You know that flat feeling you had at the end of the the 40-10 shellacking of the Green Bay Packers by the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving? It wasn’t the end.
It’s a new beginning. In fact, it might be a beginning that’s a bit overdue.
You can talk about Aaron Rodgers all you want, how he’s the glue of the team and has proven himself as being the most valuable player, hands down. In fact, you can make the point that all of the other injuries that Packers suffered were able to be smoothed over with a little Rodgers frosting, until the fateful day he broke his collarbone.
The point is, without Rodgers, this is a team that can’t communicate, can’t focus, and can’t execute. And more strikingly, it can’t figure out why.
Folks have been murmuring about these weaknesses for several seasons now, starting as soon as 2011, not even a year removed from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. Even as Rodgers was defying mortality as he passed his way to an MVP Award, the defense had long since stopped playing to its Super Bowl form.
“Fire Capers” was the occasional tweet or shout-out, easily dismissed by most Packer fans still reveling in the afterglow of winning a Super Bowl.
How can you fire the guy whose defense repeatedly saved this team on the way to a Super Bowl Trophy?
The answer is: you can’t. And that is the curse of the Lombardi Trophy. It’s an atrophying of your normal limits of patience and puts blinders on your objectivity when it comes to evaluating your talent. And it doesn’t just affect fans. It affects coaches and general managers, too.
Heck, if there was anyone driving the “Fire Slocum” bandwagon, it was me, as I had firmly placed the blame for the mishandling of Mason Crosby directly on his shoulders. But I knew he wasn’t going to get fired. How do you fire the guy that just coached the Super Bowl-winning special teams unit?
Think about it. There’s an aura surrounding those players, a belovedness not only for the guys we cheered hoisting that trophy, but a psychological circling of the wagons on the part of the team, Mike McCarthy, and even Ted Thompson.
Why mess with a winning formula? These were the horses that got you to the promised land once. Why would you mess with that?
We’ve seen that reluctance to move on. Everyone was surprised when the Packers exercised the $9M option on Jermichael Finley this offseason. While Mason Crosby’s resurgence this season is cheer-worthy, we know there are no other NFL kickers in history who would have been given another chance after his historically miserable season.
Even Donald Driver was likely given an extra season on the roster, past his prime before the Packers finally parted ways with him. Hey…if the Packers hadn’t won a Super Bowl in 2010 and were posting mediocre records, do you really think Thompson would have kept Driver on the roster, just to take up space on the inactive list each week?
But perhaps nowhere as a whole can you see evidence of gold dust lingering just a little too long than with the Packers’ secondary. For too long, they’ve struggled to live up to the impossible standards they set for themselves in that improbable winning streak of six games at the end of 2010. It seemed that every tight, game-threatening drive by the other team, when the tension was at its peak, TRAMON WILLIAMS would intercept a pass! Or perhaps it would be SAM SHIELDS with the game-saving pick! Or maybe CHARLES WOODSON would make the key stop, right when it mattered most?
But, try saying an ill word about Tramon when it became more and more clear that his shoulder injury had left him as not quite the superhero he once was. The response from loyal Packer fans was quick and fierce: do you NOT REMEMBER what he did for us in 2010??
Or perhaps the slow decline of Charles Woodson, and the denial we had watching player run past the man who once inspired us all. He’ll be fine, we said, just move him to safety.
Or the eye-raising contract extension of Morgan Burnett, who wasn’t even on the field during the Super Bowl drive due to injury. After signing a $25M, four-year deal in July, he was given the honor of being the “quarterback of the defense” because he missed nary a snap last season.
But, here’s the reality that was evidently clear on Thursday.
Tramon Williams is Just A Guy now. Not bad, but not the guy he was. 2010 isn’t enough to keep you around forever at $7.5M a year.
Morgan Burnett is NOT a quarterback of the defense. He can’t put other players in the right place to make plays when he can’t even put himself in position to make plays. The Packers now need to address this position instead of fooling themselves into believing Burnett is the answer.
Brad Jones, AJ Hawk, BJ Raji, and other holdovers from that 2010 simply aren’t playing to the level they need to. They can no longer be guaranteed starting spots, much less a spot on the roster if they can’t hold their own.
Dom Capers may have run out of time and chances. He’s not maximizing the talent he has on the field and isn’t holding anyone accountable for their mistakes. If his magic has run out, its time to bring in a new wizard.
What Thanksgiving gave us was the release from those untouchable labels of the Midas Touch of the Lombardi Trophy, both for us as fans, and for anyone within the power structure of the Packers organization. When Ted Thompson first took over as general manager of the Packers in 2005, overpriced veterans who weren’t a part of the future were either let go or put on notice that they needed to step it up or prepare to be replaced as soon as they developed someone better to take their spot.
Thompson can return to that mentality, making a list of players that will transition their way into the next incarnation of the Green Bay Packers. Chances are that the next time the Packers truly challenge for a Super Bowl, Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews will be surrounded by a mostly different supporting cast than the one that surrounded them in 2010.
But neither Ted, nor we, can hang on to the “glory days” and the players that we cherished forever. How many times have we learned that lesson just within our own franchise?
Ron Wolf said it best when he took over the team in 1992: “You are only here as long as it takes for us to find someone better to replace you.” True to his word, by the time the Packers were challenging for the Super Bowl, the only player left over from the Infante Era was LeRoy Butler. No matter how good a player was, this is a “what have you done for me lately” business.
Today’s Green Bay Packers are unfocused and unaccountable. There is no going forward without returning to that “do or die” mentality. Those veterans who respond to the challenge will stick around as leaders. Those that fail to meet the challenge will be left to find their way with other teams, regardless of past glory.
It is Thompson’s duty as general manager to hold everyone accountable, each player, each coach, and even Mike McCarthy. The team must move forward.
And leave the past, no matter how glorious, behind.