What great fun it was to watch the Packers and Bears play on Christmas night. We had my brother and family (visiting from Wisconsin) over to watch the game, along with good friend Myles and family. Son Ben was home from school for a couple of weeks, and daughter Sarah was at the game, along with her Panther fan Andrew, who is such a big football fan in general that he decided to become a Packer shareholder. From the very first drive, mostly in the no-huddle offense, with the screen pass being the key play in the drive, it became clear that the Packers had figured out a way to adapt to their makeshift offensive line, resulting from a series of injuries.
If there is one stat that stands out for me in the Packers-Bears game last week, it is this. In the official NFL Gamebook of the game last week, the name of Julius Peppers appears exactly once. In the list of starting defensive players. He had no tackles, no assists, no sacks, no nothing. Aaron Rodgers was never sacked, and in general was hit only when he ended up running with the ball, which happened a couple of times on busted plays, and a couple of other times on scrambles. On defense, it was another story. The Packers again gave up over 400 yards, including 199 rushing yards, mostly to a running back nobody ever heard of before. The Packers got no sacks on defense. More than any other single factor, the continued absence of Ryan Pickett contributed to the defensive problems. I am anxiously awaiting his return. The Packers simply cannot continue to play defense like this in the playoffs, if they expect to win some games.
It will be interesting to see what approach Mike McCarthy takes in this week's Lions game. As a season ticket holder, I hate exhibition games, and I hate being required to pay full price for them. I have fulminated in the past over the business of teams with playoff seeding locked up "tanking" their Week 17 game, making no real effort to win, and in the process knocking some other team out of the playoffs. Just last year, I gave high praise to Lovie Smith and the Bears for giving it their all in Week 17, playing as if their game against the Packers mattered (which it did, in playoff life-or-death fashion, to the Packers and Giants). This week's game against the Lions does matter, for playoff seeding purposes, to the Lions and Falcons. And it matters for Packer team record purposes. The 2011 Packer team is the only Packer team to win 14 games in a single regular season. Obviously, no Packer team has ever won 15 in a regular season. There is another team record at stake: the Lions have not beaten the Packers in Wisconsin since 1991, coincidentally just before Favre and then Rodgers arrived on the scene.
Now obviously, if the Packers get out to a comfortable lead, McCarthy will start taking starters out of the game. And I fully assume that he will pull the trigger earlier than he might in any other week. But I hope and expect that the Packers will go out and try to win the game, and go into the playoffs on a high note.
The Press-Gazette notes that it was 50 years ago this weekend that Green Bay first become Titletown, USA. On December 31, 1961, the Packers hosted the NFL Championship Game and destroyed the Giants, 37-0. I could not readily put my hands on it to scan it for this blog post, but somewhere around the house is the New York Post sports page from the day after the game. It was given to us by Judy's old boss (a Giants fan) in the mid-1980's, meaning we have had it about as long as he did before giving it to us. I am pretty sure that Vince Lombardi would have gone out and tried to win the game this week. So should Mike McCarthy.
Occasional ramblings by Tom Freeman, a life-long Green Bay Packers fan, season ticket holder, and shareholder, now living on the idyllic Central Coast of California. My articles were previously published on the South End Zone web site.