Saturday, December 28, 2013

One Last Chance to Win the Division

Cover Photo from Monday's Green Bay Press-Gazette
Last Sunday was another weird Sunday for Packers football.  Aaron Rodgers missed his 7th consecutive start as the Packers played the Steelers with a shot at the playoffs on the line for both teams.  While the Packers played well in spots, ultimately you cannot give up 38 points and expect to win a lot of games.  

In the case of this game, exceedingly untimely penalties and turnovers essentially undid the Packers, and unlike the 1995 game between these teams, there was no "Yancey Clause" to bail them out.  Sure, the screwed up ref timing on the final 10 seconds did not help, but absent the penalties and turnovers, the Packers would not have found themselves in the position of needing a TD to tie the game.  The Lions, who should have won the NFC North a month ago, had knocked themselves out of the playoff chase earlier in the day.  And this loss to the Steelers (38-31) left the Packers planning for next year's draft.  

Unless, of course, the Bears managed to lose the Sunday night game to the Philadelphia Eagles.  Oh, boy, did they ever!  The Eagles went up by 21 points in the first quarter, and never took their feet off the gas, beating the Bears by the score of 54-11.  My old friend Dick Karth said, during the Sunday night Bears-Eagles game: "As a GBP fan who went to the game today at Lambeau Field in all the snow and everything ... I'm not happy.  But I'm glad I'm not a Bears fan tonight!   What an embarrassment it must be for Bears fans!"

As a result of the Bears' game, Matt Flynn need not have been so forlorn, as he looked in the picture above.  It turns out, the game against the Steelers did not matter one whit.  Win or lose against the Steelers, the Packers would still need to win the finale against the Bears to win the division and make the playoffs.  Dramatic developments in the last couple of days have Aaron Rodgers returning for this game, Clay Matthews out with a re-broken thumb (I can't imagine him playing again this year), Eddie Lacy will apparently play through the pain of his injured ankle, and as an added bonus, as of this writing, it is quite possible that Randall Cobb will be activated and play.

I am, to be honest, surprised that Rodgers will play.  After all of the talk last week, repeated endlessly on every football website, that Rodgers was not that close to playing against the Steelers, and that he was at "extraordinary risk" if he returned to the field, I really thought that he would again not be activated.  And particularly after Clay Matthews re-broke his thumb, I thought the lesson the Packers would take away was to err even further on the side of caution with Aaron Rodgers.  Despite all that, he will play, which not only changes the complexion of this game, but if the Packers win, it will change the complexion of the playoffs in the NFC.  Rodgers, if he is close to his normal self, is simply not prone to make the same kinds of mistakes that his merry band of backups have made in the almost 8 games since he broke his collarbone.

This game has all the looks of a shootout now.  As bad as the Packers' defense has been, the Bears' defense is worse.  And as well as the Bears' offense has played at times, the Packers' offense is capable of matching them score for score, and, I would argue, getting a couple of extra scores along the way.

The Bears, of course, have a new offense under Marc Trestman, and it has been impressive at times, with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Matt Forte providing the weapons for Jay Cutler.  The Packers-Bears game earlier this season is not much of a predictor, since almost all of the game was played with Josh McCown and Seneca Wallace at quarterback.  But now that Jay Cutler is back, we just need to remember what Charles Woodson said last year: "It's the same old Jay.  We just need to be in position.  Jay will throw us the ball."  If there is one thing that is critical in this game, it is that the Packers must take advantage of every one of those opportunities.

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