop the run, is consistency. Indeed, they have the ability to make the big play and made many of them against the visiting Houston Texans, but you can't establish dominance against another mediocre team if you can't convert on third down, which the Packers struggled to do all day.

With a decent running game, lethal receivers and episodes of brilliance by Aaron Rodgers, the problem has to come down to game plan and/or execution, which could be a reflection on Rodgers' own inconsistency. What else could it be?

I mean, the Packers played good football at times, which was, once again, almost good enough to win. But in what is becoming a habit for the green and gold, they cannot find a way to put an opponent away. And in the process, the new Lambeau Mistique for them is how the Green Bay Packers can win at home; or anywhere else.

This season is now a wash; Green Bay will not be playing post-season football. They will likely put up decent numbers in the remaining games, but somebody will need to start coming up with some answers. In fact, Coach Mike McCarthy's very job could be in question, for, at best, the Packers could finish an unacceptable 8-8. Not so long ago a Packers coach was fired for that posting that very record.

It looks like the wisdom of Ted Thompson and McCarthy's gamble to deal away a prodigal Brett Favre is becoming painfully apparent, but even with Favre, the defensive line incompetencies are not answered. So maybe a fuller examination of Thompson and McCarthy's overall competence as leaders finally needs to be evaluated. Something has to give, because the Green Bay Packers can't even beat a mediocre, warm-weather team on a 6 degree day at Lambeau Field.

The old Lambeau Mistique is gone.