It’s Sunday and the Packers are preparing to take on the Titans in a game that stands for not much more than trying to keep pace with the 49ers for the second seed and a first-round bye. Today, C.D. Angeli offers his Titanic Random Thoughts for game day against the Titans.
Injuries: There are times where the injury situation frightens the heck out of me going into the playoffs. Hearing about the potential absence of Don Barclay in addition to the benching of Jeff Saturday bring the term “skeleton crew” to mind as the Packers look to hold off a pass rush and protect their most valuable asset in a game that, really for all intents and purposes, makes very little difference in the long run. The Packers are in the playoffs, and the last three seasons have proven there’s really no rhyme or reason to how the Packers will handle a bye or no bye.
But, in a bigger picture, the injuries have been a bit of a blessing for the Packers, dating from 2010 on. Yes, while we’ve gone for stretches without the guys we’ve intended on having in the lineup game in and game out, the Packers have been able to test the depth on their team in a trial-by-fire scenario.
The benching of Saturday for Evan Dietrich-Smith is exactly that kind of situation that, without injuries, the Packers may have never attempted. EDS may have simply been content to stand as the backup to nearly every position along the line, as he was at the beginning of the season, and just been that occasional relief that we would have hoped he would be. But the injury to Bryan Bulaga set up a chain of events that saw EDS, the expected spot starter, struggle in relief. We also saw Barclay show some solid signs of ability despite being the raw developmental project.
Now, the Packers feel confident enough to see if EDS can play any better than Saturday, who has struggled this season….a decision that McCarthy may not have been comfortable with if he hadn’t seen Dietrich-Smith get extended playing time earlier.
The injuries have been a crucible for the depth on the roster, and now as players such as Matthews, Nelson, and Woodson return in time for the playoffs, we now have known quantities with experience behind them. The Packers would have loved to have had those players in the whole season, but the plain facts are the Packers are 10-4 and now have Dezman Moses, Randall Cobb, and Casey Heyward looking like long-term starting material someday, if not already.
Who would have ever imagined that injuries make your team better? For the Packers, its becoming the norm.
Consolation Prizes: The Packers have wrapped up the division already, but that doesn’t mean the spotlight is totally off the fading teams in the division quite yet. There’s a bit of irony that the Packers have had a strong season with really no spectacular statistical standouts this season, while the Vikings and Lions have a juggernaut on each of their offensive sides of the ball.
Last night, Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s single-season record for receiving yards. Mind you, this is no small feat, especially when you consider the incredible talents that have run routes since Rice’s day. Think about it: Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne, Larry Fitzgerald…all have fallen short of that mark, letting us know exactly how impressive Megatron’s efforts really are.
The fact that the Lions are 4-10 and on their way to yet another top-10 draft pick stands in a bit of irony to the great individual effort on the part of Johnson, especially when you consider he has Dan Quisenberry throwing him passes. In what’s been a frustrating, losing mess of a season for the Lions, they have something to cheer.
On the other side of Wisconsin, the Vikings may have the honor of having the all-time single-season rushing leader wearing purple and yellow, as Adrian Peterson has rebounded from knee surgery and is on the verge of breaking Eric Dickerson’s all-time record. Again..think of all the great backs the league has had since those days in the early 1980′s–Emmitt Smith, LaDanlian Tomlinson, Jamal Lewis, Terrell Davis–and realize exactly how hard it is for anyone to even breath the same rarefied air as Dickerson.
On both counts, I hold no ill will towards either man. Both are good guys on bad teams, and would be honored to have both in Green and Gold, if it were somehow possible to do so. And, if Peterson is able to break the record this or next week, I’ll do something very rare for me: I will stand and cheer with Viking fans. Those poor, decrepit fans from Minnesota have had precious little to cheer for over the last several seasons, and while they will likely miss the playoffs again this year, they have something of significance to cheer for.
However, I find it interesting that I’m sure both teams would trade their record-breaking performances for a playoff spot. Perhaps, we as Packers fans have grown rather spoiled over the last decade or two, where simply making the playoffs and losing the first game constitutes a failure in the eyes of most fans expecting “Super Bowl or Some Form of Grisly Death”.
MVP: The national conversation over whether or not Adrian Peterson is deserving of the MVP award this year brought me back to a couple of Packer memories. And, naturally, both involved a certain former quarterback.
In 1997, Brett Favre ended up sharing the Associated Press’s MVP Award with Barry Sanders. This marked Favre’s third MVP and Packer fans cheered for their quarterback. The award has long been a QB-first award, thus leading to much of the debate over whether there are quarterbacks out there who deserve the award more than Peterson. In fact, since Favre’s ’97 co-win, only four non-quarterbacks have won the MVP. Yes, all four were running backs, and you’d have to go back to 1986 to find an MVP that wasn’t a QB or a RB (Lawrence Taylor, LB).
What was interesting about Favre’s sharing of the title in 1997, though, was that it wasn’t even really Favre’s best season. Most of his stats were down from his first MVP award in 1995, his best. Yet, he was still an engaging personality and the defending Super Bowl champion’s quarterback. Sanders, on the other hand, was almost single-handedly for nine of the Lions wins in a 9-7 season. Has the Lions made the playoffs, the chances were a lot higher that Sanders might have won the MVP outright, as he did all of the other secondary MVP awards.
As a Packer fan with a ton of respect for Sanders, I almost felt a little guilty cheering for Favre’s MVP that year. Sanders not only became a member of the 2,000-yard club, but continued to be an endless highlight reel. The fact that he was doing it for a mediocre team shouldn’t have stood in the way of his MVP chances.
And yet, here we are again, with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady getting most of the attention with their prolific passing on the backsides of the careers. Yet, at age 27, Peterson is already not only on the back nine of his career, one could possibly say this might be his swan song. Not many running backs who have run as much as Peterson in his younger years have careers spanning into his 30′s.
Peterson shouldn’t be overlooked simply because he’s not a quarterback, as the AP may have done with Sanders in 1997. Yes, the quarterbacks are having good seasons, but as we’ve seen over the last five years or so, prolific seasons by quarterbacks are no longer rare. Between Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers, someone is breaking a passing record or two every year.
But the last time a running back truly dominated this way might have been Chris Johnson in 2009, and then Jamal Lewis back in 2003. It is harder for NFL teams to commit to a running game today than perhaps at any time in the history of the NFL. What the Vikings have done with Peterson is pretty amazing.
If anything, Peterson deserves it not only for how well he’s done this season, but for the body of work he’s produced over the course of his career. Let Manning have his Comeback Player of the Year Award. Let Brady and Brees and Rodgers be content with their All-Pro status. Congratulate JJ Watt on his Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Peterson has earned this.
C.D. Angeli is a lifelong Packer fan and feature writer for CheeseheadTV.com. You can hear him on Cheesehead Radio over at Packerstalk.com, and follow him on Twitter at @TundraVision.