"And that's the Dagger!"
It's a phrase commonly used by Wayne Larrivee whenever a game seems to be out of reach. And with three quarters of the 2008 Packers season in the books, I think it might be appropriate to use that term after their 35-31 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
This was a game that Packers all but needed to win if they were going to keep pace in the NFC North, especially with the Bears and Vikings facing each other later in the day.
Basically, a loss would put the Pack two games behind in their division, a deficit which would be pretty tough to recover from with just four games left to play.
Things could have started out better for the Packers, who found themselves down 21-10 at halftime, courtesy of two DeAngelo Williams touchdowns and another by Jake Delhomme. But, in a reversal from last week's loss to the Saints, the Packers made the most of their offensive opportunities in the second half.
After already finding Donald Driver in the first half, Aaron Rodgers found both Donald Lee and Greg Jennings in the second. The Packers added a two-point conversion to rally from an 11-point deficit, to being tied at 28 with three minutes to go.
And that's when things got interesting.
The Packers were driving better than I've seen them drive down the field all season late in the fourth quarter, as they were trying both to take the lead as well as take time off the clock. Brandon Jackson, who filled in effectively after an injury to Ryan Grant, helped get the Packers all the way down to the Panthers' one-yard line.
But on three straight running attempts, the Packers were unable to get the ball into the end zone.
Looking back, perhaps the Packers should have tried to hit somebody in the corner of the end zone, a play which had previously worked twice in this one. Perhaps they should have just passed the ball in general. But instead, on a 3rd-and-1 with the season on the line, Mike McCarthy decided to hand the ball off to John Kuhn. End result: A 4th-and-goal with just under two minutes to play.
This was one of the more interesting experiences I've ever had a Packer game, as I was lucky enough to attend this one. Everyone was kind of perplexed in unison, asking their neighbors in front and behind them, "What do we do?"
And what do you do, really? A tie game with two minutes to go, and you have two options. Do you go for it on 4th-and-1, leaving the other team at their own one-yard line if you can't punch it in? Or do you take the points that you've earned, and rely on your defense to preserve a three-point lead?
Normally, I would say take the points. That puts you in the lead, and you then control your own destiny. But judging the mood of the crowd, and the tempo of the game, I would have elected to go for it.
I think the crowd was probably 50/50 on this, and it must have been a difficult decision for McCarthy to make. Especially since the whispers calling for his head are intensifying, even though I think they are a tad premature.
Mikey Mac elected to take the points, and put it in the hands of his defense. Can't really blame him either way. So with just under two minutes to go, in a game where Aaron Rodgers strapped the team to his back and carried them, it was now up to the defense.
The two guys who had beat us all game where the two guys who beat us on this drive. Mark Jones returned the ball to midfield, after averaging nearly 40 yards per kick return in the game. And then Steve Smith made his second acrobatic catch that put the Panthers down to the one \[yard line, and pretty much sealed the deal.
What's odd is that in a game where someone rushed for four touchdowns against the Packers defense, it was a wide receiver and a kick returner that provided the dagger.
With their final chance, the Packers couldn't pull off the miracle drive to win the game. As good as Rodgers played on Sunday, the one thing he is not yet is a clutch quarterback, and he threw an interception to seal the Packers fate.
Despite how big of an Aaron Rodgers homer I am, and how well he played today, I couldn't help but have the feeling that a game-killing interception was inevitable.
In the end, another home loss for the Packers, who fall to 5-7 on the season. The best case scenario for the Packers now becomes a 9-7 season where they somehow get enough help to win the NFC North and host a playoff game. That's the best we can do at this point.
With games against Houston, Jacksonville, Chicago, and Detroit, it's definitely achievable. It's achievable the Packers can win out and go 9-7.
And even though both the Bears and Vikings have collapsed before to help us sneak in the playoffs, for some reason it just doesn't feel as likely to happen this year.
No matter what the Packers do, they are no where close to controlling their own destiny. And with four games to go, it's not quite the dagger, but it's pretty damn close.
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