Well, that was sobering. Entering into an electric environment on a Sunday, the vibe was healthy. By mid 1st Quarter, there was an eery tension. An unsettling buzz that was tough to shake. But, the likelihood of 16-0 was minimal and all things considered, a loss to an AFC team is the best way to lose. And, frankly, it should serve as a wake-up call. It was on Sunday Night. In front of a National audience. Under the lights. And, the loss came in an embarrassing way. It was humbling. It was humiliating. But, in the locker room, it should be an easy loss to move on from.
As I write, I sip a Sierra Nevada Narwhal. It's Stout season. This one is 10.2%. A great Russian Imperial Stout. One of my favorites. A raisin taste at the front and a little bit of a burnt chocolate taste at the finish that lingers gloriously. And, it goes straight to the head in smiling fashion.
Musically, I turn myself back to the mid-90's when the Packers dominated the Carolina Panthers to win the NFC Championship. I listen to the Blues Traveler "Four" vinyl. This 1994 record spins with an elegant tie-dye touch. I felt like there were also some uplifting lyrical reminders. For the Packers: "For every challenge could have paradise behind it. And if you accept what you have lost and you stand tall. You might just get it back and you can get it all. So now you know why it's a long way to fall. Yeah 'cause it's a long way to fall, it's a long way to fall. So stand! Stand and walk!" And, for me, as I look out the window in my living room, I'm reminded that "the mountains win again" and that "a pocket is no place for a smile." By Tuesday, I was easily over this loss. Admittedly, Monday was tough. Got home late on Sunday night. Up early on Monday. Tons of damn Donkey fans wearing jerseys on Monday. Awful reminders. But, in the end, as mentioned earlier, all things considered, this was as good of a loss as could be encountered.
Here are some takeaways from the last week:
* Mike McCarthy's team was poorly planned. The Broncos came out in single high safety. The middle of the field was wide open. Yet, we consistently tried to win in a crowded area: outside the hash marks. In the early years of Mike McCarthy's offense, we ran a bunch of slants and crossing routes. Where'd these plays go? It felt that everything was slow developing. Really disappointing offensive design.
* For all those that say the WR's weren't open, they didn't have the view that I had. Cobb was open multiple times over the middle of the field. Twice - the MVP was high on throws to Cobb in which he'd have had huge gains. There were multiple times that Cobb was wide open over the middle but the ball never showed. Adams was wide open on a deep crossing route. Rodgers never saw him. Jones had Roby beat to the inside on a deep ball. Rodgers missed him as he threw wide and to the outside. Big plays were left on the table.
* That was the poorest game of Aaron Rodgers' career. I wish he'd have owned up to it and taken the blame.
* I thought the OL did a decent job in pass protection. Rodgers had time. But, it felt as though the MVP was looking at the pass rush and not what was happening down the field.
* What happened to the back shoulder pass? Rodgers is the master of that throw. It's intended to be thrown to the WR who is covered.
* Hate to be critical of the 2-time MVP, the XLV MVP and one of the greatest statistical regular season QB's in NFL History, but this team is built around him. And, when he plays poorly, it'll be tough for this team to win. The Packers needed Rodgers. He didn't show up. And, his body language looked awful. I couldn't believe it. His posture was off. It was really disturbing. Hope that everything is OK with him.
* While Adams and Jones were occasionally open, I didn't like the way they were consistently driving on their routes. Almost felt that they were taking plays off.
* Cobb is frustrated. Watching him on the field, it was absolutely apparent. He's being under utilized in an offense that is desperate for a play maker. The Packers have to find a way to get him 7-10 touches a game.
* The Packers need Ty Montgomery at 100%.
* Where was Jeff Janis? He was on the sidelines. More excited than anyone on the roster. He was waving his arms trying to get the Packers fans into it. Trying to animate his teammates. I'm not calling for 7-8 throws to Janis, but he has speed that we don't have elsewhere. The Packers need to stretch defenses. Janis is our best option. He should run 3-4 deep routes a game. It'd keep defenses honest.
* I've been saying it for two years: Richard Rodgers is a liability as a blocker. Awful.
* John Kuhn should be getting a touch a game. At least. He moves sticks. He's reliable. And, he understands the offense as a blocker.
* Was great to see Eddie in glimpses. Ran hard. Came out on fire. Then, he was put on the sidelines. I didn't get it.
* On the other hand, that might have been the worst that I've ever seen Eddie Lacy as a blocker. Rodgers was pointing out the blitz. Lacy missed the signal.
* 77 freakin' yards.
* Not counting the final knee downs, the Packers had 3 possessions that were three plays or less. We need more chunk plays. More offensive strategy with designs on 5-8 yards rather than 15+ yards.
* Justin Perillo's 6-yard catch was a highlight for me. That's depressing.
* The Packers miss AQ81 as an in-line blocker. If Kennard Backman can't block, it might be wise to activate Mitchell Henry.
* I love Clay Matthews. I'm not sure that the Packers have ever had someone like him at ILB. He steps up to hear audibles. He mans the middle of the field. He wins with speed. He wins with quickness. He wins with power. And, he's so smart. And intimidating.
* Nate Palmer might be the worst staring ILB in the NFL. He's gullible in the run game. Often baited to overcommit, which leads to a huge hole on the cut-back. Crossing routes are easily run right in front of him. He's late to recognize and he doesn't have the speed to catch up when he's trailing an oft-injured, slow 32 year old TE.
* BJ Raji played hard. Liked his activity.
* Mike Daniels gave effort, but he was pushed around too easily.
* Mike Pennel was a fighter on the inside. Liked his game.
* Thought Datone Jones was great in limited reps. Really active. Quick to shed blocks. Great arm extension. Played fast.
* One bright spot: Down 17-10. 3rd Quarter. 3rd & 8. Was good to see Clay and Peppers having some fun. Leading the troops. Obviously, the play didn't turn out well as Manning hit Thomas for 20 yards, but it was good to see some fire being started by two of our veterans. They were having fun. And trying to rally the troops.
* Want to see more of YELLOW JAKE. Badly.
* Joe Thomas made a good play, but was quieter than we need him.
* Casey Hayward can't play on the perimeter. He's a slot CB. That's it. No more. No less. I still think he has a big play waiting for him.
* Micah Hyde would like to forget last Sunday Night. I'll join him in that thought.
* HaHa is our 2nd best defender.
* When CJ Anderson was spinning, Morgan Burnett was whiffing.
* Great pick, Damarious!
* I'd like to see Gunter active on GameDay. He showed great promise in the preseason. We lack depth on the perimeter at CB. When Sammy went out, we had limited options.
This week - it's Carolina. 7-0 hosting 6-1. A season defining game. A win and home-field throughout is our target. We'd control our own destiny. A loss and all of a sudden, not only are we in a dog fight for a first-round bye, but we'll be in hotly contested battle for the Division. It's as close to a must win game as a Week 9 game could be. The 2015 Packers team isn't built to win 2 games on the road in the playoffs prior to the Super Bowl. We are built for home field advantage. While I wouldn't be afraid to head to Carolina in the NFC Championship, I don't want to see this team playing on Wild Card weekend. This weekend could potentially be a season defining game.
Carolina plays defense. Star Lotulelei is a MAN in the middle. Kaman Short is having an All-Pro season. Kony Ealy has great length and consistently disturbs. Jared Allen still has gas in the tank. Their LB's are elite. Luke Kuechly is as good as the NFL offers. Thomas Davis keeps motoring on. He's fast, he powerful and he's all over the field. Shaq Thompson brings great speed and is fitting in nicely. Charles Tillman keeps on truckin'. Josh Norman has been a superstar in 2015. He's developed more than anyone in the NFL from 2014 to 2015. Roman Harper is a wily veteran, but he lacks speed and can be exposed. Kurt Coleman has played well. He's been tough in the middle of the field. And, he plays with good quickness. Bene Benwikere is a solid slot CB. He'll be matched up vs Cobb. I like Benwikere, but Cobb can handle him.
Offensively, the Panthers revolve around Cam Newton. Newton is an MVP candidate this year. He's been a fantastic leader. He's stood tall in the pocket. He's had a rifle of an arm. He's been composed. He's won with his arm, his legs and his mind. He's been more composed in 2015 than he's previously been. Much to Packers fans joy, the Panthers lack weapons on the outside. Kelvin Benjamin is done for the year and thus, they role out Ted Ginn, Corey Brown, and Jerricho Cotchery at WR. That's arguably the worst WR core in the NFL. But, Cam uses Greg Olsen in dynamite fashion. And, Ed Dickson is a solid #2 TE. Devin Funchess is still finding his way. He was a solid target at Michigan, but hasn't fully settled in as either a WR or a TE at the NFL level. Still, he presents an imposing figure who could offer struggles for the Packers defense. Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert seek contact. Every play. They don't win with speed. They win with power. And heart. The Packers better match their intensity. Fuzzy Whittaker will make a couple of plays to annoy on Sunday. Book it. And, after the play, it'll have you wondering how in the world that it happened. The Panthers bring a physical, yet largely unknown OL. Led by Michael Oher and Ryan Kalil, they stand tall. And they bring intensity, much like their head coach.
The Panthers are well coached. Ron Rivera brings physicality. They'll come with mental toughness. If the Packers aren't prepared for battle on every play, they'll be out matched. I believe that the Packers will be ready.
I have a ton of respect for Charles Tillman. But, he needs to be targeted. Early and often. Especially on the deep ball. He can't run like he used to. I would like to see the Packers put Janis on Tillman's side of the field. Let's see the youngster try to run by the old veteran. Tillman can be beat deep. The Packers better try to take advantage.
Look for Lacy to try to pound at the heart of the Panthers defense early in the game. The Packers have to stay disciplined. They have to keep the Carolina defensive front honest. It'll open up the play action and allow the Packers to move the pocket. The Packers have to look at designing plays that get the MVP out of the pocket. It'll offer an opportunity for Rodgers to see the field from a different perspective.
Defensively, the Packers come out with a beefy front. They win the physical battle. They slow down the run game. They collapse the pocket with Peppers at DT.
The Packers aim to shut down Olsen. He sees a lot of double coverage. While Hyde has struggled recently, he remains our best match-up against a big TE. He's physical and has the speed to mirror a TE.
The Panthers try Ginn deep. But, can't connect. If Sammy Swagga can play, I'd expect him to be 1 v 1 on Ginn all day. With limited WR options, the Panthers can't take advantage of the Packers limitations on the perimeter of the defense.
Rodgers stays patient. A couple of underneath quick hitters to Cobb. It's Adams on a 15 yard deep slant. The Packers offense finally finds its rhythm.
DO NOT LET TED GINN BEAT YOU WITH A SPECIAL TEAMS PLAY!
Lacy grabs 70 yards on 20 carries. Datone Jones slips thru for a sack. The MVP tosses two TD's. HaHa grabs a pick. The Packers defense forces two turnovers.
Packers 27. Panthers 16.
We own the NFC.
Go Pack Go!