All season I’ve listened to NFL analysts and Packers fans rave about how this year’s Green Bay team looks primed for a championship run. How their defense, quarterback and coaching staff rank among the top teams in the NFL and they can outscore any team in the NFC because no one can stop Rodgers on offense and Matthews on defense. Forgive me, but have I watched a different team all season? Because this team won't sniff the Super Bowl.
The Packers have come out on the short end of countless close games over the years. From T.O. in 1998, to 4th & 26 in 2003, to Corey Webster in 2007, it seems as though they find a way to lose more close games than they win. The last three years though, they’ve managed to fail at an alarming rate in close games.
Since 2008, the Packers have won just two of 14 games decided by four points or less. A lot of people look at those losses and say “Well, those were games the Packers should have won.” To that, I say, “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?!” In order to play at the elite level in any sports you have to win close game.
The Patriots won three Super Bowls by three points apiece. No one says “Well the Rams, Panthers and Eagles should have won those games.” New England wins because they’re at their best when the chips are down. Elite teams rise up in clutch moments and the Packers falter in those moments almost every time.
Defensively the Packers have ranked near the top of the league in almost every category the last two seasons. But again, they’ve failed to stop teams in crunch time. Last year against the Steelers, the Packers scored to take a six point lead with 2:06 to go. The defense allowed Ben Roethlisberger to convert on two third-and-longs and a fourth down in the final drive before giving up a touchdown with no time left. Sunday the defense needed to stop Atlanta from gaining 30 yards in 50 seconds. They folded like a tent. For all of their accomplishments on the stat sheet and at the Pro Bowl, when the team really needs a stop in a crucial moment, the defense just can’t get it done.
Want a prime example of an elite defense? Last year’s Saints. Time after time they came through in big moments. Tracy Porter picked off two Hall of Famers to seal a championship and they beat up on a potential Hall of Famer in Kurt Warner in the Divisional round. Until Dom Capers and his crew can rise up in crunch time, they’ll be on the outside of the championship party looking in.
From a coaching perspective, Capers has come in and improved a terrible defense from 2008, and while they’ve faltered in big moments, they’re a whole lot better overall. But for all the statistics that Mike McCarthy’s offensive has amassed and for all the turnovers and sacks from Capers’s defense, the Packers have killed themselves on all sides of the ball with turnovers.
Last year no other team in the league drew more flags than the Packers. They’ve improved in that category this year, but again, in critical times they show their true colors. On Sunday, Matt Willhem’s unfathomable15-yard facemask on a kickoff with less than a minute left didn’t put Matt Bryant’s kick through the uprights, but it made Matt Ryan’s job a whole lot easier. Again, big penalties in critical times; Atlanta didn’t have those, and they won the game. Elite teams don’t make those mistakes. The Packers do.
Finally we get to the quarterback. Most consider Aaron Rodgers one of, if not the, top young quarterback in the league. However, Rodgers’ play in crunch time has raised some eye brows. As stated earlier, his record in games decided by four points or less: 2-12. Not all of those losses fall on his shoulders, but everybody know that quarterbacks get too much credit for wins and too much blame for losses, and the same goes for Rodgers. He puts up monster numbers, but when forced to play better than opposing quarterbacks of the truly elite category, he falters.
Last year he played well against the Vikings, Steelers and Cardinals, but he didn’t play as well as Favre, Roethlisberger and Warner, so the Packers lost. He played well Sunday too, but his lone mistake of the day, a fumble at the goal line, took points off the board that could have made the difference in the game. Elite quarterbacks rise to the occasion against the best competition. Think about truly elite quarterbacks: Manning, Brady, Brees, Roethlisberger. Even in terms of young quarterbacks, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman find away to elevate their games in the clutch. All elite play at their highest level under the brightest of lights. Rodgers doesn’t do that.
Until the Packers figure out a way to play their best during the biggest moments, they’ll remain in the second tier of teams. Hopefully they make me eat my words and make a deep playoff run, but from what I’ve seen this year and in years past, that won’t happen.