About 24 hours have passed since the Green Bay Packers 2015 season came to an end. It was a spectacularly, almost cartoonishly heart wrenching way to end this season. For most of the 4th quarter and all 3 plays of overtime I felt like I was in a washing machine full of both velvet smoking jackets and Brillo pads.
After losing Randall Cobb to what the Packers are calling a bruised lung in the first quarter, they were left with a receiving corps of James Jones, Jared Abbrederis, and Jeff Janis. Jones was about as effective as a milkshake on a sunburn, thanks to Patrick Peterson and his own lack of athletic ability. In a nutshell, it was the Abbrederis and Janis show for 3 quarters of the game. AND IT WORKED. It absolutely went about a million times better than any logical human being could have ever imagined. Abbrederis dropped the first pass thrown his way, then quickly became the go to guy for the next few series. It was clear that Aaron Rodgers found his rhythm with Abby, and as he got more comfortable throwing the ball to him, Jeff Janis had some sort of revelation from another dimension. I want you to clear your eyes before you read this next statistic. Put some Visine in, drink a cup of coffee, get a full night’s sleep so you can process this properly: Janis caught 7 passes for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns. In a Divisional Playoff game, on the road, against the 8th ranked pass defense in the NFL.
Have you awoken from your fainting episode? Welcome back, it’s a new world we’re living in. Watch out for the Soylent Green. Anyway, Janis played NFL caliber wide receiver for 3 quarters of a playoff game. His route running is still just a hair better than mine when I’m playing Madden after a few boilermakers, but somehow he was able to find the ball when it counted most. He caught 2 hail marys (hails mary?) on the final Packers drive, including the hail mary to send the game to overtime despite one of the best defensive backs in the game doing everything he could to knock the ball free. It shouldn’t be that big of a shock, considering the route is just running fast in a straight line then jumping, but I didn’t think he could even do that correctly. Thank you for proving my wrong, Jeff. Now spend the next 8 months reading the playbook.
Please indulge me if you will, I have something I need to say directly to David Bakhtiari. I know for a fact that he reads this article as soon as he wakes up the day after a game, so I’m fully confident he will see this.
David, I owe you an apology. In the past I have been known to say some unkind things about you, especially after games where you have had a few penalties. After watching how Dwight Freeney and Calais Campbell abused your linemates (Is that what they like to be called? I don’t know the nomenclature…) a few weeks ago, watching you this week was a revelation. The entire line played extremely well, but you were the backbone. Rodgers was only sacked once, and that was during the final drive of the game when Arizona blitzed every player they had and most of the front office. It was one of the best blocked games of the season, and a lot of that is because of you. So, I apologize for the mean things I said. You didn’t deserve it, and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. P.S. Your hair is better than Clay Mathews hair. I’ve always said that.
This game was one of those reminders that McCarthy can coach his tail off when he needs to. After Cobb went down, McCarthy had a couple of choices. He could have tucked his tail, pounded Lacy and Starks into the ground, and prayed for the best. But he didn’t. He was even more aggressive, and let the best player on the field make plays. Yes, I’m talking about Jeff Janis. (No I’m not. For real, I’m not.)
In my opinion, McCarthy’s confidence in Aaron Rodgers in the face of such adversity spoke volumes about where their relationship is at right now. Things were looking ugly a month ago. There was a lot of talk about McCarthy losing the locker room, Rodgers having a diva complex in regards to playcalling, and the lack of respect McCarthy was showing his quarterback. It was almost full blown crisis lockdown mode at 1265 Lombardi Ave.
The relationship between Rodgers and McCarthy has always appeared to be complex. There is a lot of give and take between the two of them, and sometimes neither one wants to give. They are two stubborn men who share a goal but can have different opinions on how to reach it. Over the past decade we have seen the two of them clash on a fairly regular basis, but this is the foundation of how a productive relationship works. It requires honesty and the ability to get over yourself, but it is possible to have a productive, healthy working relationship under these parameters. Just look at George Jetson and Cosmo Spacely. Jetson was fired every single episode, yet somehow he and Spacely were able to maintain a thriving sprocket manufacturing company.
McCarthy deserves a lot of credit for how well Green Bay played. The Packers had no business playing as well as they did with the personnel they had, but aggressive and smart playcalling set them up for immediate success. Prolonged success going forward into next season will be based on the foundation of this game.
There is no shame in how the defense played 99% of the game. The Cardinals are the most dynamic team in the league. They can beat you in myriad ways. Three weeks ago, they had 26 rushes for 121 yards. This week they had 19 rushes for 40 yards. You can’t ask for a better run defense against a team who is very good at running the football. Carson Palmer was 25/41 for 349 yards and 3 touchdowns. But he also had 2 interceptions, and about a half dozen other passes that should have been picked off. The Packers defense held the Cardinals offense without a big play for most of the game. Other than the long catch and run for Larry Fitzgerald in overtime, the Cardinals longest play from scrimmage was a pass to John Brown for 21 yards. You just can’t ask for much more against such a potent offense.
Perhaps the biggest defensive mistakes were made by Sam Shields. He had the opportunity to intercept no fewer than 3 passes, and didn’t get any of them. The last one, in the 4th quarter, was right to him and probably would have been an easy pick six. Instead, he dropped the ball, and 3 plays later Palmer hit Fitzgerald in the hands so hard that Michael Floyd caught it for a touchdown. Nobody can say if Green Bay would have won if Shields would have been able to hold on to any of those interceptions, but it sure would be nice to be able to talk about how he was the MVP.
But instead, what most people will be talking about is that overtime pass to Fitzgerald. The Cardinals did exactly what the Seahawks did last year in overtime during the NFC Championship game. They found a weakness, and exploited it for a huge play. Dom Capers was being very aggressive with his blitzes all game, and Palmer had been a sitting duck in the pocket. When the Packers overloaded the left side of the line and Palmer was able to escape the pocket, Julius Peppers gave up his assignment of staying in the same area code as a future hall of fame wide receiver. I suppose he may have thought that Palmer didn’t have the ability to scramble that far, or the arm to throw the ball across the field like that. Maybe his defensive end brain kicked in and he forgot all about coverage. Whatever the reason, his lapse in critical thinking left Fitzgerald wide open, and the Packers tendency to go for the ball instead of the man carrying it cost them tackles. 2 plays later, game over. The book is written on how to beat the Packers defense in extra time. It’s time for Dom Capers to change the narrative.
I saved the best for last. The biggest reason my heart aches today is because this was the first game in a long time where Rodgers’ desire to win was so tangible that it effected the rest of the team. Was he perfect? No, not by a long shot. He made a few bad throws (but to be fair, it’s difficult to judge the accuracy of a throw when it’s intended for Janis), and I don’t think I will ever understand why he did not spike the ball after the first hail mary of the last drive. But the sheer heart he showed, his unmitigated will to win, was undeniable. He put the offense on his back and did everything he could to lead them to a win. I’m not sure if you saw what I wrote a few lines back, but he threw 2 hail marys (hail mari?) on the same drive. One of them was from his own end zone. You can say that there is no quarterback skill involved, you can say that Janis got lucky, you can say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. Watch the throw to tie the game at the end of regulation. The man was on the run, falling away from the throw. The ball went 50 yards with the flick of his wrist. Not to mention the scrambling that he had to do just to get the throw off in the first place. It’s incredible.
Rodgers has deserved most of the criticism he has received this season. But the outcome of this game is not on his shoulders. It just isn’t. There are many other factors that contributed to the Packers loss, but given who he was throwing to and the defense he was facing, I just cannot fault Rodgers.
There is no reason to hang our heads and lament about what could have been. What’s done is done. This season is over. All in all, Green Bay probably did about as well as they could given their problems. Although it’s a sad thought, it’s probably accurate to say that without Jordy Nelson, Ty Montgomery, a productive Davante Adams, or a potent running game, this was the ceiling for them. But there is all kinds of hope. Next season the Packers will get all the injured players back. There will have been 8 months to implement an offensive gameplan and philosophy. The defense, although they will lose at least 1 or 2 key players from this year, will be back. The pieces should all be in the box, it will be up to McCarthy and the rest of the coaching staff to put them together. There is no reason to believe that next season will be anything but an improvement for the Green Bay Packers. Hold your heads high, Packer fans. There is a lot to look forward to. I cannot wait for August.
GO PACK GO