As they say, close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and slow dancing.
The Packers lost to the Atlanta Falcons on their home turf today, and while there are a couple of silver linings to be found in the aftermath, there were far too many messes "in our house" to make us feel good about only losing by three points.
The Packers fall to 2-3, fall out of the division lead, and have two more games against playoff teams from 2007 before finally getting a week off. The boos you heard from the stands weren't imaginary, nor were they undeserved.
That stated, let's get to this week's QuickHits:
* First and foremost, Aaron Rodgers fought through pain to have a very gutty and efficient game (posting a 109.4 efficiency rating). As Packer fans, we have to give a shout-out to #12 for manning up and trying to set a tone for the rest of the team. As usual, when he was on, he was remarkably efficient, and put a couple of passes in nearly impossible holes. The touchdown to Donald Driver seeming passed through the defender's hand, and the touchdown to Greg Jennings had a window smaller than the football itself. You can't deny that this kid can put the ball almost exactly where he wants it, given time.
But, the shoulder injury seemed to wear on him as the game went on, and while he played through it, you could tell that the soreness was intensifying. The interception at the end of the game transferred every bit of momentum back to the Falcons that the Packers had gained from the Tramon Williams interception.
And, as has been the case the past few weeks, we are seeing Rodgers lock in more and more on a receiver, not going through all of his progressions, likely because he knows he doesn't have that much time. The thought did go through my head that he might have been forcing his interception to his buddy, Ruvell Martin, who appeared to be in double coverage.
This brings me to my downside for Rodgers, and I guess, the difference between how I feel about him and Favre. I would have been very comfortable with Rodgers sitting out this game and giving his shoulder another week. Not that I think we would have had much of a chance with Flynn playing, but you have to wonder if this particular game was that important for Rodgers to risk prolonging the injury. I know it is 20/20 hindsight, but he played and we still didn't win the game. Now, we have to go face Holmgren and the Seahawks at home next week, then host the Colts the week after.
Somehow, I would rather have had a healthy and rehabbed Rodgers for those two games, than risking his shoulder against the Falcons.
I know that differs from how I and many others felt about Favre, admiring his grit and playing through pain. But, we also realize that Rodgers is not Favre, and right now, #12 is the only reliable quarterback we have on this roster. I predicted that he would play 14 games this season, max. It's time to be smart with this kid, and while we admire his commitment to playing, we also have to keep him on the field, not risk losing him for the rest of the season.
* Speaking of Favre, try and find one of those folks from last summer who preached up and down that it didn't matter how the quarterback played the rest of the game, or how the rest of the team played...if you throw an interception at the end of the game, the loss is all on the quarterback. Remember those folks who made the case against Favre and last year's playoff loss? I wonder if they will apply the same rationale to Aaron Rodgers today.
My guess is that they are pretty quiet on the topic right now. And well they should be. Rodgers played a heckuva game and had one costly play at the end, as did Favre last year. And the major reasons we lost had little to do with the quarterback.
* Kudos on getting the heart of this team involved in the offense again. Donald Driver showed why he is still a #1 receiver, making big plays and taking hard hits...and then letting everyone in that stadium know that he's the man and he just made a first down.
You can tell that his leadership is rubbing off on Greg Jennings. It was great to see Jennings always in there at the end of a play or after a score, encouraging and celebrating with his teammates. Our receiving corps is in good hands, even if they do drop more passes than I would like to see.
* Wil Blackmon absolutely has to get a chip in on Roddy White off the line. The timing pattern in which White scored an easy touchdown started with the ole' that Blackmon gave him at the beginning.
If you don't chip that receiver on a timing route, and the quarterback is even moderately accurate, White will catch that ball ten out of ten times. Blackmon is growing and doing a yeoman's job in the nickel in the absence of jam-specialist Al Harris, but that was one play that might not have gone for six with #31 in the game.
* Anyone noticing Mike McCarthy looking angrier and more frustrated on the sideline? This is a man who is starting to feel like the boat is taking on water faster than he can bail it out. I've said it before: Brett Favre took a lot of hype and heat off of everyone else in the past. McCarthy is now front and center when it comes to fixing whatever is ailing this team.
Week after week, McCarthy continues to decry the sloppiness and lack of discipline and execution, stating that needs to be addressed. But, every week, the same issues happen. This week, nine penalties were accepted against the Packers for 97 yards. The penalties are just as devastating to this team as an ill-timed interception or muffed punt.
This is essentially the same team that cruised to a 13-3 record last season, minus a quarterback and a defensive lineman. This type of execution is unacceptable, and McCarthy better start doing more than just cursing on the sideline pretty quick.
* Incidentally, whining about penalities is a loser mentality. Good teams overcome bad calls. A team that was a field goal from the Super Bowl last season should never be in the situation for the refs to decide a game when playing a team that went 4-12 last year.
Alert: the Packers lead the league in penalties. This isn't something new this week. They have 419 penalty yards in five games, an average of almost 84 yards a game. When you consider our starting running back is nowhere near that total in rushing yards, the problem isn't with the refs being mean to you.
* I will say it again: I didn't like the Jermichael Finley pick when it was made, and I certainly don't like it now. This kid has done nothing productive on the field at all this season, besides get penalized for fighting and now, taking three points off the board with a holding penalty on a field goal.
When expectations are high, and you just jettisoned your veteran backup tight end over the offseason, you don't draft some project and sabatoge your team just to get him time on the field (or because you don't have any other guys to play at the position). This kid needs to be on the inactive list. For cripes sakes, activate Breno Guacomole, or whatever his name is, and let him block.
Idiotic penalty once, shame on you. Idiotic penalty twice, shame on me.
* Ryan Grant finally got his feet under him in the second half, and as the announcers noticed, it helped open up the passing game a bit more. He finished with 83 yards on 18 carries, and started to show some of the explosiveness that got him that big fat contract this offseason.
I'm still of the opinion, though, that Grant may not be what the Packers need right now. Grant is an explosive back, able to break a big play maybe once or twice a game. But he simply isn't consistent, and disappears in big games against a solid defensive line. I know much of that blame has to go to the offensive line, too, but Aaron Rodgers is going to need a guy who can consistently threaten to gain five yards on you, in any quarter, on any carry.
Brandon Jackson continues to be little more than a safety valve on third down plays. I don't know why we haven't seen more of Kregg Lumpkin, a guy who seems to make yards on every play.
This wasn't a particularly difficult run defense to go against. The Falcons ranked 23rd in rushing yards per game, and Cold Hard Football Facts had their Defensive Hog ranking at 20th overall (tied with the Packers). Seattle is in the Top Ten on both lists, and that is who is up for the Packers next week.
* Time for Ted Thompson to man up and admit his mistake with Derrick Frost. Yes, he put one inside the 20 today, but his early shank led directly to a touchdown.
Oh, by the way, those for you clamouring for the return of Jon Ryan will get your wish, sort of. Guess who is the Seahawks' punter? The Hawks currently rank 32nd in net punt yardage, so there's a chance that Ryan may soon be available.
However, I would be willing to venture a bet that, given Grady Jackson's vendetta and sack on the Packer's first play, Jon Ryan may be out to prove something to the Packers next week.
* I was going to be fatalistic and predict that the Falcons would have nearly 300 yards rushing, given the prowess of Turner and Norwood and the sieve-like quality of our defensive front. However, while the Falcons did have 194 rushing yards (and Turner did have a 100-yard game), the rush defense did better than I thought they would. Of course, that's not saying much.
Turner had 26 carries and a 4.7 yard average. The absence of Cullen Jenkins was noticeable, Aaron Kampman continues to be nearly invisible, and unless the safeties are tackling, the wrapping up continues to be weak.
* Anyone else notice Falcons coach Mike Smith out of the field arguing a call while apparently holding his latte' cup? Funny.
However, a couple plays later, he screamed for a time-out, and prevented a 12-men-on-the-field penalty. Gotta give him credit that he's the only one able to count, including the safety who is responsible for that assignment.
* Predicton: the injuries are going to continue piling up, and its not just physical. This is starting to be a mental thing. In 2005, when the Packers were on their way to a miserable 4-12 season and the atmosphere was funeral-like, you saw player after player have injuries that took them off the field. Remember that?
I do believe there is a synergy between on the field success and injuries. The less injuries you have, the better your team does on the field. But, the better your team does on the field, it seems you have players willing to gut out pain, running on adrenaline. Adding Chad Clifton to a list of walking (and not walking) wounded takes our injury list to length we sure don't like to see.
* I have long been a critic of Thompson's lack of developing a true free safety in the secondary, and in some ways, I'm beginning to see some improvment. When I think of Atari Bigby, Nick Collins, and Aaron Rouse, I think of prototypical strong safeties...hard hitters able to come up in run support and help out on short routes.
But we've been missing that free-wheeling free safety..the Eugene Robinson who was the quarterback of the defense, able to get guys in position and took fantastic angles to help out in coverage and make plays.
Collins has definately shown improvement in that area, but will always be a strong safety type. Perhaps Peprah, who was also a strong safety in college, will take that heralded smooth athleticism and take on those free safety roles I've been hoping for.
Certainly, allowing Roddy White to have 132 receiving yards from a rookie quarterback doesn't look good for the secondary, but they did shut him down in the second half.
* In the first two games, the Packers lived on the big play. The last three games, they have died by the big play.
Certainly, they had some big touchdown passes to Driver and Jennings, but they have to be able to sustain a drive and control the ball consistently.
In the third quarter, the Packers had two six-minute drives, one that ended in a punt, and another that ended in a Mason Crosby field goal. Playing from behind, that is unacceptable, three point in twelve minutes.
Other than that, the Packers averaged only five plays and barely three minutes on their remaining drives. Against a bottom-half defense like the Falcons, that is unacceptable.
This team can't rely on the big play to win game, especially when the defense has become so adept at giving up big plays.
* Finally, the pass pressure again was again tilted in the favor of the other team. The Falcons entered the game ranked only 15th according to CHFF's Defensive Passer Ratings, and yet managed to place 2 sacks and consistent pressure (at least ten hits and hurries, according to a FOX graphic) on Rodgers.
The Packers pass rush didn't gain a single sack against Ryan and was rarely in trouble. The graphic from FOX at one point had only 1 hit on Ryan and five pressures.
Scott Wells, Mark Tauscher, Daryn Colledge, and Allen Barbre were all victimized by the Falcon pass rush, not one that is particularly regarded as a top-notch line. Clifton's injury makes the line play all that more dangerous for whomever is lining up behind center.
Without Jenkins, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamilia looked like his old, one-move self again, out of the plays and handled by one blocker. Whether you like Corey Williams or not, his absence right now is glaring.
Even more glaring is Jamal Reynolds...oops, I mean Justin Harrell, who according to reports, rehabs in private away from the rest of the team, and will likely not see the field this year, if ever. Fourth round pick Jeremy Thompson saw time for the first time in an NFL game today, though you'd never know it from watching.
*In conclusion, the Packers lost a game that they never should have lost. While Rodgers' gutty performance was inspriring, Grant's resurgance is encouraging, and big plays by Driver, Jennings, and Williams were exciting, it just isn't enough.
This team has now lost to a Super Bowl contender, a wild card contender, and a rebuilding team. The two wins over the Vikes and Lions seems like a long time ago, and with two playoff teams ahead, the Packers could easily find themselves 2-5 at the bye week.
It is bad enough that we had to look at the stats and begrudingly admit that the Falcons might be a team on our own level this year. It is worse yet to lose to that team.
A good team has to beat the teams that they are even with or better than. The Packers managed to let a 4-12 team with a rookie quarterback come on their own field and beat them.
As that quack from "The Natural" kept saying, "Losing is a disease". I hope Doctor McCarthy finds the cure, quick, because the cancer is spreading.