Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Great Win: Now Make it Matter!

Press-Gazette Cover, December 4, 2015
I was comparing notes with some friends about the Packers' miraculous come-from-behind victory over the Lions last Thursday.  After the Lions scored for the first time in the first quarter, they led the entire 60 minutes of the game, and with 0:00 on the clock, they led the Packers 23-21.  But thanks to a face-mask penalty against the Lions (more about that in a minute), the Packers got one final, untimed play, from their own 39 yard line.

As soon as Rodgers released the ball, I thought that it was the highest Hail Mary pass I had ever seen.  The trajectory was something like the shape of the St. Louis arch, and that was a very intentional part of the plan for the play, because it gave the receivers so much more time to get themselves properly situated under the ball, and makes the pass harder to bat down.  In a new and improved version of the Brandon Bostick play in the NFC Championship game last year, here Richard Rodgers' job was to box out defenders to give Davante Adams a better chance to catch the ball.  But as the ball started to descend from the heavens, Richard Rodgers must have realized that he had by far the best position to catch the ball, so he used his basketball skills, went up and got it, clutched it to his chest, and went to the ground where other receivers piled on him, in celebration and to prevent any Lions from trying to strip the ball away.  Final: Green Bay 27-23.  There is no more fitting Richard Rodgers reference than to call this game "Some Enchanted Evening."  But my friends at Packers Therapy have beaten me to the punch, so go there and listen to their always-entertaining podcast.

Anyway, my mind-set in discussing this game was that at last (!) the Packers were on the winning end of one of these last-second miracles.  I suppose I had in mind, most vividly, the Seattle "Fail Mary" game, the Seattle NFC Championship game, and even the Lions and Bears games in the last few weeks.  But as we discussed it, I realized that the Packers have been on the winning side a few times themselves.  There was the Antonio Freeman "he did WHAT?" Monday Night game, or the Al Harris playoff game, or the Brett Favre last game at Milwaukee County Stadium.  (Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments.)  The Thursday Lions game was (in my opinion) more dramatic than any of those games, and certainly far less likely to result in a Packers win.  It was apparently the longest game-ending, game-winning Hail Mary in NFL history.

OK, great dramatic, unexpected, and sorely needed win.  But what happens next?  The Packers had this game lost, for all practical purposes.  They trailed 20-0 in the third quarter,  They had a miraculous comeback that fell one play short, until the face mask penalty.  And the face mask call was marginal, in more than one way.  It was marginal because it was utterly unnecessary.  The Packers (having already made one forward pass on the play) were not going to score from that position on the field, when Aaron Rodgers got the ball back after a couple of laterals.  And it was marginal because it arguably was not even an actual tugging of the face mask.  As to which, see this ESPN article.

But to repeat, now what happens?  Do the Packers take this miracle win, and use it as some kind of springboard or momentum-builder or turning point for the Packers, so that they get their season back on track, and surge forward into the playoffs?  After all, in light of Sunday's Vikings loss, the Packers are back in first place and in control of their own destiny.  All they need to do is keep pace with the Vikings (also at 8-4) or to fall no further behind than one game before the final game of the season, Minnesota at Green Bay.  If so, the Packers go to the playoffs, have a home playoff game, and maybe become one of the hot teams in the playoff that nobody wants to play.

Or, on the other hand, was this dramatic win just a "fart in the wind," to use Ron Wolf's immortal phrase?  The Packers, after their great start to the season, have only won 2 of their last 6 games, and it took a miracle finish to accomplish one of those wins.  If they continue to play at that level they will go 1-3, or at best 2-2, and if they make the playoffs, they won't go far.  It's up to the players and coaches to make sure that doesn't happen.

We will find out if it does, starting on Sunday against the Cowboys.  In light of the Cowboys' win on Monday night, they are tied for first in their pathetic division at 5-7, and have every motivation to try to win their division.  Plus the Cowboys may feel that they have a score to settle with the Packers after their (in their minds) controversial loss to the Packers in the playoffs last year.  Having said that, there is no good reason that the Packers should lose to the Cowboys, at home, without Tony Romo at quarterback.  Of course, there was no good reason for the Packers to lose at home to the Bears or the Lions, either.

Until proven false, I am going with the theory that the Packers will use the Thursday night gift as a springboard to get things back on track.  Let's hope they have proved their point with Eddie Lacy, let him be the lead rusher again, and that he continues the resurgence he showed in the last couple of games before being effectively benched against the Lions.  And maybe I am just a Cockeyed Optimist, but I am hoping that Richard Rodgers' new-found confidence will lead him to be a more consistent contributor to the Packers' offense.

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