Game Balls and Lame Calls: Playoff Edition–Packers 21, Eagles 16
The Green Bay Packers defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 21-16 in a nail-biting NFC Wild Card game Sunday afternoon. The Packers now move on to face the Atlanta Falcons Saturday night in the divisional round for the right to play in the NFC championship game.
After jumping out to a 14-0 lead, the Packers let the explosive Michael Vick and the Eagles offense back into the game, but the defense made enough plays at crucial moments to extend the Packers’ season another week.
There were plenty of highlights and even some lowlights to look at, so let’s jump right into Game Balls and Lame Calls: Playoff Edition.
While he didn’t eat up the Eagles defense for big chunks of yardage, Rodgers did throw three touchdown passes and had pinpoint accuracy throughout the game.
He spread the ball around to multiple receivers and served notice to the rest of the playoff field that the Packers have multiple weapons and you cannot shut them all down. Throw in Rodgers’ scrambling ability and you have an incredibly dangerous quarterback and offense.
More importantly and more significantly, he became the first Packers quarterback not named Brett Favre to win a playoff game since Lynn Dickey on January 8, 1983. That’s eight months almost to the day before I was born folks. That would be a long time.
Oh yeah, and he did something Favre couldn’t: he won a tight playoff game in Philadelphia.
Congrats to Rodgers on his first playoff win. Hopefully, it’s the first of certainly many more to come.
RB James Starks
The hype over this kid has gone to beyond a level of even a Tim Tebow amongst Packers fans, but in the biggest game of the year Starks came up. BIG.
Running for 123 yards (it was easy as 1-2-3!) behind an offensive line that was the Packers’ biggest Achilles heel a season ago, Starks showed how dangerous the Packers can be with a strong rushing attack. It’s been assumed that since Ryan Grant went down with a season-ending injury that Rodgers would have to carry the team on his arm and for 95% of the season he has.
Now, with the Packers’ rushing attack and in particular Starks’ emergence, the Packers have achieved a balance offense and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time.
Looking ahead to 2011, the Packers could have quite a two-pronged rushing attack with Starks and Grant. Combine that with Rodgers and a healthy Jermichael Finley and 2011 could be huge.
That said, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The 2010 season is still rolling and Starks was a huge reason way.
Big time players step up in playoff games.
Today, even though he made the Pro Bowl, Williams became a 100% genuine big time player after intercepting Vick with under a minute to go in the end zone, making an incredible leaping grab to seal the win for the Packers.
With Charles Woodson experiencing an “off year,” (I use that term VERY loosely FYI) many would have expected the Packers secondary to have been in deep trouble but with Williams’ emergence the unit hasn’t missed a step. In fact, he made fan favorite Al Harris expendable, so the Packers released the healing cornerback halfway through the season.
Williams was undrafted and is further proof that Packers general manager Ted Thompson’s system of drafting and developing players instead of making many big splashes in free agency works brilliantly and works at a price friendly to player and franchise.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy
Two weeks in a row for the Packers’ fearless leader?
Yes, and no this is not Jersey Al ghostwriting. To steal a line from Cheesehead Radio, McCarthy did some things that really “moved my cheese curds.”
First was the atrocious play calling at the end of the first half. The Packers offense had plenty of momentum and instead it seemed like McCarthy just twisted in the wind as the clock continued to wind down. With the Packers up 14-3, another touchdown or even a field goal going into halftime could have buried the Eagles especially with the Packers receiving the second half kickoff.
Once again, McCarthy seemed content with a good lead at the half instead of HUGE lead. I suppose he has confidence in his defense to protect the lead, as he has every right to, but the memory of the sudden offensive explosion sin the last half of the Cardinals playoff game last year should have been fresh in his head.
My only theory on the matter is that the dumb drop by James Jones on that deep ball threw the offense through a big loop. McCarthy and Rodgers obviously had something they liked there, figured the play was absolute money, and trusted Jones enough to make the catch.
The second issue I had with McCarthy was the overly conservative play calling as the Packers were trying to keep the clock running late in the fourth quarter. Yes, you normally want to run the ball there but with your quarterback dialed in, the Packers could easily have had Rodgers either dump a pass to Starks in the flat or a short pass in the middle of the field.
I understand he trusts he defense but with a weapon like Vick on the opposing sideline, however hobbled, anything could happen.
WR James Jones
Since when did Jones replace Bart Simpson as chief spokesman for Butterfinger?
In what has become a bad habit, Jones dropped another perfectly thrown deep ball by Rodgers that would have been an easy six and would have put the Eagles on the ropes instead of feeling like they still had a shot. The Packers went for the kill and Jones whiffed.
Plays like that can’t happen in the playoffs. Period. After that play, Jones was seen on the sideline and the coaching staff obviously was worried about repeat offense. I would not be surprised in the least if Jordy Nelson and Jones swapped places on the depth chart for the remainder of the postseason and maybe even next season.
FOX Sports Producers
As you MIGHT just be aware , the Packers lost a playoff game in Philadelphia in 2004 after the defense gave up that famous fourth and 26 play that ended up getting then-defensive coordinator Ed Donatell fired and perhaps marked the jumping of the shark moment of the Mike Sherman regime.
If you weren’t aware of it, you for sure are today as the producers at FOX felt it necessary to remind a national TV audience of that play seemingly every five minutes. It wasn’t quite Bill Buckner in 1986, but that play still makes Packer fans sick. Next to the NFC Championship Game against the Giants, this perhaps was the most heartbreaking loss in recent Packers history.
Apparently FOX wanted to push every Packer fan’s sanity to edge and remind them of that team’s ineptitude. Most of the players on the current Packer team weren’t present for the debacle so they didn’t see any ghosts from their own past out there.
Still some demons were exorcised for the fans and FOX felt it necessary to tell Packer fans this game could blow up in their faces at any given moment.
So the 2010-11 season edition of Game Balls and Lame Calls has to wait and I couldn’t be more pleased.
It’s on to Atlanta.
What are your Game Balls and Lame Calls for this glorious win?——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke