As we head towards summer and long days of grilling food and getting sun tans, the pundits gear up for the coming 2009 NFL season.
I hear so many fans touting the Minnesota Vikings as legitimate Super Bowl contenders. I also hear many non-Packer fans suggesting that without Favre-vader that the Packers are a 6-10 team with no chance of reaching the Super Bowl.
Yes, the Vikings were 10-6. Yes, the Bears were 9-7. Yes, the Packers were a lowly 6-10.
However, if a mere three plays had gone the other way, the Packers would have been the team hosting a playoff game last January and not the Vikings.
And this all means nothing now. As a friend of mine once said, "Yeah, and if my grandmother had balls, she'd be my grandfather."
But to illustrate just how close this division was in 2008, and should be again in 2009, I'll show how over 17 weeks, the 6-10 Packers were only three plays from winning the division.
After a dominating win against AFC powerhouse Indianpolis Colts, the Packers outplayed, yet lost, a heartbreaker to another AFC powerhouse, theTennessee Titans, 19-16. This sent the Packers into the Metrodome to play the hated Minnesota Vikings.
The Packers record stood at four wins and 4 losses. The Vikings record was identical to the Packers. Yet, the Packers were in the thick of the division race.
Despite playing in a loud and hostile atmosphere, the team played hard. Packers got big plays from Nick Collins and Will Blackmon in the second half to take the lead late in the 3rd quarter.
In a crushing blow, middle linebacker Nick Barnett limped off the field in the second half with a season ending knee injury.
After a fast and furious last two minutes, Aaron Rodgers had the Packers in position to pull out the win and take over first place in the division. Mason Crosby need to convert a 52 yard field goal to wrap up the win.
Yes, a 52 yard field goal is no "gimme". But we all know that 52 yards is well within the range of the powerful leg of Crosby.
PLAY #1 :
Crosby's kick had plenty of distance but was just barely wide. Packers lose. Vikings win 28-27. Packers record drops to 4-5. Vikings move to 5-4 and claim first place.
Mason Crosby attempts a 38 yard field goal with 18 seconds left in the game to defeat the Bears. The kick is low and is blocked, sending the game into overtime and ultimately another heart rendering loss.
After dominating the Bears 37-3 earlier in the season, the Packers once again thoroughly outplayed the Bears at Soldir Field in week 15. The Packers statistically dominated virtually every category.
But in what had become a disturbing trend, the Packers defense gave up a long scoring drive by the Bears late in the 4th quarter to forge a 17-17 tie score with under three minutes left.
Aaron Roders then led the Packers on another "2-minute" drill drive that gave the Packers a first down at the Bears 24 yard line with under two minutes left.
In another of Coach Mike McCarthy's questionable moves, the Packers simply ran Ryan Grant into the heart of the Bears defense three times to net a mere three yards.
The clock read 18 seconds left in the game. It is always easy to second guess, but one pass to Greg Jennings or to Donald Driver would have made the field goal much shorter. Even a bootleg scramble by Rodgers may have gained more yardage and kept the clock moving.
Yet coach McCarthy had confidence in his young kicker. Despite the temperature standing around "0" degrees, the coach decided a 38 yard field goal was well within Crosby's range.
What resulted was another last second disaster for Crosby. In what looked like a "1 iron" shot in golf, the kick was low and was blocked.
Instead of celebrating another victory agsint a bitter rival, the tired and beleaguered Packers defense gave up a scoring drive to the Bears in overtime and their kicker Robby Gould hit the proper "9 iron" kick and beat the Packers in overtime.
The loss eliminated the Packers from any chance of the postseason.
Crosby's low kick gets blocked, costing the Packers another win. The blocked kick also give the Bears their ninth win of the season... and their last.
Ryan Longwell's 50+ yard field goal in final seconds gives the Vikings a 20-19 win in the last game of the regular season and clinches the NFC North Title.
In a late Christmas present, the Giants made four starters inactive for the game. By halftime, the majority of their other starters were on the sideline making New Year's plans.
"They put four starters on the inactive list: Jacobs (knee), tight end Kevin Boss (ankle), cornerback Aaron Ross (concussion) and nose tackle Barry Cofield (knee). Quarterback Eli Manning was joined on the sideline by a steady stream of other regulars during the second half. When Jackson found a wide-open Bernard Berrian for a 54-yard touchdown pass to cut New York's lead to two points midway through the fourth quarter, it was a third-string cornerback -- Terrell Thomas -- who fell down trying to cover him."
And with that the Vikings win their first NFC North title since 2000.
"Could've, Should've, Would've" ... Three plays that decided the 2008 Green Bay Packers season.
Play #1: Crosby makes the field goal against the Vikings and the Packers could have finished with a 7-9 record and the Vikings at 9-7.
Play #2: Crosby makes the field goal in Chicago and the Packers could have finished with an 8-8 record as would have the Bears.
Play #3: Had the Giants not emptied their bench in Minnesota on the last week of the season and not allowed the Vikings to rally from a nine point deficit in the 4th quarter, Longwell might never have had the chance to make a 51 yard field goal on the last play and give the Vikings the title.
If you assume the first two plays highlighted above...went the other way, and if Longwell misses wide from the same distance Mason Crosby missed from in week 10, the Vikings lose 19-17.
This would have left the Vikings, Bears, and Packers tied with identical 8-8 records. And our Packers would have been awarded the NFC North crown as a result of their 6-0 record within their division!
It simply means that the Packers are not as bad as their 6-10 record of 2008 would indicate. It also means the Vikings are not as good as their 10-6 record of 2008 would indicate. If you throw in the Bears acquisition of Jay Cutler, who knows how good or bad the Chicago bears are going to be in 2009.
But no matter how you look at it, there should be an exciting three horse race in the NFC North this fall!
After all, after 48 games in 2008 between the three bitter division rivals, three plays ultimately determined the division winner.