From the Slough of Despond in Florida, to the giddy heights of playoff delight in several not-so-easy stages.
So, how did it all go right?
Despite often justified criticism on these and other pages, a key reason for the Packers' triumph must be due to the consistent and effective coaching where painstaking analysis of successful and unsuccessful plays have led to a week by week incremental improvement on both sides of the ball.
Although some us may still question some of the play calling within individual games (a mystifying abandonment of the blitz and stubborn reluctance to persevere with the run at times,) it is undeniable that, for the most part, things have been made to work.
McCarthy in his characteristic lugubrious fashion takes an unemotional and realistic view of both victory and defeat, insisting on the importance of adjustment, fine tuning, and practise as the way to improve. The seeds of success were sown last season when the number of games lost by 10 points or less suggested that good times were just around the corner: Consistent coaching methods have vindicated this.
Most notably, the improvements have been seen on and around the offensive line. This is where it all begins. Failures in this department mean hurried or blown plays, an unacceptable number of sacks, and twitchy pre-snap penalties. Part of the irony is when the O-line is working well their work goes largely unnoticed: When it isn’t the results are painfully obvious.
Observe the time Aaron Rodgers has to throw the ball now, the fewer number of hurried attempts he has to make, and the drastic reduction in hits ands sacks he’s had to endure in recent games. Everything seems to be meshing: Running backs pick up blitzes, and Aaron moves confidently around in a pocket, which doesn’t seem in danger of imminent collapse. There is even emerging the glimmer of a running game to add much needed offensive balance and to keep linebackers guessing.
Aaron Rodgers is, of course, the chief beneficiary of this improvement. His calmness and efficiency, lack of histrionics, readiness to praise, refusal to blame teammates, and commitment to personal development, have made him a leader who must be highly regarded by his teammates.
Two facts stick out: A second successive 4,000-yard season and an outstanding third down conversion record. With a fine, reliable set of wide receivers and some emerging talent (TE Jermichael Finley), Rodgers is surrounded by plenty of weapons that are hard to cover. He is also an important part of the rushing offence.
Similarly showing evidence of everyone being on the same page is the 3-4 defence, which seemed so awkward and out of kilter early on. It seems to have gelled in such a way as to allow them to continue to stop the run, a prerequisite of all successful defences, which don’t enjoy playing uphill all afternoon while bringing sustained pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The play of rookie Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji in this scheme has been a revelation.
Of course, the result of stuffing opponents’ rushing attacks has led to increased pressure on the secondary as quarterbacks have been forced to throw down field. For the most part, the safeties and cornerbacks have responded well and their adroit play, speed, and positional sense have resulted in a remarkable +22 advantage in takeaways.
Woodson and Nick Collins have been inspirational and with a return to fitness next season of Al Harris and a good college draft, this unit has it within them to become one of the best in the NFL.
The second half of the season was played against some stiff opposition (Cowboys, Ravens, Bears, and Steelers) in difficult circumstances, often away from Wisconsin with a number of injured or half-fit players. Everybody stepped up. I have a feeling that the lack of prima donnas or “stars” has led to a strong team spirit with everyone contributing to every play in which they are involved.
And the best thing is I feel the best is yet to come. There were signs of it on Sunday albeit against weakened and demoralised opposition.
Destiny? Maybe: The NFC will have some good teams in the playoffs but none are unbeatable given sound play and favourable circumstances.
Momentum? Perhaps, if you believe in that. I’d rather call it quiet self-confidence as exuded by McCarthy and Rodgers.
One game at a time, guys; one game at a time.