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home : sports : sports news August 18, 2017

1/7/2017 7:27:00 AM
shoutouts & callouts
Time to eat my words

Jeremy Mayo
Sports Editor


I received some email, perhaps rightfully so, on Monday after the Packers won the NFC North division crown with a 31-24 win at Detroit.

The Packers had done just what quarterback Aaron Rodgers predicted, ran the table over their final six games to finish 10-6 and took the division title by a game over the Lions, who lost three in a row down the stretch.

I didn't believe it would happen. I said as much in my column Nov. 22, after the Packers lost to Washington to fall to 4-6.

"Now, the Packers must run the table to go 10-6 and may need to do just that to simply get into the playoffs," I wrote at the time. "They'll have to beat Minnesota, Detroit, Houston and Seattle teams which, at this moment, are in the lead or tied for the lead of their respective divisions.

Let's assume that doesn't happen, which is a pretty safe assumption at this point, what happens next?"

In the same column I called for coach Mike McCarthy to be fired, though I prefaced that statement by saying "barring a miraculous turnaround."

I've seen some crazy stuff in my three-plus decades as a Packers fan, but the last six weeks have been nothing short of divine.

The Packers have been a completely different team since Thanksgiving. Receivers are making plays for Aaron Rodgers, who was never really the problem to begin with. The team has cobbled together a semblance of a running game with Ty Montgomery, Christine Michael and Aaron Ripkowski - a far cry from the Eddie Lacy/James Starks/John Kuhn trio we had become accustomed to seeing. I won't say the defense got healthier, because it is still decimated by injuries, especially in the secondary, but Dom Capers did enough to piece together a productive unit over the final six games which has predicated itself on getting turnovers.

Simply put, the Packers have done everything right - and have caught a break or two along the way - to get to 10-6 and win a fourth NFC North title in five years. McCarthy deserves a lot of credit for pulling the team out of its tailspin, just as he deserved a lot of the blame for the team losing four straight games to begin with.

I was asked in one email if I was ready to take back my comments from my Nov. 22 column regarding McCarthy and the Packers. The short answer is no. I'll gladly admit I was proven wrong, but I don't regret what I said, when I said it.

At the time I was fed up with the team's performance - and in particular its perceived lack of urgency in losses to Indianapolis, Tennessee and Washington.

Ironically, I thought a 32-31 loss at Atlanta that started the Packers' four-game skid was one of the best games it played all year, considering how gossamer-thin the team was in the secondary that day and how potent the Falcons' offense has been this year, particularly at home. The three games that followed, however, felt more like a case of the Packers' beating themselves than anything else. The losses to Indy, Tennessee and Washington were by far the Packers three worst performances of the season, and they occurred consecutively.

As Chris Berman has said countless times over the years on ESPN: "Once is a mistake. Twice is a trend. Three times is evidence."

I didn't get much negative feedback from my column at the time. In fact, a couple of readers came up and said they agreed with me the Friday before the Monday nighter at Philadelphia that started the long road back for the Packers.

It's easy to look back in hindsight now and say I was wrong - and the Packers certainly proved me wrong. But the thing about opinions is they must be formed with the information at hand at the time they are made. I'd be a fool if I said today that McCarthy should be fired, but that didn't sound like the worst idea in the world six weeks ago. A lot has changed during that time and, as a Packers fan, I'm grateful that it has.

The Packers now find themselves in the same spot they were in following the 2010 and 2013 regular season - in the playoffs despite their postseason prospects looking bleak as late as Christmastime. They have, as they like to say in the poker world, "a chip and a chair." Some teams have a better chance than others, but any one of the 12 teams still alive could hoist the Lombardi Trophy Feb. 5.

The playoffs, as I've said before, are not about crowning the league's best team. If so, we could skip the entire month of January and put New England and Dallas in the Super Bowl. The postseason rewards the hottest teams, and you could argue there's no team hotter right now than the Packers.

That was the case in 2010, when the team snuck into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed and proceeded to run the table on the road en route to the Super Bowl XLV title. The Packers also squeaked into the playoffs in 2013 as well with Rodgers late heave to Randall Cobb to beat the Bears in Week 17 and win the NFC North title. They ended up losing the following week at home to San Francisco on a last-second field goal.

And, if you noticed the Pigskin Pick'em Board in Thursday's paper, I'm picking the Giants on Sunday afternoon. That's nothing against what Rodgers, McCarthy and the Packers have done over the last six weeks, but it's more of a gut feeling on my part. The Packers have not been invincible at home in the postseason over the last decade or so, and the Eli Manning-led Giants have twice come into Lambeau as the underdog and crushed the Packers' Super Bowl dreams.

In the 2007 NFC title game, Plaxico Burress scorched the Packers' defense in Brett Favre's last game in a Green Bay uniform. In the 2011 divisional playoffs Hakeem Nicks had seven receptions for 165 yards and two touchdowns in the Giants shocking 37-20 rout of the 15-1 Packers. In fact, the Packers haven't beat the Giants in the postseason since 1962 - the second of five world championships for coach Vince Lombardi.

The Giants have a front seven that can get after the quarterback and a secondary that can make plays. Additionally, the Giants have one of the most dynamic receivers in the game in Odell Beckham Jr. Yes, Beckham was limited to a quiet statline when the teams played Oct. 9 in Green Bay, with five catches for 56 yards and a late touchdown in the Giants' 23-16 loss, but he'll be playing against a secondary that could be without both Damarious Randall and Quintin Rollins on Sunday.

It's the same formula they used to beat the Pack in both 2007 and 2011. That scares me - a lot.

I'd love nothing more than to come back here next week and write another column admitting that my opinion has been proven wrong with what transpires on the field. But experience has taught me to be a fan more with my head than my heart and there's something about Sunday's matchup that just doesn't sit well with me.

Jeremy Mayo may be reached at jeremy@rivernewsonline.com.





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