It’s been said by many in the past week that the Green Bay Packers are playing with House Money since their victory last week in Washington. So many–myself included–had expected the season to come to an end this past Monday and waited for the last player to turn out the lights as he left the locker room. But a lot has changed in the past week.
The Green Bay Packers we saw last Sunday were the Packers we expected to see all season long, not the pathetic facsimile that showed up after the bye.
Sure, the big name pundits on cable sports channels are still all predicting a Cardinal victory tonight. And they may be correct. After all, Arizona soundly spanked the Packers only a few short weeks ago. It was with that lost that many thought we could hear the 2015 death knell.
So here they are, a team that either didn’t deserve to back into the playoffs, one that let the NFC North championship slip through its fingers, and one that looked like a terrified JV squad the last time it faced Arizona.
They’re not supposed to win, right? The so-called experts have already stuck a fork in the Packers. They’re done. Finished. Let’s look forward to the draft this spring and turn our attention to baseball.
To quote the great philosopher Han Solo, never tell me the odds.
I would have thoroughly gone along with the above plan last week (except for the baseball bit) had the Packers truly rolled over and played dead.
But they didn’t. They played with heart and determination, proving to the naysayers that they were most certainly not dead yet. And they played with joy, something that has been sorely lacking the last stretch of the regular season.
So yeah, they are playing with house money, that magical cash you sometimes receive at a casino when you don’t deserve it. You can put all your cash on Red 12 on the roulette table, or blow it all on craps. Or slowly piddling it away in blackjack. If you lose it all, you’re none the poorer. You hopefully had fun watching it slip from your fingers, but it was at no loss.
Or you could win big and collect the entire pot on the table.
That’s where the Packers are right now. It may be borrowed time, and they end the season with a road loss. That’s always the gamble when a team hits the playoffs. Sure, any loss in the playoffs smart, but who honestly thought they would make it to the divisional round?
Or it could be the run to XLV all over again. People have wistfully compared this season to 2010 too many times to count this year, comparing catastrophic injuries that decimated the starting offense. An ailing line. Ugly concussions. It was a way to try to make lemonade. Only you didn’t have lemons. You had a steaming dog turd at times.
Yet there is one comparison that is important to remember: the two games in Atlanta. That is where this season suddenly feels like 2010. That divisional round playoff game was just like tonight’s: a rematch that the Packers didn’t deserve to be playing.
No, the Packers didn’t get stomped into next week during their 2010 regular season loss in Atlanta. A last minute field goal sealed their fate as they were sent packing in a 20-17 road loss. The Falcons were coming alive whereas the Packers began to fade a bit. With two losses in the regular season, the Falcons started to catch fire, and many thought they were one of the teams to beat on the road to Dallas. Green Bay, on the other hand, was only two weeks away from Jimmy Johnson declaring, “Stick a fork in ’em. They’re done.”
Sounds a little familiar, right?
So as the Packers headed into Atlanta in the post-season after defeating Philly on the road, they were gifted with house money. How could a 10-6 team with a crap wild card seed even stand a chance?
No one told the Packers they were supposed to lose. They played lights out football. Rodgers completed 31 of his 36 passes for 366 yards in the air, targeting 7 different receivers throughout the game. The running game, while not at 100 yard foray, leaned heavily on rookie James Starks. Kuhn and Rodgers both ran a touchdown in.
And then there was Tramon William’s pick-six.
The Packers played a perfect game on both sides of the ball. They threw caution to the wind and took chances. They weren’t expected to win that day, yet they had everything to prove that day to the pundits, the other teams, the haters and especially themselves.
Sounds a lot like tonight if you ask me.
No one expects the Packers to win. Yet if they play a balanced game where one side of the ball isn’t carrying the entire team, then they have a chance to live to play another game next week.
That means the run needs to be there. If Lacy is too banged up with his rib injury, then the Packers need to rely on James Starks or Randall Cobb to catch fire with the run. There will be no punitive benchings to prove a point tonight. Everyone on the active roster needs to be able to play his part. The run needs to be an equal part of the game tonight.
It also means that Rodgers cannot see ghosts like he has for so many games this year. But last week, it appears that he has recaptured his joy for football that had been sorely missing. When the entire internet comments on how he actually smiled last week, that is really telling. He needs to trust that his ragtag remnants of his receiving corps will be where he expects him them to be when he lobs one in the air, he needs to trust that they are going to catch it and hopefully get a few more yards after the catch. He needs to trust that his line will hold together and protect him. A confident Rodgers in the pocket is worth so much more than a scared one running for his life like he did last month in Arizona.
Finally the defense needs to prove they up for the task yet again. It’s been an odd year with the defense carrying the team, especially when the opposite has been true in recent seasons.
The defense must win the turnover contest just like it did in the Atlanta playoff game. In the past few games Quintin Rollins and Demarius Randall have been so close to almost pulling in an interception. Close doesn’t cut it. They need to break up passes and snag interceptions. Wind up on the winning side of the turnover ratio and you have the competitive edge that may make the difference.
Finally, McCarthy needs to through caution to the wind and ditch the painfully scripted order of plays. Cramming the square peg into the round hole does not work in the playoffs. He needs to adapt on the fly, not just at halftime. He needs trust his QB to change things, use the no-huddle, hurry the Cardinals’ defense into making mistake. He needs to balance that micromanaged plan with a little sandlot creativity.
Playing with house money means the team has nothing to lose tonight. They’ve gone further than everyone has expected. But on the flip side, they have everything to prove. The 2015 Green Bay Packers may have appeared to be dead in the water. A victory tonight would be a wake up call to the NFC that they are certainly not dead yet and there is still a lot of football to be played.--------------