The Cardiac Pack – that 1989 Green Bay Packers unit quarterbacked by Don “Majik Man” Majkowski – had that special touch, a group of characters the fans took to. That team was the first in years that had won, but didn’t just win – they won large.
I’m not talking about point spread; I’m talking about drama. This was a team that beat defending Super Bowl Champions San Francisco 49ers (in San Fran), won four, single-point games, and finished with a 10-6 record, the best the Packers had seen since 1972.
Fast forward to 2013 – to the Green Bay Packers year 93 unit. This is a team that started 5-2 and went winless in November … throw in the tie to the Minnesota Vikings and the demoralizing loss to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day and you’ve got a team that has been a frustration, but still has been fun to watch … a team that has gone from that 5-2 start to a Week 17 showdown for the NFC North Division.
While there is real reason to worry about whether this team actually deserves a shot at the playoffs, there are plenty of positives … things that, like that ’89 team, have endeared this team to its fanbase … so we’ll talk about those positives.
In fact, I think we need to look at the positives, especially in light of yesterday’s loss to the Steelers. There has been plenty of talk about all the negatives associated with this team, but I’m not going there … not today.
So, what can we take from today’s game and Team 93 as positives?
Here are a few that come to mind. Let’s take a look:
• Eddie Lacy and the running game – Before he went out after aggravating his injured ankle, Eddie Lacy had rushed 15 times for 84 yards against the Steelers. The rookie also set the rushing record for the franchise, besting the record previously held by John Brockington. We can only hope he can play next week. Side note: Reserve James Starks played pretty well himself in spelling Lacy. Starks carried 10 times for 47 yards and showed good vision and power. One could also look to John Kuhn, who was clutch every time he carried the ball – even though it was just three times … one of them was a touchdown. He also helped to extend a couple of drives. The biggest positive emerging has been the vast improvement of a running game in Green Bay. When the Packers drafted Eddie Lacy, this is what we were all hoping would be the case. The run game is here and it looks like it’s here to stay.
• Micah Hyde – the rookie has contributed in big ways – on defense and as a kick returner. He’s been the sure-handed and heady ball handler who has solidified the kick return team. His 70-yard return Sunday set the Packers up at the Steelers 30 yard line with about 90 seconds left in the game. He has had his ups and downs on defense this season, but he has shown the skills that should allow this guy to play in the league for years to come. He’s rock solid at the line of scrimmage and has been stealthy in pass coverage. He’s been one of the positives who I really like.
• Sam Shields – He’s played like a man in search of a new contract. Yes, in fact he is and should be rewarded sometime soon after this season concludes. Shields has stayed healthy and hungry this season, emerging as the Packers key cover guy. He’s been consistent in his coverage of opponents’ best receivers and has given the Packers the needed run support when needed. I’m surprised Dom Capers hasn’t built any surprise blitzes from Shields this season, but they’ve needed him in the defensive backfield to solidify coverage. Shields has been a pleasant surprise. His play has stamped his ticket to a long-term contract, which is well deserved.
• Jarrett Boykin, James Jones and Jordy Nelson – With Randall Cobb going down with a serious leg injury, it was up to the rest of the Packers receiving corps to step up and carry the load. Both Jordy Nelson and James Jones have done what they could over the course of the last half of the season and have been steady, but it’s been the play of second-year receiver Jarrett Boykin that has been impressive. After a tough start in his first game after Cobb went down, Boykin has been nothing short of sensational – he’s made big catch after big catch in clutch situations. He has certainly added the extra receiver to the corps and will be even more needed should the Packers part ways with free agent Jones this off-season.
• David Bakhtiari – the rookie left tackle was supposed to have a season to develop and spot play. That turned when right-tackle-turned-left-tackle Bryan Bulaga went out with a season-ending knee injury. Bakhtiari stepped in and has been rock solid, despite going up against some of the best defensive linemen in the league. He’s had his spells where he’s had some issues, but his play overall has been stellar. He’s been so good, in fact, that the Packers are now probably looking at moving Bulaga back to the right side where he played his first few seasons and keeping Bakhtiari entrenched on the blind side.
• Mason Crosby – Yeah, we know he had a kick blocked in Sunday’s game, but the irony was that the Packers got the ball back and scored a touchdown off it. That block is probably the only black spot that Crosby has had on his record this season. He’s been steady and clutch all season long and has hit 50-plus yarders with ease. Crosby’s ability to block out the 2012 season, beat out the competition thrown his way and then to put in a season like he’s had is a credit to his character and a credit to the Packers for sticking with him. Crosby has been money this season. And speaking of money – the guy took a huge paycut at that start of this season, opting instead to play for incentives. I haven’t kept count, but I’m thinking the guy has earned every cent of his pay this season.