Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Green Bay is certainly starting to discover what it's really made of. A 13-3 record last year was a surprise to everyone across the country, and it put Green Bay back on the map. This year opened up with a hard-fought win over the rival Vikings, a contender in their own right. Then they went to visit the perpetually problematic Lions, where they survived a scare, but came out with a victory (which was a blowout only in the final score). Everyone was high on a 2-1 Green Bay squad that had a solid defense, impressive development in the passing game, and a healing running back. We were, as they say, in business.
Then the Dallas Cowboys came to town and showed everyone why they are probably the best team in the NFC and one of the top three in the league. But the Packers just weren't ready. There was no problem with the run game; Ryan Grant was still hurt, and they'd played one of the top defenses in the NFL. There was no problem with the passing game; the Rodgers-Jennings connection was going strong, and the Dallas game was just a minor slip.
And now we find that our Packers have lost to the once-division rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What's the story here? As I said, Green Bay is starting to discover who they really are as a team. Let's take a look at the game timeline:
- Aaron Rodgers started off by leading a touchdown drive, capped by a nice toss to Greg Jennings.
- The defense held Tampa Bay to two unsuccessful drives, resulting in punts.
- Green Bay proceeded to produce eight consecutive unsuccessful offensive possessions, comprised of two interceptions, one fumble (returned for a TD), one turnover on downs, and four punts.
- During that period, Tampa Bay took advantage of beautiful field position and scored 20 straight points. The fact that the defense held them to only 20 points in eight possessions is astounding, especially since at least three of them started in Green Bay territory.
- Green Bay was given a second chance on two Tampa turnovers, even a one-point lead on Charles Woodson's pick-six. Take note, this is the second time where Charles Woodson has saved Green Bay's collective bacon.
- But, sadly, our bacon was still in jeopardy. The offense continued to stall (a theme of the day, magnified when Aaron Rodgers went out with a minor injury), and closed the game by tossing an interception that ended up with Tampa retaking the lead for good.
Let me just point out how good the defense had been for this game. Griese threw three interceptions. Until the fourth quarter, Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn were well under control. In the first half, they held Tampa to two field goals when a more adept offense would have easily scored touchdowns. The defense deserves all the credit in the world.
But all the credit in the universe goes to Charles Woodson. As the lead member of a mostly-injured starting secondary, he once again proved that pain does not faze him as he produced a clutch interception return that gave Green Bay the lead and, more importantly, the momentum.
But that brings me to the biggest issue: the offense. After establishing momentum early with a touchdown drive to open the game, they just...stopped. It took until the end of the third quarter for them to produce another (and the only other) score. Aside from Jennings' regular excellence (6 catches, 109 yards, 2 TD's), the offense couldn't do a thing against Tampa Bay. What happened?
The lack of a sustainable and consistent run game happened. Ryan Grant started off fairly well, but ended the game with 15 carries for 20 yards, a carbon copy of the stat line he produced in the 48-25 win over Detroit two weeks ago. And if you remember, it took a gargantuan defensive effort to retake the lead and keep it safe against Detroit in the fourth quarter.
It doesn't help that Tampa Bay looks like the defense from 2002. A lot of credit is deserved by their players, but more blame is deserved by the Green Bay offense. Green Bay is better than this, and everyone knows it. The running game is sputtering, at best. Grant has 40 carries for 166 yards over four games. Aside from his 57 yard scamper in week 1, that brings himdown to 39 carries for 109 yards. That's an average of 2.7 YPC, a far cry from his 5.1 average from last season.
So who's to blame? Is it Grant, who allegedly is healed from his nagging hamstring injury, an ailment that arguably could have been avoided had he not held out from training camp? Is it the offensive line, a group widely lauded for its depth but hasn't performed when injuries to key cogs like Scott Wells and rookie Josh Sitton tested that depth? Is it Aaron Rodgers, who failed to establish a consistent rhythm in the passing game? Is it Coach McCarthy and Co, who may have produced a sub-par gameplan that resulted in the loss we witnessed today?
Frankly, I don't know. Somebody isn't doing the job right, and that somebody (or somebodies) needs to shape up. Maybe a relatively weak opponent like Atlanta at home next week is just what the team needs to regroup. Because the team isn't going to succeed by relying on Greg Jennings and Charles Woodson alone. And don't even try to link the Packers' offensive woes to a Jets QB that threw 6 touchdowns today.
At least the Brewers made the playoffs. CC Sabathia is a b-e-a-s-t. BEAST.