Well, that was rough.
It will take some time for fans across the globe to reprogram their heads after Green Bay's tragic 28-22 loss in Seattle, but what a season 2014 was. The Packers fell one game short of facing the New England Patriots in a Week 13 re-match in the Super Bowl, and now they'll be watching the game from home instead.
In a season that was filled with a 1-2 start (R-E-L-A-X), high scoring bouts, and Aaron Rodgers Calf Watch, I wanted to give my final thoughts on everything that transpired. This season was my first on the team beat and my first for APC, and I've enjoyed everything about it since the days of me driving up to organized team activities and being credentialed at training camp.
Here are my takeaways.
Randall Cobb showed his worth
It's easy to sit here and say that Randall Cobb easily deserves a nice contract extension from the Packers after a career-year. Cobb caught 91 passes and recorded 1,287 receiving yards on his way to 12 touchdowns. Cobb and his teammate on the opposite side, Jordy Nelson, became the first duo in team history to catch 90 passes each, and score 10 or more touchdowns each. His 618 yards after the catch in the regular season sat only behind receivers such as Golden Tate, Antonio Brown and Demaryius Thomas. Our Jason Hirschhorn recently wrote about what Cobb could command, and whatever it ends up being, Ted Thompson should pay it. He deserves it.
Thompson's gamble paid off
The first time I saw Julius Peppers in person, I knew that he was still going to bring something and be a terror on the outside despite being 34 at the time (he's now 35). Thompson deciding to go out of his comfort zone last summer by signing a big-name free agent turned to be a steal for his team. Peppers made the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker rather swell in Green Bay, and made the impact many hoped he make. A freakish 283-pound athlete, Peppers is another example how important it is to keep your body physically fresh and in-tune during the later parts of life if you want to remain productive in what you do. Even though he recorded just tackles 33 (16 assisted), Peppers forced six fumbles, a career-high, and helped take a lot of pressure off primary rusher Clay Matthews.
Linsley provided stability
For the months leading up to the regular season, quarterback Aaron Rodgers stressed the importance of having continuity at the center position. It's something he'd been searching for his entire pro career. Taking the ball from his fourth starting center in four years, he finally has that. Corey Linsley played tremendous for the Packers in his first season for the best quarterback in 2014-15. After taking over temporarily for JC Tretter who suffered a significant knee injury in the team's first preseason game in Tennessee, the job remained his for good. This is the first time in a while that Rodgers will head into the offseason confident he will have the same guy hiking him the ball at OTA's.
A grain of health
Despite Rodgers suffering a pretty bad calf injury Week 16, Green Bay for the most part received a strong batch of health this season. Clay Matthews was hampered by a nagging thumb last season, but this season, he started every single game for the first time in his career. Cobb, who battled a leg injury last year, managed to play in all 16 for the first time in his career also. Nick Perry and Casey Hayward, two players who dealt with injuries as well, were available for the most majority of the year, too. In general, besides season-ending tears from B.J. Raji (bicep) and Don Barclay (ACL), there wasn't any significant injury that killed the team.
Guion came through
He started off rusty, but what a dirt-cheap steal (one-year, $1 million) Letroy Guion was for the Packers this season. It feels like him missing the early portion of training camp was just yesterday. As ESPN's Rob Demovsky reported a few weeks ago, Thompson and the Packers are aiming to lock him up and provide him with a new well-deserved deal. It's still possible that the Packers could bring back Raji and Guion, but we'll see how that plays out in the coming months. Regardless, he played a lot better than many expected and helped the Packers improve their run defense in their last eight games. Green Bay held opponents to 86.7 yards per game down the stretch after allowing 153.5 in the first eight.
Also: Mike Daniels was the defensive beast many hoped for. He constantly brought toughness and leadership every Sunday.
Special teams blundered
The Packers weren't good returning kick-offs this season at all, averaging just 19.1 yards per return in the regular season, which was second-to-last behind Arizona who averaged 19.0. The DuJuan Harris experiment failed, and the team didn't bother to activate him the last four games of the season. Green Bay also allowed seven blocked kicks this season under coordinator Shawn Slocum (three field goals, two extra points, two punts). The faults on special teams didn't reflect the teams record, though, considering only one of the blocks came in a defeat (a field goal in Buffalo). Green Bay will most definitely have a new man returning kicks come next fall, and we'll see if any coaching changes are made in the off-season.
Boykin dropped the ball
After having the best season of his career with the franchise-quarterback (49 catches, 681 yards), Jarrett Boykin completely flopped this year with only three catches for 23 yards. Boykin entered the season as the third receiver in Green Bay's offense, and by the end of the year, was just a decent special teams contributor. What's disappointing about Boykin's fall is that he gained the trust of Rodgers last season by making the right checks and lining up in the right spots for him. That's something the quarterback mentioned during my time up at training camp. That connection is gone, and he had it with the best quarterback in football. Think about how hard that is to get? Boykin's poor play in particular thrusted rookie Davante Adams in the third spot and an increased role. A role I don't think he was ready for yet, but one he'll definitely be suited better for next season. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the Packers cut him loose.
Uncertainty at inside linebacker
It's pretty clear that the Packers' biggest draft need as of right now is inside linebacker. Brad Jones lost his job to Sam Barrington after a rough start to the year and was demoted to special teams. Jamari Lattimore played all right, but still showed inconsistency, Andy Mulumba was lost all season, Carl Bradford is still learning the ins-and-outs of the spot, and longtime starter A.J. Hawk is 31 and saw his snaps get cut near the end of the season. Barrington played well enough toward the end to presumably have one of the spots going into next season, but the spot next to him remains unclear.
Diversity at running back, tight end
Many (myself included) headed into the season expecting the Packers to get the most out of their group of players at the running back and tight end positions.
The tight end position clearly ended up being a two-man show with Andrew Quarless and Richard Rodgers, with Brandon Bostick getting the majority of his action on special teams. I didn't believe the Packers would incorporate their tight ends heavily, but I did expect a bit more across the position. Rodgers and Quarless combined for only 49 catches on 76 total targets.
It was kind of the same boat at running back. Eddie Lacy had a great season running for 1,139 yards, but it would've been nice to see the Packers incorporate James Starks more often along with maybe even Harris. Starks didn't carry the ball in two games during the regular season, and carried it five times or less in seven. After a really strong offseason program regaining his health, Harris was completely non-existent on game day in the backfield. It's obvious that the Packers will never incorporate a three-headed monster, but mixing things up with all three healthy backs would've been nice to see.
It was a fun season for me personally, on the Packers beat for the first time. Although it was shocking to witness their season crumble the way it did, watching this team from the start (aka sitting in the hot-scorching sun at training camp practice) overlooked it all.
Now, it's time for the offseason.