Packers Game Balls and Lame Calls: NFC Champions Edition -On to Super Bowl XLV
Ok, with that out of my system let’s move on.
Green Bay Packers 21, Chicago Bears 14. The Packers are headed to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas to face the Pittsburgh Steelers on February 6.
As thrilling as the spoils of victory have been, the game turned out to be a near 60 minute heart attack for Packers. The game wasn’t over until a Sam Shields interception with under a minute to play after the Packers let the Bears back into the game after getting out in front 14-0.
So who gets a Game Ball and who gets a Lame Call for the NFC Championship?
Let’s take a gander.
RB James Starks
Starks didn’t break the century mark, but his ability to break some big runs opened up a lot of playaction opportunities for the passing game.
As the sudden “star” of these 2010 playoffs, “Neo” (as Starks is called) has given much needed life to what was a lifeless Packers rushing attack and finally helped bring the Packers” offense into balance at the most critical time of the year.
His touchdown run put the Packers up 14-0 and the Packers were able to remain aggressive on defense the rest of the game, allowing Dom Capers the chance to work his magic to ensure the Bears had no chance.
CB Sam Shields
His two picks were crucial to sealing the Packers win, with his second one being the obvious dagger to the heart of the Bears’ hopes of advancing to the Super Bowl.
Not bad for an undrafted rookie free agent. Not bad at all.
NT B.J. Raji
The Bears had “The Fridge,” now we have “The Freezer.”
Raji showed off his underrated pass coverage ability picking off Caleb Hanie deep in Bears territory and taking it in for the touchdown.
After nearly channeling his inner Leon Lett by holding the ball out in celebration before reaching the end zone, Raji put an exclamation point on his emergence this season as one of the most athletic nose tackles in the NFL.
QB Aaron Rodgers
After a sizzling opening drive, Rodgers seemed a bit off for a good chunk of the rest of the day. His boneheaded interception to Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher could have proven disastrous had it not been for Rodgers’ underrated tackling prowess.
Urlacher had a certain pick-six had Rodgers not tackled him and would have tied the game for the Bears. I’m not making excuses for Rodgers’ poor decision and throw, but his hustle to make the tackle on a player much bigger than himself definitely should earn some praise
WR Donald Driver
Driver didn’t have a flashy game, but I’m giving him a game ball not because of what he did in today’s game. I’m giving it to him because of what he’s done the past 10+ years.
He’s one of the most selfless players in the NFL. He’s a class act around fans. He’s one the best teammates in the league. He’s also the leading receiver in Green Bay Packers history.
Driver came from poverty and busted his butt to be one of the best receivers in professional football. Yet he’s never been to a Super Bowl and had a shot to win the ultimate prize.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy
A lot has been said about McCarthy and his clock management and playcalling ability and not much of it was good.
But let’s give this man his due. He is now in the same company as Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren as men who have led the Packers to the Super Bowl. That’s pretty elite company, indeed.
What’s even more remarkable is the job McCarthy has done with all the injuries the Packers have suffered. With the rough equivalent of 25% of a full NFL roster on injured reserve, McCarthy and his staff masterfully prepared practice squad players and even some players picked up in free agency to play and they played well. Tell me players like Shields and Erik Walden didn’t have an impact on the Packers’ march to Super Bowl XLV.
McCarthy easily did his best coaching job of his five years in Green Bay this year and even though he likely won’t win coach of the year, I’m sure he’d much rather trade five of those awards for one Super Bowl ring.
General Manager Ted Thompson
I have to revisit one of the most painful times in Packers history for a moment here: the summer of 2008.
I’m not going to repeat the events of the Summer of Favre here. If you want an excellent recap of those events, read “Life After Favre” by Phil Hanrahan. (Shameless plug alert and you’re welcome Phil!)
The bottom line is that trading Brett Favre took a lot of cajones on the part of Thompson. Dumping your three time MVP quarterback coming off a career season is never an easy move. Thompson still has difficulty talking about it.
From the moment he signed the trade papers up until this season, Thompson took a lot of heat from Packers fans for the move. They claimed the team was returning to the “dark ages” that were the years between when Bart Starr retired to the time Favre took over in 1992.
They were wrong. Dead wrong. The dark ages never came and the Packers are back in the Super Bowl.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers
The impact of Capers on not only the defense but the entire team cannot be underestimated.
He took one of the league’s worst units and turned it into one of the league’s best in one year and his unit propelled the whole team to the Super Bowl the next. Playing behind an aggressive defense, Rodgers and the offense have been able to get their feet under them and get in shape for a Super Bowl run.
By far, hiring Capers is the best hire of McCarthy’s five year tenure.
Bears DE Julius Peppers
That hit on Rodgers was one of the dirtiest plays I have seen in some 15+ years of watching football. The leading with the helmet that nearly knocked off Rodgers’ helmet and caused the quarterback to bleed from the mouth was completely unnecessary.
I’m pleased that the officials threw a flag on the play, but what really “moved my cheese curds” was the fact that Peppers was disputing the call with the referee as was Rod Marinelli on the Bears sideline.
Don’t argue. The videotape doesn’t lie. In fact, I think Peppers is lucky he wasn’t ejected. He should have been.
But enough of the negative. We’re going to the Super Bowl.
The Packers are going to the Super Bowl.
Soak it in…——————
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