If you aren’t a fan of the Green Bay Packers, Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers proved to be a pretty entertaining contest.  For those of us who are, though, the 37-36 last second loss encapsulated all that is both good and bad with this year’s edition of our favorite NFL team.

That the difference ultimately proved to be a missed 34 yard field goal by Packers would be kicker Mason Crosby in the first half should have come as no surprise.  We’ve known for some time that this game was coming; we just didn’t know when and it’s no less frustating now that it’s happened.  The only saving grace was that it hasn’t cost them a playoff game……yet. 

Oh sure, Crosby’s makeable miss wasn’t the only thing that went wrong.  The statistical number 2 defense in the league shouldn’t be giving up 37 points and 537 yards of total offense, not to mention a game winning 86 yard touchdown drive with 2 minutes left in the game.  You realize it’s an off day for the defense when even cornerback Charles Woodson struggled.  And that doesn’t begin to address the meager contribution of nickel/dime back (an accurate valuation if ever there was one) Jarrett Bush.  The Packers usual afflictions of dropped passes and penalties also reared their heads at the most inopportune times.

When I saw that bruising rookie fullback Quinn Johnson was active for the game in place of nominal starter John Kuhn, I foolishly took that as an indication that the Packers would make an effort to establish the ground game.  As it turned out, nothing could have been further from the truth as the Packers ran the ball only 12 times all game.  That meant that they were destined to get into a shooting match with the Steelers; probably not the wisest course of action once it became apparent that Green Bay was having trouble slowing Pittsburgh’s offensive attack.

To their credit, the Packers managed to get themselves back in the game after falling behind by 10 points late in the third quarter.  Quarterback Aaron Rodgers overcame the early dropped passes and his own inaccuracy to throw 3 second half touchdowns en route to 383 yards in the air with no interceptions.  Unfortunately on this day, that performance paled in comparison to Steeler’s QB Ben Roethlisberger, who managed to avoid the Packers pressure just enough to provide the definitive drive of the game.   Starting from his own 14 yard line with just over 2 minutes left in the game, Roethlisberger was able to escape the Packers pass rush and take advantage of their inexperience in the secondary culminating in the winning 19 yard TD pass to wideout Mike Wallace.

An objective look at the schedule at the start of the season would have suggested that this was a game the Packers were likely to lose.  But, make no mistake, this game was there for the taking.  That they came up short in the manner they did should at least inspire a re-evaluation of some of their defensive packages.  The linebackers repeatedly got caught in coverage mismatches and even nose tackle B.J. Raji was burned on a completion; a position he should never occupy in the first place.

Despite the missed opportunity, the Packers still maintain the inside track for the NFC Wild Card spot.  At 9-5, another win should be enough for them to qualify for the post-season.  That makes next Sunday’s home game with Seattle akin to a must win.  Green Bay should have no problem taking care of business against the Seahawks, but it will require a better defensive game plan than what they displayed against the Steelers.

 

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