Packers’ coach Mike McCarthy has tried to impress one very important point on his team this preseason: “We are not the hunted; we are still the hunters.” It’s a balls-to-the-wall call to arms for a defending Super Bowl champion to maintain the same chip on their shoulder that they had to keep balancing throughout their final six-game winning streak to close out the 2010 season.
We’ve heard the whispers. The Packers have lost a lot of valuable veteran experience. Every team the Packers face will have that game circled on the calendar and get the best game they have to offer. No NFC champion has returned to the Super Bowl since the Packers did it in 1996-1997. The system is designed to prevent dynasties with free agency and salary caps. How can the Packers repeat?
And most of all, the C-word McCarthy least wants to hear is “complacency”. He’s smart to get on top of it right away, if for no other reason, it’s a fact of life. Any functional NFL team always wants to be “moving forward”, words McCarthy has spoken many times over the course of his five years as a coach before winning the ultimate prize last year. A question I keep hearing is “How can they get any better now?”
Instant reactions to last night’s Browns game were, as expected, a wild mix of emotions. As the Packers suffered their first loss since the Patriots game last December 19, those concerns of complacency certainly percolated each time the Packers didn’t score or prevent a score. A slow start by the first-team offense followed by an impressive Browns’ touchdown drive certainly perked up the ears of many fans who hoped to see a quick end to the Browns’ hopes for the night.
There’s no greater double-edged sword than high expectations. You could easily point back to 2010, when predictions of Super Bowls in the preseason were quickly dashed by a rash of injuries that made even the playoffs little more than a mathematical possibility. However, the resulting surge of excitement as the Packers defied the odds and critics to reach the Super Bowl swept across Packer Nation.
And thus, the Packers supposedly have the momentum and confidence that no other team can possibly possess coming into this season. At the same time, they also have the mantle of meeting the highest possible expectations, in which anything less than a repeat would have to be considered a disappointment, to at least some degree.
And then there’s Cleveland. It just so happens I was planning an article to illustrate the advantage the Packers should have in the beginning of the season, based on their extended 2010 season and the return of nearly all the starters and coaches. With the strain McCarthy has admitted the shortened training camp has imposed on the team, I couldn’t imagine the amount of strain on teams that have brought in entirely new coaching staffs trying to install new schemes with a lot of new faces. Since the Packers are facing two such teams early in their season, playing both the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos in the first four weeks, I saw that as two easy wins.
And the Browns should have been the epitome of that lack of preparation, with a new head coach making wild schematic changes on both sides of the ball, as well as going from one of the oldest teams in the NFL last season to one of the youngest this season. Yet, the Browns were able not only win the preseason game, but their first-stringers game our first-stringers pretty tough.
So, what does this mean? Should we be in panic mode? Absolutely not. In fact, the Packers lost their first preseason game of 2010, too….to none other than the Cleveland Browns. As I recall, that season turned out pretty good, too.
There’s an awful lot of preseason left, and afterwards, and awful lot of regular season left. With Aaron Rodgers shaking off the early rust, he ended up going 6 for 8 with a touchdown and a glowing 142.7 passing efficiency rating… picking up where he left off. And there were a lot of Packers who looked very good as the game went on, veterans and rookies alike.
And there were some concerns. With the loss of Cullen Jenkins, the pass rush was indeed lackluster. With Charles Woodson on the bench, Pat Lee was abused at cornerback, not adding to the likelihood he will be sticking around another year.
But in the end, we go back to what Coach McCarthy has been saying all preseason: “We are still the hunters.” Now, I will be the first to admit that McCarthy has a knack for repeating things ad nauseum. “Getting that cleaned up” and “pad level” have forever been ingrained into the minds of press conference aficionados everywhere. But he also has a knack for saying the right things to his players, and saying it enough times that they believe it.
If the Packers go into this season believing they are being hunted, or if they go into this season believing that last season gives them a free pass into the playoffs this year, they’re doomed…just like every other NFC team for the last thirteen years.
But in the same vein, going into the season with the perfect mental attitude guarantees nothing, either. The Browns have proven they too can undergo a rapid, drastic transformation and suddenly become competitive. It’s something the Packers did not too long ago, if we remember our history.
The Packers earn nothing from 2010. Oh, sure, they gain a little experience and confidence, but that didn’t help the Packers when they allowed Terrell Davis to score in Super Bowl XXXII, after winning it all the year before. That same experience didn’t save the Packers in 1998 when Terrell Owens caught that 25-yard pass at the end of the Wild Card Game to end the Packers’ season.
In other words, the Packers are only as good as their last game. And they didn’t look bad yesterday, but just as we have gone through every other season with McCarthy at the helm, there are things to get cleaned up, and a lot of video to study to keep moving forward as a team.
It shouldn’t be any other way. I predict that the Packers will start this season 0-0, and from there on out, this team will play each game, one at a time. The Super Bowl is in the rear view mirror, and for better or worse, it can cast a long shadow, especially if you keep looking behind you. The Packers have finally met President Obama and will likely celebrate some pomp and circumstance prior to the season opener against the Saints. After that point, the Packers need to forget about 2010 and focus solely on 2011.
The preseason loss to the Browns is neither an indictment nor a predictor of success. It is merely the first step in a new journey, a new season that may feature many of the same faces, but has as many different outcomes as any season under the Thompson/McCarthy regime. There’s a ton to be excited about: Cobb looks the part, Flynn looks solid, our running game looks to be much improved, I liked seeing Burnett’s return from injury, and while the defense had mixed reviews, you know they are in great hands with the mad scientist, Dom Capers, going back to his laboratory on Monday.
And there are some concerns: Lee had a rough night, Newhouse looked like a square peg in a round hole, both lines need to tighten up, and the linebackers need to get past the line of scrimmage in the pass rush.
In other words, we’re right back to where we are every season at this time...as it should be. The first step in a journey with one focus, one goal.
Mike McCarthy is working to convince this team that they should quit worrying about defending the old title and focus wholeheartedly on the one in front of them. The doomsday fans would be wise to do the same.
- Like Like
- 0 points