7

January

Game Balls and Lame Calls: 49ers 23, Packers 20

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers couldn't get past the 49ers, so their focus now shifts to 2014.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers couldn’t get past the 49ers, so their focus now shifts to 2014.

It was a different final score but the same result for the Green Bay Packers when their season clock expired Jan. 5 against the San Francisco 49ers.

San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick didn’t have 181 rushing yards, as he did in last year’s playoffs. But he had 98 on just seven carries.

Kaepernick fell short of the second 400-yard passing day of his career after racking up 412 in September’s season opener. But he moved the chains through the air and threw a dart to Vernon Davis for the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter en route to extending his record against Green Bay to 3-0.

As things currently stand, the San Francisco 49ers of the 2010s are to the Green Bay Packers what the Dallas Cowboys were in the 1990s. Sunday’s game was a nail biter. In fact, it wasn’t decided until Phil Dawson’s field goal snuck through Davon House’s arms and inside the right goal post as time expired. But the win over the Packers was the 49ers’ fourth in two seasons. It was Green Bay’s second postseason loss to the 49ers in as many seasons.

But, top to bottom, the NFL is probably the most competitive of the major sports on a weekly basis. Anyone can beat anyone, and the Packers–yes, the same team that has allowed 132 points in its last four games against San Francisco–can beat Kaepernick and the 49ers.

They just haven’t yet.

While much of Packer Nation continues to reflect on the 2013-14 season and wonder what might have been, let’s look ahead at the future. And despite some obvious holes on the defensive side of the ball and the likely reappearance of Packer the Injury Bug, the team’s future is bright.

Because the offense has the potential to be phenomenal.

The Packers took a giant step forward this season by relying on a steady running game behind Rookie of the Year candidate Eddie Lacy. The Packers’ second-round pick shouldered the load all season, as he carried the ball at least 20 times in 10 games. Due to injuries at the quarterback position, Lacy became the focal point of the Packers’ offense, and they managed to squeak into the playoffs.

24

December

Game Balls and Lame Calls: Steelers 38, Packers 31

Eddie Lacy had his way with the Steelers' defense and could be in for a bigger day against the Bears if he's able to suit up.

Eddie Lacy had his way with the Steelers’ defense and could be in for a bigger day against the Bears if he’s able to suit up.

After the Green Bay Packers lost a home heartbreaker to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Packers’ playoff destiny fell out of their control.

But Jay Cutler and the division-leading Chicago Bears were blown out by the Philadelphia Eagles later Sunday night, and now it’ll be Packers-Bears in the final week of the regular season for the NFC North crown and a spot in the playoffs.

And for the umpteenth week in a row, a good portion of ALLGBP’s Game Balls and Lame Calls post will be centered around the increasingly unknown status of Aaron Rodgers, which got even cloudier when ESPN’s Chris Mortensen cited potential tension between Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy on NFL Countdown prior to Sunday’s game. Mortensen tweeted Rodgers remains at “extraordinary risk” with his fractured collarbone.

But the whole will-Rodgers-play-or-won’t-he-play debate or the why-isn’t-Rodgers-playing question seems kind of pointless, doesn’t it? Clearly, Rodgers isn’t ready to play right now. He hasn’t played since November 4, and he wants to play. Whether the final call falls with Rodgers, McCarthy, Ted Thompson or Dr. Pat McKenzie, the fact still remains: Rodgers isn’t ready to play right now.

During the pregame segment, Mortensen said Rodgers pushed the “organizational decision” narrative that he and McCarthy used so often last week as an attempt to defend his toughness in hopes of fending off comparisons to Brett Favre, who undoubtedly would have played through a broken leg and a freshly amputated throwing hand.

But while I think the Rodgers debate really comes down to semantics, the Countdown segment raised some questions to me. Rodgers is who he is. He’s probably the best quarterback in the NFL, and he’s probably better in 2013 than Favre was at any point of his career, in my opinion. Naturally, comparisons will exist between Favre and Rodgers just as they did with other eternally-linked quarterbacks such as the 49ers’ Joe Montana and Steve Young and last year’s draft class that produced Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. People like to compare people to other people.

16

December

Game Balls and Lame Calls: Packers 37, Cowboys 36

Andrew Quarless (81) and Eddie Lacy (27) turned in big games for the Packers against the Dallas Cowboys, and in the process, may have saved Green Bay's season.

Andrew Quarless (81) and Eddie Lacy (27) turned in big games for the Packers against the Dallas Cowboys, and in the process, may have saved Green Bay’s season.

Last week, it looked like the Green Bay Packers may have saved their season with a 22-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons. They were 6-6-1 with three games to play, and Aaron Rodgers appeared to be on the verge of returning to the lineup.

Rodgers didn’t play Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, but that didn’t stop Matt Flynn from leading a dramatic second-half comeback, which, in the process, may have saved the Packers’ season. They’re still breathing.

Despite last week’s win, much was made of the “boo birds” amongst Packers fans just before halftime against the Falcons. Had this week’s game been played at Lambeau Field, the boo birds likely would have returned as the Packers trailed by 23 points at the break. But the team recharged its batteries for the second half and kept its head above water with two winnable games to play and a division championship on the line.

For the Packers, the first 30 minutes against the Cowboys were ugly.

But the second half was so very different.

For all the things that have went wrong for the Packers this season, a lot of things went their way in the final 30 minutes. And when push came to shove, the Packers Chicago Bear’d the Dallas Cowboys with timely turnovers and out-of-nowhere explosive plays. A lot of football has yet to be played, as the Packers (7-6-1) try and play catch up to the Bears (8-6) and Lions (7-6) for first place in the NFC North, but hope still remains in Green Bay.

Super Bowl XLVIII is still a month and a half way, and the Packers certainly don’t appear to be the class of the NFC at this point, but there’s a 2010 feeling to this team, isn’t there? A week 15 matchup in Dallas (where the Packers won Super Bowl XLV), a week 16 game against Pittsburgh (whom they beat in Super Bowl XLV) and a regular-season finale against the Bears (whom they beat to clinch a playoff spot in 2010 and again in the NFC Championship) brings back memories of the Packers’ last hardware-winning season.

Two games remain on the 2013 schedule. And the Packers are still alive.

29

November

Game Balls and Lame Calls: Lions 40, Packers 10

Morgan Burnett had a pretty sweet celebration. And the Packers put on a pretty ugly show.

Morgan Burnett had a pretty sweet celebration. And the Packers put on a pretty ugly show.

Aaron Rodgers may have a shot to play next week. And the fact that the Packers may have just played their last game without their quarterback may be the only positive takeaway from the team’s Thanksgiving debacle.

It’s hard to remember, but at one point this season, the Packers were 5-2 with what looked like a favorable upcoming schedule. One fractured collarbone later, and the Packers are 5-6-1 coming off what T.J.Lang called, “Probably the worst (expletive) offensive game in the history of the (expletive) Packers.”

With Aaron Rodgers, the Packers would have had more than seven first downs. They would have possessed the ball for more than 19 minutes. But I’m not sure if Rodgers would have helped tackle, confuse or even provide resistance to the Lions offense.

Still, if No. 12 is back and able to play Dec. 8 against the Atlanta Falcons, they have a chance. It’s hard to believe, but the Lions and Bears are both capable of losing two more games, and the Rodgers-led Packers could win their last four. If that’s the case, the Packers win the division.

After an atrocious showing like Thursday’s, it’s hard to find positives. Without question, the Packers’ postseason hopes are waning and there really weren’t any positives to take away from the Packers’ produce in Detroit.

But if there’ ever been a reason to be optimistic about an improved offense since Rodgers went down, it’s now. Simply because he might be back.

Thursday was ugly. So this is going to be brief.

Game Balls

Morgan Burnett

The Packers’ lone game ball goes to Morgan Burnett, solely because of his Funky Chicken celebration. Burnett didn’t play particularly well, but he had a pair of fumble recoveries and a sick touchdown dance. Way to go, Morgan. Nicely done.

Lame Calls

Offense

The Packers had 126 total yards and scored three points. The writing was on the wall when Matt Flynn looked past a wide open Andrew Quarless and tried to force the ball to Jordy Nelson–needless to say, the pass was incomplete. Detroit continually stacked the box to shut down Eddie Lacy–and they did, to the tune of 16 yards on 10 carries–and Flynn was simply unable to take advantage of it. It was the worst offensive showing I’ve seen in a NFL game a long, long time. But things weren’t all bad for the Packers offense. At least they had seven first downs.

25

November

Game Balls and Lame Calls: Packers 26, Vikings 26

Matt Flynn led a fiery comeback for the Packers. And in some ways, the tie is a win.

Matt Flynn led a fiery comeback for the Packers. And in some ways, the tie is a win.

Despite playing to a 26-26 tie, the Green Bay Packers gained ground on the division-leading Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears. And as far as the NFC North title is concerned, that’s a win for the Pack.

Without quarterback Matt Flynn’s late-game heroics, it’s hard to imagine the Packers pushing the game to overtime. But Flynn, down by 16 in the fourth quarter, led his team back and tied the game at 23.

And the game was played on my 23rd birthday, so of course, yours truly had something to do with the comeback. Duh.

Some players just fit in a certain system. And there’s no way around it–Matt Flynn’s ceiling is as a backup with the Packers.

Some–myself included–overestimated Flynn’s value when he hit the free agent market after the 2011 season. Sure, he’s been traded from the Seattle Seahawks and cut by the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills since leaving Green Bay, but at this point it’s pretty clear that the Packers’ system is good for Flynn and Flynn is good for the Packers.

“We were looking for a spark,” head coach Mike McCarthy said of Flynn after the game. “We had a history with Matt. He went out there and played football.”

Sounds simple. And it is. Flynn went out there and played football. He made the throws he had to make and took what the leaky Vikings defense was giving him.

At the very least, Flynn gives the locker room a shot of confidence as they head into a season-altering game Thursday against the Detroit Lions. The last time Flynn played in Detroit was when he entered the game in relief after Aaron Rodgers left the game with a concussion. The offense sputtered, and the Packers lost that game 7-3.

Now, the Packers head into their Thanksgiving showdown with the Lions needing a win, which would put them in first place in the division. The only question is: Will they have Aaron Rodgers?

Game Balls

Eddie Lacy

Teams know they’ll be getting a heavy dose of Lacy when they play the Green Bay Packers, but it doesn’t matter. Stacking the box can only do so much against a bruising back who routinely breaks through arm tackles. Lacy finished the game with 110 yards on 24 carries and proved his worth in the passing game, totaling 48 yards on six catches. The guy is really, really good.

19

November

Game Balls and Lame Calls: Giants 27, Packers 13

Tramon Williams was making tackles near the line of scrimmage and intercepted a pass in the red zone. It was a big day for No. 38.

Tramon Williams was making tackles near the line of scrimmage and intercepted a pass in the red zone. It was a big day for No. 38.

For the first time in three weeks, the Green Bay Packers’ starting quarterback (Scott Tolzien) played beyond the game’s first series. So, there’s that.

In his first career start, Tolzien was able to move the Packers offense down the field on his way to three scoring drives. But much like Tolzien’s first outing with the team, his day was clouded with turnovers.

Although he completed 70 percent of his passes en route to a 339-yard day against a good Giants defense, Tolzien’s second interception to Jason Pierre-Paul clinched the game for New York, as JPP picked off the pass and raced into the end zone, extending what was a seven-point lead to 14.

And here we are. The Packers are 5-5 on the season and likely need to win five of their last six to make the playoffs.

With the Vikings next on the schedule, the Packers have a good chance at getting back over .500, despite being without Aaron Rodgers for at least another week. But then again, it’ll more than likely be another ugly slugfest in which the winner is decided by a late score.

The value of Rodgers is undeniable. Not only is he really, really good at throwing the football, eluding pressure and making pre-snap reads, but simply having No. 12 under center completely opens things up for the running game. It’s not exactly rocket science, I know. Eddie Lacy is a great back, but defenses are stacking the box in a way I–having grown up watching Rodgers and Brett Favre–have never seen.

On the sideline, Rodgers has to be looking at these defensive fronts, shaking his head and thinking “If only.” Favre is probably sitting on his recliner in his Wranglers and laughing.

Either way, the Tolzien-led Packers are the Tolzien-led Packers. The Rodgers-led Packers can beat any team in the league, in my opinion. But the Tolzien-led Packers cannot.

This week? I believe the Tolzien-led Packers can beat the Christian Ponder, Matt Cassell or Josh Freeman-led Vikings. But we will see.

Game Balls

Tramon Williams

6

November

Game Balls and Lame Calls: Bears 27, Packers 20

With the Bears behind them, the Packers will move on without Aaron Rodgers.

With the Bears behind them, the Packers will move on without Aaron Rodgers.

On top of suffering their third loss of the season, which puts the Green Bay Packers in a three-way atop the NFC North, the team lost its unquestioned leader for at least several weeks.

On the game’s first series, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked by Bears defensive end Shea McClellin. The hit wasn’t violent, but Rodgers was slammed hard into the Lambeau Field sod and reportedly suffered a fractured left collarbone.

Of course, many Packers will point the finger at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Bob McGinn. Last week, McGinn wrote a column suggesting the Packers could win without Rodgers. The article ran Nov. 2–two days prior to Rodgers suffering what he calls a “significant injury.” If you haven’t yet read McGinn’s piece, you should do so.

Now, obviously, losing Rodgers is a tough blow for the Packers. Rodgers probably the best quarterback in the NFL, and Seneca Wallace is a significant downgrade from the 2011 league MVP, but while expectations for the rest of the Packers’ season are different now than they were Monday, the Wallace-led Green Bay Packers aren’t quite the Curtis Painter-led Indianapolis Colts when the Colts were forced to play without injured quarterback Peyton Manning.

In 2006, Manning led the Colts to a 10-6 record. The following year, which Manning missed with a neck injury, the Colts plummeted to 2-14 and “earned” the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. In recent years, losing Rodgers for any amount of time may have been a fatal blow to the Packers’ season.

But now, I’m with McGinn. This Packers team can win without Rodgers.

The team’s newfound offensive balance has been a pleasant addition to the team and will now act as the crutch the team will rely on as they tackle the start of the second half of the season without Rodgers. A hungry Eddie Lacy and healthy James Starks, along with a dramatically improved offensive line have the Rodgers-less Packers offense in a much better place than they’ve been in recent years.

After losing Rodgers to injury Monday, Wallace was clearly not ready game action. This much we know. But with a week of preparation, it’s hard to imagine Wallace turning in anything short of an improved performance Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.