The Packers were perhaps one fateful drive from a date with the undefeated Patriots in the NFC Championship, then Brett Favre sailed a pass right into the hands of Giants defensive back Corey Webster and the rest would soon be history.
Packer fans figured they had seen the last of Brett Favre.
They would soon realize that Favre had the same psyche of a 14-year old girl trying to cancel Myspace. After announcing his retirement to the world, with tears streaming down his face, the carousel of 'will I come back' or 'will I stay retired' began to hang over the Packers like a dark cloud.
It was then that Packers General Manager Ted Thompson chose to do what few front office head men would have - he handed the keys over to the unproven Aaron Rodgers, and told Favre he was welcome to comeback but as Rodgers back up.
Everyone that follows the NFL knows what would transpire next, as Thompson would trade Favre out of the conference to the New York Jets, and Rodgers would finally begin his career as the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers some three years after he was drafted 24th overall.
With all eyes on the young quarterback from Cal, Rodgers shined, leading the Pack to a season-opening victory over the hated Minnesota Vikings. Rodgers would also put in a very Favre like effort, as he played hurt most of the season and yet still looked very much like an All-Pro quarterback in the making as he finished the year with 4038 yards passing and 29 touchdowns.
But what Rodgers couldn't control was the up and down play of the Green Bay defense. And it was the defense that prevented the Packers from being a force in the NFC North for a second consecutive season. The Packers run defense was miserable in 2008, ranking 26th overall and surrendering 4.6 yards per carry. As a unit Green Bay would surrender nearly 24 points a contest, forcing Rodgers and the Packers offense to constantly get into shootouts.
However, the most telling stat for the Green Bay defense was the amount of late leads they would blow. Of the Packers ten losses in 2008, seven of them came after the Packers surrendered 4th quarter leads and six of those losses came on final drives for the opposition.
So while Rodgers would keep setting up his team for victory, the Packers defense would subsequently set Rodgers up for heartbreak.
2009 Free Agency Additions:
C Duke Preston (Buffalo)
S Anthony Smith (Pittsburgh)
2009 Trade Acquisitions:
2009 Offseason Departures:
DT Colin Cole (Seattle)
DE Jason Hunter (Detroit)
DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (Unsigned)
2009 NFL Draft:
1-9. B.J. Raji, NT, Boston College
1-26. Clay Matthews, OLB, USC
4-109. T.J. Lang, OT/G, Eastern Michigan
5-145. Quinn Johnson, FB, LSU
5-162. Jamon Meredith, OT, South Carolina
6-182. Jarius Wynn, DE, Georgia
6-187. Brandon Underwood, FS, Cincinnati
7-218. Brad Jones, LB, Colorado
The Packers immediately went to work on their defense when they dismissed former defensive coordinator Bob Sanders and hired the notable Dom Capers to run the defense. With the hiring of Capers, the Packers will switch to a 3-4 base defense, meaning the personnel began to get a makeover in the offseason.
However, Packers GM Ted Thompson is a firm believer of building through the draft and he showed as much when he selected mammoth nose tackle B.J. Raji with the ninth overall selection and later traded back into the first round to select USC linebacker Clay Matthews Jr. with the 25th overall selection. Raji's presence on the Packers defensive line should immediately shore up a terrible rush defense from a season ago, and free up their pass rush which was practically invisible in 2008. Meanwhile, Matthews will round out a young linebacking corps headlined by A.J. Hawk and former defensive end Aaron Kampman, who will now play upright and be primarily used as a rush 3-4 backer.
The secondary once again will be led by veteran cornerback Charles Woodson who will be paired up with longtime Packer Al Harris and young corners Jarrett Bush, Pat Lee, and Tramon Williams. Green Bay also features a pair of hard-hitting playmakers at safety in Nick Collins and Atari Bigby. They added Anthony Smith as a free agent from Pittsburgh, who is better known for his guarantee a few years back against the undefeated Patriots than his play on the field.
Offensively, the same cast of characters Packer fans saw in 2008 will be back on the field in 2009. Aaron Rodgers will look to continue his excellent play in his second full season as starter and will have a great set of wide receivers to throw it to with Greg Jennings highlighting the crew. Rodgers and Jennings showed an excellent chemistry in 2008 as the duo connected 80 times for 1292 yards and 9 touchdowns. Veteran Donald Driver, fresh off a 1000 yard season as well, will play alongside Jennings with young playmaker James Jones and perhaps the next good receiver to down Packers green - Jordy Nelson. Donald Lee is also a major threat in the passing game as the Green Bay starting tight end.
Coach Mike McCarthy will once again deploy a running back by committee system with Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson splitting a majority of the carries.
|Sun 9/27||at St. Louis|
|Mon 10/5||at Minnesota|
|Sun 10/25||at Cleveland|
|Sun 11/8||at Tampa Bay|
|Sun 11/22||San Francisco|
|Thu 11/26||at Detroit|
|Sun 12/13||at Chicago|
|Sun 12/20||at Pittsburgh|
|Sun 1/3||at Arizona|
Playing in the same division as Detroit and drawing the NFC West as their inter-conference matchup could pay major dividends for the Packers if Dom Capers is able to turn around the defense quickly.
Offensively, few teams in the NFC can really match up with the personnel the Packers will field in 2009. Aside from Arizona with Anquan Boldin playing, there is really not a wide receiving corps top to bottom as good as Green Bay's in this conference. This passing attack makes the Packers a very difficult team to match up against - when the defense does its job.
I am a believer that sometimes all a team needs is a change of viewpoint. Dom Capers track record speaks for itself, as more often than not he turns around defenses and does so quickly.
It should not go without saying just how close this Packer team was to having a much different season than they wound up having. What wound up being 6-10 very easily could have been 10-6 or 11-5 had the Packers been able to close out games.
There will likely be growing pains given the youth and inexperience at some of the Packers key positions on that side of the ball, but a really favorable schedule and a dynamic offense can, and in my opinion will take this team to a wild card berth.
Predicted Finish: 10-6, 2nd place NFC North - Wild Card