Thursday, January 16, 2020

One More Win Was All the Packers Needed

John, Mary, Sam, and Your Humble Blogger at the Game
Looking forward, the Packers need two more wins.  But looking back, one more win in the regular season would have made an enormous difference.  If the Packers had won one more game (and still won in the divisional round) they would be hosting the NFC Championship game on Sunday, instead of taking yet another dreaded road trip to the west coast.  Let's stipulate that the Packers were not about to turn around either the 49ers game or the Chargers game, both in November.  Both of them were out of hand pretty early.  But what about that Eagles game, on a Thursday night in September?  The Packers failed, twice, in an attempt to tie up that game in the fourth quarter.  That game could easily have gone the other way, either in four quarters, or in overtime.  What a difference that would have made.  Or, if the Seahawks had won one more game, by beating the 49ers in week 17, the Packers would have ended up with the number one seed.  So if the last two teams left were the Packers and 49ers, once again the game would have been played at Lambeau Field.

The 49ers have turned into a great team this year, which was just as surprising to me as the Packers ending up with a 13-3 record.  They looked dominating in dispatching the Packers in November in Santa Clara, and they looked dominating in beating the Vikings in Santa Clara last Saturday.  "On any given Sunday," and all that, but I certainly would have liked the Packers' chances better if they were hosting this game in Lambeau Field.

I went to the game on Sunday night, along with family members John, Sam and Mary, from left to right in the photo above.  The Packers played a great first half in putting the Seahawks in a deep hole, 21-3.  Call it another ugly win if you want to, but the Packers went to sleep on offense and defense for parts of the third quarter, and the Seahawks got close enough to make the fans, in the chilly stands or in comfy living rooms, pretty nervous.  Russell Wilson was really like a magic man out there, escaping most of the attempted sacks and making positive things (for the Seahawks) happen.  Sometimes quarterbacks escape because of shoddy missed tackles, and sometimes they escape by their own awesome elusiveness.  Russell Wilson had awesome elusiveness.  A timely late sack by Preston Smith, and a debatable decision to punt on the next play by Pete Carroll, were enough to snuff out the comeback, and the Packers won the game, 28-23.

Oh, and of course there was the controversial first down catch by Jimmy Graham, that allowed the Packers to kneel on the ball to end the game.  I have to admit, from our end zone seats, I thought Graham was short.  But we didn't even have a TV yellow line on the field to go by.  How many times have the announcers reminded us that the yellow line is unofficial?  Well, I think we finally saw an example where the unofficial nature of the yellow line made a real-world difference.  After the game, none other than Davante Adams himself tweeted out the picture below, showing clearly that the TV yellow line was off - the yellow line was just inside the 36 yard line, while the first down marker itself was outside the 36.  So those pictures of Graham's helmet on the yellow line are beside the point, and it doesn't matter how furious Pete Carroll was, the first down call properly stood as called, despite the mysterious appearance of late footage causing the referees to take a second look.

Tweet by Davante Adams

The Packers have lots to fix from their November debacle, if they want to beat the 49ers this time.  Ryan Wood of the Press-Gazette has identified 10 plays that made a huge difference in that game, all in the first half.  Many of those plays are quite avoidable, or flukes that might not be repeated, like the iffy personal foul call on Davante Adams, the Rodgers fumble leading to the first touchdown, the dropped passes, the penalties prolonging 49er drives, Bryan Bulaga getting knocked out of the game, etc.  Change some of those plays around, and the Packers don't end up in that kind of a hole, and maybe have at least a chance to make a game of it.

So is there reason to expect a better result this time around?  I liked a lot of what I saw on Sunday night.  The Packers scored quickly, and had three touchdowns in the first half.  If they can do that again, they will either be leading, or at a minimum in the game, by the time halftime rolls around.  Rodgers was way more accurate than he has been in some recent games; he seemed to stick more to the LaFleur game plan with short and quick passes, picking his spots for the occasional longer passes.  I only counted about half a dozen long passes down the field Sunday night.  They resulted in 2 Adams TDs, a pass interference penalty against the Seahawks, an overthrow, a long Jimmy Graham catch, and the long pass to Adams that almost iced the game.  Not bad results when you use the long pass more judiciously!  And the receivers were catching the ball Sunday night.  A couple of the Jimmy Graham catches, and several others to other receivers, are passes that might have been dropped in other games, but the receivers seemed to finally have their acts together, and they caught almost all of the catchable balls.

I am not overly worried about the defense.  They didn't have a good game against the 49ers in November, and gave up way too many points, but in other games since, they have held their regular season opponents to 20 or fewer points, and only gave up 23 to the Seahawks despite the magic of Russell Wilson.  If it is true, as the players contend, that they were able to get on the same page after the 49ers game, then the defense should have a better game Sunday night. 

It is true that the 49ers have more weapons on offense than the Seahawks, at this stage of the game, with the Seahawks' first 3 running backs on IR.  And the Seahawks certainly do not have the equivalent of George Kittle, who can take over a game.  But, on the other hand, Jimmy Garoppolo threw more than double the interceptions thrown by Russell Wilson during the year, so the Packers may well be able to grab an extra possession or two from the 49ers.  Look, the 49ers are heavy favorites in the game for a good reason.  But I think the Packers have a real chance to pull off the upset.  Go Pack Go!

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