Sunday, September 16, 2012

Back in First Place!

Cousin John Belzer's photo from The Fifty/50 bar in Chicago
Quotes of the week:
"We understand that Jay was excited about his new weapons, but it's the same old Jay.  We don't need luck.  We just need to be in position.  Jay will throw us the ball."  Charles Woodson, reacting after the game to Cutler's pre-game comment to the effect that he wished the Packers "good luck" in covering his receivers.
"Yeah, I dream about throwing four picks and getting sacked seven times."  Jay Cutler, giving a great sarcastic answer to a stupid question about whether he had imagined the game turning out this way.
So here is the story of the short week leading up to the Bears-Packers game last Thursday night.  The Packers had looked horrible on Sunday against what (I must reluctantly admit) is one of the best teams in the league, while the Bears looked pretty good against 2011's worst team in the league.  Fans on both sides over-reacted wildly.  Packer fans were measuring out rope to hang themselves, while the silly guys below the border were making special signs for their bars about how the Packers suck.  Jay Cutler joined in the fun, taunting the Packers about how they would not be able to cover his receivers.

But, as Chris Berman loves to say, "that's why they play the games."  Oh, the delicious irony of it!  Jay Cutler stops pouting for a few minutes so he can pop off about how great his receivers are, and then the Packers go out, knock him on his backside, intercept him repeatedly, and force him to contemplate what might have been.  The defense played in a way that was reminiscent of the 2010 season, with Matthews getting half the 7 sacks, and with Tramon Williams getting half of the 4 interceptions.  Some of the new defenders, like Nick Perry, did not overtly have a huge impact on the game.  But at the same time, I have to wonder how much his presence opposite Matthews, along with the addition of other new defenders like Jerrel Worthy, ended up deflecting just enough attention to allow Matthews to have a game as disruptive as Packer fans love to see.  The final score of 23-10 was closer than the game felt, as the Packers completely dominated the game on defense.

There were so many things that went right in this game, that it bears emphasis that a lot of improvement is still needed, especially on offense.  Yes, Cedric Benson looked much better out there on Thursday, gaining 81 yards, and even a marginal running game would be a big help.  Yes, the Packers are finding lots of ways to get Randall Cobb more involved in the game plan, and he looks like he is ready for the opportunity.  But Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 8 times in 2 games, and that is not a trend that is likely to keep him healthy all season.  And the passing game continues to be just a little off.  Too many drops, too many passes not quite in the perfect spot.  If the passing game was just a little more in sync, this game would have been a blowout.

Special kudos to the special teams, for pulling off the sweetest fake field goal I have seen in a long time.  And on 4th and 26!  It is almost enough to take away some of the awful taste of that other 4th and 26 play all those years ago.  This one was so unexpected that I could not even figure out what happened when watching it live.  Who does a fake field goal on 4th and 26, when any gain less than 26 yards just turns over the ball?

Meanwhile, the Packers are back in 1st place in the NFC North tonight.  After spending the entire 2011 season in 1st place, they dropped into last place on the first week of this season.  But the Vikings and Lions both lost on Sunday, so every team in the division is now 1-1.

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