Sunday, January 6, 2013

2012 Wildcard Round Playoff Review of Packers/Vikings

The weekend got off to a great start Friday afternoon with an unprecedented hour long conference call with Mark Murphy, the President of the Green Bay Packers.  Obviously this is catnip to a Packer fan like me but being as objective as possible, it was nice to hear Murphy field fan questions while having an open and honest discussion about the state of the organization.

Cheesehead Chick, Dre, Tessa, Nick, Sug, and me left Chicago early Saturday morning.  We snagged Gaber, The Burban (aka The Seamonster's grandpa), and some tasty sausages in Milwaukee then headed for Graceland.  After a quick stop at the Aloft Green Bay to check into the hotel and throw on a couple extra layers, we hopped back into The Burban to choose the proper tailgating spot by Lambeau Field.

Green Bay has to be one of the only towns that actually encourages parking and tailgating in yards around the stadium.  We decided not to tailgate in a yard since we were leaving our car overnight.  We had a great set-up of bags, rum apple cider, and plenty of tasty treats.  As expected, it was super cold at the tailgate but that didn't damper any of the fun.  A fellow tailgater dropped their ticket and was unable to find it until we got Dre on the case to save the day.  All of this happened as rumors spread that the Vikings were going to start Joe Webb instead of Christan Ponder at quarterback.  There was talk of Webb possibly playing because Ponder was banged up but no actually thought Ponder would be inactive.  About 90 minutes before kickoff the official word spread that Ponder was inactive so Webb started at quarterback for the Vikings.

The Vikings lost 10 of their last 12 trips to Green Bay.  If more Vikings fans were being honest, they knew that number was going to extend to 11 of their last 13 when Webb was named the starting quarterback.  Here are "10 Things I Think I Think" (trademark Peter King) about the Packers' 24 to 10 win over the Vikings:

#1) The Packers spread the ball around through the air so it is hard for any one guy to rack up a ton of rushing yards (lack of opportunities) or receiving yards (too many options).  That's why despite Rodgers throwing for more than 4,000 yards, he did not have a 1,000 yard receiver.  The Packers' leading receiver in the regular season was Randall Cobb with 954 yards and their leading rusher was Alex Green with 464 yards.  That makes the 2012 Packers the 3rd playoff team (1986 Kansas City Chiefs and 1991 New Orleans Saints) in the last 30 years without a 1,000 yard receiver or 500 yard rusher in the regular season.  Case and point, Rodgers tied an NFL playoff record by completing a pass to 10 different players against the Vikings: Randall Cobb (1 catch for 7 yards), Tom Crabtree (1 catch for 10 yards), Jermichael Finley (1 catch for 10 yards), Ryan Grant (1 catch for 16 yards), DuJuan Harris (5 catches for 53 yards), Greg Jennings (4 catches for 61 yards), James Jones (4 catches for 51 yards), John Kuhn (2 catches for 15 yards & a TD), Jordy Nelson (3 catches for 51 yards), and Ryan Taylor (1 catch for 0 yards).  Too bad tight end D.J. Williams or running back Alex Green couldn't snag a pass (wide receivers Jarrett Boykin and Donald Driver were inactive) to give Rodgers the record of completing a pass to 11 (or 12) different receivers in a playoff game.  For the day, Rodgers completed 22 of 33 passes for 274 yards and a touchdown.

#2) The captains for the game were Aaron Rodgers (QB) and James Jones (WR) on offense, Clay Matthews (LB) and Charles Woodson (CB) on defense, and Jarrett Bush (DB) and Jamari Lattimore (LB) on special teams.  All of those make sense to me, especially Jones since he was exceptional all season.  I was way off the mark when I said he was the 4th most overpaid on the roster before the season.  The Packers won the toss but decided to defer.  That was a curious decision because the Vikings scored 6 times when they received the ball to open a game in 2012, 3rd highest in the NFL.

#3) I am an unabashed Woodson fan, I wear his jersey for every game so I thought it was great to have him back in the lineup with his new scary looking face mask.  I know Woodson's cap number for next season might mean I witnessed his last home game in Green Bay unless the Packers beat the 49ers and the Seahawks beat the Falcons to set-up a Packers/Seahawks NFC Championship Game in Green Bay.  That said, the Packers need to come up with a way to keep Woodson around for next season.  Sure Woodson is a step slower and is getting handsier in coverage than a horny 13-year old boy with a chance to touch his first boob, but with how well Woodson tackles and creates turnovers (2012 excluded), the Packers can ill afford to cut Woodson.

#4) The Packers dominated the Vikings in the first half amassing 239 total yards (197 passing and 42 rushing) to merely 97 total yards (91 rushing and 6 passing) to take a 17-3 lead thanks in large part to scoring on their last possession of the half.  If there was any doubt whether the Packers were going to win, they got the ball to start the second half and lead a methodical drive that was extended by the Vikings having too many people on the field for a Mason Crosby field goal attempt that ended in a Kuhntang (trademark Pat Leo) receiving touchdown to extend their lead to 24-3.  Kuhntang became the 5th player in NFL history (Earnest Byner, Emmitt Smith, Ricky Watters, and Thurman Thomas) to score a rushing and receiving touchdown in two playoff games.  The Packers perfectly executing the "Double-Up" (scoring in the last possession of the first half and first possession of the second half) put the game out of reach.  A 21 point deficit on the road is tough to overcome with less than two quarters of football to play, especially for a team without a quarterback that can actually complete passes down field.

#5) Speaking of Webb, he joined Roger Staubach (1972 Cowboys), Gary Danielson (1983 Lions), and Frank Reich (1992 Bills) as the only quarterbacks since 1950 to start a postseason game without starting a regular season game.  What made the Webb start even more remarkable is that he is the only one of those four not to at least throw a pass in the preceding regular season (took three snaps: two hand-offs and a kneel down).  Joe Webb is clearly an athletic guy but he struggles throwing the ball, which is a deal breaker when you play quarterback.  Usually when the starting quarterback struggles, fans want to see the backup quarterback play.  Oddly with how well Ponder played towards the end of the season, Vikings fans were finally clamoring for Ponder instead of Webb.  To be fair, part of the reason Webb struggled was the presence of Clay Matthews who got a strip sack in the first half and a strip sack in the second half.  In the defense of Webb, even if Ponder was healthy and played his best, I am not sure the Vikings would have won anyhow.

#6) Sad to see wide receiver Donald Driver as a healthy scratch in a home playoff game since rookie linebacker Terrell Manning was needed to play special teams.  The Packers have an embarrassment of riches at wide receiver and tight end now but that could change this off-season with the likely departure of Driver, Jennings, and possibly Finley.  Cheesehead Chick wears a #80 jersey, which will sadly be assigned to another receiver as early as next year since this looks like Driver's last season as a player in Green Bay.  I wish the Packers would retire #80 as a joint James Lofton and Donald Driver jersey.  The Green Bay Packer Wide Receiver Mount Rushmore is currently Driver, Don Hudson, Lofton, and Sterling Sharpe.  If there is a way to simultaneously honor two of those four guys by joint retiring #80, I am totally on board.  The Packers have the option to do that with #36 as a joint LeRoy Butler and Nick Collins jersey as well.  Trust me, I know both will never happen, but something fun to think about.

#7) After gashing the Packers for 409 yards on 55 carries and 2 touchdowns in their two previous meetings, Adrian Peterson had the quietest 99 rushing yards in NFL playoff history.  The only other running back that the Packers gave up more than 100 yards rushing to this season was Week 1 to Frank Gore of the San Francisco 49ers.  If I had an MVP vote, there is no question that I would vote for Peterson over Peyton Manning.  I have so much respect for Peterson that he is my favorite non-Packer in the NFL.  In fact I admire what Peterson does so much that I would trade him straight up for any player on the roster besides Rodgers, Matthews, and Raji.  I am not sure the Vikings would trade Peterson for anyone on the Packers' roster besides Rodgers.

#8) Head coach Mike McCarthy is making his 5th playoff appearance in 7 seasons.  With a win over the Vikings, McCarthy improved his playoff record to 6-3.  My biggest gripe with McCarthy is his in-game adjustments.  There is no doubt that McCarthy has an innovative passing offense that already resulted in winning one Super Bowl, but let's not forget that he's had Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers as his quarterbacks the last seven season.  Part of the blame might be on general manager Ted Thompson but if the Packers aren't throwing the ball well, they can't run the ball.  Although running back DuJuan Harris has given the Packers a 2010 James Starks-esque spark towards the end of the season, McCarthy refuses to commit to the run, which has already hurt the Packers twice in the playoffs against the Giants and could be problematic next week against the 49ers.

#9) Hard to believe it took eight seasons (drafted by Packers on April 23, 2005 to January 5, 2013) for Aaron Rodgers to get his first home playoff win.  Rodgers has the highest all-time regular season passer rating (104.9 ahead of Steve Young @ 96.8 and Tom Brady @ 96.6), post-season passer rating (105.5 ahead of Bart Starr @ 104.8 and Drew Brees @ 104.2), a Super Bowl Ring, a Super Bowl MVP, and a league MVP that all happened before ever winning a home playoff game.  The Packers missed the playoffs in Rodgers's first season as the starting quarterback in 2008, lost @ Arizona in 2009, won the Super Bowl XLV in 2010 (won @ Philadelphia, @ Atlanta, @ Chicago, and @ Dallas beat the Steelers), lost in Green Bay to the Giants in 2011, and beat the Vikings in Green Bay so Rodgers is now 4-1 on the road and 1-1 at home in the playoffs.  I have a hard time believing that Rodgers finishes with less than a touchdown of home playoff wins for his career, but I would never have guessed it would take this long to notch his first.

#10) I can't say enough about Sug and the Aloft Green Bay.  Getting tickets actually wasn't all that cost prohibitive, we payed slightly over face value to have great seats.  Since it was a 7 pm kickoff, getting hotel accommodations was the bigger issue.  Sug stepped up in a big way using Starwood reward points to book us rooms.  When we got back to the hotel I asked the front desk what time the pool was open until.  I thought they would give the usual answer of 10 pm but was shocked when they said it is open 24 hours. Talk about a novel idea.  I get the potential liability of keeping the pool open 24 hours but there is really no better way to celebrate a playoff win than drinking beers in the hot tub.  One final kudos to Aloft Green Bay, a staff member checked in on us around 3 am.  Despite us goofing around and openly sucking down beers, he gave us no heat whatsoever.

Next up, the Packers travel to San Francisco for a Divisional Round match-up against the 49ers.  The Packers are 4-1 in playoff games played at Candlestick Park, possibly the most outdated stadium in the NFL.  Their only loss was the missed Jerry Rice fumble game aka the T.O. "Crying Catch" game.  Let's hope the Packers can avenge their embarrassing loss to the 49ers in Green Bay to start the 2012 regular season with a playoff win in San Francisco.

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