Monday, November 21, 2011

10-0, But Far From Perfect

(Image by Duff Damos)

Well, it appears that the Packers have not quite gotten past their problems on defense yet.  Not only did they give up 455 yards of total offense to the Buccaneers, but they let Josh Freeman throw for over 300 yards and 2 touchdowns, they let LeGarrette Blount run for almost 6 yards per carry, and they made Kellen Winslow look the tight end we thought Jermichael Finley would be this year.  On offense, Aaron Rodgers again had a passer rating over 110, but the offense seemed slightly out of kilter, with more missed passes than we are used to seeing this year, and the special teams had wacky plays from Tim Masthay's punt with two fumbles on the same play, to the Packers almost giving the ball back to Tampa Bay through sheer stupidity on the first of two Tampa onside kicks.

This last one is a particular pet peeve of mine.  If you are playing on special teams, you should know the rules relevant to special teams play.  The play by D.J. Smith on the first onside kick by Tampa Bay was both atrocious and utterly inexcusable. It was obvious that the ball was not going to travel 10 yards, and yet Smith went over the top of the kicker's body to touch the ball, which was then recovered by the Buccaneers.  In this case, Smith was bailed out by the fact that the kicker actually touched the ball first, for an illegal touching penalty, but that was just a lucky break.  His intent was to get to the ball first, despite the fact that it had not gone 10 yards.  This is the equivalent of a quarterback not knowing that you can't throw two forward passes on the same play, or a kickoff returner not knowing that a kickoff is a live ball (I'm talking about you, Barry Foster).  Yes, I suppose it is hard to make those decisions in a split second, but I still think it is evidence of either bad coaching, a player who has not learned the rules, or a player who didn't exactly blow the doors off of the Wunderlic test.

Oh, yes, and notwithstanding all that, the Packers beat the Buccaneers 35-26, going to 10-0, and extending their winning streak in games that count to 16.  Which is a textbook example of this team finding a way to win a game, even though they played sub-par football in all three phases of the game.  There is no question in my mind that the Packers, in most other years, would have found a way to lose this game, and so, as dissatisfied as fans may be with the Buccaneers game, we should at least be thankful that the Packers have turned it around to the point where they win most (or all) games that are close enough that they could easily lose them.

Everybody knows that the Lions and the Cowboys host a Thanksgiving Day game every Thanksgiving.  That has been true since 1967.  Only football fans of a certain age will recall that, from 1951-1963, the Packers played the Lions every Thanksgiving.  Vince Lombardi evidently hated playing every Thanksgiving Day, and he had the practice discontinued after 1963.  Probably the 1962 game had a lot to do with it.  The Packers came into the game undefeated at 10-0, and the Lions were 8-2 (this year they are 7-3).  The Lions won the game, 26-14, but the Packers did not lose another game, finished the regular season 13-1, and won the NFL Championship.

Speaking of the history of Thanksgiving games, they started in 1920, with 6 games being played that Thanksgiving.  Of the 12 teams playing that day, only one survives today, the Decatur Staleys (now the Chicago Bears).  The Packers played their first Thanksgiving game in 1923, beating the Hammond Pros by the score of 19-0.  Yes, the league was a very different place back then.  My favorite Thanksgiving game memory is from 1986, when Walter Stanley completed the Packers' comeback with a last minute punt return for a touchdown, allowing the Packers to beat the Lions, 44-40.  Somebody (I have forgotten who) put a crushing block on the last Lion with a chance to stop him on his way to the end zone.

This Lions game, to be perfectly honest, makes me nervous.  The Lions have a very good pass rush, a nearly unstoppable wide receiver (Calvin Johnson), and they traditionally play very well on Thanksgiving at home, even when the team is not very good.  So this is certainly one of the games where the Packers could lose.  And with the 49ers (9-1) nipping at the Packers' heels, every game counts a lot, when it comes to setting up home field advantage in the playoffs.

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