The bye week brought good vibes to Titletown, U.S.A. For the most part, we found health. We also watched the Bears, Falcons, Giants and Cowboys lose. Suddenly, a Packers win over the Lions at Lambeau coupled with a Saints win in Chicago and, once again, everything will be right in the world of the NFC North. That's roots livin'.
At halftime of the Bengals game, I said to my wife, "This is a make a believer out of me 2nd half." We didn't win. But, we entertained, offered hope and played well. Here's some takeaways from the loss to the Bengals:
* Throw away all of the garbage that Aaron Rodgers isn't clutch. I don't buy any of it. Rodgers is elite. Regardless of the situation, I want the ball in the hands of the XLV MVP. I was absolutely positive the Packers would pull off the victory until his 4th down pass fell incomplete. I wish he'd have seen Cobb on 2nd down prior to getting two passes batted down at the line. Cobb was open for an easy first down. Oh well. Onward and upward, Aaron. It was the worst game of Rodgers' career, but I won't dwell on that.
* Jordy Nelson is spectacular. After he signs another extension, I'm getting his autograph. His photo belongs on my Packers Wall of Fame.
* Hated the fumble, but Franklin showed legitimate elusiveness, patience, power and vision. You know, the things that generally make an elite back. Oh, and I also admired his confidence.
* Clay Matthews! Best defender in the NFL? Richard Sherman? Maybe. JJ Watt? Maybe. I'll take Clay.
* There was a nice Datone Jones sighting. The blocked XP had the potential to be a big play in the game.
* I'm hard on MD Jennings. I don't like his aggressiveness, but I liked the sack and the fumble return. Well done.
* Brad Jones! He hasn't mastered pad level, but man he's smart. Tackles high and loses leverage, but he's normally in the right place. I like his athleticism.
* Thought AJ Hawk also played well.
* Didn't like Starks going down. He was in the groove. Felt like he'd turned a corner.
* No reason that Cobb doesn't touch the ball 10 times per game.
* Catch the ball, AQ81! You, too, Jerron McMillan.
* Play on, Sammy Swagga. Dude is making $$$ right now. Looking like a Pro Bowler.
* Really like T-Mon's effort and aggressiveness. He looks healthy for the first time since the injury vs NO in Week 1 of the 2011 season. He has a big play coming.
* Mike Daniels is rock solid.
* Ryan Pickett plays ball.
* The defensive front is much stronger with Jolly on the field.
* Davon House has done well on the blitz. Didn't finish the play, but found his way to the QB.
* Micah Hyde is off to a rough start. Didn't see that coming. Stay confident, young man.
* Need more out of Mike Neal & Nick Perry. Immediately.
* Excited to go Morgan Burnett back. Even without the dreads.
* David Bakhtiari will have better games in the future. I'm not worried.
* Noteworthy: Sir Charles had a sack vs the Redskins. Sir Charles has 18 for his career, just 2 short of becoming the first player with 50 interceptions and 20 sacks. Stallion!
* Also, I can't say I'm rooting for Greg Jennings to play well, but his performance will impact the compensatory pick that the Packers receive next year. Thus, his 2 TD's last week should be noted.
This week - the Lions come to Lambeau. The Lions struggles in the state of Wisconsin are well documented. This Lions team appears to be different. Megatron is a stud. Reggie Bush looks like the USC version of Reggie Bush. Matthew Stafford has played well. Ryan Broyles can cause headaches. With Fauria, Pettigrew and Scheffler; they have 3 solid TE options. Suh, Fairley, Ziggy Ansah and Willie Young make up a physical, active front 4. Tulloch & Levy find the football, but both can be exposed. Glover Quin is off to a great start. And Delmas is healthy and playing at a high level.
This is a crucial game for both teams. The road to the NFC North crown goes thru Green Bay. Forget what the records presently say, in order to win the Division, you have to beat the Packers. Since McCarthy became the Head Coach in 2006, the Packers have mad the playoffs in 4 of 6 years. His recipe: win in the Division. Including the playoffs, the Packers have won 13 of the last 14 games against Divisional foes. Nothing changes this weekend.
Sure, Detroit is playing with heightened confidence. They're a poor 4th Quarter away from being 4-0 with wins against the Bears and Viqueens. They've moved the ball well offensively. They've put pressure on the QB. They've forced turnovers. They have every reason to believe in themselves. But, they're coming to Green Bay. To the mystical Lambeau Field. And, they aren't leaving with victory.
Early on, Detroit quiets the Lambeau faithful with a well conceived 80-yard TD drive. Stafford hits Johnson for a TD over Sammy Swagga.
The Packers respond by pounding the football at the heart of the Lions defense. Lacy and Franklin both get touches and positive yardage. Rodgers finds J-Mike down the seam for the equalizer! After the TD, J-Mike makes certain that Delmas sees the celebration.
Reggie Bush was an ideal addition for the Lions. Detroit likes to spread the field and then run Bush on quick hitters. Brad Jones & AJ Hawk better be aggressive as they attack the hole. And, why wouldn't they? After all, last year, the Packers bruised the interior of the Lions OL with a variety of blitzes. They also abused Riley Reiff. If Clay is full speed ahead, he's going to notch at least 2 sacks. Nick Perry & Mike Neal should find success against Jason Fox. On the inside, the Packers DL rotation should be able to punish Sims, Raiola and Warford. The Packers will win the line of scrimmage and generate 4 sacks. 2 by Matthews. 1 by Perry. 1 by Brad Jones. Book it: Stafford will move the ball, but he will get rattled.
On the other side of the ball, Detroit's DL will cause problems for the Packers OL even though - for the most part - the Packers have done well against Suh. But, McCarthy runs quick hitters. Finding Nelson & Jones who pile up big yardage after the catch. Rashean Mathis was a solid addition, but he's not the same player he once was. Chris Houston is a fighter, but he can be had on the back shoulder. Darius Slay is a nice young talent with a bright future. But, today? He can't stop the Rodgers & Nelson combination. It'll be a long, frustrating day for Slay. Nelson grabs two TD's.
Detroit has some success moving the ball. Johnson & Bush will make plays. Broyles and the TE's annoy the Packers with nickel & dime yardage. Kris Durham also sees targets. But, as they move towards the red zone, they have to settle for FG's. Often.
T-Mon grabs a pick. Burnett finds his groove midway thru the 2nd Quarter. There's a lot to prove. It's a statement game. The Packers reign.
Packers 34. Lions 26.
It's back to the roots. No matter where you go, the Packers are the Lions of the NFC North Kingdom. Elevate, Lambeau!
Go Pack Go!