It was only one month ago many Green Bay Packers faithful felt hopeless about the team’s 2013 season.
After the embarrassing 40-10 loss at Detroit on Thanksgiving day and Aaron Rodgers still nursing a broken collarbone, things looked bleak for Green Bay with only four weeks remaining in the regular season.
At 5-6-1, the Packers would need a miracle in December to win the division and punch their ticket to the playoffs.
Well, thanks to an abysmal winless December by the Detroit Lions, a Chicago team that laid an egg in Philadelphia with the division title on the line, and a Packers team that managed three come-from-behind victories over their last four games, Green Bay has won the NFC North title for the third year in a row and will host the San Francisco 49ers next week in the first round of the playoffs.
Things have really turned around. It’s pretty amazing when you sit back and reflect on the adversity this team has faced over the course of the 2013 season.
After the Packers lost two of their first three games of the season, each only by one score, Green Bay came out of their bye week and orchestrated an impressive four-game winning streak.
With Clay Matthews sidelined, the Packers defense held off a Baltimore Ravens offense mounting a fourth quarter comeback. Only up 19-17 on the road, the Packers offense was able to run out the clock and seal the win on some tough running by Eddie Lacy late in the game.
In week nine with the Packers at the top of the division at 5-2, the team lost its MVP quarterback on the first series of the game against Chicago. With Seneca Wallace under center, the Packers fought hard and stayed in the game thanks to some impressive running by Lacy, but it was evident their offense just wasn’t the same without Rodgers.
The next seven weeks would be a struggle for Green Bay as Rodgers remained sidelined with a broken collarbone.
In week 10, ironically, the Packers lost Wallace for the season after he left the game with a groin injury only 10 plays into the contest. Scott Tolzien struggled against Philadelphia, and again the following week against the Giants, throwing three interceptions in the loss.
After the Packers surrendered three straight and sat at 5-5, Tolzien continued to struggle and was benched in the third quarter against Minnesota for Matt Flynn, who was only signed by the team a week earlier.
The season seemed to be slipping from the Packers at this point. Coach McCarthy was hoping Flynn could provide a spark as the team faced a 20-7 deficit going into the fourth quarter.
Flynn did just that. He was able to get the Packers offense going, leading three fourth quarter scoring drives of 80, 77, and 60 yards to tie the game and force overtime. The game ended in a tie, but if the Packers would have lost to Minnesota at home they would not currently hold the edge over the Chicago Bears for the division title.
After the devastating loss at Detroit only four days after a tie at home, Green Bay did not quit and was able to bounce back with two more incredible come-from-behind victories against Atlanta and Dallas.
Fans booed the Packers at Lambeau Field as the team headed to the locker room at halftime, trailing Atlanta 21-10. It seemed the season was all but lost.
However, Green Bay came out in the second half invigorated. The defense shut out Atlanta’s offense, forced a couple of three-and-outs, and created two key turnovers, one coming on a Jarrett Bush interception to seal the win at the end of the game.
The offense also managed 12 second-half points to give Green Bay a one-point lead going into Atlanta’s final drive of the game.
The following week, the Packers’ second-half comeback was even more miraculous.
After being shut out of the end zone in the first half and trailing 26-3, the Packers outscored Dallas on the road by 24 points in the second half as Green Bay’s offense orchestrated five straight second-half touchdown drives to go up by one point late in the fourth quarter.
A memorable second-half performance by Green Bay’s offense, along with two clutch fourth quarter interceptions by the Packers defense, made the Packers’ win in Dallas not only one of the most impressive comebacks in franchise history but also kept their playoff hopes alive.
The craziness of the season didn’t end in Dallas, however. The Packers lost to Pittsburgh at home in week 16 in another game that came down to the wire.
With their destiny in their own hands, the Packers’ late-game comeback stopped just short at the six-yard line as Flynn’s pass to Jarrett Boykin in the end zone fell incomplete.
Once again, the season seemed over, and Coach McCarthy even believed they were officially out of the playoff hunt when he addressed the team in the locker room after the loss.
McCarthy didn’t realize until later that if Chicago lost to Philadelphia that evening then the Packers’ loss to Pittsburgh didn’t change anything in the division race.
When the Bears choked in Philly on Sunday night, Green Bay’s playoff hopes remained alive going into the final week of the season.
It’s incredible to think that a team that has been without many of its star players for a good portion of the season, specifically their franchise quarterback for seven weeks, had a chance to play for the division title and a playoff spot going into week seventeen of the season.
McCarthy has said several times this year that the Packers’ 2013 season has been defined by peaks and valleys. Green Bay’s win against Chicago on Sunday was truly a fitting end to the 2013 regular season.
The Packers converted three fourth downs on their final drive. The go-ahead score came on a 4th-and-eight play where Rodgers scrambled to his left, just escaping a rushing Julius Peppers thanks to a heads up block by John Kuhn, and threw a rocket downfield to an open Randall Cobb for a 48-yard touchdown with 38 seconds remaining in the game.
Add in the bizarre Boykin fumble recovery touchdown in the first half, and Sunday’s game was perhaps one of the wildest, yet exciting Packers game in recent memory.
A fitting return for both Rodgers and Cobb, and a fitting ending to a wild and unpredictable 2013 season.
Now, the Packers are battle-tested. They’ve been in playoff mode for four weeks now, and after all they have been through this season, they are hungry and ready to take on the best the NFC has to offer.
They have their playmakers back on offense and their defense has proven they can make key stops late in games when they need to.
Now, the Packers turn their attention to the San Francisco 49ers – the team that got the best of them last year in the playoffs.
You couldn’t write a better script for this year’s postseason.