Being a fan of an NFL team is like riding the world’s greatest roller coaster. It’s thrilling, scary, unpredictable, and exhilarating. But the ride usually ends far too quickly.
That’s why there’s nothing quite like the NFL. One moment, your team is 3-6 and staring at a trio of opponents that could easily drop you to 3-9 and have you studying tape of the elite tackles in the ’24 draft class. The next moment, you’re 6-6, in the 7th spot in the NFC playoffs, with a 67% chance to reach the postseason.
I was lucky enough to attend the game, my only visit to Lambeau this season. The night was magical from start to finish: From the snowflakes falling as we made our way to the stadium to the beer flowing at the tailgate party to the 60 minutes of exceptional football, the Pack delivered.
Think about where this team is right now. The Green Bay Packers expected to have David Bakhtiari protecting Love’s blindside at the start of the season. Aaron Jones was supposed to be the focal point of the offense. And they had a pair of stud corners in Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas to deal with guys like Justin Herbert, Jared Goff, and Mahomes – their last three opponents. None of those guys have factored into the equation this season, and two are no longer on the team.
Six weeks ago, the Packers couldn’t get anything going in the first half of games. Now, they’re jumping on teams from the start. The opening seven-plus minute drive that tight end Ben Sims punctuated with his first career touchdown was an exceptional opening statement. It was a weird first half, with each team really only getting the ball twice.
The Pack’s defense was the difference, stiffening in the red zone and forcing two field goals. Opponents had sacked Mahomes only 14 times all season. But Green Bay planted him three times in the first half, all in the red zone. Rookie Lukas Van Ness pocketed one of them, his first since Week 1.
There were so many huge plays in the fourth quarter, beyond the embarrassing officiating we saw in the closing moments, which I’ll get to in a bit. The fourth-and-one moonball that landed in Romeo Doub’s hands. The touchdown pass two plays later – a laser from Love and a fantastic contested catch by Christian Watson. Keisean Nixon’s amazing interception with the Chiefs down five and driving. And Anders Carlson’s 48-yard field goal in the final minute that boosted the lead to eight.
As for the officiating down the stretch, there were two horrible calls/no calls, in my opinion. The personal foul penalty on Jonathan Owens for hitting Mahomes out of bounds was a joke. But the greatest player on the planet gets those calls, like we saw in the playoffs last year. Carrington Valentine should have been flagged for pass interference on Marquez Valdes-Scantling, which would have set up the Chiefs inside the five.
Kansas City would still have had to score and convert the two-point conversion in the final 15 seconds to force overtime. Still, they’d have the chance, and it is Mahomes, after all. On the final play, everyone gets bumped on Hail Marys. You don’t call it unless it’s egregious, and it wasn’t.
2023 was seen as a transition year for the organization after stretching the salary cap to get every last drop out of the Aaron Rodgers era. They trotted out the youngest roster in the league. See what you have in Love and the young pass catchers. See if all of the draft capital on defense can start to figure things out. Reset at kicker and punter with rookies. Evaluate the roster and use five top 100 picks next spring to infuse it with even more young talent.
But these Packers aren’t ready to write off 2023 yet. And the main reason is that they have a young quarterback who is becoming a star before our eyes. Love has thrown three touchdowns with no picks in the last two games and four times this season. Only Brock Purdy and Dak Prescott have done that. His confidence is growing each week.
This team is starting to believe. With two straight impressive performances in stand-alone games with the world watching, the narrative is becoming ‘this is a team you don’t want to face in the playoffs.’ They’re not there yet. But none of their remaining opponents have winning records, and Matt LaFleur is 16-0 in December, so you do the math.
The Packers are still pretty green, but the gold is starting to shine through.