Everyone knows what a “signature win” is, but was Sunday’s game a signature loss for the Packers?
It was downright eerie at times, how similar the second Packer-Viking game was to the first. Even without the noisy Metrodome crowd and fast-track playing surface, the Packers were manhandled at the line of scrimmage and outplayed in every phase of the game, including QB, where Brett Favre was beyond perfect, while Aaron Rodgers displayed talent and heart but was somehow lacking something—and I’m not just talking about protection.
In the end, the game did not really feel like a referendum on Favre vs. Rodgers. Most observers, including Favre himself, have stated that the Packers made a reasonable decision in going with Rodgers over Favre. Instead, it was a referendum on the Packers as an organization—and the results were not favorable.
Time will tell, but it is possible that this game will go down in history as a signature loss for the Packers. There have been a few of those in recent years. In 1998 the Vikings came into Lambeau Field with their rookie wide receiver, Randy Mos,s and proceeded to destroy Mike Holmgren’s Packers, who were two-time defending NFC champs. The Packers would never regain their swagger. In January of 2002, Michael Vick came to Lambeau and dismantled a 12-4 Packer team, ending their perfect home-field playoff record and putting an end to the Lambeau Field mystique. And in January of 2004 the Packers let one slip away in Philadelphia, in the infamous “4th and 26th” game, which proved to be the beginning of the end of the Mike Sherman era.
Last Sunday’s loss to the Vikings may turn out to be the beginning of the end of the Mike McCarthy era, if not the Ted Thompson era. At the very least, the coach and GM have to feel like they have their backs to the wall. The war between Favre and the Packers has been decided in Favre’s favor, and it wasn’t even close. The only thing that could possibly reverse the outcome would be a meeting in the playoffs in which the Packers emerge victorious, but how many Packer fans want their team to play the Vikings a third time? The Vikings have our number. We can’t block them and we can’t get to their QB. Maybe it is time to start buying New Orleans Saints gear.
Much of the criticism of Ted Thompson this week has focused on his reluctance to acquire free agent talent, but I’m not so sure that is the problem. The last four Super Bowls have been won by the Steelers, Giants, and Colts–teams that have built their rosters mostly through the draft. And the Packers’ most glaring weakness—the offensive line—is not an area that is easy to address in free agency. You need five players there who are all pretty good and who play effectively as a unit. The addition of one top-tier player, assuming that one becomes available in free agency, is only going to get your offensive line so far.
Also, I’m not so sure that excessive youth is the problem. The vast majority of starters on both offense and defense are in the prime of their careers. The only starters who are not in at least their fourth season are Allen Barbre (3rd), Josh Sitton (2nd), and Clay Matthews (rookie), plus fill-in T.J. Lang (rookie). That doesn’t strike me as an unusually high number, especially in a league where younger players are more and more frequently being asked to play prominent roles. It’s really just a question of talent and coaching.
There is still time for this team to gel. One big loss that the Packers endured that turned out NOT to be a signature loss was the one to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC championship game at the end of the 1995 season. The Packers were overpowered in the fourth quarter by Dallas’s monster offensive line, and afterwards, one may have wondered if the Packers could ever get past the Cowboys. But after that, they marched smartly forward and won the Super Bowl the next year.
Such an outcome seems unlikely for this year’s team. But here’s the thing about signature losses: They usually are not classified as signature losses until well afterwards, when they have been followed by other losses. And we don’t know yet if that’s what’s going to happen. With the prospect of an NFC North title looking bleak, the Packers must now fall back on that familiar refrain: Just make the playoffs, then anything can happen. That is their only shot at redemption.
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