Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Getting Used to Ugly

Aaron Jones scores, Photo by Mark Hoffman, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
More of the same from the Packers last week.  This time, after taking a 21-3 lead in the second half, the Packers' offense went as cold as Lambeau Field in January, while letting the Bears creep back into the game.  The game didn't end until the final play, a Cal Band-type play, when Tramon Williams finally stopped the madness by recovering a deflected lateral at the Packers' 2 yard line.  The 21-13 win, combined with a Rams loss later in the day, was enough to put the Packers back in the playoffs for the first time in 3 years.  And since they only need one more win to secure the division, they have a 91% chance to win the division, and a 42% chance to get a bye week, which they can accomplish most easily by winning both remaining games.

The Packers' 11-3 record ought to make fans happy.  But their inconsistency of play has resulted in some very ugly wins, of which the Bears game was another one.  Article after article this week makes it seem as if the only word you can put before "win" is "ugly," at least if you are discussing the 2019 Green Bay Packers.  They may have won 11 games, but in 9 of those wins, the Packers led by only a single score (8 points or less) at some point in the fourth quarter.  The wins over the Raiders and Cowboys are the only exceptions.  Those two games were not complete performances, either, but at least no nail-biting was required in the fourth quarter.

I didn't find the Bears game as upsetting as some of the others, because Packers-Bears games are almost always close, hard-fought battles between the ancient rivals.  They have now played 200 games against each other, and while there have been some blowouts (the first game I ever went to was a Packers blowout of the Bears in 1962, 49-0), most of them have been close games battled out to the bitter end.  So I wasn't surprised with the way the game ended up, but gratified that the Packers won.

I think much of the fan dissatisfaction and anxiety has to do with the fact that we know (or think we know) that the Packers are capable of better play than the way they are playing.  So we want to see the Packers establish their identity as a good to great team by playing 60 minutes on offense, and 60 minutes on defense, and put together a convincing win against a good team.  Hell, we would take a convincing win against any team, good or bad, at this point.  The fear is that if they don't start playing up to what we think is their potential, they are going to get bounced out of the playoffs, rather unceremoniously, as soon as they come up against a good team, which will probably be in the first game.  At the moment, from week to week, we don't know if we should expect an ugly win, or a really ugly loss.  The one thing we are losing faith that we will see is a convincing win.

Aaron Nagler says, "maybe winning ugly IS their identity."  Chris Havel says, "If the Packers' identity is 'winning ugly' so be it."  The funny thing is, they might actually be on to something.  Older fans will remember teams like the "Cardiac Pack" and the "Cardiac Cards."  The identity of those teams was that they would find ways to come from behind and win games at the end.  And we have certainly seen Packers teams over the years that would find ways to lose most of the close games that they could have won.  Well, the Packers in 2019 are kind of the opposite.  They aren't generally coming from behind, so they are not like the old Cardiac Pack, but they almost always find a way to win close games that they could have lost.  The only close game they have lost was the game against the Eagles.  I am not sure that winning like this is sustainable into the playoffs, although it looks as if we will get the chance to find out soon enough.  But if this is winning ugly, I will take it as long as they continue to win.

The Vikings are usually also a tough matchup for the Packers, especially when the game is in Minnesota.  The Packers haven't yet won a game in the Vikings' new stadium, and they weren't so great in the Vikings' last stadium, either (remember the T.J. Rubley game, for instance?).  The Vikings have good weapons on offense (although Dalvin Cook might miss this game), and their defense is in some ways similar to the Packers: lots of bend but not much break, generating turnovers, etc.  While the Vikings trail the Packers by a game in the standings, they have scored more points on offense, and given up fewer points on defense.

Channeling Denny Green for a moment, I am not ready to crown the Vikings' ass just yet.  They have already been beaten by the Packers and Bears, as well as the Chiefs and Seahawks, so they are not unbeatable.  Despite some underwhelming play by the Packers in general, and Rodgers in particular, at times this year, I will still take Aaron Rodgers over Kirk Cousins, at the end of a close game, any time.  So I would like to see the Packers play their first complete game of the year, and blow the Vikings out of their dome.  But I doubt that will happen, and I will gladly take another ugly win.  Of necessity, I am getting used to ugly wins.

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