Monday, October 21, 2013

Despite Injuries, Packers Roll into First Place

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This turned out to be an eventful weekend in the NFC North, on a couple of levels.  In the early games on Sunday, the Bears lost to the Redskins in a high-scoring game (41-45).  The Redskins manufactured an excellent drive in the final two minutes, and went ahead on a final minute touchdown run by Roy Helu.  Minutes earlier, the Lions had lost to the Bengals (24-27) on a final play field goal.  Going into this week's games, the Bears and Lions were both at 4-2, while the Packers trailed in third place at 3-2.  So as soon as the Bears and Lions lost, the Packers found themselves in first place in the division, for the first time this year, although obviously they needed to win their game in order to stay in first place.  Which they did, beating the Browns 31-13, in a game that was never in doubt after the Packers scored touchdowns on their first two drives.  This was a simple case of a better team beating an inferior team.

The Packers played the game in their historic blue and gold throwback uniforms, this year featuring plain gold helmets, instead of the plain brown helmets they have used for the past few years.  As a point of historical trivia, this game between the Packers and the Browns featured both teams playing in plain helmets, with no logo (since the Browns always play without a logo).  This presumably is the first Packer game since 1960 in which neither team had a helmet logo, because the Packers added the "G" logo to their helmets in 1961.  In this game, the Packers did a very good job of compensating for their injury-depleted roster.  The Packers played without linebackers Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Brad Jones, and without receivers and tight ends Randall Cobb, James Jones and Ryan Taylor, and would lose Jermichael Finley during the game.  But the backups played very well.  WR Jarrett Boykin, who looked very iffy when pressed into service a week ago, looked great on Sunday, having his first 100 yard receiving game, and his first NFL touchdown.  On the defensive side, A.J. Hawk had another big day, racking up 12 total tackles, and backup linebacker Jamari Lattimore got another 12 tackles and a sack.  Rookie linebacker Nate Palmer added another 6 tackles. 

Sunday was an absolutely brutal day on the injury front in the NFL.  The Bears lost Jay Cutler for 4 weeks with a torn groin, and also lost LB Lance Briggs for 6 weeks, during the game.  The Colts lost Reggie Wayne for the season, the Bengals lost Leon Hall, the Buccaneers lost Doug Martin, the Texans lost Brian Cushing, and the Rams lost Sam Bradford.  The scariest injury of all was the potentially life-altering injury to Packers tight end Jermichael Finley.  Finley took a blow to the head or neck on a tackle, and initially could not move after hitting the ground, was taken off on a cart and spent the night in the intensive care unit of a Green Bay hospital.  The latest news as of the writing of this blog post suggests that Finley is up, walking around, and in good spirits.  So it looks like he will OK in "real life."  What about his football life?  It may be some time before we know the answer to that one.  I wish him nothing but the best.

While I was finalizing this post, I saw references on the internet to Finley's twitter account, where he sent out a set of tweets late today, saying:
"I want to thank my family, friends, teammates, fans and Packer Nation for the prayers and support over the past 24 hrs. I'm happy to report that I have been transferred out of the intensive care unit and that I have full feeling in my arms and legs. As importantly, I was able 2 walk to & from the shower today, which was badly needed after yesterday's victory! Thank u again 4 the support, and Go Packers!" 
Great news to hear, and I hope that he recovers quickly, and that his injury does not turn out to be career threatening.

To finish out the NFC North's weekend, the Vikings played at the New York Giants on Monday Night Football.  I have to say, both these teams look just terrible.  They both have some talent on defense, but they can't get their act together on offense.  Eli Manning, despite having targets like Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, can't get the passing game going, and the Giants' running game is a mess. 

The Vikings are now starting their fourth quarterback in the last 10 months: Christian Ponder, Joe Webb, Matt Cassel, and now the recently-acquired Josh Freeman.  Josh Freeman could conceivably turn out to be the Vikings' quarterback of the future, but he clearly he is not the Vikings' quarterback of the present until he learns more of the playbook.  The Vikings' next game is against the Packers, at the Metrodome, next Sunday night.  Will Freeman be ready?  I don't think so.  Does Greg Jennings miss playing for the Packers?  Based on the ill-will he has shown for the Packers since signing with the Vikings, I guess the answer is no.  But maybe, just maybe, he is starting to realize that things were not so bad in Green Bay, and maybe he would be better off if he was still a Packer.  Since the Packers play the Vikings twice, the Cutler-less Bears once, and the Giants in the next five weeks, I am hoping that these games will provide the opportunity for some wins while the Packers get a little healthier.  It starts in Minnesota this week, and I am looking forward to a solid win for the Packers on Monday night.

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