27

December

Rodgers puts Packers back in championship contention

With Aaron Rodgers set to return, the Packers are eyeing a division championship. And perhaps more.

With Aaron Rodgers set to return, the Packers are eyeing a division championship. And perhaps more.

When news broke Thursday that quarterback Aaron Rodgers was slated to return Sunday for the regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears, the outlook for the rest of the Packers’ season changed dramatically.

Without Rodgers, the Packers went 2-4-1, not including the first Packers-Bears game in which Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone on the game’s first possession. Coming into that game, the Packers were 5-2 with a favorable schedule and perhaps the hottest quarterback in football.

But despite a newly-feared running game providing balance to their offense, the small crack in Rodgers’ collarbone looked like a death blow to the Packers’ season, as Seneca Wallace would be starting the following week against the Philadelphia Eagles and for the foreseeable future. But Wallace was forced out of the lineup after the first possession, giving way to recent practice squad call-up Scott Tolzien. Then, the Packers signed a recycled Matt Flynn, who would get his chance a few weeks later against the Minnesota Vikings.

Flynn quarterbacked the Packers to one of their most embarrassing defeats in recent memory—a 40-10 Thanksgiving thumping at the hands of the Detroit Lions. For a team who had two All-World quarterbacks for the better part of two decades, the 2013 season was a slap in the face for a (let’s face it) spoiled fan base.

But somehow, at 8-7-1 with one game to play and Rodgers ready to roll, the Packers remain in contention for the NFC North title. A week 17 win in Chicago would punch the Packers’ ticket into the postseason, and they’d host either the San Francisco 49ers or New Orleans Saints in the wild card round January 4 or 5.

And as is the case year after year in the unpredictable NFL, anything can happen in the league’s 12-team tournament.

Typically, there’s a “hot team” that hits its stride late into the season and enters the postseason with a head of steam, much like the Packers’ unlikely run to Super Bowl XLV in 2010. Last year’s Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens backed into the playoffs after losing four of their last five games, but once the regular season is over, a new season begins. The Ravens 2012 regular season didn’t end well, but their postseason ended with a flood confetti and a Vince Lombardi Trophy.

8

December

Packers vs. Falcons – Game Day First Impressions, Unfiltered: GB 22 ATL 21

Packers TJ Lang hustling his ass off. on interception return - Atlanta.

TJ Lang hustling his ass off.

Green Bay Packers vs. Atlanta Falcons:  2013 Game 13

Unfiltered game day blog post of comments, observations and first impressions.

GAME NOTES:

Evan Dietrich Smith is playing, which means the Packers can prevent the OL shuffle, which has not worked out well at all. Even better, Marshall Newhouse reported with flu symptoms, so Derek Sherrod will be the first tackle off the bench, if needed.

Matt Flynn get the call again at QB, despite a dismal performance last week against the Lions.

Snowing in Green Bay – perfect football weather and a great welcome for the 3-9 Falcons.

 

Today’s captains for the Packers: - James Jones, Clay Matthews and Jarrett Bush

 

Inactives for today’s game:

 

Green Bay PackersGreen Bay Packers
12 QB Aaron Rodgers
13 WR Chris Harper
22 RB Kahlil Bell
51 LB Nate Palmer
74 T Marshall Newhouse
98 DE C.J. Wilson
99 DE Jerel Worthy

10 QB Matt Flynn will start for Rodgers.

Atlanta Falcons
30 RB Josh Vaughn
36 S Kemal Ishmael
53 LB Omar Gaither
69 G Harland Gunn
74 T Terren Jones
77 T Sean Locklear
92 DT Travian Robertson

Mike McCarthy Pregame Show on 620 WTMJ:

Weather: Smells like Green Bay Packer football. Importance of the game is evident to us all.

Game plan for weather: You have to look at the whole picture. You have to look at the field – it was beat up a little after the Vikings game. the wind will be a factor.

EDS: Evan responded very well to the rehab. Everyone felt really good about his workout yesterday. he says he feels great and he’s ready to go.

Time off: Definitely helped. Our energy level is as high as it had been in quite some time. There’s a different energy about ourselves this week and it has to show up today,.

Flynn:  A liittle up and down this week in practice but I thought Friday was the best day he’s had since he’s been here.

Decline of Defense: Energy and finish is what we focused on. Schematically we’re fine. Frankly, we need to get off the damn block and tackle the football.

Atlanta: Good football team going through a lot of challenges. They’re playing some young guys. Frankly, I’m going to focus on our own football team and what we’re going through.

11

January

Packers Beer Mug Perspective: Seattle at home, or the Georgia Dome?

After the "Fail Mary" in September, the Packers could play the Seahawks again in the playoffs.

After the “Fail Mary” in September, the Packers could play the Seahawks again in the playoffs.

After defeating the Minnesota Vikings last week, the Green Bay Packers are two wins away from Super Bowl XLVII.

If the Packers defeat the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night, they’ll move on to the NFC Championship. Who and where they’d play would be determined Sunday afternoon when the Falcons and Seahawks square off in Atlanta.

If the No. 1 seed Atlanta Falcons win, they’ll host the NFC Championship at the Georgia Dome. But if the Seahawks win, then the winner of Saturday’s Packers-49ers game will host the NFC Championship.

(Now would be a good time to mention that I fully expect this Saturday’s game against the 49ers to be a hard-fought, down-to-the-wire matchup that could go either way. The purpose of this post is not to overlook a good 49ers team, but rather, to look at (what could be) the next game on the Packers’ schedule.)

A rematch with Seattle would surely result in an amped-up Lambeau Field crowd, hungry for revenge after what happened on Sept. 24. But a rematch with Atlanta would mean the Packers, a team built for a fast track, would be playing indoors with a chance to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.

This begs the question…

Would you, as a fan, rather see the Packers host the Seahawks at Lambeau Field or have them play the Falcons in the Georgia Dome?

In the format of the Packers Beer Mug Perspective, let’s look at the issue from both angles, then determine whether our mug is really “half full” or “half empty.”

1) Seahawks at Packers. Lambeau Field.

Why it sounds good: It all comes full circle.

After the infamous “Fail Mary” play earlier this season, the Packers receive an opportunity for revenge against the Seattle Seahawks. It’s Pete Carroll, Golden Tate and Russell Wilson back on the other sideline, only this time, it’s in Green Bay with a trip to Super Bowl XLVII on the line.

The Seahawks are as hot as anyone in the league right now, but they’re still a team without much experience in the playoffs. Wilson has been sensational as a rookie, but the postseason can be a whole different animal for young quarterbacks. Then again, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has yet to win a playoff game, and he’s currently in his fifth NFL season.

20

December

Breaking Down Packers Playoff Scenarios

With two more regular season games to go, here is an update on the Packers’ playoff situation:

  • The Packers have already clinched the NFC North. They will be in the playoffs, guaranteed at least one home game and no worse than the fourth overall seed.
  • If the season ended today, the Packers would be the third seed and host the sixth-seeded Vikings on wild-card weekend. That’s likely not going to hold up since the Packers play the Vikings in week 17. The Vikings also could win their next two games and still miss the playoffs.
  • The Packers can move up to the second seed if they win out and the 49ers lose once. The 49ers are at Seattle this week and host Arizona in week 17.
  • Whether the Packers move up to the second seed, or stay at No. 3, a second-round matchup with the 49ers looks likely. If the Packers are the third seed and win their first-round game, they would travel to San Francisco. If the Packers are the second seed and the 49ers win their first-round game as the No. 3 seed, San Francisco would visit Green Bay.
  • The Packers can get the first seed if they win out and the Falcons lose their last two games.
  • If the Packers stay the third seed, it’s very likely that their first-round game will be against a wild-card team from the NFC East or the Bears.
  • Let’s assume the Packers stay the third seed, who would you want to play in the first round: Chicago, New York, Washington or Dallas? I’d pick Washington. They can’t guard the slot and I trust Dom Capers to not to get thrown off by RG3 and the Redskins’ funky formations.
  • Chicago seems like the obvious choice, but beating the Bears three times in the same season seems like we’d be asking too much of the football gods.
  • Check out ESPN’s NFL Playoff Machine if you want to try and figure out potential playoff pairings yourself.
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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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12

October

Focus on Finley – The Playmaker

"The Playmaker"

It was just a week ago that Jermichael Finley was upset about not being thrown the ball enough in the Denver game. Here were his comments:

“For sure, they took me out of the game. I don’t know what I came out with, but hopefully we can go back and dial something up for the double teams. We’ve got to have something for it. We’ll have to go back, not being selfish or nothing, but go back and dial up something so you can get your playmaker the ball in games like that when it’s close.”

From reading that quote, one would think that he was totally ignored in that game. Not having seen the game live, it’s certainly the impression that I had. But looking at the game stats told a different story. Finley had been targeted 6 times but caught only 3 for completions.

Fast forward to the Falcons game, which I did see live. Finley appeared to me to be a big part of the game plan. He was thrown to 7 times and caught 4. He did not always display the excellent hands he possesses. In fact, Finley had a particularly egregious drop at the goal line just before the second half, which cost the Packers 4 points. Here it is:

 

Five out of the seven times Finley was thrown to in the Atlanta game, it was on a third down. Here’s the breakdown:

1st Q, 4:21:  3rd and 2, complete for 24yds.
2nd Q, 0:18:  3rd and 12, incomplete (drop at the goal line)
3rd Q, 6:26: 1st and 10, incomplete
3rd Q, 1:57: 3rd and 10, complete for 22 yds.
3rd Q, 1:03: 2nd and 10, complete for 7 yds.
4th Q, 11:27: 3rd and 11, incomplete
4th Q, 6:18: 3rd and 2, complete for 24 yds.

The 22 yard gain in the third quarter was a particularly important play. It was a tight 15-14 game at that point, and Finley’s catch and run kept the drive alive and put the ball in Falcons’ territory. Just a few plays later, Greg Jennings would take the ball to the house to put the Packers safely ahead for good. An excited Finley felt the importance of his catch, doing a rather amusing dance after the catch. Here it is:

 

10

October

Packers vs. Falcons: 5 Observations from Green Bay’s 25-14 Win in Atlanta

Photo: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Green Bay Packers used 25 unanswered points, including touchdown receptions from receivers James Jones and Greg Jennings, to stun the hosting Atlanta Falcons, 25-14, and improve their record to 5-0 in 2011 with an 11th straight win overall.

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Bouncing back

There simply aren’t many teams in the NFL that could have rebounded the way the Packers did after falling behind 14-0. The Falcons had steamrolled them on both sides of the ball through the first quarter, amassing 125 yards and holding the ball for over 10 minutes. A second 10-play drive led to another Falcons’ touchdown following Ryan Grant’s first fumble in over 300 touches. And after seeing your starting left tackle hobble off the field while your starting right tackle is on the sidelines in street clothes, other teams might have just packed it in on the road. But the Packers slowly got their offense back on track. Despite settling for two field goals in the first half,  it looked as if the offense gained confidence marching down the field on those two possessions.

The Packers defense held serve, and going into the half down just 14-6 was a huge boost after such a disastrous start. Remember, Sunday night was the first time the Packers had been down by 14 or more points in a game since 2009. They faced that adversity well against the Falcons, which is always something Mike McCarthy stresses. By overcoming all those potential road blocks, the Packers’ 25-14 win was undoubtedly the team’s most impressive of the 2011 season.

2. Defensive response

Enough can’t be said about how the defense played in the second half, and really, on each possession following the Falcons’ first two touchdowns. Atlanta made it looked frustratingly easy in racking up 140 yards and two scores in the first half, but the Packers clamped down after that. The Falcons had just 111 total yards during the final 42 or so minutes of the game. On Atlanta’s six possessions after their second touchdown, they gained just 14 yards and punted five times (one drive was a kneel down before the half). That’s an incredible turnaround and it saved the game for the Packers. The Falcons did threaten on their final two drives, but each ended with a Matt Ryan interception.

7

October

Packers: Bryan Bulaga Misses Friday Practice, Marshall Newhouse Likely to Start at RT

Green Bay Packers tackle Bryan Bulaga (ankle, knee) was a no-show at Friday practice, which would seem to indicate that second-year player Marshall Newhouse will get his second career NFL start at right tackle on Sunday night against the Atlanta Falcons.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on Thursday that Bulaga’s playing status for Sunday was riding on whether or not he go during today’s practice.

This came from McCarthy’s post-practice press conference yesterday:

“If (Bulaga) doesn’t practice tomorrow he’s not going to play. That’s where we are with Bryan. He’ll see the doctor tomorrow morning, just like we always do.”

If we are to believe McCarthy at his word, and there’s no reason not to, then Bulaga will be inactive on Sunday night and Newhouse will start.

You would have considered an injury to one of the tackles as a catastrophic break heading into the season, but Newhouse has been better than expected in the two games he’s appeared. The Packers weren’t forced to deviate their offensive gameplan in Chicago after Bulaga left with ankle and knee injuries, and the two sacks that Von Miller created last week didn’t fall directly on Newhouse’s shoulders. Newhouse was beat on one, but Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers did him no favors by running into the sack. On the other, a blown screen play resulted in an easy take down of Rodgers after the Broncos diagnosed the screen.

Newhouse will get another tall task on Sunday, as the Falcons can throw veteran pass rushers John Abraham and Ray Edwards at him on the right side. When the Packers lineup in three- and four-wide sets, or obvious passing downs, it’s likely that Atlanta will want Abraham against Newhouse.

Needless to say, it’s a matchup worth watching this weekend. Rodgers was Houdini in the pocket in January against the Falcons when he threw for over 360 yards and had four total scores, and he might need to be that clever again Sunday night with Bulaga missing his second straight contest.

UPDATE: McCarthy ruled out Bulaga for Sunday during his Friday press conference.

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Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.

You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.