To many Green Bay Packers fans, the first 30 minutes of Sunday’s home tilt with the Buffalo Bills no doubt felt like an exercise in torture.
Facing an extremely undermanned opponent, the Packers played as though victory was all but assured – even if no actual effort was required. The result of that? A mere six-point lead at the break and shades of last season’s embarassing road loss to Tampa Bay.
Luckily for us, the Packers have a coach who has no problem expressing his emotions.
Mike McCarthy reportedly tore into his team in the lockerroom for its poor performance and the Packers responded in good kind, overwhelming the lowly Bills in act two on their way to a 34-7 win at Lambeau Field. Green Bay now sits at 2-0 on the season and, perhaps just as importantly, may have finally developed a killer instinct to go along with its considerable talent.
Consider where this game was at the half. After a start that was decent, but not overly impressive, the Packers’ offense all but mailed in quarter two, racking up less than 20 total yards, no first downs and zero points. The running game was providing no help to a passing game that suddenly became out of synch, Green Bay’s receivers apparently unable to get open.
Buffalo, meanwhile, was starting to make things happen on the ground and, to use a hockey term, tilt the ice its way. A three-yard touchdown run from Fred Jackson – nice to see you taking the wrong angle yet again, Mr. Hawk – made it a 13-7 game. If you were watching thinking it was only matter of time before the Bills took the lead, you weren’t alone.
Peeling the paint off the walls after a poor first half is not a new approach, by any stretch. But McCarthy, like all good coaches, was able to say the right things – or, at least, the right combination of vulgar things - essentially giving his players no choice but to respond.
And, boy, did they ever respond.
The running game never did pick things up, but the rest of the offense caught fire and made sure to stay that way. Aaron Rodgers completed 11-of-13 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns (plus a rushing score) in the second half. As usual with Rodgers – who went 19-of-29 for 255 yards, two touchdowns and no picks on the day - it’s more than just the numbers, though.
He played with improved confidence, spread the ball around and remembered that his feet can bail him out just as quickly as his arm (he showed great awareness on his nine-yard touchdown run in the third quarer). The receivers found the open spaces and did what they do best – rack up the YAC. And the offensive line, not very good for the first six quarters of 2010, seemed to collective up its game with rookie Bryan Bulaga handling left tackle duties (much more on that Monday).
The 21 second-half points that unit provided were more than enough for the defense. And by “defense” I, of course, mean Clay Matthews. Good Lord what a show he put on.
Lining up in a variety of spots, Matthews was once again a one-man army, crashing, smashing and dashing his way past Buffalo’s weak front five. No. 52 made a home in the Bills’ backfield on his way to five tackles (four for loss), three sacks and five quarterback hits. He now has a mind-boggling six sacks already and is proving that opponents can gameplan for him however they’d like - it still won’t matter.
Matthews – unlike say, Jared Allen – is also a multi-faceted threat, capable of playing the run and covering in addition to bringing the heat. I’ve seen some special defensive talent in my time as a Packers fan – Matthews has a chance to be better than all of them. That’s right, I said it.
But, really, it was the team as a whole that took its game to another level in the second half. The Packers quit screwing around with the Bills, instead choosing to assert their will and bury them. That’s called a killer instinct, children.
That’s what good teams have. That’s what great teams have. And that’s not something Green Bay had last season.
But, much like week one against Philadelphia, we saw more signs of improved maturity and understanding from the Packers on Sunday. They – with a little boost from their coach - realized their mistakes, corrected them and let their talent take over from there. A year ago, panic may have set in, along with more mistakes and disappointing play. Not now. The trick is to keep that mindset going forward, but if they can, they should be more than fine.
And if they lose it at some point, something tells me McCarthy’s going to let them know. Just a hunch.