Monday, October 29, 2012

Packers win ugly over Jaguars

In what can only be described as one of their ugliest performances of the season -- and there have admittedly been more than a few this year -- the Green Bay Packers somehow managed to beat a woeful 1-5 Jacksonville Jaguars team that the Pack made look like Super Bowl contenders.

Yes, it was that bad.

Installed as prohibitive 15-point favorites, the Packers hung on to win by nine points, 24-15. The key to the victory, as it finally turned out, was a blocked punt which the Packers recovered in the endzone for a touchdown, as well as a poor decision early on by the Jags to go for the 2-point conversion after their lone TD.

The Packers again had no rushing attack, and QB Aaron Rodgers was left to find covered receivers most of the afternoon. On those occasions where no one could get open, Rodgers had to endure pressure and sacks, including one which led to a fumble in the redzone and a touchdown by the Jags (mentioned above).

The day was so bad that K Mason Crosby, who hadn't missed a field goal inside 50 yards all season (although he has had some wild misses from outside 50) dinged one off an upright for a miss from inside 35 yards...normally a chip shot for him. That's how you can always tell things are going kattywampus (look it up).

Fortunately for me and you, dear readers, I vented most of my frustration with this game in real-time via Twitter (@packfansunited). Thus, not much more to say at the moment. Look to Packers uber-beat writer, Bob McGinn, for the gruesome details and analysis in his report.

The best that can be said about the game yesterday is that it was a win for the Packers. In the end, that's what matters. Although the manner in which the team is playing -- fairly regularly, it seems -- doesn't bode well at this moment. They have lots of things to get straightened out at the halfway point of the season...things that they shouldn't have to get straightened out at the halfway point of the season. The Packers also have a growing list of injured players and the bye will do them lots of good. It can't come quickly enough. But they have to get through the Cardinals first.

The Cardinals come into Lambeau next Sunday on a short week, playing the 49ers tonight. They aren't great, but the Jags are worse and took the Pack to the brink of a loss. Unless the Packers play with much more urgency and passion than they did yesterday they could well go into their bye week at 5-4 instead of 6-3. Given the way Da Bearz ( does that happen???) are also winning ugly, the Packers need to stay close. They can't let one slide at home to the Cards.

More on the Packers and Cards coming throuhgout the week.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Packers vs. Jaguars preview and prediction

Despite perhaps having more players injured than at any time since 2010, a beat-up Green Bay Packers team has a few things going in its favor today: they are playing at home for the first time in nearly a month, and the 1-5 Jacksonville Jaguars are the opponent.

Now, in any given game...blah blah blah. If this is that kind of game, Packer fans, we should all fill our pockets with rocks and walk into the nearest body of water available. The Packers are favored by 15 points at the time of this writing. Yowza! Oddsmakers don't just lay out that kind of spread for no reason.

Jags' offensive woes
So what might at least one of those reasons be? How about second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert? Since trading a second round pick in the 2011 draft to Washington for the right to move up from the No. 16 to No. 10 slot to pick the Missouri QB, and giving him the starting role in game 3 last season, Gabbert and the Jags have gone 5-15. He isn't very likely to run although can when flushed from the pocket, but he is more of a pocket passer. There are questions as to whether he sees the pass rush well. He was also struggling this week with a shoulder problem sustained in last weekend's game. All in all, this should set the Packers up for a sack marathon today.

Now, LT Eugene Monroe is regarded as the Jags' best O-lineman. Generally, we can expect LB Clay Matthews to be lined up against him most of the day. It will be a good match up on athleticism but Matthews strength and speed give him the definite advantage in this match up. As for the rest of the Jacksonville offensive line...well, if the Packers don't pick up more than a handful of sacks today something is very wrong.

As for the Jags' offensive weapons, there aren't many. Rookie WR Justin Blackmon hasn't shown much yet depsite being a No. 5 overall draft pick. But the biggest blow to the Jaguars' offense was the loss last Sunday of RB Maurice Jones-Drew, who suffered a major foot injury. He will be replaced by Rashad Jennings who is just an average running back at best.

The Jags have scored 88 points in the six games they've played so far. Their one win on the season came in Week 3 when they beat the Colts in Indianapolis, 22-17 (there's that "In any given game..." thing again!). The Jaguars' offense ranks dead last in points scored, passing yards, and total yards gained. Its defense ranks near the bottom in all related categories.

Without the threat of a legitimate running game, a so-so offensive line, an average set of receivers, and a second-year QB who is still trying to figure out the pro game and will be under pressure all day, the Jags are justifiably two-touchdown-plus underdogs coming into Lambeau Field.

Packers problems today
The biggest problems the Packers will have today are themselves, namely in the way of injuries. WR Greg Jennings is out for an undetermined length of time as he has opted to have surgery for his lingering groin problem. FB John Kuhn is out today with a hamstring problem. LB Nick Perry is out with a knee injury sustained in last week's game, as are CB Sam Shields (ankle) and CB/S Charles Woodson with a broken collarbone. WR Jordy Nelson is listed as questionable with a hamstring problem that developed during the course of this week; my guess is he will not play today. On the positive front, the Packers will see NT B.J. Raji return to the D-line...that's a great thing for the Pack and not so great for whoever is across the line from him.

The injuries to the linebacking corps, defensive backfield, and receivers open up opportunities for other players to step in. I think that will be very much the case today for the Pack. This squad is nothing if not deep. The depth of the Packers backups, combined with the skill of the starters, will be more than enough to handle the Jaguars. And, of course, there is also Aaron Rodgers. 'Nuff said.

I'm calling this one Packers 41 - Jaguars 13.

Say it with me: Go Pack Go!!!

Monday, October 22, 2012

No blues for the Packers in St. Louis

The Green Bay Packers did Sunday what they usually do when playing in St. Louis: win. The Pack beat the Rams by a score of 30-20 and it really was not even that close. The Packers dominated on both sides of the ball, despite moments defensively where an opposing team with more weapons might have lit the Packers up. More on that later.

Woodson's out for extended time
For now, the Packers are 4-3 with the Jaguars and Cardinals coming into Green Bay over the next two weekends. And just when you thought the Packers escaped the major injury bug -- although DE Mike Neal went out with a leg injury during the first half -- we learned today that future Hall of Fame defensive back, Charles Woodson, broke his collarbone with less than three minutes left in the game; he'll be out at least a month, with most reports putting it at six weeks. Ouch! In more ways than one.

If Woodson can come back in a month, his absence might not be missed all that much over this stretch, although losing a veteran of Woodson's caliber is a blow for whatever time he's not on the field. But in addition to the Jags and Cards over the next two weeks, the third week -- ninth week overall of the NFL season -- is the Packers' bye week. Coming out of the bye, the Packers travel to Detroit to take on the Lions. It would be great to have Woodson back then. But it will be even more important the following week when the Packers travel to New York to play the Giants. Woodson's presence on the field -- even if not for the entire game -- would be huge. On the other hand, if he's indeed out for six weeks, he'll not only miss the aforementioned games but also a crucial division game against the ViQueens. If Woodson's out for the full six weeks, he won't return until the Pack's second game against the Detroit Lions on Dec. 9. That's a long stretch for a young defensive backfield to cover on its own, but that group is a talented one as we're already seeing. M.D. Jennings or rookie Jerron McMillian or a combination of both will be called upon when the Packers are in their base defense to fill Woodson's spot.

Rodgers and receivers roll
While credit must be given to head coach Mike McCarthy for sticking with the running game despite Alex Green not being able to get untracked (20 carries for 35 yards), it was once again QB Aaron Rodgers and his receivers who dazzled. With starter Greg Jennings still sidelined with his groin injury, Rodgers threw for three touchdowns against the Rams, two to the amazing Randall Cobb and one to Jordy Nelson. Once again, James Jones was also one of Rodgers' preferred targets on the day. Despite being pressured a fair amount on Sunday, Rodgers was able to move in -- and out -- of the pocket to buy time and make some amazing throws. He's looking very much like he's getting his MVP mojo back, throwing for nine touchdowns in the past two games. Rodgers was 30 for 37 and 342 yards. Oh yeah.

Defense bends, doesn't break
The Packers' defense had a better showing against the Texans last weekend, but they were able to carry some of that new-found confidence into St. Louis. Despite appearances, the Pack held RB Steven Jackson in check, limiting him to 57 yards. Receivers too often were running open, and that's something the Packers will have to correct going forward. And they will.

I could give more of a recap but why do that when my favorite Packers sportswriter has already done a really great job. Check that report out here.

Then, stay tuned through the week and weekend. We'll be back with more about the upcoming game against the Jaguars.

Go Pack Go.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Packers vs. Rams: preview and prediction

Coming off their much needed victory against the Houston Texans last Sunday evening, the Green Bay Packers make a stop in St. Louis today as the third of their back-to-back-to-back road trips on the schedule. Sitting at 3-3, the Pack has yet to win back-to-back games. Today offers an opportunity to get on a roll and go into their bye a few weeks down the road at 6-3.

But first, the Rams. Also sitting at 3-3, but one could -- and I will -- make the argument that these are very different 3-3 teams facing each other. The oddsmakers apparently have a similar view as they have the Pack installed as 5.5-point favorites. Granted, the Packers will be without five key starters in this game: WR Greg Jennings, NT B.J. Raji, LB Nick Perry, CB Sam Shields and LB D.J. Smith. Note that four of these five are on the defense. For a unit that seemed to just be getting its mojo in gear, it's not ideal. The Packers have become particularly light in the linebacking corps; don't forget that Smith was starting in place of the injured Desmond Bishop. So look to Brad Jones and Robert Francois to plug in the gap. Replacing Sam Shields will likely be Casey Hayward, the rookie who had two interceptions in last week's game and already has three on the season in a backup role. He always seems to be around the ball, and may have opportunities again today, particularly if the Pack's front seven can hold down the Rams' running game and then create the kind of pressure on third-year QB Sam Bradford the way they did against Matt Schaub. Also look for CB Davon House to get some action today for the first time this season. He was showing great promise in camp before being injured.

On the offensive side of the ball for the Packers, with the exception of Jennings, QB Aaron Rodgers will have his full complement of receivers. James Jones seems to be finally rounding into the player that everyone thought he could be. Jordy Nelson had his belated season coming out party last week with three TD catches after only one in the preceding five games. Randall Cobb continues to emerge as a threat on many levels. RB Alex Green will again get the start. Green did a servicable job last week keeping defenses honest and thus opening up the passing game for Rodgers and crew. If he can continue to do that this week, the offense gets a boost. If not, there are really not many options for the Packers at running back right now, especially with the season-ending injury to backup RB Brandon Saine...and of course, Cedric Benson was lost the week before for at least a couple months if not the season. That pretty much leaves James Starcks as the primary replacement, and he hasn't seen much action at all this season, nor can he seem to avoid nagging injuries and stay on the field when given the chance. The Packers did claim RB Johnny White off waivers from Buffalo this week, but don't expect him to probably even be active today.

The Packers' offensive line will have its collective hands full with a very good defensive front on the part of the Rams, led by Chris Long. The Rams have also drafted DE Robert Quinn (2011) and DT Michael Brockers (2012) to help bolster the D-line. Given how well the Packers' offensive line handled JJ Watt et al in Houston, if they can reprise that effort today, Rodgers could have another big day. Remember: this is another dome game and Rodgers and the receivers like that fast track as it opens things up downfield. While mis-firing in that regard a bit too often early in the season, it seemed as if things started to finally click last Sunday night. Again, that pattern should continue today.

I'm a big fan of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Packers beat writer, Bob McGinn, as frequent readers of this space know. Here's his take on today's game: "In three of their six games, the Rams have faced rookie quarterbacks. They're 2-1 there, and they've also defeated Arizona's Kevin Kolb. Given their voids in the offensive line, at wide receiver and at safety, the Rams should not compete with, let alone defeat good teams. It's the Packers in a rout."

I concur with McGinn. It's a big "if" given the Packers injuries in key spots. But it seemed as if last week was the Pack's first complete game of the season; it was how we expected this team to be. I think they've found their groove, injuries aside.

I'm calling it 38-24 in favor of the Pack. Don't know if that qualifies as a rout or not, but it's a win and that's all that matters.

With the Jaguars and Cardinals coming to Lambeau Field over the next two weekends, this game is the key to being 6-3 heading into the bye. Then, with five of their remaining seven games coming against NFC North Division opponents -- twice against both the Lions and ViQueens and once against Da Bearz -- the Packers would be well set to make a playoff run -- if not outright division title -- down the stretch.

First things first, though...say it with me: GO PACK GO!!!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Packers lasso Texans 42-24

In their most dominating performance on both sides of the ball in a long time, the Green Bay Packers upset the Houston Texans in Houston last night 42-24. It was even better than the score indicated; Houston's final touchdown came courtesy of a late blocked punt recovered in the endzone for a TD.

This is the game Packer fans have been waiting for all season long. At 2-3, the Pack's back was against the wall. After blowing a second half 18-point lead in Indianapolis last Sunday, the Packers dominated this game -- both offensively and defensively -- from the start and never let up.

Offense Clicks
Despite a few sacks and dropped balls, the offense showed what it is capable of doing. The offensive line generally held up well against arguably one of the league's better defensive fronts to this point in the season. RB Alex Green, getting his first start in place of the injured Cedric Benson, performed quite well and did his job by making the defense respect his running ability. He had 22 carries for 65 yards, with a long run of 10 yards. The wide receivers made some remarkable catches which helped to mask a few inconvenient drops. Jordy Nelson had 9 receptions for 121 yards and three touchdowns. After only having one TD catch all season, Nelson had his coming out party for 2012. Second-year standout Randall Cobb had 7 catches for 102 yards. James Jones had just three catches for 33 yards, but two of those were for touchdowns and were amazing catches. Even TE Tom "Mr. Tattoo" Crabtree had two catches for 62 yards and a touchdown, including an evening-long 48 yards. Oh, yeah...the man throwing all those passes was of course QB Aaron Rodgers who was 24 of 37 for 338 yards and those six touchdowns. His quarterback rating was something like 133 if memory serves.

Defense Dominates
The defense played fast and aggressive at the start, stopping the run and getting to Texans' QB Matt Schaub for three sacks on the night. They also forced three interceptions, one by Sam Shields and two by rookie Casey Hayward. Playing without NT B.J. Raji who was sidelined with his ankle injury from last week's game, veteran Ryan Pickett was extremely stout against the run. Rookie Jerel Worthy played extremely well, as did C.J. Wilson and Mike Neal. LB A.J. Hawk also played a good game at the line, even picking up one of the three sacks on the night. While LB Clay Matthews didn't get a sack on the evening, he was making life miserable all night long for Schaub. Safety Charles Woodson was often used in the position of an outside linebacker as the night went on and the Packers began sustaining injuries.

Injuries Hit Hard
In that regard, the win was a costly one for the Packers on the injury front. Reports are that LB D.J. Smith (starting in place of the injured Desmond Bishop, who is out for the season) and running back Brandon Saine suffered significant right knee injuries. Both players were said to be on crutches in the locker room with their knees heavily wrapped. Both players could be lost for the season. Rookie LB Nick Perry sustained a knee injury in the second quarter and didn't return to the game. CB Sam Shields got kicked in the right shin late in the game and also didn't return.

What's Ahead
This is the game we've been waiting for, Packer fans. Now let's see if the team can put two wins together back-to-back for the first time this season. They can do that next weekend in St. Louis. The Rams are also 3-3, but that's where the comparison ends.

With two home games, against the Jaguars and Cardinals, following the trip to St. Louis, the Packers could be 6-3 going into their bye week, which would set them up well for the second half of the season. With five of their remaining seven games against NFC North division opponents, the Packers could be in position for a playoff run. If they keep up the intensity on display last night. And if injuries don't disrail them.

There's a long way to go in the season, Packer fans. What we saw last night gives hope it may still be a good one.

P.S. I'm very glad to say my pre-game prediction was wrong. I'm very glad indeed.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Packers vs. Texans: who lassoes who?

Prior to the start of the 2012 NFL season, both the Green Bay Packers and the Houston Texans were projected to be the likely winners of their respective divisions. At 5-0 coming into tonight's game, the Texans certainly look like they are on their way. The Packers? Not so much right now.

Sitting at a mediocre 2-3, and while referees of both replacement and regular stripes have certainly done them no favors overall, the Packers have to look in the mirror and blame themselves for their sorry state. They are two games behind Da Bearz and the ViQueens...the 'Queens, for gosh sakes!

Whatever the reasons there are for their failures -- including a collapse of Biblical portions in the second half of last Sunday's game versus the so-so Colts -- it's up to the players to execute, regardless of who is on the field. Yes, not having WR Greg Jennings impacts the offense in any number of ways but it doesn't explain the one touchdown to date by WR Jordy Nelson or his drops in key situations. As to the seemingly emerging malcontent TE Jermichael Finley, he should do less talking about everyone else and do his job: catch the ball! The loss of RB Cedric Benson for at least 8 weeks if not the season -- just as he was starting to get rolling as a key element of the offense -- isn't something the Packers needed. They finally had a running game that defenses had to respect. Now, unless Alex Green (who gets the start today) or James Starks or Brandon Saine can keep defenses honest the already-beleaugered Packers' offensive line is going to appear to be even more of sieve than it has through the first five games. Today, going up against what is arguably one of the best defensive lines in the NFL will be a real challenge for this offensive line. Does the name J.J. Watt ring a bell? Let's just hope he's not ringing Aaron Rodgers' bell today. Time for the line and the receivers and the running backs to step up.

On defense, communication -- particularly in the defensive backfield -- supposedly continues to be an issue. How and why this isn't resolved by this point in the season is certainly a question that needs addressing. With B.J. Raji still questionable for today's game, stopping the Texans potent offense is going to be a challenge. They have a very good passing game and strong running attack. The Packers' defense needs to bring its "A" game all day long. In fact, that would be a good motto for the Pack in today's game: play a full four quarters! That's something they really have yet to do.

What, if anything, should we say about special teams? Some brilliant play on "trickeration" as the saying goes. But K Mason Crosby had better get back to being his reliable self after his own personal collapse in last week's loss. The wild shank to the left on his final field goal attempt to send the game to overtime was something you expect to see out of a high school or college kicker, not the kicker for the Green Bay Packers. Let's just hope it doesn't come down to a field goal again today.

It's possible, of course, that this team -- players, not coaches -- felt they could step on the playing field and win on last year's reputation. Not going to happen. Teams have had plenty of time to scheme how to handle the Packers' receivers...and they are. That begins the domino effect: QB Aaron Rodgers goes through his progressions, sees everyone covered, and by that time is either running for his life because of the pass rush or is getting sacked for having held onto the ball too long rather than throwing it away.

Things are still out of sync on both sides of the ball. But tonight's game would be a great time for them to finally come together. Head coach Mike McCarthy has a good history of rallying the troops when their backs are against the wall. And, they basically are. But with Chicago having their bye week and Minnesota at Washington, the Packers could pick up a game on both with a win. That would be critical as things start to get close to the half-way point of the season. Falling three games behind in the division wouldn't necessarily end the Packers playoffs hope at this stage, but it certainly makes the hill to climb much higher. Most of the Packers' division games come in the latter part of the season, so ground can be made up there. But that doesn't leave much room for errors...especially the kind of errors we've seen on display so far and far too much this season.

What's the call then?
What's the take on this week's game? Depends upon who you read or listen to, of course. SI's Peter King says this: "File this in desperate-team-plays-better-especially-against-team-coming-off-short-week category. The Texans have to adjust to the loss of inside 'backer and signal-caller Brian Cushing, out for the season with a torn ACL suffered Monday night, and that will provide a hiccup or two to overcome. I say the Pack will have an easier time overcoming the Cedric Benson loss -- as long as Aaron Rodgers can evade a terrific rush." King calls it 23-20 in favor of the Pack.

Interestingly, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Packers guru, Bob McGinn, says the Pack will upset the Texans (who are favored by 4 points with the over-under pegged at 46.5 points), although McGinn never predicts a score. Three of his fellow writers, however, all give the win to the Texans by anywhere from 1 to 17 points...ouch! Check out their analysis and comments here.

So, what's the take of yours truly after all the above? I hate to say it, Packer fans, and I truly hope that I am wrong, but not even my green 'n' gold-colored glasses have me seeing a win for the Pack tonight. Maybe, just maybe, this is what the team needs to gel. But given what we have seen so far this season, we are looking at what is at this moment a mediocre team, and one playing on the road at the home of a very good team.

I'm calling this one in favor of the Texans, 31-24. I hope I'm wrong. I really do. The Packers need this game as much as they've needed any game in recent years.

But I can still say this and keep my fingers, toes and eyes crossed for a win: Go Pack Go!!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

So...Packers lost to Colts. Wait...what???

I know this is old news. Really old news. As in at least three days old. Yawn.

But I was traveling. Didn't even get a chance to watch the game. Which was probably a good thing. If there had been a gas oven nearby I met have just stuck my head in and ended it all right then and there.

Yes, it was that bad. (And, yes, we sports fans tend to fall into hyperbole and overreaction at times. So it goes.)

The Green Bay Packers -- in one of their worst second-half collapses in recent memory -- lost to the Indianapolis Colts, 30-27, on Sunday. Leading 21-3 at halftime, both the Packers' offensive and defensive units were a no-show after halftime. And usually steady kicker Mason Crosby choked not once but twice when it really mattered; making just one of his two field goals would have put the game into overtime. But let's be honest: when you're ahead 21-3 at halftime it should never come down to a last second kick to get you into overtime.

Granted, they lost running back Cedric Benson to a foot injury; he was today placed on the Injured Reserve Return list...or whatever they call it now. This was part of the last collective bargaining agreement. Basically, he's not lost for the season, at least, not yet. He can, theoretically, begin practicing after six weeks and return to play after eight weeks. That's assuming Benson can actually do both. Remains to be seen with the type of injury he has sustained.

The Packers also lost B.J. Raji and Jermichael Finley. Those absences were felt, but should have been overcome. They weren't.

Sitting at 2-3 heading into Houston for a match against the 5-0 Texans, the Pack is in a world of hurt right now, beyond just the injuries. They are two games behind Da Bearz and ViQueens. Who would have thunk it?

The Packers are 4-4 in their last 8 games. Something is not right, and it didn't just start this season. But whatever it is, coaches and players better get it figured out fast or any hope of even making the playoffs will be slipping away faster than you can say "Jay Cutler is a whiny prima donna."

The Packers are far too talented of a team to be playing as poorly as they are. They don't have long to get their collective act together. The odds are not in their favor this Sunday evening...literally: the Texans are currently listed as 3.5 point favorites. Given the defensive pressure the Texans can bring, and the problem the Packers' offensive line has had even with inferior defenders, it doesn't bode well, quite frankly. I hope I turn out to be as wrong about that as I was about my prediction for the last game.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Packers vs. Colts preview and prediction

The Green Bay Packers begin a consecutive three-game road trip today in Indianapolis. The Colts are coming off their bye week during which their head coach, Chuck Pagano, left the team to receive treatment for recently diagnosed leukemia. The Colts have a record of 1-2. The Packers are coming off a hard-fought battle against the Saints -- and the referees, for a second week in a row. With a 28-27 win, the Pack went to 2-2 on the season.

The Colts come into the game with a very good rookie quarterback in the person of Andrew Luck. Figure Dom Capers to throw a number of different looks at the young QB. Hopefully, the defense will confuse the offense rather than themselves as seemed to be the case for the Packers last weekend when it resembled last season's sieve. Of course, Luck is not Drew Brees, at least not yet. Expect the Packers to have their defense much more together than it was against the Saints. The Pack will also get a boost from the newly-activated DE Mike Neal who is coming off his four-game suspension. According to reports from Green Bay throughout the week, Neal looked very good in practice, much better than anticipated. If he views this as a bit of a new start to things, and plays the way he is capable of playing, he could be a huge factor in this game and going forward for the Packers' defense.

As for the offense, after being sluggish in their first three outings, the Packers seemed to find a bit more of their rhythm against New Orleans. Look for that to continue today agains the Colts. Cedric Benson is getting rolling and provides a much-needed and long-overdue spark to the running game. Aaron Rodgers and the receivers looked much more in sync, and that should also continue today. WR Greg Jennings, however, will not see the field as he is being held out due to his groin injury. Expect Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley to get lots of action against a bland secondary. Donald Driver will appear in his 197th career game for the Pack, which ties him with QB Bart Starr for second place in franchise history. Congrats, Donald!

The pundits have an over-under on this game at the time of this writing of 48 points, with the Packers favored by 7 points. The week after the game against the Colts the Packers play the Houston Texans, who are currently undefeated at 4-0 and looking very good on both sides of the ball. This game against the Colts could be a trap game in the sense that the Packers could wind up looking past them and ahead to the Texans. I don't think head coach Mike McCarthy or the veterans on this team will allow that to happen. The Colts could also come out emotionally charged up to win one for their absent head coach. That may carry them for a while but not throughout an entire game.

I'm calling this one in favor of the Packers (shocking, I know) 34-17.

Go Pack Go!!!

Monday, October 01, 2012

Packers beat Saints -- and refs -- in a close one

On a beautiful early Fall day on the as-yet-un-frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers notched a victory in what was for them -- and their opponent, the New Orleans Saints -- a must win game. The Packers needed a victory to avoid falling two games behind in the NFC North, while the Saints were just trying to get off the schnide and avoid going 0-4. The Pack also needed to respond to the heartbreaking loss in Seattle where victory was taken away by inept replacement refs. They did. But, boy, it was oh so close to being another heartbreaker. And, sad to say, the regular officials left much to be desired in their first action of the season, as well, and almost cost the Packers this game (more on that later). But the Pack prevailed, 28-27. Whew!

The Packers and Saints combined for 765 yards and seven touchdowns. Yowza! And the Packers finally scored in the first quarter, the last team in the NFL to do so. The oddsmakers certainly had the over-under correct in this game, set at 53-1/2 points. But the Packers didn't come close to beating the point spread for this game: 7-1/2 points.

There were so many key moments to this game. Including, again, blown calls by the refs which could have led to a Saints win. In particular, as the article by Bob McGinn in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says, the Saints "got an enormous break when the officiating crew led by referee Jeff Triplette missed the fact Darren Sproles fumbled a kickoff that was recovered by Green Bay's Dezman Moses at the New Orleans 30 with 7 minutes left." Because Packers' head coach Mike McCarthy had already made two challenges and lost them both, he could not challenge this obviously blown call. At that moment, Packer fans across the universe were collectively saying "Oh no!" -- because this is a family-friendly site, I will refrain from posting what most fans probably said.

Another key play occurred the one play QB Aaron Rodgers was off the field on offense. After scrambling inside the red zone and getting poked in the eye during a facemask grab, Rodgers came out of the game and backup Graham Harrell came in. The ball, following the facemask penalty, was at the one-yard line with first and goal. A running play was called, but Harrell apparently didn't get out from behind center fast enough, was stepped on by one of his offensive lineman which caused him to fall and miss his handoff to Cedric Benson. The ball was recovered by the Saints. Four plays later, Saints QB Drew Brees hit a receiver for 80-yards and a touchdown to put the Saints ahead...a 14-point swing in the game.

But, as McGinn's article points out, "The winning touchdown (for the Packers) came midway in the fourth quarter on an 11-yard slant in which Jordy Nelson beat cornerback Jabari Greer and then ran right over muscular nickel back Corey White, who was waiting for him at the 2."

Still, the Saints had a chance to up by 3 points with less than three minutes remaining in the game. A 43-yard field goal was good but negated by a holding penalty. That made the attempt 53 yards...but an offsides penalty against the Packers got five of those penalty yards back. The 48-yard field goal attempt went just wide to the left, keeping the Packers ahead 28-27.

With just under two minutes left in the game the Packers faced third-and-three after two strong runs by Benson who had a very good day, averaging 4.7 yards in 18 carries. But rather than hand the ball to Benson for a third straight time, coach McCarthy did what he will usually do in this situation: keep the ball in Aaron Rodgers' hands. Again, from Bob McGinn: "On the far right, James Jones was confronted by Greer in the bump zone. After looking first toward Finley, Rodgers came back to Jones, who had flashed him a clean release. Greer was all over Jones and with his back toward Rodgers. Jones speared the ball with his right hand almost off Greer's hip for a remarkable 8-yard reception as penalty flags flew for defensive pass interference." First down Packers. No time outs remaining for New Orleans. Game. Set. Dagger! (By the way, did I mention that James Jones probably had one of his best performance as a Packer?)

This is a game where we finally saw the Packers offense start to resemble what we saw last season. The defense, unfortunately, also started to look like the sieve that it was last season. Will be interesting to see which way things go in the long run.

Prior to the start of the season, I had predicted the Packers would be 3-1 coming out of this first quarter of the season. In fact, they were...they won that game in Seattle, just didn't have the victory awarded to them as radio voice of the Packers, Wayne Larrivee, pointed out. But the record shows 2-2 as the Packers now embark upon three consecutive road games. First up is the Colts. The Packers have something to build off of coming out of this game, and they should take it with them to Indianapolis for another win.

The first four games of this NFL season have seen many unexpected twists and turns. But the road to the playoffs and Super Bowl begins to straighten out as we get into the second quarter of the season.

Go Pack Go!!!