They won fifteen of their sixteen regular season games, these Green Bay Packers. You remember them, right? These are the Green Bay Packers that won last year’s Super Bowl as the NFC’s six seed. These are the Green Bay Packers that ran through their regular season record with ease, doubling the scoring output of their opponents. These are the Green Bay Packers Ted Phillips was referring to when he addressed an attempt to narrow the talent gap between the Bears and the other teams in the NFC North. These Green Bay Packers were quickly becoming the gold standard for NFL organizations. Members of their front office were being considered for bigger things around the league, with Director of Football Operations already assuming power in Oakland. Their coaches – especially Darren Perry and Winston Moss – are locks to be head coaches down the road. Their backup quarterback is going to sign a $60 million contract somewhere this year. Their players are in commercials. Their fans are gobbling up fake stocks at $250 a clip at such an alarming rate that the organization is just going to print more meaningless pieces of paper to appease them.
And yesterday the Giants walked into Lambeau Field and ended their season. The Packers became the fifth straight Super Bowl champion to fail to win a playoff game the following season. This was not a loss. This was not the better team winning on any given Sunday. This was a colossal choke job by a heavy favorite. Nobody on the Packers defense could make a tackle in the open field. The most sure-handed wide receiving corps in football suddenly drew comparisons the group we all see in Chicago on a weekly basis. Their head coach was attempting desperation onside kicks for no reason whatsoever. Their quarterback missed throws he hasn’t missed in two years. Easy throws. Rookie throws. Their team performance was so bad Sunday that many of the people I watched the game with were wondering aloud (and seriously) if the Packers were throwing the game. There were several moments throughout the afternoon where I thought it was possible.
Now fifteen wins is nothing. It is meaningless. Ask fans in the Chicagoland area how much they cherish their trip to the NFC Championship Game a year ago. I’ll save you the trouble. They don’t even remember it. And those that do remember it consider the whole exercise more of a failure than an achievement. Now this team will be doomed to an entire offseason of self-evaluation. Why did this collapse happen? Is their offensive model capable of sustained success in the postseason? How did the defense go from one of the league’s best to one of the league’s worst? Is Dom Capers headed for the door? Questions no one in Packer Nation ever expected to address will dominate the headlines from this morning until they win their next playoff game.
Here’s the truth of the modern NFL: the playoffs and regular season have nothing to do with one another. Yes you need sustained success throughout the regular season to become eligible for the tournament but that is where the chain is broken. Tim Tebow couldn’t complete a pass for a month and puts up 300 yards against Pittsburgh. The Patriots defense was the worst in football and made Tebow look like an amateur again. Alex Smith is the biggest liability on the Niners until he does his Joe Montana impression against the Saints. Everything the Packers did yesterday was contrary to everything they did all season long.
You just have to get into the playoffs and take your shot. Doesn’t matter what the path: at home or on the road. Doesn’t matter what the seed. You just have to get in and take your shot. Because football is, unlike any other sport, often determined by the bounce of the ball. One drop. A Hail Mary at halftime. The Packers proved it yesterday. Winning fifteen games is sometimes easy. It’s winning one that’s hard.