Green and Gold Review: 10 Things We Learned From Sunday Night's Heartbreaker
It was apparent from the very beginning of the football game. The Packers were in New England for one reason, and one reason only: to win.
Say all you want about how severely mismatched the Packers were/are to the Patriots, but Sunday night's game was clear evidence of resilience from none other than the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers.
Better yet, you may as well refer to them as the Matt Flynn-led Packers.
We learned a lot about the Packers Sunday night...from a defensive perspective: Tramon Williams, B.J. Raji, and A.J. Hawk held Tom Brady enough to keep things close; and from an offensive perspective: Matt Flynn had great success in his first career start.
Even though the Pack came out on the losing end of a 31-27 suspense-filled battle for the ages, Green Bay's playoff hopes remain in tact at 8-6 looking ahead to the biggest game of the season against the Giants at Lambeau Field.
Still, Sunday night's fall to the Patriots will now serve as a lesson moving forward into the final two weeks of the regular season.
With a collection of positive achievements coming out of Sunday night, here are the 10 most important things we learned from Sunday night.
Special Teams in Need of an Overhaul
When a 313-pound center nearly takes it to the house against your special teams crew, there's definitely some cause for concern.
If you didn't watch the game, or the entire game, you may have missed one of the most embarrassing moments in recent Packers history. When Patriots backup center Dan Connolly took a squib kickoff from Mason Crosby 71 yards downfield, the Packers (hopefully) received a wake-up call.
We've seen this time and time again: the Green Bay offense bringing the Packers back into a crucial game, only to be blown by unnecessary special-teams blunders.
Quite frankly, I'm sick and tired of it.
New England averaged a stunning 31.3 yards per kickoff return Sunday night, while converting with numerous scoring drives because of it.
The fact of the matter is that the Packers have much more than a problem within the special teams unit; they have an obstacle that is now halting the success of the rest of the team.
I wish I could think of some way to fix this, but it's beyond me at this point.
Josh Sitton Continues to Make Strides
Wow. That's all I have to say.
For 60 minutes, Packers tackle Josh Sitton was assigned to block arguably the strongest player in the NFL, Vincent Wilfork.
Not only was he completely taken out of the game by Sitton, but Wilfork was also held to zero sacks on Matt Flynn. Impressive stuff from a guy who was deemed "overrated" by many at the start of the season.
If one player on Green Bay's roster could be pin-pointed as the reason the Packers were in contention last night, Sitton should be credited with it.
John Kuhn Is The Best-Kept Secret in The NFL
If you managed to see the intensity in John Kuhn's eyes, you'd know what I'm talking about.
The bruising Packers halfback/fullback (we're not quite sure what he is) was able to rack up arguably 21 of Green Bay's most important all-purpose yards of the entire ball game Sunday night, proving to Mike McCarthy that he is a weapon that needs to be utilized.
Although Kuhn wasn't able to reach the end zone, his blocking, running, and ability to chip in on critical third-down situations was (and is) second to none.
The all-purpose running back now has 478 all-purpose yards, along with three touchdowns this season.
John Kuhn is the best-kept secret in the NFL.
Brandon Jackson Can Produce When Given Opportunities
Coming literally one yard shy of the century mark Sunday night will finally put Green Bay's doubters to rest.
However, as a team, the Packers achieved their No. 1 priority heading into the matchup with New England: running the ball effectively.
Brandon Jackson managed 99 yards on 22 attempts, all while setting a new single-season high on average yards per rush with 4.5 per attempt. Including the fact Jackson's longest run of the game was on a 12-yard dash for a first down, we all should have gained a plethora of confidence in Jackson's game.
See what happens when a team commits to running the football? They play with teams they're not supposed to play with...which is good for all of us.
Note to Mike McCarthy: thank you.
Mike McCarthy Has a Few Tricks Up His Sleeve...
We always knew Mike McCarthy had the guts, but now he's showed us first-hand.
From the onside kick issued by Mason Crosby at the beginning of the game, it was apparent that McCarty isn't as timid to pull the trigger as we first thought he was.
McCarthy has been on the receiving end of some nasty comments from Packers fans over the past few weeks involving his play-calling strategies and clock-management "issues." I'm here to tell you our coach is doing a fantastic job with it all.
Considering the injuries dealt to the Packers this season, Green Bay should be well in fact out of the playoff race. We couldn't have been more wrong.
With a season-deciding game against the New York Giants before us, the Packers established what they had to Sunday night: running the football.
Say what you want about McCarthy's "decisions," but the guy has done a beautiful job.
Matt Flynn Can Handle The Pressure...
Following up a decent performance against the Lions, Packers back-up quarterback Matt Flynn was able to establish consistency within the passing offense against the New England pass defense, considered to be one of the worst in the league.
Throwing for 251 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception doesn't quite put things into perspective for Flynn, as his leadership and big-game experience finally revealed itself to the entire nation.
A quarterback rating of 100.2 Sunday night should also gain recognition around the league, as the Packers again prove why quarterbacks can succeed under head coach Mike McCarthy.
Although most of his completions were limited to the 10-15 yard range, Flynn didn't shy away from hitting the home run...most notably with his 66-yard touchdown strike to James Jones early on.
Completion of 64.9 percent of his passes also serves as evidence that Flynn is a quality backup who can now step in for Aaron Rodgers whenever he isn't at the top of his game; steadily lifting the weight off of McCarthy's shoulders heading into next season.
The throws were there, and impressed the entire country. However, the Packers offense was unfortunately unable to execute the hurry-up offense with under a minute to go.
Which leads me to my next point...
...But Not in The Last 15 Seconds Of a Crucial Game
Although Flynn turned out to be a shining light in the injury-decimated Green Bay Packers, the third-year backup showed why in fact he is listed as a back-up to Aaron Rodgers.
Throwing one pick-six on Sunday night turned out to be Flynn's only interception of the game (according to the stat sheet), Flynn nearly flushed the Packers' hopes of a comeback with an interception on Green Bay's final drive, but was reversed due to a penalty on the Patriots for illegal hands to the face.
After being granted a second-shot at a game-winning drive, Flynn led the Packers offense down near the New England red zone. However Flynn's inexperience in the hurry-up offense cost Green Bay dearly, as the Packers were not able to get a play off in time to spike/take a shot at the end zone.
You can't help but feel for Flynn, after his unbelievable performance against one of the league's highest scoring offenses.
Blaming Flynn isn't the solution to Green Bay's late-game inabilities. It's just not fair.
The Packers should have never been put in a "game-winning" drive position in the first place, giving light to a few other problems Green Bay must fix sooner than later.
Desmond Bishop Is An Absolute Playmaker
If you haven't heard of him already, you might want to change that.
Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop harassed Tom Brady continuously Sunday night...and while he only managed one sack (for 10 yards), Bishop was a physical force in the Green Bay secondary and on the line of scrimmage.
Recording one sack for a 10-yard loss on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was only a slim reminder of what Bishop is capable of doing.
Bishop (having 60 tackles, three sacks, and one interception this season) will certainly have a spot on the starting roster in 2011 should his impressive streak continue.
Green Bay's Receivers Regain Their Reliability
We've known this for a long time, but I thought now is the perfect time to resurrect the discussion.
After dropping over 10 balls in last week's loss in Detroit, the Green Bay receiving corps showed us all just how valuable of a group they are.
Knowing Matt Flynn would be at the helm of the offense, James Jones, Greg Jennings, and Donald Driver reassured us of their capabilities when the league's best team comes calling.
Jones had the game's biggest play in a 66-yard touchdown reception from Matt Flynn in the early going against the Patriots, finishing with 95 yards and a touchdown to boot.
Jennings didn't have his best statistical game, however his 16-yard touchdown reception was key to keeping the Packers in contention throughout the game.
It's safe to say the receivers are back.
Green Bay Remains in The Playoff Hunt
After everything that has transpired this season: injuries, penalties, miscues, play-calling blunders, time-management issues, etc., the Green Bay Packers are still in serious contention for the playoffs.
I have to be honest, it's been a frustrating year for the green and gold. Not everything has gone our way, obviously. But we must look at the situation at hand, which happens to be the fact that we hold our own destiny for a wild-card berth.
A win next Sunday against the dazed and befuddled New York Giants will give us the tie-breaker against New York heading into the last week of the season.
It's been an amazing season in Green Bay, and by "amazing," I mean both alarming and daunting.
But if there's one thing to take away from Sunday night's loss, it is that this injury-riddled team can play with the best of the best, even with their backup quarterback.
With a plethora of good thoughts coming out of New England, the Packers will be up to the task of defeating the Giants, and controlling their own wild-card destiny.
But by falling just short Sunday night, the Packers now face the following reality: the playoffs start this Sunday. Let's see if they're up to the task.