(Note: My streak of game recaps is officially over at 29. Don’t worry – I’ll start a new one Sunday.)
As Gene, Adam and myself exited FedEx Field on Sunday, following the Green Bay Packers’ gutwrenching 16-13 overtime loss to the Washington Redskins, we found ourselves using variations of the same phrase over and over:
This team just isn’t very good.
In the hours – about a day and a half’s worth in all – that followed our disheartened exit, our overall outlook didn’t change.
Then, upon arriving back in Minneapolis on Tuesday, I decided to grab some chinese food. My fortune cookie contained an interesting bit of wisdom: Let reality be reality, it said.
That got me to thinking about where the 2010 Packers are five games in.
What is the real reality with this team? Are the Packers the Super Bowl contenders we made them out to be for nine or so months? Are they the stumbling, bumbling trainwreck the three of us made them out to be in our postgame thoughts, which were fueled by anger (and, okay, a little bit of alcohol)?
Reality is rarely black and white. And, in this instance, so are the Packers.
They are not Super Bowl contenders, as we currently find them. Not even close. Let’s just get that out of the way right now.
There is no continuity to this team. With roughly a third of the season already in the books, it has yet to turn in a full 60 minutes of strong play. That’d be one thing if the Packers had come close, but by my count, they haven’t given us more than about 30 consecutive minutes. And that came against the Buffalo Bills, so you know, insert your own joke there.
That’s the team, as a whole, but really, that extends to each of the three phases, as well. Outside of a few instances – the middle portion of the Philadelphia game, for example – the Packers have not been able to get all three units firing at once. The offense looks good in limited minutes early on against Detroit; the defense, Dom Capers in particular, tries its best to blow the game (with an assist from a suddenly out-of-synch offense).
Sunday, on the road in an environment that grew more hostile by the second, the defense came to play. Yes, things weren’t nearly as good minus Clay Matthews (how could they be?), but forget about the yardage totals. After all, Packers fans should know more than anyone else that they mean nothing, right? On the board, where it counts the most, Green Bay allowed 13 points in regulation. That should always – repeat: ALWAYS – be more than enough to win. But it wasn’t, was it? Nope, because the head coach refused to stick with what worked, seemingly more concerned with proving his intelligence than winning. Mike Martz, meet Mike McCarthy.
The killer instinct simply does not exist. We can take as many shots at Trent Dilfer for what he had to say about the team on ESPN earlier this week, but do not argue his point. He was correct. This team looks great, particularly offensively, in quarter one. After that, it’s gone. Against average competition, opponents that continually open themselves for the kill shot, the Packers continually fail to deliver it. Again, a third of the season is in the books. Shouldn’t that have developed by now?
The offensive line is officially back to where it was over the first eight games of 2009. Aaron Rodgers and the receivers have felt compelled to join them. In other words: terrible blocking, terrible pass catching and a quarterback who is making us look foolish for spending so much time saying he’s in the same group with such legitimate heavyweights as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Aaron, meet Tony. You two are in the same grade!
Have I really left out the special teams all this time? I guess, but that’s only because I’d like to be able to eat dinner before midnight.
(Now, after saying ALL OF THIS, are ya ready for the part where I take you the other way?)
The 2010 Packers can still turn this thing around. They can become more than what they’ve been.
It’s not like the talent isn’t there, even with the injuries mounting faster than my blood alcohol level at the Hawk ‘n Dove last Saturday night (damn those girls from Philly!). The offense, even without Jermichael Finley, has talent. Considerable talent. Remember, Finley wasn’t Finley for 16 games last year. The unit was still pretty good, though, right?
That group just has to play better. Rodgers has to stop looking downfield with every single first read. He needs to hang in the pocket longer, even if pressure is coming. By immediately bouncing out of the pocket, he cuts down half the field. He needs to remember that Greg Jennings is on his team (and No. 85 needs to show himself to be worthy of the elite checks he cashes). Donald Driver needs to stop dropping four passes. That group feeds off his energy, positive or otherwise – I’m convinced of it. James Jones and Jordy Nelson have to cash in on the potential each has. It’s time. These are all things that can still happen.
The offensive line has got to find a way to improve. If they can’t, it’s time to swap some guys out (Chad Clifton and Daryn Colledge, I’m looking right at you). Didn’t we spend the entire offseason/training camp/preseason talking about the depth there? If the starters can’t hang, let’s see some of it, dammit.
I have no real beef with the defense, outside of some penalty issues. The defensive line has been great, both against the run and in providing pressure. That held true even after Ryan Pickett exited the game Sunday. Charles Woodson is struggling a bit, but he’s clearly good enough to turn that around. Tramon Williams has been this team’s best player, period. And we can talk all we want about no pass rushing linebacker opposite Matthews, but in a crucial moment in overtime Sunday, there was Brady Poppinga breaking through for a huge sack. It’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that someone still emerges.
Things just need to be a little tighter overall with that group. And when Matthews returns, the defense can still take off to a very high level.
You need two more reasons? I’ve got you covered: the NFC, as a whole, and one Michael McCarthy.
The Packers have not been very good. But let’s face it – no one has in the NFC. As of now, there is only one team (the Atlanta Falcons) somewhat close to an elite level. And they’re not really that close. New Orleans is in a slump. Chicago can’t keep it up for 16 games, same for Tampa Bay. New York is looking tough, but the jury’s still out. Same for Philadelphia. And either Dallas or Minnesota will have its season, for all intents and purposes, end Sunday. Go Cowboys.
In other words, it’s chaos. And who thrives better in chaos than McCarthy?
Seriously, think of all the times we’ve written this guy off. Early in 2006. Late in 2006. Late in 2008. Midway through 2009. For a big guy, this cat sure dodges a lot of ammo. When things are at their darkest, he somehow finds a way to get the team to rally. Can he do it again? At this point, I’m not sure I’d want to bet against him.
And, really, I’m only sure of one thing: I’m done talking about the first five weeks. This team is 0-0. The injuries are an issue. The schedule is much harder. We’re going to find out what this team is made of. Call me crazy, but that excites me.
Bring on the Dolphins.