The longest regular season in NFL history concluded last night with what might be the game of the year in many fans’ eyes. There are conflicting reviews on the added week. While more football is always great, the overall product was a bit watered down by teams resting players. Fans of the Colts, Steelers, Chargers, and Raiders might still be recovering from yesterday’s events, but for Cheeseheads, Week 18 served as an inconsequential evaluation of the team’s depth. The Packers entered the last week of the season with the top seed in the NFC locked up thanks to contributions from its star players and some unlikely players. Let’s have some fun and see who the fictional award winners are for the 2021-2022 regular season.
Breakout player: Rasul Douglas
There are probably three or four names you could choose for this award, most coming on the defensive side of the ball, but Douglas is in the conversation for defensive MVP.
The fifth-year pro entered the Packers’ organization a Super Bowl champion(LII)-turned-castoff.
After bouncing around four teams between 2020-2021, the 26-year-old was claimed off the Arizona Cardinals practice squad as Brian Gutekunst scrambled for some depth with Jaire Alexander gone for the foreseeable future.
It became anyone’s best guess why Douglas was relegated to a practice squad, never mind starting, as he stamped his mark in the Packers’ secondary immediately. He became a bonified playmaker in 2021, securing five interceptions — returning two for touchdowns — in 12 games.
It was one of the best in-season acquisitions in team and league history.
To encapsulate Douglas’ breakout season – he had never caught a game-sealing interception in his career prior to joining the Packers – he caught two this season. He had five career interceptions entering this season – he matched that in 12 games. He never had a pick-six in his career – he notched two.
Talk about creating a market for yourself in free agency.
Most improved player: Rashan Gary
We could peg Gary as the breakout player of the year, but it seemed more fitting to name him most improved.
In his first two seasons after being selected 12th overall by the Packers in 2019, Gary never posted a season-long PFF grade higher than 68.1. He is among the elite edge rushers in 2021, ranking fifth with an 89.3 grade.
Gary improved so much this season, it has become a viable, low-risk option to release the All-Pro talent Za’Darius Smith next offseason to create cap space.
While he still has some work to do in the run game, the 24-year-old has cemented himself as the team’s best pass-rusher this season, tallying 9.5 sacks, 46 pressures, 19 QB hurries, and 16 QB knockdowns.
It was a slow start to Gary’s career from a production standpoint, but the Packers deserve a ton of credit for taking their time with the high draft pick and allowing him to blossom.
Assistant coach of the year: Adam Stenavich
If you were told last July that the Packers would be without David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins and Josh Myers for most of the season, what do you think you would’ve said? On that same note, if I told you Yosh Nijman would be protecting Aaron Rodgers’ blindside for half the season, what would be your first comment?
We’re talking about filling an All-Pro left tackle, who is probably the best in the world at his position when healthy, and a budding All-Pro-calibre guard, who has a case for the most versatile lineman in the NFL.
Packers offensive line coach and run-game coordinator, “Steno,” deserves all the flowers in the world after this season.
While certain adjustments needed to be made offensively, such as Rodgers throwing the ball within 2.63 seconds (the fastest of his career), the offensive line has been a great surprise, allowing a 21.9% pressure rate on Rodgers – 13th best in the NFL.
Steno has created an opportunity for himself to be the Packers’ next offensive coordinator, should Nathanial Hackett get a head coaching gig.
WTF moment of the year: Kicking fiasco in Cincinnati
I know no one, including myself, wants to relive this memory, but it suits this award so let’s do a quick recap.
Crosby is unquestionably a Packers hall-of-famer and one of the most reliable kickers of his generation.
But if the dying moments in Week 5 at Paul Brown stadium served as anything, it was a “WTF moment.”
After entering the week with a 100% conversion rate in extra points and field goals, Crosby inexplicably went 1-2 on XPs and missed three field goals, finishing 4-7 on the day.
The WTF moment came late in the game – with 2:16 left, to be exact.
After the Bengals tied the game at 22 points apiece, Rodgers and the Packers’ offense had time for one of its signature walk-off drives. Except Crosby missed from 36 yards out, leaving the door open for the Bengals.
Breakout rookie kicker Evan McPherson followed that up by missing from 57 yards, giving Crosby a chance for redemption as the clock hit zeros. Crosby missed again, this time from 51 yards away.
An interception thrown by Joe Burrow, followed by another missed field goal attempt from both sides set the stage for Crosby to send the Packers home after a gruelling game. This time Crosby was true from 49 yards.
It wound up being five missed field goals in roughly 40 minutes of real-time.
Despite the Packers walking away with a road victory, it started a downward spiral of the entire special teams unit that would paint the team’s media coverage all season.
Joshua Frey-Sam is a journalism student and aspiring sportscaster hailing from Winnipeg, Canada. A Packers fan since 2005, Josh has worked to master the financial and scouting aspect of the NFL over the past few years. Josh remains a firm believer that Dez did not, in fact, catch the ball. You can follow him on twitter at @jfreysam.
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