Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Playoff Bound!

So it’s official – the Packers are back in the playoffs.  I’ve been wanting to predict this since week 13, but fear of jinxing their chances has kept me from going on record.  It really would have taken an Eric Mangini-esque meltdown for the Packers not to make the playoffs (or is it a Brett Favre-esque meltdown?).  But it’s nice that it’s now official.

Before getting on to the playoff preview (which I’ll put in my next post), let me first give my quick three observations of Sunday’s mangling of the Seahawks:

1) 4 interceptions.  The defense was back in rare form this week, bouncing back from their over 500-yard day last week to allow only 198 yards passing this week.  Hasselbeck may be the only quarterback I look forward to the Packers playing against more than Cutler.  His infamous “we want the ball, and we’re going to score” blunder in the wild card game on January 4, 2004 is one of my favorite in-your-face moments in Lambeau history.  He has to shudder every time he’s in Green Bay, as visions of this moment in NFL history haunt his thoughts.

I’m not sure Hasselbeck has ever repaired his sports ego after that play.  Clearly, late season in Lambeau is a problem for him still six years later.  His four interceptions on the day not only took points off the board for the Seahawks, but led to 21 points for Green Bay.  Atari had two (and, I have to say, should have gotten some Pro Bowl consideration), A.J. Hawk got one as he continues to show he can excel in the 3-4 scheme, and even Jarrett Bush redeemed himself after last week with an interception.

If the defense plays this way in the post-season, they are going to create problems for teams.  They’re fast.  They’re creative in their schemes.  And they’re absolute ball hawks.  Tramon Williams matured quickly after Harris went down.  Despite my berating last week, Bush may be coming up the learning curve quickly as well.  If they can just stay tough in the secondary (and teams like the Cardinals will be a good test of that), they’ll be in good shape.

2) 5 rushing touchdowns.  Call it exploiting your opponent’s weakness or learning from your mistakes, but I was glad to see the Packers get back to the running game this week after completely neglecting it against the Steelers.  Grant, Jackson and Green looked like a three-headed monster – combining for 153 yards and five touchdowns.  Grant’s latest demonstration of his break-out ability, with his 53-yard scamper to pay dirt, is bringing a new threat to the Packers offense.  As much as I love watching Rodgers spread the field with the passing game, it is a bruising, physical rushing game that will make the biggest difference in the post-season.

3) Aaron Rodgers.  I want to highlight Rodgers, in particular, on a week when he was un-spectacular.  For him, it was a modest performance – a mere 237 yards and 1 TD.  But in a game in which the opposing QB showed how to lose a game with turnovers, Rodgers had none – no interceptions, and one fumble which was recovered.

Quarterbacks can win games, and quarterbacks can lose games.  Aaron Rodgers rarely, rarely, loses a game with stupid decisions.  He never lets his ego, his insistence on being the center of attention, cost his team a victory.  He takes what the defense gives him, then he takes a little more.  He doesn’t force, but he’s not tentative.  His performance Sunday made him the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for over 4,000 yards in his first two seasons as a starter.  And he is certainly deserving of his first of what will, hopefully, be many Pro Bowl selections.  I’m sure Brett will be all grins and giggles with him in Miami.

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