Once again, Packers stuck on wrong side of the divide « Ol' Bag of Donuts

Once again, Packers stuck on wrong side of the divide

As Matt Flynn marched — well, marched is too strong of a word; maybe nudged? — the Packers down the field in the final four minutes of last night’s game against the New England Patriots, I let a taboo thought of optimism enter my head for just a second.

What if this kid actually throws a touchdown in the final seconds to beat the Patriots at home? What does that mean? Are we finally ready to come up and win big games like a great team?

And immediately, another thought came into my head to bat it away.

It’s not going to happen. We don’t win these games. The Patriots do.

Praise Flynn all you want this morning — and there are certainly plenty of reasons to do that. Talk about the Packers’ defense’s inspired performance. Even credit Mike McCarthy for what was, for 59 minutes, one of his best and most inspired game plans in Green Bay. Heck, even talk about how this game didn’t do anything but nick the Packers’ playoff hopes, thanks to the Salvation Army-sized charity they got during the early games on Sunday.

But the reason I’m so upset this morning is because this game ended the way all the close ones seem to end for the Packers — especially the close ones against great teams:

They found a way to lose. The Patriots found a way to win. And that’s the problem.

Even with Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines and a half-dozen other key contributors on injured reserve, the Packers put more impact players on the field than the Patriots did last night. They discovered a running game, held the ball for 40 minutes, got a madcap performance from John Kuhn and hit back every time the Patriots hit them. Yet, this team is 8-6, having lost those games by a collective 20 points. And this has become enough of a symptom under Mike McCarthy that you have to think this is all the Packers are going to be.

They can put up points, blow out bad teams and give good ones a heck of a fight. But last night came down to intestinal fortitude, and the Patriots, with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, have more of that than any team in the league. Heck, they have more of it than most teams in NFL history. The Packers do not.

Watching this Patriots team demystifies much of what modern NFL coaches — McCarthy among them — would have you believe is so complicated about this game. They block and tackle well, for the most part. They don’t commit stupid penalties, and they do not turn the ball over, though Brady certainly should have had a pick or two. They are composed, humble and opportunistic, and they are doing more with less than they ever have in the great Belichick/Brady years.

Contrast that with the Packers, who are in danger of missing the playoffs with all this talent because of big moments where they blinked. They dropped interceptions, including an uncharacteristic muff from Charles Woodson that led to seven points. They blocked poorly for Flynn, who contributed to the problem by committing one of Aaron Rodgers’ fatal mistakes: holding onto the ball too long. James Jones stopped on a route that led to a Flynn interception the Patriots returned for a touchdown. And they again showed their gross negligence on special teams, allowing an offensive lineman(!) to rumble 71 yards with a kickoff, cradling the ball like it was a newborn baby and ensuring the Packers will be mocked on highlights for weeks, if not years.

There’s not a lot of mystery in this. The Packers don’t win these games because they are terrible at doing the little things well, and at times, they don’t seem hungry enough. They believe they’ll win on talent, to the point where they procrastinate and put their season on the line, and when all that pressure builds up, they can’t respond.

Back to the last drive of the game: Needing to go only 57 yards in an overly generous 4:22, the Packers got stopped on a second-and-3 that effectively led to another 45 seconds coming off the clock after a third-down conversion. Flynn threw underneath to Donald Driver on a third-and-4 to get a first down, taking a timeout instead of spiking the ball, and took a sack on first-and-10 after Bryan Bulaga blocked the wrong man, leaving Dane Fletcher uncovered on a blitz. That led them to take their final timeout.

At this point, the Packers were somewhat limited by Flynn’s arm strength; he hadn’t been throwing to the sidelines all night, and a downfield throw seemed too risky, particularly when he’d had a pick negated by a penalty earlier on the drive. But when they got to fourth-and-1, chaos reigned. McCarthy said Flynn played things correctly, calling a play at the line of scrimmage and rolling out, but once again, the Packers’ blocking collapsed at the worst time. And from Driver’s catch with 29 seconds left to Flynn’s snap with five seconds left, the Packers’ entire margin for a short throw and a spike went out the window.

Why wasn’t there more urgency to get to the line? Why did this offensive line, which was supposed to be fixed, make two unforced errors on the last four plays of the game? Those have been themes over and over with McCarthy’s teams, and it seems clear at this point the Packers won’t cross over the divide with him as the coach. The NFL’s labor situation makes a firing unlikely, but when this team has all the talent to win a Super Bowl, and should for the next two seasons, big questions have to be asked. And they’re being asked because of all the little things the Packers can’t do.

By most accounts, the Packers played admirably without their franchise quarterback in a game no one thought they could win. Once again, they proved they had enough talent to overcome the odds and get to the brink of victory.

The Patriots had enough gumption to win, in spite of whatever talent gap they had. That’s what counts, and that’s why the Packers are continually wishing and hoping they could get to where the Patriots are. And with McCarthy charting the course, I’m not sure they’ll ever arrive.

–Gene Bosling

18 comments to Once again, Packers stuck on wrong side of the divide

  • Anita

    “It’s not going to happen. We don’t win these games. The Patriots do.”

    The sad thing is that I had the same thought in that final drive. I almost KNEW it wasn’t going to end well, because IT NEVER DOES. I hate feeling that way. I would LOVE to be proved wrong.

  • “They don’t commit stupid penalties…” – Actually, the Patriots committed the worst penalties in the game and gave the Packers a few more second chances.

    I don’t disagree completely with this post, but I find it interesting that we’re sitting here debating the time it took the Packers to try to score on their final drive, when at the end of the Atlanta game, we were complaining that the Packers scored too quickly.

    Funny, though, that in both cases, it was the ST play that made the biggest differences in the game.

  • Two Jet Winston

    This MM crap has to stop, guys. You keep acting like he has never proven that he can win. You remember ‘07, right? You remember LAST YEAR, right? The guy has been coaching with one hand tied behind his back all season. All three of you predicted a blowout coming into this week. MM pitched a great game. And he outcoached Belichick all game…WITH A BACKUP QB MAKING HIS FIRST START ON THE ROAD IN THE NFL’S MOST HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT and the league’s most depleted roster.

    So here’s my question: Who do you want? Once TT listens to you and fires him, who should we get? WHO?!

    MM has won the close games time and again in GB. You know what goes away when you have to start your scrubs? The close games against good teams. It just does. Accept it. The fact that he was able to go .500 with this team should alone get him an extension.

    This use to be the best Packers blog I knew of. But the constant bitching about MM it threatening to reduce your credibility to that of the comments section of a Journal Sentinel post.

    And BTW, Chris, you need to step away from Twitter during the games. Or maybe start drinking about an hour earlier.

  • Bearmeat

    Well put Two Jet. I was at this game last night, and half expected to be blown out as well. The fact that GB was in this game at all is a testament to TT and MM. EVERY coach has flaws. MM needs to realize his, and last night he did. That game plan was beautiful, and the execution was for the most part there.
    -
    One thing I will say. Slocumb has to go. Period.

  • Nate

    Wow, sure spilled a lot of venom posting about a game we were pegged to lose by a mile.

    Sure, I’m disappointed that we didn’t win, but take a step back and look what what we did do right, and what we learned. EVERYONE said the Pack would get buried, burned, and relegated to the scrap-heap of NFL also-rans by the invulnerable Patriots. Guess what?

    -We can pound the ball when we remember our fundamentals.
    -We have a 2nd-string QB that most teams would give a draft pick for (how many times have you seen a back-up QB give that kind of performance on that stage against that kind of team? Right, not many.)
    -Our team has heart. They hit back. They don’t quit. What do you want them to do? Throw up their arms and say “Hey, we can’t win the close ones so let this be a blow-out”?
    -We can hang with Atlanta and the Pats. In fact, the Pats are very vulnerable. There are maybe five plays over the course of this season that separate us from New England.
    -We played hard, inspired football for 60 min, we simply needed 61 minutes. As Lombardi himself said, “we didn’t lose, we ran out of time.”

    And I disagree: we’re the team that’s humble, composed. We’re the team in the playoff hunt doing more with less than anyone else. The young players WILL learn how to win the close ones. Unfortunately, failing is part of the learning process.

    Brady should have had three picks and a fumble. He’s not perfect.

  • Two Jet Winston

    Thank, Bearmeat. Great handle, BTW. And I couldn’t agree more about Slocum. He and Campen both need to go. That said, we need to remember that with this many injuries special needs…uh…teams takes the biggest blow. Injuries aside, no excuse for that KOR. Just no excuse.

  • Two Jet Winston

    Last thing…you do realize that if MM goes, we lose Capers too, right? Think of the implications of that. Is it really worth it?

  • admin

    McCarthy has won close games time and again?

    He’s 11-20 in games decided by seven or less since 2007, and 14-22 in his career with the Packers. It’d be one thing if this was a problem that simply came about this year. You might be able to put it on injuries at that point. But the stats get in the way of that story.

    Look, we’re not going to rubber-stamp everything this team does. They need wins. They had the lead late in the fourth quarter last night, and didn’t get it done. We want championships, not moral victories. Of the six losses, I’d point to one (the Redskins game) where injuries directly impeded a chance to win. Otherwise, this team has enough depth to beat the Dolphins, Lions, etc., and should win those games.

    Two Jet, if you’d prefer a Packers blog with a sunnier outlook on life — to put it diplomatically — those are available to you. We don’t roll that way. If something stinks, we’re going to point it out, and if something’s going well, we’re going to point it out. We don’t do moral victories around here.

    –Gene

  • Packerwest

    Totally agree with close game deficiencies of MM.Unbelievably poor clock management at end of game.During called last timeout did they not call at least the next 2 or 3 plays knowing that they could not stop the clock again?? All 6 losses were avoidable with better playcalling(especially at goal line) and special teams play. I just was hoping the Pack could pull out a last minute victory for once but had no confidence as the clock kept ticking away..

  • Adam Czech

    This loss brought out the worst in the portion of the Packers fan base that suffers from Cute Little Team Syndrome (CLTS). There’s still too many Packers fans that don’t have high enough expectations. They’re happy with their cute little small market team, their stadium next to K-Mart, the fun atmosphere on Sunday, and all the cool Packers history.

    Sure, these fans want the team to win, but if they don’t, oh well. Look at how hard they fought against the big bad Patriots! We only lost by four points! We should be proud!

    Sometimes it feels like Packers and coaches suffer from CLTS too. They don’t, but it sure feels that way sometimes.

  • admin

    Amen, Adam. Amen.

    –Gene

  • barutan seijin

    One damning thing about MM is that he can plug in a Brett Favre, an Aaron Rodgers or a Matt Flynn and come up with the same results. He seems to be a good QB coach — which is no small thing. I don’t think he has what it takes to take a team to the next level.

    I remember when the Bulls fired Doug Collins after several winning seasons and a trips to the playoffs. I thought that was kind of harsh at the time, but it’s hard to argue with the results. Meanwhile, Collins has been in and out of coaching & is still looking for a championship.

    I don’t know if TT & sMurphy care as much about winning as Reinsdorf did. Having a cute little team works for revenue.

  • Lynn Dickey 12

    I was thinking at one point in the 3rd quarter…”wait a minute, they could actually win this game….”

    But then, I remembered that you can’t win a game when you give up the longest return in NFL history by an offensive lineman.

    Special teams have always been there this year to keep the other team within striking distance, keeping the Packers from putting anyone away.

  • Bingo, barutan.

    They’ve had elite quarterback play for almost an unprecedented length of time, and have one championship to show for it. Now, some of that falls on Favre, Rodgers, Sherman and others, but I share your concern about McCarthy taking a team to the next level. The question is, how long do you wait to see if he can do it? I don’t have a good answer to that, but if they’re still right on the cusp next year, I’d guess McCarthy’s seat gets pretty warm.

  • Two Jet Winston

    The stat about MM being 11-20 in close games is an irrelevant stat. If fails to consider so many things. Close games against good teams/coaches usually come down to one or two plays that affect the outcome. A pic, special teams blunder, blown coverage… Any time a coach is over .500 in that category he’s doing his job. Contrary to what seems to be popular opinion around here, not every error a player makes falls directly on the coach, especially when he’s forced to play his scrubs. And when the scrubs play as well as ours do, that’s a sign of good coaching.

    The Chicago and Detroit losses are on MM. I’ll give you those. But you can’t tell me that he’s not one of the best game-planners in the league. If you do, then you’re either not watching or you have Alzheimer’s. Offensively, we owned AZ, ATL, NE, PB, and all the other close games we’ve been in. That’s MM. Capers, a guy who gets some pretty high (and well-deserved) praise around here, blew those games for us. Why doesn’t he ever take any heat for that? Point is, in the record books a W is a W and an L is an L. but when critiquing the work of a head coach, it’s not that way at all. You have to actually examine the body of work. When you do you see that MM really has his shit together in ways very few NFL coaches do.

  • [...] by Chad Toporski on Dec 22, 2010 in Games, News | 0 comments No matter what you thought about the Green Bay Packers’ most recent loss to the New England Patriots, one thing [...]

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