After some pundits questioned if his career could survive his embarrassing sex-in-the-workplace scandal, the late-night veteran is on a roll.
His ratings are up: His CBS show just earned its first November sweeps victory over NBC’s The Tonight Show since 1994.
Meanwhile, Letterman’s show-biz enemy Jay Leno is floundering with his new prime time venture, as his program has been declared a disaster from critics, audiences, and NBC affiliates sickened by the devastating impact Leno’s flaccid performance is having on their late local news.
Finally, Tiger Woods’s ongoing sex scandal has not only taken Letterman off the immorality hot seat, but it has a bizarreness (the car wreck, the text messages, the alleged existence of nude photos), and enormity (that list of women keeps growing like the Pittsburgh Steelers’ losing streak) that makes Letterman look as clean-cut as Pat Boone.
It’s also a good time to be a fan of the Green Bay Packers.
Or is it?
Riding a four-game win streak, the team is clearly playing its best football of the season.
Its Achilles’ heel, pass protection for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, has righted itself with the recent solid offensive line play of Chad Clifton, Daryn Colledge, Scott Wells, Josh Sitton, and Mark Tauscher.
Aaron Rodgers has been stellar, more than withstanding the inevitable comparisons to Brett Favre, even as Favre is enjoying one of the best years of his never-ending career.
The switch to Dom Capers’s 3-4 defense has solidified remarkably quickly, as the Packers currently sit on top of the league in yards allowed per game, fourth in rush yards allowed, and third in pass yards allowed. They’re also tied for second in interceptions with 21.
Charles Woodson is deservedly being discussed as a viable Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
The team seems to have found two future stars in rookies B.J. Raji and especially linebacker Clay Matthews, who earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his two sack, six tackle, forced-fumble Monday night performance against Baltimore.
The final few games of the Packers’ schedule, which once seemed to be an impossible stretch, is now looking like a cakewalk: Baltimore was easily dominated, the Chicago Bears stink on any field, the Steelers have collapsed faster than Jon and Kate’s marriage, Seattle’s been a year-long disappointment, and the Cardinals likely will be resting all their starters by the time the Packers visit in Week 17.
More tantalizingly, the Minnesota Vikings, coming off a horrible loss to Arizona, suddenly look immensely beatable. Time will soon tell if Sunday night’s 30-17 loss was a fluke game, or a sign of major trouble brewing for Brett Favre’s new team, but the Packers must now be (and should be) relishing the potential for a third game this season, with much bigger stakes than the previous two, against their division rival.
So with all those positives swirling around Titletown, what’s there to complain about in Packerland?
Just this: The team’s 2009 games have been unwatchable.
Think about it: Have the Packers been part of any single entertaining 60 minutes of regular-season football all year?
Oh sure, there have been exciting moments, most coming off the arm of Rodgers:
Week One’s 50-yard TD strike to Greg Jennings to give the Packers a comeback victory against Chicago. Jermichael Finley’s 62-yard catch and run in the loss at the Metrodome, I mean, Mall of America Field. Spencer Havner’s first career touchdown in Week Six’s blowout of the Browns.
But those memorable moments and a few others like them haven’t been part of any game any Packer fan could consider memorable.
One note of clarification: When I say “memorable” or “entertaining” in relation to this season’s Packers games, I’m throwing out the four losses, all of which were close, entertaining affairs to football fans without a rooting interest in either team or to fans of the teams that beat Green Bay.
But I doubt many Packers fans were thinking, “Wow, what a watchable game!” after gifting Tampa Bay its only win of the season, or after helping to add to Minnesota’s NFC North division lead.
Much of what has made Green Bay’s eight victories dull affairs has not been their fault: Games this year featuring the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns have only been entertaining when the two NFL bottom-feeders have faced off against each other.
But a surprising inconsistency on offense (even in lopsided games) has been exceedingly frustrating.
Think back to the game at St. Louis, where the Packers could only muster three first-quarter field goals, despite (thanks to turnovers) starting two drives inside the Rams’ 15-yard line? Or the home victory against Detroit when, after Rodgers hit for two quick first-quarter TDs the Packers had to settle for four straight field goals, including on three drives that started in Lions’ territory?
The offensive line’s tendency to give up sacks at the rate that McDonald’s sells hamburgers obviously played a big role in that offensive inconsistency early in the season and added tremendously to the unwatchablity of that first half of the season. Thankfully, as I said, that problem has been largely rectified in recent weeks.
What hasn’t been fixed and what is much of the reason for the, as welcome as it has been, ugliness of the recent winning streak? The penalties.
Oh, the penalties.
Have you ever rented a DVD from a public library, particularly a children’s DVD? They are inevitably covered in scratches the way NBA stars are covered in tattoos. The scratches typically result in cringe-inducing skipping during playback, which makes you want to break the disc in order to save some other poor soul the mind-numbing frustration.
I get the same feeling while watching a Packer game, as every penalty flag thrown (and there are typically a lot as the Packers lead the league in both penalties per game (8.2) and penalty yards per game (75.4) is an annoying interruption to the game’s flow that makes me shift uncomfortably in my otherwise very uncomfortable seat.
Unlike the sacks, the penalty problem is not going away, as the Packers have totaled 36 penalties during their four-game winning streak, including 11 for 175 yards (and that was with the referees going relatively easy on cornerback Tramon Williams) in Monday night’s historically ugly game against Baltimore. With the Ravens adding 12 penalties for 135 yards, Monday’s game was so hard to sit through that the NFL should have granted refunds to every fan in attendance.
I know fans will say “I’d rather have an ugly win than a pretty loss,” and I get that. But, as normally unflappable ESPN announcer Mike Tirico exasperatingly stated on Monday night, teams just don’t make playoff runs having the discipline problems associated with chalking up massive amounts of penalties.
Green Bay has four surprisingly winnable games in which to clean up their act. They will likely go to the postseason whether they do or not. But if they don’t, just as the sacks killed them early in the season, the penalties could very well be their undoing in the playoffs.
And that would be truly unwatchable.
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