Monday, February 7, 2011

The Packers didn't need stripes help to beat Steelers, barely

I have to admit that I felt a mixture of excitement and nervousness watching this past Super Bowl. The Favre-era Packers tended to start slow and come alive in the second half; the opposite is true of the Rodgers-led Packers. I knew that Packers had to open-up a substantial lead and hang-on. Knowing that Rodgers typically tended to be more inconsistent in the second half (last year’s playoff game against Arizona was the rare exception, mainly because of the Cardinals' porous defense), the opening of a 21-3 lead over the Steelers was precisely what needed to happen, and as it turned out, the Packers came within a whisker of blowing the whole thing.

I grew-up in Wisconsin in the pre-Favre era, and remained more or less loyal throughout the years, although my loyalty was tested during the Favre fiasco. One also has to be realistic; the Packers were fortunate to make it to the Super Bowl; good fortune has a way smiling on a team for no apparent rhyme or reason. The Packers could just as easily have lost in the wildcard game against Philadelphia if Michael Vick had completed that end zone pass in the final minute. I thought that the stripes were going to give the Steelers the same manufactured “luck” they gave them in the 2006 and 2009 Super Bowls, when they called that phantom facemask and refused to overturn the incomplete pass ruling on the challenge. The Packers were able to manufacture their own luck in the first half with the interceptions, but I was concerned about Pittsburgh’s nearly 2-1 advantage in time of possession through the first three quarters, and I think the effects of it were showing in the second half.

Yes, some of the inconsistency of the offense could be blamed on dropped balls, but we’ve seen the lack of consistency all year, and sometimes it was Rodgers’ play. I was still disturbed by some of the play-calling, especially down near the goal line when the Packers didn’t try to run the ball (remembering Rodgers’ third quarter interception against the Bears). I also shared Packer play-by-play man Wayne Larrivee’s lack of enthusiasm when the Packers were forced to settle for a field goal with two minutes left; I think a lot of people assumed the worst, but as it turned out, it wasn’t the Steelers’ night this time—even the stripes would not give them a gift pass interference call. In the end, just as Lombardi said, the game is won on 3 or 4 plays, and for the Packers it was the turnovers and the late third down pass to Jennings when the Packers were facing a punt from their own 25 yard line with 5 minutes to go.

Rodgers was the Super Bowl MVP, and I'll grant deservedly so. But I find it a bit curious that although a great many people have eagerly put him in “elite” status, and despite the fact that Packers played with so many players on IR, I’ve heard no one seriously consider him a regular season “MVP” candidate. Rodgers was a questionable commodity from the start, and his status was always married to how one felt about Favre. Someone on a local radio station wanted to know why Rodgers wasn’t a higher pick in the draft (which doesn’t necessarily mean a lot, since Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick, and Favre was a second-round pick). His partner remembered Rodgers’ college days at Cal, and he recalled that Rodgers wasn’t particularly impressive outside a couple of standout games; he wasn’t accurate, had a disconcerting habit of holding the ball high when he went back to pass, and didn’t throw with much velocity. Although Rodgers impressed at least Packer scouts, he clearly needed work. I thought of Rodgers as just another in a long line of back-ups for Favre.

Ron Wolfe, Holmgren and Favre brought relevance and credibility back to Green Bay, and the current management owes them a huge debt; like many fans who remember the bad old pre-Favre days, I felt that Rodgers had to prove he was more than just someone else’s “guy.” His first two seasons in the back-up role didn’t impress me; he would come in, and a few plays later get hurt; in his second season, I observed with amusement Rodgers coming in late one game, and a few seconds later get knocked-out for the season with a broken foot. I think that Rodgers needed to sit and watch and learn from Favre. I think that in the 2007 season, a veteran like Favre—who was having a career year averaging 310 yards passing a game before his injury against Dallas—was able to make young receivers like Jennings and Jones look like Pro Bowlers, and set the table for Rodgers. The exposed talent of these receivers allowed Rodgers to come into the game against Dallas and put in a respectable performance—much like Matt Flynn put in against New England (which is why I think that John Clayton is underestimating Flynn’s potential).

Now that the Favre era is really over (I think), I can turn my complete and undivided attention to the team next year--that is, if there is a next year.

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