Friday, December 2, 2011
Many people, including me, thought that the Thanksgiving Day game at Detroit was one of those games that the Packers could end up losing. Even though the Lions had lost a few of these holiday games in a row, traditionally they played well on Thanksgiving; they beat the Packers at Detroit last year; and until a few weeks ago, it looked like both teams might go into this game undefeated. I was particularly concerned about the Lions' fierce pass rush, led by the Lions' defensive star Ndamukong Suh.
The game started slowly, and at halftime the score was only 7-0 Packers. Certainly, it was anybody's game at that point. Not only were the Packers not running away with the game, you could make a case that they were lucky to be ahead. The Lions had twice as much time of possession in the first half, twice as many total yards, almost twice as many passing yards. A Stafford interception by Clay Matthews led to the only Packer points of the half, but other than that short scoring drive, the Lions' defense was doing an excellent job of slowing down the Packers.
How fitting it was, then, that the turning point in the Thanksgiving Day game against the Lions turned out to be a penalty by Suh. I just have not been watching much of the Lions so far this year. So I knew that Suh had been getting a reputation for dirty play, and I knew that the Bears in particular had complained about it a lot, but I didn't have a personal opinion about it. In fact, I saw a story on ESPN about Suh and Jahvid Best buying new equipment for a high school team that had all its football equipment stolen, and I thought, "maybe he is not such a bad guy," and maybe it was just the Bears whining.
But then I saw the play where he pushed Evan Dietrich-Smith's head into the ground several times and then stomped on his arm, resulting in Suh's ejection from the game. That was bad enough, but to hear his post-game explanation, that he had lost his balance and put his foot down to regain his balance just served to enrage me. Boomer Esiason, Shannon Sharpe, and Bill Cowher all just hammered him during the halftime show of the second game, and has so have all the commentators since. And well they should. It would be one thing if, as Charles Woodson did after throwing a punch earlier in the year, Suh just said that he had lost his cool, that he doesn't want to be that kind of player, and tried to move on. But to stand up there, in pure denial mode, and say he was trying to regain his balance? It is just ridiculous. A former college teammate of Suh's even called him delusional. While the Lions had stopped the Packers on the play in question, so that they would have kicked a field goal to make it 10-0, the penalty and ejection of Suh led directly to the Packers scoring a touchdown instead, to take a 14-0 lead, and to go on to win the game 27-15.
Since I first put down these thoughts in a draft post almost a week ago, Suh has apologized to just about everybody but Evan Dietrich-Smith, but thanks to his post-game comments, everybody saw right through his belated apology. The Commissioner imposed a two-game suspension, Suh appealed, and his appeal was rejected almost immediately.
So, after a mini-bye week when the players got a few days off to relax and heal, the Packers move on to play the Giants this week in New Jersey. While the Packers, at 11-0, have won 17 in a row dating back to last year, the Giants have lost 3 in a row, and find themselves in second place in their division, and, as of now, would finish out of the playoffs if the season ended today. Plus, we all recall, the Packers took the Giants apart last year, beating them 45-17 in week 16 last year. So between the desperation factor and the revenge factor, could the Giants be the ones to end the Packers' win streak? Maybe, but I doubt it.
Last year, as I noted at the time, the Giants went into that week 16 game with almost as much at stake as the Packers, who never would have even made the playoffs if they lost to the Giants in week 16, or to the Bears in week 17. Plus, the Giants had just suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Eagles, much as they suffered a big loss to the Saints this past Monday night. Last year, they collapsed in the face of the Eagles' 4th quarter rally, capped by the DeSean Jackson punt return touchdown in the last minute that, with the benefit of hindsight, made it possible for the Packers to make the playoffs. This year, they were just beaten, from start to finish, by the Saints, who led 21-3 at halftime and never looked back.
I just don't think the Giants are playing well enough now to beat the Packers. Not only have they lost 3 in a row, but they have been outscored by their opponents this year. Going into a game against the Packers, having given up more points than you are scoring all year, is not a situation calculated to lead to a good result. I think the Packers will keep their streak alive for at least another week.