When my visit to my parents’ home over the recent holidays was coming to a close, I found myself doing the clichéd “look back” before leaving.
If you don’t know what I mean by a “look back,” then just think of the final episode of Three’s Company, when Jack, Janet, and Terri give their apartment one last onceover before leaving it for the final time.
(I’ll give you a moment to dry your eyes after remembering that emotional scene, a scene which is apparently not available anywhere on-line for me to link to.)
My reasons for the “look back” were simple: My parents are getting older and it’s inevitable that at some point they will sell the house I grew up in. So I feel like any time I’m there could be my last.
Now, three days after their shocking defeat in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, I find myself taking a mental “look back” at the Packers 2011 season for a similarly simple reason: We may not see anything like it anytime soon.
Oh, I can already hear the grumbling. Yes, the Packers, despite high-profile vets like Charles Woodson and Donald Driver (who is the subject of much trade talk), are still a very young team. And as long as Aaron Rodgers is under center, the Packers will be competitive. It’s not panic time in Green Bay.
Or is it?
As players and coaches alike said after Sunday’s loss, to be involved in the Green Bay Packers franchise is to be burdened with the highest of expectations.
There is no tolerance in Green Bay for any “we’re making progress” or “three-year rebuilding plan” talk. Despite the awful showing on Sunday against the Giants, fans will be expecting Mike McCarthy and Rodgers to be bringing the Vince Lombardi Trophy back “home” in 2013.
And, unless there are major, unforeseen, and seismic changes in Green Bay, the Packers will be one of the teams most heavily favored to win Super Bowl 47 in New Orleans.
But history is not on their side. Instead, it suggests that the arrow is pointing down on the Packers.
Consider the trajectory the Packers went on in the mid-1990s: Two straight wild-card round victories following the 1993 and 1994 seasons, followed by a divisional round victory after the 1995 season, followed by a Super Bowl championship after the 1996 season. Then there was the Super Bowl loss to Denver, then a wild-card loss the next season, and then two years out of the playoffs.
After “recovering” from the surprisingly smooth Favre-to-Rodgers transition, the Packers found themselves on a similar, but much more accelerated course: A wild-card loss in 2010 followed by a Super Bowl championship in 2011. But just as this Packers team climbed back to the top of the mountain faster than the team of the 1990s did, with Sunday’s loss, they have now fallen much faster as well.
But wait, you say. Super Bowl champs can bounce back after playoff losses. Well, sure. But in the past ten years, only the Patriots and Steelers were able to win additional championships after first failing to defend their title. (The Giants could join that group this season.) Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, and New Orleans could not, with only Indianapolis even advancing to the title game again.
But if you say it’s not necessarily relevant to see what other teams have been able to do, then let’s return our focus to this Green Bay Packers team. What changes they will either have to overcome or have to institute in order to put the Title back in Titletown?
Unfortunately, it’s a lot.
The Packers have already lost their respected director of football operations Reggie McKenzie to the Oakland Raiders. As Oakland’s new GM, he might tempt members of the Packers organization to come along with him. One of those most likely to leave is offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who has now interviewed with Miami and Tampa Bay about their head coaching openings. Assistant coaches Winston Moss and Tom Clements have also been rumored to be leaving for supposed greener pastures, and even defensive coordinator Dom Capers, despite his defense’s pitiful performance this year, could be lured away from Green Bay.
Fans may wish “good riddance” to Capers after watching him lead the NFL’s worst defense in 2011. But whether or not Capers (and his toupee) ride out of town, it’s clear to anyone with eyes in their head that some sort of major overhaul – starting with the defensive front, who put as much pressure on Eli Manning on Sunday as a cool breeze puts on the Empire State Building – needs to be made to the Packers’ porous defense.
But even if necessary adjustments are made, be it on the field, in the coaching ranks, or both, change is tough. And it might not work.
That’s the sort of uncertainty facing the Packers in 2012 that wasn’t foreseen last year.
The offensive side of the ball is certainly open to less immediate criticism (Sunday’s game largely notwithstanding), but in addition to Joe Philbin’s future, there are unanswered questions here as well.
Will free-agent quarterback Matt Flynn leave to compete for a starting job elsewhere? It would be a surprise if he doesn’t, given how sought after he will be and how much money will be thrown at his feet. And though his departure will not matter much if Rodgers stays healthy, it could be huge if Rodgers doesn’t.
Will TE Jermichael Finley resign? Packers fans may not want him to return after his untimely drops this season, but the team could do far worse at the position. Despite what some would consider a disappointing season, Finley still finished third among NFL tight ends in touchdowns.
What needs to be done with the running back position? Ryan Grant is almost certainly gone, and James Starks isn’t the answer to this question any more than Tim Tebow is the answer to who the next governor of Wisconsin might be. But what’s clear is that Aaron Rodgers can’t continue to be the team’s best rusher. That’s a formula that’s not going to work long-term.
Oddly enough, the sexiest headline – What will Green Bay do about Donald Driver? – is probably the least concerning to Packers fans. While it will be sad to see him go (and it seems highly likely that he will finish his career with another team), wide receiver continues to be the position where the Packers have the greatest and most impressive depth.
Provided, of course, those receivers can do a better job than they did on Sunday holding on to the ball.
But in the big picture, wide receiver is the area of smallest concern for fans of the green and gold who hope that they won’t “look back” on Sunday’s game as the beginning of the end of the dominant Rodgers era for the Packers.
Quick takes on Sunday’s game: Regardless of what anyone says about the long layoff, the biggest factor that played into the Packers’ sloppiness was the horrible situation that surrounded Joe Philbin. There’s obviously never a good time for that sort of tragedy, but as it happened, the tragedy took the team out of the football world at the worst possible time. Biggest play of the game was not the Hail Mary at the end of the second half or the Bradshaw run that set up that play. In contrary to popular opinion, those plays did not deflate the Packers as they basically dominated the third quarter. The biggest play of the game was the Ryan Grant fumble and subsequent return in the fourth quarter. Still seemed likely that the Packers could come back until that play happened. As had been proven already in the Saints/49ers game and Texans/Ravens game, teams simply don’t win when they give the ball away on multiple occasions. Despite how well Eli Manning played, because of the Packers’ turnovers and dropped passes, I’m more prone to say the Packers lost the game than the Giants won.
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