Friday, January 8, 2021

Packers Earn Bye with Convincing, but Imperfect, Win Against the Bears

D-Train, Photo by Mike Di Sisti, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Beating your oldest rival in the league, on the last week of the season, to lock up the number one seed and get a bye week, is not a bad way to finish out the regular season!  That is exactly what the Packers did last Sunday, at Soldier Field, beating the Bears, 35-16.  The Packers also did what they could to knock the Bears out of the playoffs, but when the Rams beat the Cardinals, the Bears backed into the playoffs anyway as a Wild Card.  

More records were set or tied on Sunday.  Aaron Rodgers finished with 48 TD passes, to beat his old team record of 46.  Davante Adams broke the Packers' record for catches in a season, and tied the team record for receiving TDs at 18.  Both records had been held by Sterling Sharpe.  And Adams beat those records while missing 2.5 games this year.  If you don't remember how good Sterling Sharpe was, take a look at some of his highlights on YouTube.  

My daughter reminded me this week that when Shannon Sharpe went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he self-effacingly said the following:
"My big brother, Sterling, I’m the only player of 267 men that’s walked through this building to my left that can honestly say this: I’m the only pro football player that’s in the Hall of Fame, and the second best player in my own family."
And the thing is, it was a charming thing to say, but I think it is also true.  That's how good Sterling Sharpe was.  So for Davante Adams to break one record and tie the other just shows what a dominant player he has become for the Packers.  Oh, and then there are the silly records.  The Packers became only the fourth team in NFL history to finish the season with more touchdown passes than punts in a single season.  And the Packers had more touchdown passes than field goal attempts in 2020.

The Packers' win was convincing, but still very imperfect.  As good as the Packers' offense was, after catching a 72 yard touchdown pass from Rodgers in the first half, Marquez Valdes-Scantling dropped what should have been another long bomb for a TD at the start of the second half.  Big deal, they still won by 19?  Sure, but the drop led to a punt, and it seemed as if the offense went into a funk for most of the third quarter.  Drop that pass against the Buccaneers or the Saints, and the result might not be the same.  

And then there was the continuing game of Russian Roulette known as the Packers special teams.  The misadventure this week was newcomer Tavon Austin's fumble of a punt, resulting in a Bears recovery deep in Green Bay territory.  The defense, as it did all day except for the first drive, stiffened and held the Bears to a field goal.  So it could have been worse.  But this is the kind of mistake that can kill in the playoffs.

Anyway, the important thing is that the Packers have locked up the home field advantage for any games they play, and the bye week to get a bit healthier before their first playoff game.  The last time they had the number one seed was the 2011 season, when unfortunately they got knocked out in the divisional round by the pesky New York Giants.  Meanwhile, the Packers have played in 4 NFC Championship Games with Rodgers at QB, but they have all been on the road.  They beat the Bears, at Soldier Field, following the 2010 season, and went on to win Super Bowl XLV.  But they lost the other three NFC Championship Games in which they played, at Seattle following the 2014 season, at Atlanta following the 2016 season, and at San Francisco following the 2019 season.  It is high time that the Packers host, and win, an NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field.  And this might be the year they do just that.  

Unlike last year, when going into the playoffs nobody could figure out how the Packers were going to beat the 49ers, if they met up in the Championship Game, there is no team in the NFC about which I have the same feeling this year.  True, the Buccaneers look like a bad matchup for the Packers, especially bearing in mind how the Buccaneers kicked the Packers around in October, but the Bucs are a Wild Card team, and would have to survive two road games even to get to Green Bay.  

But let's not get ahead of ourselves.  Let's watch some football this weekend, with no pressure since the Packers will be home watching the games along with us.  There will be plenty of time to worry about next week's game once we find out who the opponents will be.

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