Oftentimes, teams and fans alike try to forget losing seasons. The rationale is that, by putting it behind them, they can get past it and move on. Seems logical, doesn't it? So, under that school of thought, the best approach for Green Bay would be to finish out the season somewhere between 7-9 and 5-11 (although keeping the potentially 0-16 Lions from going winless would be a disaster all on its own), admit its mistakes, and focus on improving for 2009.
In any case, the latest installment of Green Bay's tour of heartbreaking losses, the 20-16 loss at Jacksonville, is a perfect microcosm of the 2008 Green Bay Packers. Here's how:
First off, let's look at how this game was representative of the entire season as a whole:
- Jacksonville TD: 30 yard reception by Dennis Northcutt. Green Bay's defense gives up a big play to a mediocre player. Partly because of a bad defensive call, partly because of superior execution by the opposition, but if Atari Bigby were healthy, Charles Woodson wouldn't be at safety, Tramon Williams wouldn't be at the starting corner, and Will Blackmon never gets close to the nickel spot. A season full of mixups, miscalculations, and mismatches on defense, all on one play.
- Green Bay defense: 2 sacks. Yeah, it's not terrible production for one game. But against an opponent with the offensive line woes that Jacksonville has, a halfway-decent pass rush gets 3-4 sacks. As you may have guessed, 2008 has not seen anything close to a halfway-decent pass rush in Green Bay.
- David Garrard: 21/33 for 238 yards, 2 TD. Earlier in the year, Green Bay didn't allow this kind of production from opposing QB's. But, as the weeks progressed, so did the yards allowed and QB rating against. It's almost funny to think back and remember just a month or so ago, when Green Bay had the top-ranked pass defense.
- Ryan Grant: 21 carries for 56 yards. Having not watched the game, I don't know if this is the fault of Grant himself, his offensive line, or just superior run defense from the Jaguars. Given Jacksonville's season, I'm inclined to go with one of the first two options. Ryan Grant is supposed to be a tough runner that breaks off big gains. Last I checked, 9 yards is not a big gain. It's nice, but not so much when you look at the 2.7 ypc average that goes with it. But, hey, maybe he doesn't have the running lanes open? To be fair, Green Bay's offensive line has left much to be desired this season, and Grant did eclipse the 1,000 yard mark, so it's not like he's a total waste of a big-time contract.
- Aaron Rodgers: 20/32 for 278 yards, TD. Once again, Aaron Rodgers submitted an above-average performance, a relatively unsurprising occurence in an above-average season: 3,500 yards, 23 TD's against only 12 picks, a 63.5% completion rate and a 91.8 QB rating. Not bad, considering the circumstances. But then again...
- Aaron Rodgers: INT @ Jacksonville 27 with 46 seconds left. Once again, Rodgers cannot guide the offense to a go-ahead score. On the play itself, Donald Lee had a step on the defender, but the Jaguars had a safety over the top. Rodgers did not face any sort of immediate pass rush, but he released the ball a little early, causing it to sail past Donald Lee's outstretched hand and into the arms of Reggie Nelson. It doesn't help that there were three defenders in the area and (from the angle I watched) Lee gave up on his route early, but it was a bad spot to throw the ball, a bad decision, and bad execution in crunch time. In case you were wondering, five of Rodgers' 12 interceptions have come in the 4th quarter when the Packers were within 7 points, and three of those five were in the last two minutes. But why did Rodgers get put into that situation?
- Jacksonville TD: 2 yard run by Maurice Jones-Drew. Up 16-14 with 5:35 left in the game, Jacksonville's offense takes the field at their own 20. Moments later, Jacksonville is at the Packer 2 yard line with 1st and goal at the 2-minute warning. That tends to happen when the defense gives up 70 yards on three plays out of five. I understand that big plays happen, but do they always have to happen when your opponent has the ball in the 4th quarter and are down by only one score?
- Final score: Jacksonville 20, Green Bay 16. This was Green Bay's sixth loss by 4 points or fewer. I cannot stress this enough; close games have been Green Bay's downfall this season, and I can prove it.
Consider some numbers: Green Bay has scored 371 points in 2008 and allowed 339, a ratio of +32. Green Bay also has a +6 turnover ratio. Usually, these two stats are a good metric of team success: a positive value in both categories is indicative of a successful team. Yet Green Bay sits at 5-9. Why? Look at it like this:
- in their five wins, the average margin of victory is an impressive 18.4 points.
- In their nine losses, the average margin of victory is 6.6 points. That's an incredibly low margin; just a touchdown.
- Green Bay's only "blowout" of the year was a 22-point loss to New Orleans; if you take that game out, the average margin of victory in Green Bay's 8 other losses is a mere 4.7 points.
As you can see, Green Bay has been competitive in six of their nine losses. I know, I know, competitiveness doesn't mean anything without wins. But this is an enormously encouraging sign for 2009: if Green Bay can continue to hang with opponents like Tennessee, Carolina, Atlanta, and learn to close out games, we can expect a major bounceback season next year.