A shock to "new" fans but the same-old same-old for long-of-tooth Packers backers
This is what parts of the 1970's and most of the '80's felt like, only this time it's in HD with much better background music (I'm thinking Black Keys and Mumford vs. disco Bee Gees and Paper Lace--no contest, today wins).
The last month of Packers football is reminiscent of the pigskin Wisconsin bore witness to during those two decades. Vince Lombardi went upstairs to the GM's job in 1968 and victories went elsewhere--sure, there was the 1972 aberration when the Packers could run for days behind John Brockington and MacArthur Lane while making sure QB Scott Hunter NEVER had to throw the ball, and the strike-shortened season in the 80's when Bart Starr's forces were able to beat the Cardinals in the opening round of the postseason only to get undressed by the Cowboys in the next but otherwise, what you witnessed this no-win No-vember is what passed as pro football in these parts back in the day.
We are not here to bury those old Packers of days gone by--because there's so much to chew on with this current assemblage.
To those of you who want Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy, Dom Capers and anyone else with a sideline clipboard gone--put a sock in it. This is the same crew that kept Green Bay competitive for years, that got the Pack a Super Bowl crown. Yes, the unit didn't always live up to expectations but the quality of the product has been consistent, competitive and, until now, imminently watchable.
The Journal/Sentinel's Bob McGinn had the misfortune of predicting the Packers could keep winning if Aaron Rodgers got hurt. He also had the bad luck of landing those words in print the day before #12 would suffer a broken collarbone against the Bears. The winning stopped that night and, to my way of thinking, it won't come back until Rodgers returns and brings a whole lot of his wounded mates with him.
Rodgers covered up a lot this season--a banged up, reshuffled offensive line, the loss of Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley, a sketchy-at-best defense that hoped young talent would provide an infusion of anger and speed. Again, the injuries mounted on both sides of the ball and when Rodgers was gone, you are left with what we've got: B-teamers (or C or D) trying to fill roles. The NFL is closely competitive, the difference between victory and defeat so narrow that the slightest mistakes can mean an "L" instead of a "W". That gap becomes a chasm when you lose people the way the Packers have. McCarthy likes to say injuries are no excuse, but they ARE a reality and they DO take a toll as they accumulate. Special teams suffer as those part-timers get forced into full-time rolls, their spots on coverage squads going to younger, less qualified players.
Some of this is on Thompson--the lack of a qualified backup to Rodgers, no replacement for center Evan Dietrich Smith (god bless T.J. Lang for trying, but wow). Jerel Worthy isn't working out. Other younger new players on defense haven't blossomed, and inside linebacking remains an issue. The secondary hasn't been the same since Nick Collins left. Casey Hayward is done for the year. M.D Jennings? Hmm. Charles Woodson may have lost a step, but wouldn't he look nice right now in green and gold?
Modern teams only have so much cash, and much of it gets spent on the stars that make your team unique, on men who cover-up the shortfalls of teammates. Aaron Rodgers. Clay Matthews. Choices have to me made up and down the rest of the roster. Thompson likes to draft and develop. It's great when it works. The results are predictable when a can't-miss flounders or the learning curve is a little too steep. Add in this season's raft of injuries and, well, wins are in short supply. Remember the Indianapolis Colts when Peyton Manning went down? And THAT was a team in much better health than the Packers find themselves in now.
You can beef with Thompson's choices. You can question McCarthy's play calling. You can make the argument that the rest of the league caught up with Capers. That's what fans do, and the bloody head on a fence post is the option many go for when a season goes south.
Take a step back and look at how this team got to where it is as November becomes December and you'll see it's not one guy's fault. Remember how good you felt about the Pack's chances heading into that Bears game at Lambeau that Sunday night oh so long ago? Some of you were eyeing the calendar and wondering just how cool it would be to do a trip to New York in February.
Instead, you'll be getting a steady diet of Tom Braatz/Lindy Intante/Forrest Gregg era football, at least until Rodgers and a whole lot of his teammates heal, until Thompson's past choices play out the way he hopes and a few other moves get made. The Packers are a very hurt, very exposed football team right now, and that reality holds true whether it's 1973 or 2013.