Provided the Packers make the playoffs, the lasting image of a season is almost always the final game. Either they win the Super Bowl and I’m flooded with memories of that game, or they lose and I think of all the things that went wrong in that loss. When I think back on the 2015 season, the lasting image is Larry Fitzgerald catching a ball with no one in sight and rumbling inside the 5 yard line. Sure, I’ll occasionally marvel at how amazing it was that we saw two Hail Mary’s in the same season (one in the playoffs), but that’s about as far as I’ll go.
I wanted to change that this season. I wanted to take a look back at some of the great plays of the 2015 that will be easily forgotten in the wake of such a heartbreaking end. I keep saying how disappointing this season was, but there were a lot of good times as well. I wanted to look back on some of those, and also offer some other, non-football things that I loved about 2015.
I figured I would start at Week 1 and work my way through chronologically. It makes the most sense to me to do it that way. I won’t break down the plays like I normally would, although I say more than few words about some of them. There were a couple of games I didn’t include here (I didn’t write up one game, and there was at least one other without a truly memorable play), but, for the most part, every game is represented.
And now, for the last time of the 2015 season, let’s get to the film.
This is why I wanted to do a post like this. There are so many great plays I totally forgot about. This one game in Week 1 in Chicago. I have watched this play dozens of times and it never gets old. It’s a ridiculously accurate pitch from Aaron Rodgers and a great catch by Eddie Lacy.
Here’s Aaron Rodgers juking a man out of boots, just because he can.
“It’s late in a Jay Cutler game. An interception is coming any time now, right?” Sure enough, Cutler stared down his receiver and Clay Matthews read it all the way.
I remember the announcers praising Cutler for his play in this game. “He looks a lot better this season. Much more in control. He is really playing within the offense.” Cutler finished this game 18/36 (50%), 225 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT for a QB Rating of 67.5. It’s not hard to clear a low bar, I guess.
Since this throw came in Week 2 (and since Rodgers completed 2 Hail Mary’s this season), it’s easy to gloss over just how ridiculous this throw was. Fading to his left, Rodgers throws a dart 30 yards on a line and splits two defenders – one of them being Richard Sherman – for a touchdown to James Jones. I can’t get over how perfect this throw is.
Watch Jayrone Elliott  off the left side. He rushes the pass, sees the screen, drops back and makes a one-handed interception. While Elliott is reading this perfectly, Mike Pennel  is closing on Russell Wilson. I was really excited to see both of these guys this season and they did not disappoint.
Damarious Randall is at the bottom of the screen,. He sits in zone, recognizes the receiver coming out of the flat, drives on him and makes a perfect hit. I loved this hit so much I made it into a much shorter gif.
I love Damarious Randall so much.
Yet another Jayrone Elliott play. Coming hard off the edge, splitting two defenders and taking down Alex Smith.
This is one of my favorite gifs of the year, showing the most excited Ted Thompson ever gets.
Before the season, I predicted that Nick Perry would lead the Packers in sacks. I was very wrong on that prediction, but he had a pretty good season and a very good postseason. This was my favorite sack of his this year, using his hands to create space, then simply running around Joe Staley to collect a sack.
Quinten Rollins with a lovely pick six against the Rams. From week 10 through the end of the season, Rollins played in at least 60% of the defensive snaps every game. It’s hard to find a rookie cornerback who can contribute immediately, and the Packers found two in this draft.
Clay Matthews did a lot of this over the course of the season. Simply walk up to the line, directly in the A gap. At the snap, run directly between the center and guard and get to the QB. The craziest thing about this is that he did it quite a bit, yet I can only recall one instance when an offensive line was able to throw him off.
Matthews finished with 6.5 sacks, the second lowest number of his career (he had 6 sacks in 2011). He did disappear at times this season (his 0 tackles in weeks 15 and 16 stand out), but he dropped back into coverage more than ever this season. Plays like this show what a special player he still is, even if the numbers aren’t quite where we’re accustomed to seeing them.
What is this? Players motioning into a tight, stacked receiver set? And it served to get the underneath receiver open? Witchcraft!
On the right side of the formation, Richard Rodgers is the man at the line while Ty Montgomery is set behind him. Rodgers takes two defenders, leaving Montgomery wide open on a dig, with a clear path to the end zone.
It’s a beautiful little route combo, and it’s something I didn’t find myself saying very often this season.
This is the play that ended the Chargers game. I love this play so much. A great read and perfect break by Damarious Randall on the outside. Have I mentioned how much I like Randall? I might ask him to the big dance.
There was not much to like about the Broncos game, but this play makes me chuckle. Those of you who know me (and even those of you who don’t) know how much I despise Peyton Manning. Seeing him carry out a play fake and get hit immediately by Clay Matthews was a moment of pure joy for me. The fact that Manning complained about it directly afterwards (and was not rewarded with a flag) makes it even better.
Does it make me petty to revel in a play in a game where the Packers were embarrassed? Perhaps. But I really don’t care. Let me have my happiness, no matter how petty.
Once again, Nick Perry had a nice year. This was a great read and an athletic play to elude the blocker and take down the speedy Corey Brown deep in the backfield.
Aaron Ripkowski had 1 reception this season, going for 18 yards. This was that reception. A bootleg by Aaron Rodgers, a catch by Ripkowski, and a rumbling run that ended with him destroying a man.
I can’t think of any other player who caught only one ball in a season that I was so excited about (mainly because Willie Quinnie and Taco Wallace never caught a ball). We talked about this play all season. I will be talking about this play for years.
I mentioned at the top that the lasting image of the season is the last game. That can also be true at a game level. I remember the Packers making a comeback against the Panthers, but the only thing I really remember about that comeback is that it ultimately came up short. This play gave the Packers the ball at the Panthers 22 yard line, down 37-29 with 3:38 left in the game. This drive ultimately ended with an Aaron Rodgers interception on 4th down, but this play gave them a shot when it looked like the game was all but over. Another game, another big play by Damarious Randall.
Still, I watch this and think, “If only he didn’t bobble that ball, he may have ended up in the end zone.”
This is kind of a long clip, but it’s worth it. It’s James Jones’ season in a nutshell. He starts the play on the bottom. He kind of runs a zig-zag pattern down the field (as if he’s trying to elude an alligator), turns the defender around a bit, then just kind of magically gets open. His defender ignores him for reasons unclear to me. Still, he gets open, and Aaron Rodgers uncorks a laser to the edge of the end zone, where Jones makes a great catch on the sideline.
Apparently I’m a fan of Aaron Rodgers flip plays. This was a two point conversion to James Jones. Escape the pocket, draw a defender in, get the angle and pitch the ball at the perfect moment to find an open receiver. This play should not work, but it does, due in no small part to Rodgers making a play outside the pocket and Jones reading it.
James Jones didn’t have a great year, but he still ended up with 890 yards (1st on the team) on 50 receptions and 8 touchdowns (1st on the team). His catch rate of 50.5% was brutal and he could look frustratingly slow at times, but I’m happy the Packers brought him back this season. I doubt he’ll be back next season, but I liked seeing him back with the Packers for one more season.
Mike Daniels getting past his man and making a play in the backfield. I have about a dozen of these plays I wrote about throughout the course of the season. There’s nothing that really separates this one from any of the others, but I wanted to make sure I shone a little light on Daniels after the season he had. He earned every bit of that extension.
When I talk about the 2015 season, I love that I have to specify which Hail Mary I’m referring to.
I’ve watched this play dozens (hundreds?) of times, and it never gets any less amazing.
In the split second between the time the ball was snapped and he was murdered, Matt Cassel wondered why he ever left the cushy life of being a backup quarterback. “You know coach, I feel bad that I’m getting all the playing time while Brandon Weeden just sits on the bench. Maybe give him some snaps. It’s not that I don’t want to play, but I just feel bad for the guy, ya know?”
This was one of my favorite offensive plays of the season. Not the outcome, but the play itself. On the left side, there is a dual-curl fly route combo (Randall Cobb and James Jones on the curls, Richard Rodgers on the fly for some reason). On the right side, there is a screen pass. Aaron Rodgers has to get the ball out fast (so there is not an ineligible man downfield penalty), but the Packers have essentially split the line in half and are running different plays to each side. It’s basically a packaged play, but both options are passes. It forces the defense to defend against both plays, which is next to impossible. I am madly in love with this play.
I didn’t want to show this entire play, but I couldn’t write this post without watching Mike Pennel (to the right of Carson Palmer) throwing a grown man. It never gets old. Never.
This Micah Hyde interception is insane. With one arm, he backhands the ball and tucks it. (I would again like to point out the celebration by Casey Hayward, who can’t believe what he just saw.) Just a crazy play. I would like to thank the spirit of Aaron Brooks and/or Jake Plummer who clearly inhabited the body of Teddy Bridgewater on this throw.
I know it seems odd to have the only play from a playoff victory be a two point conversion, but that’s where I am right now. I love this route by Jared Abbrederis (in the slot to the right of the line). A little headfake to the outside to get the defender moving in that direction then a quick cut back inside. It’s a nice, crisp route in a small space, and it’s a great read by Aaron Rodgers to see that move and get rid of the ball with pressure in his face.
Hail Mary #2. Like the first, it never gets less amazing. The first Hail Mary was an insane throw (there’s a fan video that shows the ball coming within about 10 feet of hitting the roof), but this one seems more difficult. Yes, he had to elude a rush in Detroit, but he was able to throw cleanly. Here he has to elude the rush and throw the ball while fading back and a couple defenders closing. I have no idea how he was able to throw the ball this far under these circumstances. It’s unbelievable.
And that, my friends, takes us to the end of the 2015 season. A disappointing season, but not one devoid of amazing moments. I hope this helped you to remember some of those moments and be able to look back on this season with slightly less disdain than you otherwise would have.
This is where I normally put my Random Thoughts, but I don’t really have any leftover, as the bulk of this post was nothing but Random Thoughts. Instead, I thought I would end with some non-football things I loved in 2015. Please chime in with your own (or any football thoughts/memories from this season) in the comments.
Non-football things I loved in 2015:
– I had my first child in June. She’s a handful, but she’s amazing. I’ve been explaining the intricacies of the game to her, so she will likely be taking over Eye in the Sky for me starting next year.
– I took a handful of business trips this year. In order to make me not dread these trips, I tried to schedule some side trips I could take so I could see some things I really wanted to see. It worked out pretty well. A short list of things I did:
– Sitting a few rows behind the plate at Great American Ball Park and watching Miguel Cabrera hit a ball to Mars. In the gif below, look for the guy in the Tigers jersey raising his arm and jumping up as the ball leaves Cabrera’s bat. He is on the left side of the screen, a couple rows back. That man is me.
– Watching the Warriors play basketball. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.
– Some movies I loved:
Some TV shows I loved:
Music I loved:
Podcasts I loved:
Comics I loved:
A couple more things, then I’m done. I promise.
I’d like to thank Titletown Sound Off for giving me a place to post these things. Everyone at the site has been great, and I could not be happier to be a part of this. Big things are happening, and I think even bigger things are on the horizon.
A special thanks to the great (and very funny) James Korsmo for editing pretty much every one of these posts this season. I’m sorry I’m so wordy.
Last – but certainly not least – a HUGE thank you to all of you for continuing to read. I’ve now been writing about the Packers for 3 years, and some of you have been reading me the entire time. Your words of support have meant the world to me. There have been weeks I haven’t felt like doing it, but knowing people are out there reading these makes it worth it. I love every interaction I have with you all. I hope at least a couple of you read through all the muck to get to this point in the article. You all are the best. If we’re ever in the same city at the same time, hit me up and we’ll grab a drink.
Albums listened to: Adrian Younge – Something About April II; The Anchoress – Confessions of a Romance Novelist; Cherry Ghost – Herd Runners; Frankie Rose – Herein Wild; Cherry Ghost – Herd Runners; Grimes – Art Angels
Thank you for reading. Dusty Evely is a featured writer for Titletown Sound Off. You can follow him on Twitter @DustyEvely. For even more Packers content, follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook.