Is the Packers Season Over?

Two weeks ago, it was impossible to tell where the Packers stood.  It seemed to be pretty clear that they were not in the bottom 11 teams in the NFL (in no particular order Chiefs, Rams, Redskins, Lions, Raiders, Buccaneers, Browns, Bills Seahawks, Jaguars, and Titans) who happen to rank from really awful to historically bad this season.  They were also pretty obviously not among the ranks, at least not yet, of the league’s elite teams like the Colts, Patriots, Saints, and Vikings.  While the Steelers, Chargers, Broncos, Giants, and Eagles were probably also discernibly better, the Packers had not had an appropriate litmus test to say so with complete confidence.

So far in the season the Packers had barely survived on Opening Day against the Bears on a day where Cutler threw four INTs and the Bears failed to convert a moronic fake punt, lost a close–but winnable–game against the better-than-expected Bengals, and blown out the hapless Rams, Browns, and Lions.  When the Vikings, led by QB Brett Favre (who apparently used to play for the Packers?) came to town and beat the Packers in a game where the score was closer than the degree to which Green Bay was outplayed, it was apparent that the Packers were not on the echelon below the elite teams either. However, this loss was excusable because the Vikings have been one of the three or four best teams in the NFL over the first half of the season.  The Packers, at 4-3, could hope to beat some more of the bottom feeders like the Bucs, Lions, and Seahawks and downward-trending teams like the Bears, 49ers, and Cardinals and find themselves in playoff contention if they could grab 1-3 games from the rest of their schedule.

Therefore, while the Packers were not an upper-echelon NFL team after seven games, they were not eliminated from wild card contention and could possibly gather some momentum headed into the playoffs while maturing and evolving into one of those patented teams that “nobody wants to play.”  Yesterday’s abominable loss against the previously-winless Buccaneers drastically downshifted the upper and lower bounds of the Packers season.

This season, the Packers have had three major problems that they have failed to make the adjustments necessary to improve upon: protecting the passer on offense, rushing the passer on defense, and covering kickoff returns.  All of these deficiencies were on display on Sunday as the Packers put together a performance that was pathetic enough to enable it to lose to the only winless team in an already-mentioned dismally bottom-heavy NFL, a team whose rookie quarterback Josh Freeman, was making his first career start.

Aaron Rodgers was sacked six times, bringing his league-following (my term for when you lead the league in a bad category) total to 37 on the season.  While Rodgers certainly deserves some of the blame for holding onto the ball for too long, a vast majority of the discredit needs to go to the offensive line for doing their best matador impersonations this whole season and the coaching staff for failing to alter strategy to include more blockers, shorter routes, and calling more screen passes to try to counter the blitz.  Conversely, despite the fact that Freeman was making his first career start, the Packers failed to bring pressure, sacking him just once.

For the past two weeks, the Packers kick return coverage has been worse than abysmal.  Against the Vikings, Percy Harvin had returns of 77 yards and 48 yards, setting up touchdowns on both occasions.  On Sunday, Packers took a 28-17 lead early in the 4th quarter but proceeded to give up an 83-yard return to the immortal Clifton Smith on the ensuing kickoff, setting up a short TD drive for the Bucs and giving them a sign of life when they should have been buried.  Compounding the special teams disasters, Ronde Barber blocked a Jeremy Kapinos punt for a touchdown.

Instead of taking care of business against the Buccaneers and giving themselves an undeserved 5-3 record, constructed by wins against awful teams, the Packers fell to 4-4 and saw their playoff hopes significantly diminished.  The question that must now be asked is as follows: did Sunday’s loss effectively end the Packers season? While there is no way the Packers can make the playoffs if they play like they did yesterday, they are obviously not mathematically eliminated but are they practically out of the race?  The short answer, surprisingly, is no.

Next week, the Cowboys come to Lambeau in what must be considered a must-win game for the Packers.  Forgetting about catching the 7-1 Vikings, the Packers are in competition for the wild card with the 5-3 Falcons and two of the 6-2 Cowboys, 5-3 Eagles, and 5-4 Giants.  The Packers, who deserve to be underdogs by a touchdown or more, need to win at home against the Cowboys in order to both avoid digging themselves into too deep of a hole and to gain a semblance of confidence that they are a football team that is capable of beating a football team that does not completely suck.  However, given the realistic nature of how these two teams are trending going into this game, it is a longshot that the Packers can adjust their deficiencies in order to compete with a team that looks to be among the class of the NFC.

If the Packers can somehow win next week, their schedule appears to be moderately difficult but not insurmountable.  The following week, the Packers will have another must-win home game against the downward-trending 49ers, a contest that seems to be eminently winnable even on the heels of the dogshit performance that the Packers turned in Sunday.  After that, the Packers opponents include the awful Lions and Seahawks, the Bears who by all appearances suck but always give the Pack trouble at Soldier Field, and the bipolar Ravens and Cardinals.  The only current top-10 NFL team left on the Packers schedule after this week is the Steelers, who have to travel to Lambeau.

In order to generate momentum going into this mild stretch run, the Packers need to figure out away to minimize their liabilities this Sunday against the Cowboys.  As hurtful as yesterday was, I am a resilient, and possibly stupidly-optimistic to my own detriment, fan and will be rooting hard, real hard, for the Packers to beat the Cowboys for what will feel like the first time in my lifetime.  GO PACK GO


One Response to Is the Packers Season Over?

  1. Pingback: Holm-coming? « Keepthefiresburning's Blog

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