Wednesday, December 14, 2011
During the first few offensive plays for the Raiders, I wondered if we Packer fans would be in for "another one of those days." The Packers gave up a couple of passes for first downs, and it looked like the Raiders would just march down the field. But just like that, Clay Matthews got after Carson Palmer, causing Palmer to hurry his throw, which resulted in an interception by D.J. Smith. After a Raiders penalty on the Packers' first snap (the first of many Raiders penalties to follow), Ryan Grant broke off a 47 yard touchdown run, and after that, the only question was how bad it was going to get for the Raiders.
At some point during a commercial in the middle of the second quarter, Judy (my wife) said, "what is the score now, 31-0?" And indeed it was. The Packers eventually gave up some points, and the final score was Packers 46, Raiders 16. It is a bit of a cliche to say that the game was not as close as the score, but it really wasn't. The Raiders, their fans, and the local media here in the Oakland area are well aware that the Raiders were blown out for the second week in a row. The online version of the game story in the Oakland Tribune has a different headline, but my local print paper's article on the game is titled: "Another 34-0 Deficit, Another Debacle."
The Packers' defense looked much more like its normal 2011 self this week, meaning they give up way too many yards, they don't get enough sacks, but they really do "bend" mostly without "breaking," and they continue to be among the best ball-hawking defenses in the league. (Against the Raiders, they intercepted Palmer four times, and recovered a fumble.) Truth be told, the Raiders dropped a lot of catchable balls in the game, and the Raiders committed lots of penalties, and both factors made things easier on the Packers' defense, but still, the point is that the defense looked like the kind of defense the Packers can continue to win with.
Against the Raiders, it was the offense that had an off day, if you can consider it an off day when you score 39 points on offense, and give your backup quarterback lots of playing time in the third and fourth quarters. There were balls that should have been caught, balls that were just a little off target, and one ball that was wrestled away from our sometimes unstoppable tight end, Jermichael Finley, for an interception. However, in the absence of James Starks, Ryan Grant looked like the Ryan Grant of a couple of years ago, breathing some new life into the running game just when it is needed, as the weather gets cold.
Rodgers, in the course of having his "off" day, managed to tie the Packers' team record for TD passes in a season, at 39. The record was held by Brett Favre, for 39 TD passes in 1996, which was of course the year that the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI. The Packers also set the team record for points scored in a season, by reaching 466 points. Rodgers and the Packers have three more games in the regular season to add to those record totals.
The injury to Greg Jennings is obviously a major concern. I consider him to be one of the top 4 playmakers on the team, along with Rodgers, Matthews and Woodson. As of this writing, it looks like he will miss the last 3 weeks of the regular season, but that he should be back in time for the playoffs. Normally, one would expect a problem when a player of Jennings' caliber misses three games, but the 2011 Packers have what can only be described as an embarrassment of riches at WR, most prominently Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley, James Jones, Donald Driver, and Randall Cobb. I think they will be just fine.
I heard an interesting fact on the local (San Francisco) CBS post-game show: the Raiders have not beaten the Packers since Ronald Reagan was in office. That would have been September 13, 1987, when the Raiders came to Lambeau Field and beat the Packers, 20-0. That was so long ago that I have no recollection of the game, but the starting quarterback for the Packers was Randy Wright, and this was during the period that Randy Wright and his successor, Don Majkowski, were sharing the starting quarterback duties. (Special Randy Wright memories: the gnarly older woman with the gravelly, smoker's voice who sat behind us in our old seats at Lambeau Field, and/or her partner, could be counted on at least once each game to yell out the following lines: "Randy Wrong, Randy Wrong." . . . "Come ON, youse guys, DO something!" . . . "Yah, I seen him piss away the Rose Bowl.")
Dredging up these Randy Wright memories brings to mind another thought. While the Wright / Majkowski sharing of the starting quarterback job was a weird experiment, it is probably closer to the typical team's quarterback situation than what the Packers have had over the last 20 years. Most teams struggle to find the right long-term quarterback, and may go through a couple of starting quarterbacks a year for a number of years before settling on their guy. Think of the Chicago Bears, for instance. But since the third week of the 1992 season, the Packers have had exactly two starting quarterbacks (not counting the concussion-induced start by Matt Flynn last year), both of whom are probably headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The only other back-to-back quarterback combination I can think of that is even comparable is Joe Montana - Steve Young in San Francisco. We are lucky enough to be living through another golden age of Packers football, and we should, from time to time, take a moment to reflect on that.
And, of course, we are also living through what might end up being the most magical single season for a team in history. Earlier in the season, I always thought that the Packers would lose a game here or there, and they still might, given the fact that the defense is not playing at the same level as it did last year. But there are only three games left in the regular season. The 5-8 Kansas City Chiefs, who fired their head coach this week, don't seem like they will be the ones to knock off the Packers. The 7-6 Bears, probably without Jay Cutler and possibly without Matt Forte? It could happen, as they do usually play the Packers very well, but I doubt it. The self-destructing 8-5 Lions, playing in the cold? Very little chance. We will talk about the playoffs later, but at this point, having gotten by the Lions, Giants and Raiders, I think the Packers will end up 16-0.