The Green Bay Packers’ season has been enigmatic, mindlessly frustrating, and a down right roller coaster ride. After losing four games and tying one, the Rodgers-less Packers looked to be a team losing faith in the direction of their season and succumbing to accepting their fates in a nightmare season. Spirits faded, hopes fleeting, this Packers’ bunch seemed ready to pack up their bags and look forward to a lengthier offseason than normal for most Packers teams.
However, gritty Matt Flynn and a beleaguered Packers’ team mustered a season saving one point victory over a horrible Falcons team who themselves have seen their season precipitously fall from Super Bowl hopes to a top five draft pick next year. Perfectly symbolizing the unpredictable nature of the NFL, this 6-6-1 Green Bay Packers remain amazingly poised for a run to the playoffs, keeping their 2013 season goals shockingly alive.
The 22-21 Packers victory over the putrid Atlanta Falcons was not the prettiest of wins, but, it was a win. A win so badly needed. After the game Clay Matthews remarked how the feeling of a win was uncharacteristically a forgotten sentiment. The victory, regardless of how it was secured, was desperately needed for this club’s morale. Facing boos from an upset, disappointed, and cold fanbase at halftime, this Packers team displayed its mettle in remaining focused and securing an elusive victory. Now, smelling the opportunity in front of themselves, the Packers have their eyes set on “stacking success” and aiming to win the division. Once in the playoffs, as we learned in 2010, anything can happen.
What are the Packers’ chances for winning the NFC North? Detroit and Chicago alike have floundered their golden opportunities to build insurmountable distance between them and the Rodgers-less Packers. After an opportune Lions loss in a snow globe in Philadelphia, the Packers remarkably sit only a half game back on the division leaders. It is nothing short of remarkable that, considering the tumultuous season, the Packers still have a legitimate shot at earning their fourth straight NFC North division title and hosting likely either Carolina or San Francisco at Lambeau Field.
To have that opportunity in January demands that this Packers team likely must win out. Next week they travel to Dallas, Texas, playing the 7-5 Cowboys. “Jerry’s World,” or AT&T Stadium, has treated the Packers exceptionally well as the last time the club travelled there they added their fourth Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl 45. Luckily for the Packers, the Cowboys play tonight at Chicago and will consequently have to play next Sunday on a shortened week, giving the Packers one extra day to rest and devise a winning strategy.
Can the Packers pull off three straight wins, at Dallas, Pittsburgh (5-8), and at Chicago (6-6)? Maybe. They’ll need a combination of luck, health, a seamless return by Rodgers, and a below average defense to play at a championship level. It’ll be a stretch to expect the Packers to beat a talented Cowboys team without their MVP behind center. Even if Rodgers does return, will rust be a factor? Such unknowns are impossible to predict.
Regardless if Rodgers returns, any success the Packers have from here out will depend on the defense showing up, stopping the run, and forcing timely turnovers, like they did against Atlanta with two critical second half turnovers. If the defense remains porous and below average, especially in the middle of the defense at both safety positions and middle linebackers in run defense, the Packers are simply not good enough or deserving for playoffs.
Is Dom Capers and his defense feeling the temperature rising on their hot seats? It very well could be the difference in not only their jobs but this season.
Best case scenario? Rodgers is medically cleared to return this week, galvanizing this Packers team to become yet again an unlikely cinderella in making serious noise in December and beyond. The defense led by vets Johnny Jolly, Clay Matthews, and even Jarrett Bush forces turnovers, evolves into a pressure-based defense and transforms into a championship-caliber defense.
Such a defensive transformation would be remarkable however one can point to allowing 14 points to the Falcons, late game heroics as evidence of great things ahead. Beginning with turnover-prone Tony Romo this week could be the catalyst and confidence boost this defense needs. Romo’s career interception rate is 2.7 however this year he has been excellent boasting the second best quarterback interception to touchdown ratio, with .6.
Has Romo learned his turnover lessons of the past or have they simply not surfaced yet? Throughout Romo’s career, he has developed a reputation for crumbling in critical, late season games. A hungry, desperate Packers team will hope that Romo is due for a few bonehead interceptions that will fall into the lap of a fortunate road victory to keep the Packers alive, energizing the team going forward.
The Packers season very well may depend on not Aaron Rodgers but Dom Capers, the defense, and some good fortune. Packers fans and players alike will be rooting for the Baltimore Ravens to defeat the Lions in Monday Night Football after a season defining road victory at Jerry’s World, conjuring up memories and hopes of a 2010-like meteoric rise in December, ending in New York for Super Bowl 48.
Crazier things have happened in the NFL. Never say never with any McCarthy-led Packers team. Such a comeback would be nothing short of a miracle.
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Go Pack Go