Monday, November 16, 2009

D Shows Up; Time To (Almost) Believe Again

Well, hello, Dom Capers! Where've you been? I know you have the 3rd-ranked defense in the NFL, as your head coach keeps reminding us at press conferences, but it sure was nice to actually see them up close and peronsal yesterday! Or rather, it was good for Tony Romo to see them up close and personal yesterday!

On a dime (and with plenty of dime defense), the Packer season looks to be almost one-hundred and eighty degrees away from where we thought it was going a week ago at this time, and we owe almost all of it to Charles Woodson and the Green Bay defense, who took an explosive offense and rendered it punchless

Now at 5-4 and clearly the only other team in the NFC North race other than the Vikings, the packers appear to be vying for the wild card with seven games to go. The competition isn't that stiff for that wild card, and the Bear and the Lion games have gone from uncertainties to near-guarantees. And if the Packers can beat the Cowboys, why couldn't they beat the Steelers or the Cardinals? And so-so teams like the 49ers, Ravens, and Seahawks are all winnable games, too.

Amazing what one week will do, isn't it? As Packer fans (or passionate fans of any sport), we are just plain manic-depressive sometimes. One bad loss and the world is ending. One big win and everything is great.

But, let's not undervalue this game. The Packers effectively defined the Cowboys game as the "make or break game" of the season, and came through. Hey, this was a 6-2 team that was made to look like the Lions yesterday. That's no small feat. The Packers drew a line in the sand and said, "That's enough."

The only problem comes with what happens next. If this past week was "The Season", what does that leave in the tank for the 49ers? Which is why, like most fans, we're all now cautiously optimistic, leaving a little space for a rebound after a mighty high.

In a way, I felt like I was watching the Super Bowl teams of Baltimore or Tampa overwhelming defense that stifled the other team and controlled the play clock and the field position battle. The offense was simply there to put a score or two on the board, usually set up nicely by a turnover, and just not mess things up.

Rightly so, Aaron Rodgers is getting kudos for his performance yesterday, though I would contend this is exactly what I've been saying he could do and should be doing all along. He's a highly efficient passer who will always get you good stats. But, like any quarterback, he plays a lot better with a lead and a full playbook, than from behind when the defense knows you're going to pass.

*cough* Even if we don't run it anyway. *cough*

I was listening to The Fan last week, and Chris Havel actually made a good point; the vaunted San Francisco defense of the 80's-90's wasn't always loaded with All-Pro players. It was a decent defense that was often placed in the position of playing with a lead because of the superstars on offense. Taking nothing away from that defense, because it was a good one, but when you are working on a 24-3 lead every week at halftime, it sure gives you a comfort zone.

In a way, yesterday was a reversal of that. Taking nothing away from Rodgers, Jennings, or Driver, but they were in a position they aren't used to against good opponents: they were playing with a lead and with the defense keeping the momentum going their way, even if the offense couldn't do anything with it.

In fact, you may want to give a game ball to the O-Line for holding the fort as well as they did, as well as to the receivers for drastically reducing their dropped balls. Those two upgrades in performance helped AR's final line look as good as it did.

There's still a lot to work on, including penalties and keeping the protection up against a 7th-ranked 49er defense. Once again, the Packers had more in penalty yards than Ryan Grant had in rushing yards, and while that doesn't seem to factor in the final score, it is still concerning.

But, for now, it is time to celebrate a quarterback who found his heart, receivers that found their hands, a offensive line that found their footing, a linebacking corps that found the quarterback, a defense that found their emotional leader, and a coach that found his brain.

And a desperate team that found victory when it needed it most.

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