PD Sunday Sampler
Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff between the Green Bay Packers and the Atlanta Falcons was not the game I expected. Not by a long shot. Not even close, in my anticipation or on the scoreboard. And for once, the so-called experts were right, with many of the national media picking the Packers over the #1 seeded Falcons.
Regular visitors to these pages will know that on Friday I predicted a Packers defeat, positing that Green Bay would fail to deliver the perfect game they would need to win and ultimately mirror their close regular season loss in Atlanta. The truly amazing part is that neither came to pass. Well, I kind of have to take that back. The Packers certainly came to pass, as they have most of the season, but more on that later.
No, the Packers didn’t play the perfect game. It started early when receiver Greg Jennings got caught from behind after a long catch and run, allowing a Falcon defender to poke the ball out resulting in a fumble that led directly to an Atlanta touchdown. Couple that with a record-setting 102 yard kickoff return for another Falcon TD and Packer fans recognized all too well the gaffes that repeatedly caused Green Bay to lose games that it should have won during the regular season.
The key difference is that the Packers responded immediately and decisively to the Falcons’ early scores. This game was quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ resounding counterpoint to the ridiculous notion that he isn’t an elite signal caller in the NFL because he hadn’t won a playoff game coming into the season (I’m looking at you, Colin Cowherd!). Rodgers was magnificent on this night, setting a team playoff record for completion percentage by going 31-36 for 366 yards and 3 TDs. Just for good measure, he ran for another one, too.
And it wasn’t as if he had a secure pocket. As he has all season, Rodgers continually kept plays alive with his feet in order to find his receivers downfield. In turn, Rodgers got contributions from all his wideouts. James Jones atoned for his drops in earlier games by wrestling a TD catch away from Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes. Jordy Nelson and Donald Driver each had over 75 yards in receptions with Nelson adding another TD. Even Jennings recovered from his initial fumble with over 100 yards. The Packers proved once again that they can be effective with just the illusion of a running game; rookie tailback James Starks managed just 66 yards on the ground but coach Mike McCarthy still called his number for 25 carries.
Not to be outdone, the Packers had their share of heroes on the other side of the ball, too. Green Bay’s defense turned Atlanta QB Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan into Matty “Ice-Cold”, limiting him to just 189 yards passing while harassing him throughout the game. The Packers constant pressure resulted in four sacks and two Tramon Williams’ interceptions, one of which prevented a touchdown while the other was returned for one just before halftime. That play, on which Falcons head coach Mike Smith inexplicably eschewed a 52 yard field goal with only 10 seconds and no timeouts left, may have been the turning point in the game; changing what could have been a 4 point Falcon deficit into a 14 point Packer advantage going into the locker room.
In the regular season game, Atlanta punished Green Bay’s defense with bruising tailback Michael Turner. This time, defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ defense put the clamps on him. In fact, none of the Falcons normal playmakers were much of a factor in this game. While Turner and WR Roddy White each scored touchdowns, they were limited to 39 and 57 yards respectively. Notable for his absence was veteran pro ball tight end Tony Gonzalez, who was held to one late catch for only 7 yards. That was especially telling as the Packers this season had been vulnerable to tight ends in the middle of the field.
So the Packers move on while the #1 NFC seed goes home early for the 3rd time in the last 4 years. In dispatching the Falcons so handily, the Packers served notice on the league that despite all the misfortune that has befallen them they are still a force to be reckoned with in the NFL
The concept of karma came to the fore in the sports world this week, owing largely to LeBron James’ invocation of that judgment against his former team in Cleveland after the Cavliers got pasted by the Los Angeles Lakers. Some fans closer to home even extended the notion to Vikings QB Brett Favre, who’s sister was arrested this week in Mississippi.
Sports fans, and apparently athletes as well, often like to point to karma whenever an antagonist realizes a comeuppance. Personally, I’m not certain how much it really applies as it usually depends on one’s point of view. Many times what we view as ‘karma’ is just the culmination of one or more bad decisions or choices.
On the other hand, James might want to be more circumspect in the future when referring to karma. After his little Twitter pronouncement, his Miami “Heatles” went on to lose to the lowly L.A. Clippers en route to a 3 game losing streak that included ankle injuries to both James and teammate Chris Bosh. Maybe there’s something to karma after all.
RANDOM SAMPLINGS: If you’re looking for a way to beat the Marquette Warr, er, Golden Eagles, put them on the foul line. MU’s best free throw shooter among its regular rotation is Jimmy Butler at 79%. By contrast, the Wisconsin Badgers shoot over 80% as a team at the charity stripe………..The University of Michigan football team, after firing coach Rich Rodriguez and whiffing on his first two potential replacements in former UM QB Jim Harbaugh and LSU’s Les Miles, ended up with San Diego St. coach Brady Hoke. So, after practically running former coach Lloyd Carr out of Ann Arbor, the Wolverines end up with one of his former assistants. Hoke, who previously coached at Ball St., has had 3 winning seasons in 8 as a head coach. He could wind up being Michigan’s answer to former UW coach Don Morton. And you’d have to think that’s a question they wouldn’t want asked………..Packer fans were all “a-Twitter” this week when Oakland Raiders cornerback Namdi Asomugha opined that he’d like to play with his buddy Charles Woodson in Green Bay. Due to a contract glitch, Asomugha is an impending free agent. As the Packers clearly have learned this season, you can never have too many good players but something tells me Asomugha’s desire would quickly turn to disdain once he saw how little the Packers would offer in relation to what he’s currently making………..Philadelphia Eagle’s quarterback Kevin Kolb has essentially taken a ‘play me or trade me’ stance if the team commits to veteran Michael Vick. On the surface you’d have to question Kolb’s resume for taking such a position but there are probably enough teams in the league desperate for a QB that the Eagles will get some offers for him………..Isn’t it funny that you rarely hear anyone refer to Favre as ‘former Packers quarterback’ anymore?……….As CBS’ draft expert Chad Rueter pointed out on Twitter this week, it’s interesting that the Denver Broncos hired a coach from the only team that had a worse record last season. But, to be fair, the Carolina Panthers weren’t really committed to winning behind John Fox for the last couple of years………..Former Milwaukee Brewers’ closer Trevor Hoffman officially announced his retirement this week to take a front office job with his hometown San Diego Padres. Hoffman, who deserves to be in the MLB Hall of Fame if only for the class with which he handles himself, is probably ready to stay home for awhile after a 20+ year career. But with the example he provided for the Brewers’ bullpen, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him become a pitching coach down the road………..Finally, congratulations to UW-Green Bay women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant. His 23rd ranked Phoenix provided him with his 100th win at UWGB with yesterday’s win over UIC. Bollant’s teams accomplished that feat in only his fourth year at the helm, becoming the quickest to that milestone in the history of this solid program.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the Packers-supplied euphoria of the rest of the weekend.