Just for the heck of it, I decided to re-watch the Week 3 game between the Packers and the Bears from last year. I knew, without looking up the details, that the Packers would lose by 3 points, and that there were something like 18 penalties against the Packers in the game. Painful as it was to watch, I think I gained some extra perspective by watching the game again.
The reason I chose to watch this Bears game is that it is the only one the Packers played against the Bears last year with Jermichael Finley. Since the Bears play a lot of Tampa-2 defense, Jermichael Finley (or any top flight tight end) should be a large factor in the game, getting open over the middle. And he was. The Packers ended up losing the game anyway, but having another shot at the Bears with Jermichael Finley in the lineup makes me think good things should happen.
First Quarter. The first quarter ended with the Packers leading 7-0. The Bears had two possessions during this quarter, both of which were extended by penalties on the Packers. Yet the Bears missed a field goal, and then Cutler was intercepted in the end zone. Rodgers looked sharp, but there was no running game to speak of (remember, this was after Ryan Grant went out for the season, and before the Packers started using Starks). The Packers got good pressure on Cutler, and sacked him once, as I recall. So far, so good.
Second Quarter: The Packers continued to outplay the Bears, getting a couple of sacks on defense, forcing a 3-and-out, and gave up a touchdown only after a Hester punt return set the Bears up in great position to score. On offense, the Packers scored only a field goal, and started mis-firing more frequently than in the first quarter. Rodgers was intercepted on the Hail Mary pass at the end of the half, which doesn't really count. Most ominously, by my unofficial count the Packers only had 6 penalties in the first half. Lots more to come.
Third Quarter: There were no scores in the quarter, but penalties started to have a real impact on the game. A Jermichael Finley TD was nullified by a holding penalty, and then Julius Peppers blocked the field goal try. The Bears got down to the 1 yard line, but threw an incomplete pass on 4th down. Six penalties in the quarter. At the end of three quarters, Packers, 10-7.
Fourth Quarter: And then came the decisive fourth quarter. Hester returned a punt for a touchdown on the second play of the quarter, giving the Bears their first lead. The Packers scored on a long touchdown drive. A Finley TD was nullified by penalty (of course) but then Rodgers ran it in. The Bears tied it up on a long drive, where a nullified interception and 30 yards of penalties contributed heavily to the drive. Then, James Jones was stripped along the sidelines, and McCarthy wasted a precious timeout challenging the play, despite the fact (1) that it happened right in front of him; and (2) the fact that there was no chance it would be overturned. This led to the go-ahead (and winning) field goal, after McCarthy decided to mount a heroic goal line stand instead of letting the Bears score, which would have given Rodgers a final chance.
So what does this tell us for this week's game? It tells me that the Packers should win. They had more yards than the Bears last year, more first downs, and more sacks. It was only the penalties, poor special-teams play, and the poor decisions by McCarthy in the fourth quarter that let the Bears win the game. Since then, the offensive line is much better (and so there should be fewer holding and offsides penalties), McCarthy's decision-making at the end of games is improved, and the special teams play is (at least a little) better. Oh, and we have a better running game this time. The loss of Nick Collins is a problem, and somewhere down the road they may lose a game because of it. But I don't think it will be this week.
Game Balls and Lame Calls: Packers 22, Falcons 21
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