PD Sunday Sampler 12/18/11: Packer Perfection
The debate has been audible for much of the season, the decibel level increasing in correspondence with every win by the Green Bay Packers. This week, after losing starting wide receiver Greg Jennings to a (regular) season-ending knee injury, the volume was ‘turned up to 11′. The question: Whether the Packers should expend every effort to accomplish something that’s never been done before or to hold something in reserve for an inevitable playoff run. The Packers, currently 13-0 with three very winnable games remaining on their schedule, are on pace to set an NFL record for consecutive wins as well as completing an NFL season with a perfect record. The only other team to realize that feat was the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who needed “only” 17 wins in the days of a 14 game regular season schedule. The Packers already have won 19 consecutive games dating back to last season and could set a franchise record for road wins in a season with a victory today at Kansas City.
For the record (no pun intended), I don’t believe it’s a question in the minds of the Packers themselves. They haven’t necessarily openly embraced the concept of a perfect season, preferring instead to focus on the game at hand. But they haven’t shied away from it, either, giving every indication that their intent is clearly to keep on winning.
Many fans, however, appear nervous at the idea of a perfect season, pointing to the example of the 2007 New England Patriots, who rolled through the regular season and the playoffs without a blemish only to have their season ultimately spoiled with a loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. Ironically, Green Bay could easily have been the team to face the Pats in that game, losing the NFC Championship to that same Giants team on quarterback Brett Favre’s overtime interception in the icon’s last “home” game at Lambeau Field.
There is another school of thought concerning this undertaking as exemplified by the 2009 Indianapolis Colts. The Colts began that campaign 14-0 before head coach Jim Caldwell decided to begin resting starters in anticipation of the playoffs, much to the chagrin of Colts’ QB Peyton Manning. The ‘rested’ Colts ended up losing their final two regular season games, but did advance to the Super Bowl. As it happened, though, they too ended up losing the Big Game, in their case to the New Orleans Saints.
The point is, there are no guarantees when it comes to the pursuit of perfection and championships. The quests for a perfect season and a title aren’t automatically mutually exclusive. The sample size in the history of such endeavors is too small to suggest any discernible course of action. Certainly it would be a huge disappointment to lose a key starter to injury trying to win what some consider ‘meaningless’ games, possibly causing the Packers to lose a playoff game they might otherwise have won. They could even lose a player to injury in practice. On the other hand, they could err on the side of caution as did the ’09 Colts and still come up short in the same manner.
The Packers, under head coach Mike McCarthy, have wisely chosen to focus on that which they can control-trying to win the upcoming game. It’s that very focus that allowed them to win the last Super Bowl and has gotten them where they are. To dial back on that now corrupts the message and risks costing them all the momentum they’ve built up to this point. To my way of thinking, that defeats the purpose. Green Bay shouldn’t need Jennings to defeat the remainder of their scheduled opponents. Better to keep the pedal to the metal and try to maintain their pace. The Packers have been so dominant for most of the streak that this approach could still permit them to pick their spots and rest players as circumstances allow.
The current edition of the Packers has an opportunity to join Vince Lombardi’s version in stamping themselves as one of the greatest teams of all time. In the absence of any assurances to the contrary, that in itself should be enough to justify staying the course. If something happens to derail them, chalk it up to the fortunes of the game.
Speaking of historical winning streaks, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater continued their own in winning the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl Friday night to secure their 3rd consecutive NCAA Division III title. It was the 7th straight year that they faced Mount Union (OH) in the final with the teams splitting the previous 6 contests. In the process, the Warhawks extended their winning streak to 45 games dating back to the 2008 title game when they lost to Mount Union.
The game itself wasn’t very exciting until near the end as the respective defenses held serve. For most of the game, UW-W star running back Levell Coppage single-handedly outgained the entire Purple Raider offense, but they were hard earned yards. The match turned in the third quarter when the Warhawk defense stripped Mount Union QB Matt Piloto of the football in his own end zone. Whitewater recovered the ball on the one yard line and Coppage scored on the next play, giving his team a 10-0 lead. From there, the Warhawks held on for a 13-10 victory.
Props to coach Lance Leipold and his program on a magnificent run.
To the surprise of virtually no one, the Milwaukee Brewers confirmed their reported interest in former Chicago Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez by signing the free agent to a 3 year contract. The acquisition fills a clear need for a proven bat with the impending departure of first baseman Prince Fielder and comes on the heels of last weekend’s revelation that National League MVP Ryan Braun faces a possible 50 game suspension for violation of MLB’s prohibited substance policy. That little bit of news may not have forced the Brewers’ hand but it sure didn’t do anything to lessen the sense of urgency. Even assuming Braun successfully appeals his suspension, they’ll need a healthy Ramirez to keep teams from pitching around him in the batting order.
Some have suggested that GM Doug Melvin could have made better use of his limited resources than spending them on the declining Ramirez, but it’s much easier to speculate about who might be obtainable in a trade than it is to have the pieces in place to actually make one. From what I can see, Ramirez was the best option available to Milwaukee in the current market. If nothing else, Ramirez seems to be a better bet to help than shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who re-signed with Philadelphia. Ramirez said he chose Milwaukee because he saw them as his best chance to win, which is interesting since one of the other teams reportedly in line for Ramirez’s services was the Anaheim/Los Angeles/California Angels. Of course, having already signed high profile free agents Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to lucrative contracts, it’s unlikely that the Angels offered Ramirez as much as he stands to make in Milwaukee.
In a related move, the Brewers then traded last year’s third baseman Casey McGehee to the Pittsburgh Pirates. That’s a pretty good indication that the Brewers are committed to giving longtime prospect Mat Gamel first crack at replacing Fielder at first base. McGehee probably sealed his fate by declining a contract extension prior to last season but I would have preferred that they kept him as insurance at first, as Gamel has yet to prove that he’s anything more than a “4-A player”. McGehee had two solid seasons in Milwaukee before slumping last season and there is every possibility he could rebound in Pittsburgh. Frankly, I hope he does as he seems to be a decent guy, but that could also make the Brewers look foolish for giving up on him too soon. At least Melvin was able to bolster the bullpen as the McGehee deal netted veteran reliever Jose Veres in return.
RANDOM SAMPLINGS: The Wisconsin Badgers basketball team scored victories over UWM and Savannah State this week. Rob Jeter’s Panthers squad gave UW all they could handle after falling behind early. But senior Jordan Taylor showed signs of coming out of his offensive slump, hitting a key 3-point bucket against UWM and going 5 for 9 from the field against Savannah………..If the Denver Broncos can stay with the New England Patriots today, even I might start to believe in “Tebow Time”. But those lauding Tebow for all his comeback victories should also examine why his team is so often behind………..Apparently recently released Chicago Bears’ receiver Sam Hurd got a little overcreative in trying to supplement his income during the NFL lockout………..The wife of former Cardinals’ slugger Albert Pujols went on a Christian radio station in St. Louis this week and complained about the organization’s lack of committment to her husband, as evidenced by their completely unacceptable offer of “only” 5 years and $130 million. I’m always fascinated when athletes who openly proclaim themselves as Christians appear determined to get every last dollar they can. I’m no theologian, but that doesn’t coincide with the image of Christ that was presented to me in Sunday school………..In the wake of the post-game basket-brawl between Xavier and Cincinnati last week (which brought an unfortunate connotation to the game’s billing as the “Crosstown Shootout”), Musketeers coach Chris Mack defended the character of point guard Tu Holloway by saying that he’d trust Holloway to watch his kids on a Friday night. I wonder if Mack’s wife shares that confidence………..After an 8 year grand jury investigation of Barry Bonds that resulted in a conviction on only one count of obstruction of justice, Bonds was sentenced to 2 years probation, 250 hours of community service, a $4,000 fine and 30 days of home confinement. Given that Bonds lives in a 15,000 sq. ft. home with 6 bedrooms, 10 baths, a gym and a swimming pool, that basically amounts to getting forced to spend a month in a resort. The kicker? Bonds is appealing the verdict………..The New York Giants’ Eli Manning took a lot of flak earlier this year when he characterized himself as an “elite” quarterback. I may even have landed some shots myself. But the fact is, Manning is doing his best to live up to it, leading a number of comeback wins and becoming the first QB since Dan Marino to have three 400-yard passing games in one season………..It certainly hasn’t been a banner year for college football (or law enforcement, for that matter) in the state of Pennsylvania. Of course, there was the Sandusky scandal at Penn State; now comes word that QB Matt McGloin got into a fight with a teammate yesterday after practice and suffering a possible concussion. Elsewhere in the keystone state, Todd Graham, the first year coach at Pitt, resigned to take the job at Arizona State. Unfortunately, Pitt’s loss could also be UW’s loss as they might look to Badgers offensive coordinator Paul Chryst as a replacement…………Speaking of Sandusky, the proclamations from his lawyers just get more and more bizarre. First, Joey (Good Time) Amendola characterized the upcoming trial as ‘bigger than the ’86 Miami/Penn St. game and then another attorney attempted to spin Sandusky’s shower antics as trying to instruct his kids in the value of good hygiene………..If you haven’t already done so, check out Tyler Dunne’s excellent profile of injured Packers safety Nick Collins earlier this week in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel ( http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/injured-packer-safety-collins-hoping-to-return-cs3f2bi-135712313.html ). It’s well worth the time and goes a long way toward explaining the impact of Collins’ absence from the defense.
Thanks for reading; enjoy the rest of your Sunday. GO (PERFECT) PACK!!!!