USA Today Sports photograph
I can’t shake the image of Matt Flynn fumbling the ball away with just under two minutes to play in Sunday’s 38-31 loss to Pittsburgh; that changed everything. Flynn came up about a half yard short of a first down on that gutsy scramble, but the ball was knocked loose, and it turned the Green Bay Packers’ fortunes for the worse.
Still, Packers fans have reason to relax and take a deep breath this week.
The Chicago Bears got embarrassed 54-11 on national television by the surging Philadelphia Eagles, setting up a Packers-Bears showdown for the NFC North this Sunday at Soldier Field. They are reeling.
More importantly, we got word just this afternoon that Aaron Rodgers will be taking snaps on Sunday.
Bring. It. On.
That said, sports talk show suits have been casting a lot of blame in Flynn’s direction, but I am going to defend the guy one more time. Yes, he threw a critical pick-six that helped turn the momentum in the Steelers’ direction, but Coach Mike McCarthy took the blame for that. Tight end Andrew Quarless was moving into position in an unfamiliar protection scheme, and simply ran into Flynn as he threw, turning his pass into a wobbly floater and enabling the pick.
Take away the killer fumble, and Flynn had a decent game in terrible conditions, completing 21 of 39 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown, with five scoring drives – and what should have been a sixth, if not for the penalty called on Don Barclay at the 1 yard line as the game’s final couple of plays unfolded, and some confusion between the officials and the Green Bay offense.
Yes, it was sloppy out there – nine penalties for 90 yards is simply not acceptable, and Flynn continues to miss receivers at times, such as a wide open Jordy Nelson on the game’s final play, which ended up being an incompletion intended for Jarret Boykin.
Eddie Lacy (27) tries to get past Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay (22) in the 3rd quarter at Lambeau Field. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports photograph
In addition, wrecking ball running back Eddie Lacy aggravated his ankle injury and had to sit out much of the second half, and we lost All-World linebacker Clay Matthews for at least Week 17 due to a re-injury to his broken thumb. It’s a banged-up team, for sure.
But now it’s all different: The Bears’ defense sucks, and Rodgers will make his return. In addition, the prognosis looks positive for Lacy, and Randall Cobb may even come off the IR and participate on Sunday on some level.
Honestly, I’m flummoxed by the fact the Packers have gotten so much help through all these injuries and are still in this thing. What a story this could be – it’s impossible to imagine that this Packers team won’t be anticipating this game more than any yet this season.
And for all those reasons, I am urging Packers fans to, for at least one more week, relax and take a deep breath.
Reason for concern: The Packers’ defense gives up way too many points. We can’t win with these guys vomiting their dignity on the field every week.
Reason to take a deep breath: Yeah, it’s true. This defense seems to hemorrhage big plays and points. All I have for this one is to say that it’s gut-check time. Sean Richardson has been playing better than M.D. Jennings, which can’t hurt on Sunday. What we need now is for players like Nick Perry and Datone Jones to reach down deep and help fill on the void Matthews will leave. It’s do or die, and we have to hope the Packers’ defense will step up and give the offense a chance.
Reason for concern: Rodgers hasn’t taken a snap since October. How long will it take him to get into a rhythm?
Reason to take a deep breath: That’s a fair concern, but what choice is there? Do you sit him? Nope. Mark Brunell said on ESPN that for a guy of Rodgers’ caliber, it may only take a few snaps for him to feel it again. We probably shouldn’t expect a fast start, but a strong finish is what can win a game like this.
Green Bay Packers running back James Starks (44) rushes with the football as Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark (25) defends during the first quarter at Lambeau Field. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Reason for concern: What if Eddie Lacy can’t go? Will James Starks be able to handle that kind of every-down role?
Reason to take a deep breath: He did it in Week 2, taking 20 carries for 132 yards, and carried the ball 14 times for 55 yards in Week 3. But the thing is, he won’t have to. Lacy isn’t going to miss this game. My guess is Lacy sees 20 carries on Sunday and Starks gets 8 to 10.
Reason for concern: I already feel anxious. Do sports bars have medical personnel on hand?
Reason to take a deep breath: Add 9-1-1 to your contact list and keep your thumb on the “dial” button. Oh, and pray your cardiac arrest will wait until the final gun sounds. I think we’re in for a good one on Sunday.