This article will unfold as something that Minnesota Vikings fans will love to read and bask in. Believe me, when I tell you, I’m self-aware and realize that. It is what it is.
This was supposed to be the year for the Green Bay Packers. Sure, last year they reached the NFC Championship, but who really thought they were going to beat the San Francisco 49ers? Who really thought it was a team last year that had solved its problems and was playing better than just about anybody in the league? Right around nobody.
This year was different.
Aaron Rodgers is going to be the MVP, the Packers had the No. 1 rated offense in the NFL. Davante Adams emerged as arguably the best wide receiver in football. The defense had played so well down the stretch and appeared to have solved its past demons. And for the first time in Rodgers’ career, the Packers hosted an NFC Championship at Lambeau Field.
What we got yesterday was the same old Packers that have broken hearts, including their own, just like in years’ past.
Where do we begin? The little mistakes really added up and the Packers couldn’t overcome all of them.
The defense was absolutely atrocious early on. Kevin King couldn’t have mistimed his jump more if he wanted to on a balloon ball of a throw by Tom Brady that ended in a Mike Evans touchdown. Darnell Savage was in perfect position on a third and long early in the second quarter and instead Chris Godwin was able to tip it to himself for a 52-yard reception.
Brady had all day to throw, and while the run defense was tremendous, the defense as a whole couldn’t get off the field on third down. I’m not going to keep piling on by adding King’s play in to this article — he was flat out awful the entire game. Why Mike Pettine and Matt LaFleur didn’t give Tramon Williams an opportunity is beyond me. It literally couldn’t have gone any worse for King, so what do you have to lose putting in Williams? What was the point of signing him then?
While the defense responded big time in the second half, forcing three turnovers, the offense started to sputter. The Packers intercepted Brady three times on three consecutive drives, and the offense only turned it into six total points. At no point did it seem like the Packers were in rhythm.
Something was always off all afternoon.
Rodgers was pressured all game, easily the worst performance by the offensive line all year. Equanimeous St. Brown dropped a wide-open two-point conversion that hit him directly in the numbers, Aaron Jones had two fumbles (one lost), Rodgers was sacked five times, and the Packers came away with three points inside the 10-yard line twice when they needed touchdowns — including Matt LaFleur’s mind-boggling decision to kick a field goal down 31-23.
Let me preface by saying I will go to war any day of the week for LaFleur. He was a tremendous hire, and his offensive scheme has been remarkable to watch come together in just two years. But his decision yesterday to kick a field goal and make a 31-23 game 31-26, when it was 4th and goal at the 8 with 2:08 left, was body-numbing.
There are certain circumstances within a game where you flat-out need to rely on your eyeballs instead of what the analytics say. I’m not sure what the analytics even say to do in that spot because I’ve seen at least three different avenues that all contradict one another, but to kick a field goal in that spot and rely on your defense to not give up a first down to Brady is flat out awful decision-making.
If you want to bring up that Rodgers had a potential lane to the end zone on 3rd and goal, I’m open to having that conversation. But to follow up what ended up being an incomplete pass by taking the three in that spot, I knew the game was sealed and over right at that moment.
The defense had been playing better, but Brady and the Buccaneers didn’t need to go for the jugular on the ensuing drive. All they needed were two first downs — maybe one. He was intercepted due to some calculated chances and a slight overthrow to Evans, and they wouldn’t need to take risks on the drive after the field goal. They literally needed to just move the sticks.
To not roll the dice with the MVP of the league, with the pulse of your team on 4th and goal down 8 with a shade over two minutes left is a decision that will be rightfully questioned for a very long time. You can say “trust your defense to make a stop” all you want. It was not this defense with how they played for most of that game, not with who’s under center on the other side.
The most harsh of realities set in after the Packers lost yesterday. Many, including this guy, had fully invested and gone all the way in with this team this year. It felt different than last year; it almost felt as if they were just destined to win it. We know that’s not how sports works, but there was just a different vibe with this team. And they came up with a result we have become way too accustomed to seeing.
Now, no matter how good teams in future years look for the green and gold, until they actually win it again, it will be near impossible to believe as much as many did this year. There will always be that shred of doubt because of how playoff runs have ended before and how they ended yesterday. This was supposed to be the year, until it wasn’t.