Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Packers escape in Detroit, now in driver's seat

Following their nailbiter victory in Detroit on Sunday, and the delightful smackdown of Da Bearz in San Francisco last evening, the Green Bay Packers now find themselves atop the NFC North Division. Granted, the Pack and Da Bearz have identical 7-3 records. But, let's not forget: the Packers beat Chicago in their first meeting, so the Pack owns the tiebreaker and thus is technically in first place.

Some pundits and fans alike, let's be honest, are somewhat conflicted about this first-place thing. Realitstically, the Packers are 8-2 except for the replacement referee debacle in Seattle. Could have been 9-1 if not for the second half collapse in Indianapolis. All that aside, and with Detroit fighting for a playoff lifeline and needing this win badly on Sunday, the Packers played what could arguably be one of their worst offensive games of the season. For most of the first 58 minutes of the game it certainly looked and felt like the Packers were going to lose that game. Thankfully, QB Aaron Rodgers and WR Randall Cobb are not among the Packers' list of broken and wounded at the moment and pulled out a miracle TD to put the Packers up by one, 21-20.

Then current head-case kicker, Mason Crosby, hit his one and only field goal of the day to make the final score 24-20. Crosby was one for three on the day...or four, if you count the missed kick hit after a Lions' timeout. McCarthy was adamant after the game that the Packers are sticking with Crosby and would not be bringing kickers in to compete for the job. When your kicker is barely above 50 percent on his made field goals you'd think something would be done. On the other hand, the available alternatives are apparently not viewed as much better. No doubt Crosby has leg strength. But he has to be counted on to make kicks. Right now he kind of reminds you of Tiger Woods struggling with his driver; you know and he knows he's completely capable of hitting a good one...but something in his psyche is doing just enough with his technique to cause these ongoing misses. That last made field goal on Sunday might have been just what he needed. You could see from the replay and the slow motion close up on his face the relief he felt making that kick. You could also see the support he had from his teammates. Let's just hope and pray that Crosby is able to get this figured out and soon.

So the Pack escaped Motor City with a "W," which in this case stands for "Whew!" as well as "Win."

The few bright spots of noted for the offense -- and there were not many -- were the key catches by Jermichael Finley and the hard running of James Starks. In fact, this was a game where the Packers rushed more times than passed; 29 rush attempts vs. 27 pass attempts. When was the last time that happened?

But while the ineptitude of the offense, admitted by Rodgers and everyone on the offense, as well as head coach Mike McCarthy, might be considered the story of the day, I'd have to say the story was really the Packers' defense keeping them in the game. Actually, they even contributed 7 vital points to the victory courtesy of a pick-6 interception return of 72 yards by M.D. Jennings. The youngsters in the secondary have really picked up their games and are making plays. What was a weakness for the Pack last season seems to be turning into a strength right now. And the back up linebackers who are filling in for injured starters are also making an impact. Case in point: Dezman Moses' strip of the ball from Lions' QB Matthew Stafford on a scramble. The ball was recovered by the Packers and helped preserve the Packers' victory. It was huge.

Yes, it was an ugly win. But a win that set up the Packers in the driver's seat of the division for the stretch run. The team has a tough game on the road coming up this Sunday evening at the New York Giants. This has once again become a key rivalry type game, not quite on the level of the 1960's games, but getting there. The Giants over the last few seasons have seemed to stumble in November and get hot in December. The Packers, winners of now five in a row, need this game to keep their momentum going and position themselves for the playoffs. They will likely still be without some key players and that may catch up with them in this game unless they correct some of the issues they had on offense this past Sunday.

We'll keep an eye on things as the week progresses. Stay tuned!