The Green Bay Packers’ season ended in heartbreaking fashion Saturday night after one of the wildest finishes in NFL playoff history. Following an overtime-forcing offensive drive for the ages, the Packers’ defense dropped the ball in OT. The Pack shrunk their margin of loss from 30 points in their last meeting in Arizona to just 6 this week, but the effort wasn’t enough to gain the victory. The Packers now head home and begin preparing for next season.
Finishing with a 77.9 quarterback rating, this was far from Rodgers’ best performance, but that final drive will never be forgotten by Packer fans. If the Packers had gone on to win the game, I think it is safe to say that that would have gone down as one of the top 2 or 3 drives in Packer history. But, even apart from that drive, Rodgers played well considering the circumstances. He did throw an interception, but he also accumulated 262 yards and 2 TDs while throwing to Jared Abbrederis, Jeff Janis, and Richard Rodgers all game. Aaron Rodgers’ top 4 receiving threats were either hurt or completely neutralized. If there is one take away from this game it is this: Rodgers is now a Haily Mary king. And Skip Bayless won’t be able to talk quite as much about how Rodgers can’t produce with sub-par receivers as Brady can.
Janis is now effectively the Paul Bunyan of Wisconsin folklore. Maybe it’s a good thing that the season is over. I don’t know if the state can collectively maintain the weight of the Jeff Janis Hype Train. Prepare your Twitter accounts for next preseason accordingly. In all seriousness, Janis is completely maddening. The guy obviously has through-the-roof talent, but his consistency and football IQ are complete question marks. Let’s hope the 145 yard and 2 TD performance in a playoff game is a sign of good things to come and not the riding off into the sunset of a tall tale that ended as abruptly and mysteriously as it began.
Haha finished the game with 4 tackles, 1 interception, and 2 passes defensed. He’s really progressing as a safety, and has the ability to do it all. His tackling is greatly improved from the start of the season. He can cover, make plays, and even blitz with the best of them. He’s just one of the many bright spots on the Green Bay defense.
There were defensive players who had better games than Jake Ryan on Saturday. Clay Matthews, Sam Shields, Mike Daniels, Julius Peppers, and Mike Neal all come to mind. BJ Raji and Letroy Guion had great games up front, as well. But rather than include Mike Daniels on this list for like the 10th time this season, I decided to go with Ryan given his vast improvement. I wasn’t sold on Ryan for a good chunk of the season, but he’s really shown up over the past few weeks. He has decent quickness and a certain instinct to his game that put him in sharp relief to Nate Palmer, the player that he overtook for the starting ILB spot. The Packers will have a good roster battle between Barrington and Ryan next year.
Was James Jones even on the field Saturday night? I thought that I saw his hoodie out there, but there is little sign of his presence on the stat sheet. You’d think that in a playoff game where the team is down 3 starters, the lone veteran, the lone receiver with starting experience in the post-season, would step up over the likes of completely inexperienced second year players. But that was not the case. Jones was targeted twice for 0 catches and 0 yards. With Jones likely gone next season (given the return of Jordy, the existence of Cobb and Adams, and, now, the promise that Abbrederis and Janis showed on the big stage), it was a sad end to a great Packers’ career. I cannot imagine that the Packers will ask him back in 2016. And as much as I am going to miss the hoodie, I cannot blame the team for moving on.
Defense of Last Two Drives
The Packers’ defensive front was in Carson Palmer’s head. They only sacked Palmer 3 times, but they applied pressure all night, and it showed. Palmer gifted the defense 2 interceptions, and about 2 or 3 more possible interceptions, had the cornerbacks been more sure-handed. He missed several wide open receivers over the course of the game, as well. All of this is not to mention how the defense completely stifled the the Cardinals’ running game. Arizona finished with just 40 yards on 19 carries. That’s 2.1 yards per carry. But, unfortunately, in what was one of Dom Capers’ best defenses in his tenure with the Packers, the last two drives of the season are likely to eclipse an entire season of very good play. I’m still shell-shocked from that last drive. It’s not even so surprising that the defense gave up the winning TD. What was really shocking was that they gave it up in only 3 plays. The defense carried the team this year, but the story of the 2015 season will forever be about how Rodgers, against all odds, gave the Packers a chance, only to let the defense hand the game away anyway. There’s a temptation to say that, after the whirlwind of this season, this punctuation brings us back to Packers football as usual in the Thompson/McCarthy/Rodgers era, but that’s a too simplistic view. The defense ended the year playing as well as the 2010 Super Bowl defense. But there is room for improvement.——————
Taylor O\'Neill is a Packer fan born and raised in Oshkosh, WI. He currently lives in Florida and is pursuing his PhD. Taylor is a writer with PackersTalk.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @TaylorONeill87 for more Packer news.