Saturday, December 29, 2018

One More "Meaningless" Game to Go

Photo by Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
Who expected, back at the beginning of the 2018 season, that the Packers would be left with two utterly meaningless games to play out at the end of December?  One of the old cliches, that we hear every year in December about such games, is that a team had its bags packed and ready to roll out the door.  Joe Philbin indirectly referred to this phenomenon when he said that the locker room will be like a ghost town come Monday. 

Early in the game, the Packers looked like they were ready to head home for the holidays.  On defense, they gave up first down after first down, and only a missed field goal prevented the Jets from scoring on their opening drive.  On offense, there was poor blocking, poor throws by Rodgers, and only Jamaal Williams looked like he actually came to play. 

This game was like so many others this year, with the Packers in double-digit holes, trailing 14-0, 21-7, and 35-20.  I assumed for most of this game that the Packers would lose again, and finish their season winless on the road.  While the offense started to come to life in the second quarter, the defense (undermanned due to injury though it was) was making the Jets' offense look like all-stars.  And of course the special teams were busy sealing Ron Zook's fate.  Once the offense started to play, they were almost unstoppable, with Davante Adams leading the way.  But it still took overtime, and what seemed like an endless supply of penalties against the Jets, for the Packers to secure the 44-38 win.  Imagine if the Packers' offense had been prepared to play in the first quarter?  The Packers' defense and special teams would have managed, unfortunately, to keep the game close anyway, but the Packers probably would have won the game in four quarters by 7 to 14 points.

Most commentators have taken the position that the Packers should have played DeShone Kizer in these last two games.  What is the point of playing Rodgers?  What if he gets hurt?  Don't we need to see what (if anything) we have in Kizer?  But the best case for playing Rodgers (made by Pete Dougherty last week) was that he has seemed reluctant to trust his young receivers all year.  Let him have a couple of games with lots of the young receivers in the lineup, and hopefully he will gain more familiarity and comfort with them.  The first of the two meaningless games allowed for just that.  Rodgers completed passes to 9 different receivers.  Adams and Williams led the team in pass receptions.  But in addition to single catches by Dan Vitale and Robert Tonyan, there were multiple receptions by Kendricks, Graham, Kumerow, Valdes-Scantling, and St. Brown.  And kudos to Kumerow for scoring his first NFL touchdown!  (I have been waiting all year to say that.)

All that remains now is to play the final meaningless game, against the Lions, and then see what the off-season brings.  The Lions gave the Vikings a run for their money into the second quarter last week, but then pretty much collapsed after that.  Of course, the Lions' offense is likely to have an easier time against the Packers' nicked-up defense than they had against the Vikings.  But still, the Packers ought to be able to win their final game, and finish just below .500, at 7-8-1.

I'm not sure when the NFL started scheduling only divisional rivalry games in Week 17.  I didn't realize until I looked at the schedule that this is the case.  But it is a great idea.  In many cases, it results in meaningful match-ups with playoff implications.  When they put the schedule together, they probably assumed that Lions at Packers or Bears at Vikings would decide who wins the division.  In this case it did not, but at least the Vikings still have a playoff berth on the line in their match-up with the Bears.  Even where the game ends up being meaningless, as in the case of the Lions and Packers, at least it makes for a more interesting meaningless game, against a traditional rival.  May the best team win, and may there be no injuries for either team. 

Happy New Year!

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