The stars may be lining up for the Green Bay Packers. Could history repeat itself?
A week ago, many were beginning to write the Packers off in 2012. Whatever magic Aaron Rodgers and the offense had in 2011 seemed to have gone up in smoke and the defense was still suspect. It seemed that a title run was just not in the cards for 2012, and Rodgers was taking heat from all directions, most of it unfair and unjustified.
Thanks to a stunning 42-24 defeat of the previously unbeaten Houston Texans on the road, suddenly all is well with Rodgers. After Rodgers’ 338-yard and six-touchdown performance on national television against the Texans, the reigning NFL MVP literally shushed his critics and all they basically could muster in response was a meek, ‘Uh…..my bad.’
The Packers win was not without cost, as they have lost both LB DJ Smith, who was improving in pass coverage, and RB Brandon Saine for the year to injury. With Cedric Benson already out late in the season thanks to a Lisfranc injury, the Saine injury hurts more than it may appear. With the improving Smith out, the Packers suddenly are thin at linebacker thanks to a season-ending injury to Desmond Bishop in the preseason.
That may sound bad, but Packer fans need not worry. This team has been in this position before, and the last time they faced this kind of injury epidemic, things turned out pretty well.
The Packers placed 15 players on injured reserve in 2010 and stood at 3-3 through six games, just like the 2012 team. The 2010 team closed out the season with six straight wins and took home the Super Bowl XLV title. They also spent most of the season chasing the Chicago Bears in the NFC North, who coincidentally currently sit atop the division.
It would be too naïve to think the same outcome awaits the 2012 Packers, but the similarities between the two squads are striking.
Injuries Taking Their Toll
In 2010, starting running back Ryan Grant went down for the season in Week 1. This year, Benson went down for a majority of the season in Week 5. Grant at the time was a perennial 1,000-yard back, and Benson was becoming the best running back the Packers have had since Grant went down.
Two years ago, the Packers lost Nick Barnett for the season as well as Brad Jones, Brady Poppinga and Brandon Chillar. This year, they have lost Bishop and Smith. Jones was originally touted as the replacement for Aaron Kampman, and this year he will have to be the “next man up” instead of being in the opposite position in 2010.
Matthews Carries the Load on Defense
Speaking of linebackers, Clay Matthews is off to his hottest start since 2010. Six games into the 2012 season, he has recorded eight sacks vs. 8.5 in is first six games of 2010 (he sat out the game against the Miami Dolphins due to injury). When Matthews hasn’t been tackling the quarterback in the backfield, he’s at least been getting past offensive linemen, and his burst off the line is as strong as it’s ever been.
There Is Nothing Wrong With Rodgers
Even before the game against the Texans, the widely held belief there was something very wrong with Rodgers was a very flawed one at best. Before last night’s performance, Rodgers had thrown for 1,299 yards and had thrown 10 touchdowns against four interceptions with a completion percentage of 68.6. They’re not as stellar as last season’s numbers, but seasons like what Rodgers had in 2011 are very rarely duplicated in the next season.
Through six games in 2010, Rodgers completed 129 of 201 passes for a completion percentage of 64.2 and had 10 touchdowns against seven interceptions. People weren’t asking then what was wrong with Rodgers, and he went on to win the Super Bowl MVP. Rodgers is playing better than he was in 2010, and he got better as the season went on.
McCarthy Does His Best When Facing Long Odds
Packers coach Mike McCarthy was widely praised for his Super Bowl-winning coaching performance in 2010, when the Packers lost nearly a third of a full active roster to injured reserve. He engrained the “next man up” mentality into the Packers, and with general manager Ted Thompson plugging holes as fast he could, McCarthy and his staff did a masterful job getting the newcomers up to speed.
McCarthy often talks of facing adversity as a key to any team’s identity. Both the 2010 and 2012 teams faced very strong headwinds. Both are fighting off the injury bug and both faced heartbreaking endings of games they should have won.
In 2010, the Packers faced the mighty New England Patriots at Foxboro with then-unproven Matt Flynn starting at quarterback for an injured Rodgers. No one gave the Packers much of a chance, but they led most of the way only to lose on a last-second touchdown pass. Still, the defeat planted the seeds for the magical run the Packers would take on their way to their fourth Vince Lombardi Trophy.
The 2012 team lost that infamous game against the Seattle Seahawks thanks to a blown call by a replacement official. Anger ran rampant through the Packers locker room after the game, but McCarthy received league-wide praise for how he handled himself in the postgame press conference. The following week, the Packers beat the New Orleans Saints in spite of more dubious officiating.
McCarthy knows how to deal with adversity. He will have the Packers ready.
Can They Do It Again?
It’s almost scary how similarly both seasons played out through six games. To expect the Packers to win it all again is putting the cart before the horse, but Packer fans should feel optimistic despite the recent rash of injuries.
If there is one true constant in the NFL, it’s to expect the unexpected.