Monday, December 20, 2010

New England Heartbreaker

What a disheartening loss last night to the Patriots, 31-27. I admit that I did not give the Packers any chance in this game, which reflects poorly on me, I suppose. But for them to lead the Patriots for much of the game, and have a shot at winning in the final minute, but not to be able to pull it off, was painful to watch.

"Heartbreaking" was the word used independently by both my wife and my daughter to describe the game. We had to start watching this game after it was already going on for about 2 hours, so it was over by the time we were still watching the second quarter. That is a terrible way to watch a game, especially one like this. I was getting text messages from Dick Karth, from my daughter, and from my cousin during the game. Then my daughter and my in-laws called within minutes after the end of the game. All of these messages and calls were ignored, but it was pretty clear to me that something remarkable was going on - either a disaster or a miracle. I was holding out hope for the miracle until the final play.

This morning I got some interesting comments on the game from my old college buddy Dick Karth, before I got around to even starting a game review of my own. I agree with most of Dick's comments, and disagree with others. So I am making Dick the honorary guest columnist of the week. His comments (with very slight editing) are in italics, with my own comments interspersed in regular font. Sort of a point-counterpoint.
In keeping with some of my comments [sent to me by Dick during the game], I was liking what I saw as the game progressed. The opening kickoff surprised New England and their coach. It allowed the GBP to take first blood. Brilliant!
Or, as a family member put it, "I didn't know the Packers were that ballsy." Packer blogger Jersey Al used the same colorful term.
The team played solid ball (pretty much on both offense and defense) through much of the game. There were some dropped balls on both the Packer offense and defense that should have been caught, which would have turn the game into a rout. But nonetheless, in spite of those lapses, the Packers were always in the game.
The drops were just killing me. Nobody is a bigger Charles Woodson fan than I am. 95 times out of a hundred he doesn't drop that interception. I could not believe that he dropped it last night. There were other dropped balls, including by Sam Shields and Jordy Nelson. Sorry, guys, this was a big game. You just have to make those plays.
I think that Flynn did an excellent job in his first real game and against an outstanding team. He was poised. Sure the INT for a TD is a pass he wishes he had back, and might not throw that again in his career. Chris Collinsworth made an interesting comment about a pass Flynn threw to the goal line at the left sideline. Chris said that you can throw that kind of a pass in college ball, even a National Championship game, but you CANNOT throw that kind of a pass in the National Football League! If Flynn learns from those mistakes and is effectively coached while watching the tape, he has a bright future in the NFL.
Collinsworth was right. That particular pass was a mistake, and so were the two interceptions [correction - only one official interception - the other one was called back on a penalty]. But we learned something about Matt Flynn last night - if it comes to it, he can play and give us a chance to win. I don't know why I should be so surprised. Going back to the beginning of the Favre - Holmgren era, we have pretty much always had coaches with great skills developing quarterbacks on the staff, and as a result we have pretty much always had capable backup quarterbacks (even, though, ironically, the last time a backup quarterback started for the Packers before last night was more than 18 years ago).
Then things started to unwind. If I were an NFL GM, I would have a rule ... that if a team or player sets an NFL record against me that is derogatory towards my team, then I'm going to fire the responsible coach. No questions asked. To have the longest return play in NFL history by an offensive lineman be executed against your SPECIAL TEAMS is inexcusable. It would have been bad enough for an offensive lineman to have picked up his own team's fumble on a bumbled running play on a 3rd and 1 or 4th and 1 and to have lumbered (and I stress LUMBERED) 71 yards ... but on a kick-off?
Well, agreed, sort of. We do have recurring problems on special teams, and any neutral observer would have to think seriously about replacing the special teams coach, Shawn Slocum. Having said that, I don't agree with the idea of an automatic rule that says the coach is fired, immediately, if A, B, or C.
The final drive. A fraternity intra-mural team would have looked better out there. When you're playing one of the best team's in the league and you're expected to lose by almost two touchdowns, you know the only way you're likely to win the game is on a drive in the closing two minutes with one or no time outs left.

First, 13 to 15 seconds (two plays?) were squandered after plays ended before the timeout was called. Inexcusable. As the plays ended, the QB and the offensive leaders not directly involved in the play should be looking to the sidelines for time out calling direction. Were they? Or was there indecision on the sidelines? (Would not have surprised me!)

Second. Either the team goes on 60 second drill autopilot with audibles ... or two or three or four plays should be called during the T/O's. Neither apparently happened.
Look. They moved down the field in the final minutes and had a chance to win the game. My biggest criticism of the final drive is clock management. I have often been critical of McCarthy on matters of clock management. From his press conference, ironically, it appears that McCarthy had the right thinking in mind on this drive. That is, he wanted to use up time during the drive so that, if the Packers scored, there would be little time for Brady to work with. That is the right thing to do, so it seems harsh to be too critical. They overdid it, as it turned out, and they certainly wasted time they wish they would have had to play with at the end. But in this instance they were actually trying to do the right thing.
So ... in the end ... while I got excited at times during the game ... I again didn't like what I saw last night.
I guess I was happier with what I saw than Dick was. I did not give the Packers a chance in this game, and they proved me wrong and almost won the game.
The GBP were picked by smart football people at the beginning of the year to be in the Super Bowl. I can see why the smart people picked them for that. They have talent, depth, and they can play well.
More depth than I could possibly have imagined back in September.
But ... they not only almost upset New England (and could have turned it into a rout), they handed the best 2 and 10 or 3 and 10 team in the history of the NFL a four point victory that should have been a Packer victory.

On a brighter note ... this is a team that could back its way into the play-offs, into the Super Bowl, and bring the next Lombardi trophy to Green Bay as one of the few teams with NO home field play-off games during the play-offs ... if they don't beat themselves.

Apparently they don't want to win the Super Bowl the smart and easy way through the front door ... they appear to me to want to win it the dumb and hard way, through the back door.
Well, stranger things have probably happened. And I will obviously be rooting for it. But I don't see the Packers making it to the Super Bowl this year. Might they have done so without the avalanche of injuries? Hard to say, but it sure would help to have Ryan Grant, Jermichael Finley, Nick Barnett, Morgan Burnett, Mark Tauscher and 9 other players around to help out. I have been amazed by the Packers' ability to stay in contention with all these injuries. I argued before the season started that the 2010 Packers were not at the level of the 1996 Packers. If that was right, then it stands to reason that the end of season 2010 Packers are not even close.

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