The Green Bay Packers' 2015 season ended in the desert on Saturday evening, and unlike their season, which was mostly a whimper, this club went out with a bang in its final game. From unlikely heroes to a ridiculous failed coin flip to dropped interceptions and a blown coverage at the worst possible time, this game will in time become as memorable as any of the Packers' recent playoff disappointments.
And yet, while some of APC's emotions run deep with frustration, there is also appreciation here: for the special teams gunner who finally got his chance on offense and made the most of it; for a quarterback who continues to have truly special moments despite his worst season in recent memory; for a defense that played its tail off until the final moments.
And yet, here we are, looking forward to the draft two weeks earlier than we had hoped.
Let's take a look back at Saturday.
It almost seems fitting that a season which has caused so much discord, debate, and displeasure among Green Bay Packers fans ended in the way it did on Saturday: with more than a little discord, results that are sure to spark plenty more issues to debate throughout the offseason, and reasons to continue to be displeased with both the process and the final result.
Let's face it - the performance put up by Jeff Janis is one that will not soon be forgotten by any fan of the Green and Gold. The sheer unlikeliness of that series of events is the kind of thing that should only be possible with an infinite improbability drive. Think about it: how unlikely is it for a single player to pick up more than 100 yards of offense on a single drive in NFL history? Now, how unlikely is it for that player to start the season 5th on the depth chart at wide receiver, and have fewer than 100 yards of offense in his entire career before that? Now add a 4th-and-20 conversion and a completed Hail Mary (over one of the league's very best cornerbacks, no less), and it felt like Packers fans had just won the Powerball jackpot.
That performance is one that rightly calls into question the coaching staff's refusal to give the Hype Train more snaps throughout the season, and he looked more and more comfortable as the game went on and he got into the flow of the offense.
Alas, it didn't matter, thanks to Mike Daniels and Mike Neal missing a sack on the first play of overtime, a couple of guys blowing assignments to allow Larry Fitzgerald to get open, and then a hilarious, Benny Hill-esque tackling performance that let him get down to the five-yard line. After the thrill, elation, and ridiculousness of the previous half hour (and I didn't even mention the coin flip), to see all of that happen on the first snap of extra time was a proverbial kick to the crotch, followed by a chair being smashed over our prone backs and then a bottle broken over our heads.
And yet, this ending did not seem to impact me nearly as much as last year's loss in Seattle. Maybe it's because this team never necessarily looked like they were the better team. Maybe it's because it took a miracle to even get to overtime. Maybe it's because after Randall Cobb started coughing up blood, the Packers weren't playing a single receiver who started training camp in the top four on the depth chart.
Whatever the reason, I am not devastated. It was an incredible game; the kind you'd love to watch if you had no stake in it, and it gave us some incredible memories, despite the final result. And now, with Ted Thompson already moving on to draft season, it's about time we do too.
Multiple factors led to the Green Bay Packers' demise last Saturday. Though it didn't sink them alone, Mike McCarthy's conservative approach in scoring situations ultimately cost the team a return to the NFC Championship, the game he lost a year earlier by making similar mistakes.
After Aaron Rodgers' first touchdown to Jeff Janis put the Packers ahead 12-7, McCarthy could have opted to go for two and put his team up by seven. While not a cut-and-dry call, the Packers already led by more than a field goal, and the additional points provided protection against an Arizona touchdown. Even a failed two-point conversion doesn't cost Green Bay much, as they would still maintain a lead greater than a field goal.
Regardless, McCarthy's decision take the points after the end-of-regulation score proved more egregious. Faced with the choice of trying to gain 2 yards for the win or rolling the dice in overtime, the McCarthy chose the latter.
According to ESPN, the Packers converted five of their nine two-point attempts over the past three seasons, more than seven percent above than the league average. With the Cardinals reeling after giving up a 41-yard Hail Mary, McCarthy had his best chance to put his foot on Arizona's jugular.
McCarthy does plenty of good for the Packers. He has a well-deserved reputation as one of football's best talent developers, his offenses have regularly ranked among the NFL's elite and, though some choose not to acknowledge it, he has developed some of the best game plans in the league. For proof of the latter, look no further than last season's masterpiece against the eventual-champion New England Patriots. Still, McCarthy has his warts, and the unwillingness to buck conventional wisdom in these situations has now contributed to Green Bay's last two playoff losses.
This game was dumb and infuriating. On the one hand they weren't really "in it" if not for that Hail Mary, so you have to take all of the complaints you may have with a grain of salt. On the other hand the Packers actually outgained the Cardinals in regulation, and won the turnover battle. The peripheral stats all suggest that Green Bay should have won this game. So why didn't they?
Mainly because they had two 70+ yard drives end in field goals, and you just can't do that. You especially can't do that against a team with the Cardinals' offense. The other thing that happened it Tim Masthay, the erstwhile punter was actually having a nice little run. Then we get to this game. His first punt was a 37-yarder from the GB 17. I heard some speculation he was kicking short to avoid a return by Patrick Peterson, but Patrick Peterson, good as he is, is not Devin Hester, and Patrick Peterson also returned that 37-yarder 12 yards, leading to the Cardinals' first touchdown of the game. His second punt went 35 yards, and even though the defense held the Cards to a 3-and-out, Masthay's counterpart Drew Butler boomed a 55-yarder that pinned the Packers at the 5. If they're starting that drive with decent field position maybe they get a touchdown instead of a field goal. Masthay's next punt was a 34-yarder out of bounds, an the Cards had no trouble moving down to the GB 10 yard line, where Damarious Randall bailed everyone out.
I also feel like Jared Abbrederis is getting a bit too much praise. He only caught 4 of 12 targets and while he made a few nice catches, he still dropped a few easy ones, though Aaron also missed him on at least one deep route. Jeff Janis though. I mean, I know at one point they had to call timeout because he didn't know what he was doing, and I know I sound like a JSCommenter, but that guy should have played more! He was aggressive in getting to the ball, and routinely got open. He's clearly better than Davante Adams. I'd love to see the alternate universe where Janis got all 94 of Adams' targets.
People will talk about the coin flip and overtime and the Hail Mary, but the Packers lost this game a dozen ways before any of that happened. It was a frisky effort in a game where they were expected to get destroyed, but given that defensive effort and Jeff Janis playing out of his mind, it's really a shame they didn't win this. You don't get those kinds of performances every day.
Finally, you should absolutely go for 2 in that scenario, even more so if your offense is struggling.
There's a larger discussion to have about Saturday night's game and what it says about the Packers big picture potential moving forward, but that's a topic for a different time. For now, I'd like to talk about just this game, which, was one of the most bizarre, astounding, confusing, intense, heartbreaking and pants-crappingly incredible four quarters of football that I've seen in a long time. Obviously the end result wasn't what any of us wanted and there was plenty not to like - Mike McCarthy's decision to not go for two, to start - but there was also plenty to be proud of, not least of which was the fact that the Packers came this close to winning despite having no real business even being in that game to begin with.
Granted, the defense had a lot to do with that and they should be credited accordingly - they played remarkably. But once Randall Cobb went out - on a catch that would have made Odell Beckham Jr. blush, no less - the offense was all but done and could never quite muster the firepower to outpace the Cardinals.
Of course, that didn't stop Aaron Rodgers from trying. In a game that had more than its fair share of lasting images - Janis' incredible leaping catch at the end, Randall Cobb coughing up his lung on the sideline, and the ref pulling some straight up David Blaine magic on the overtime coin flip - the most enduring one of all to me will be Aaron Rodgers dragging an offense comprised of a pair of second-year wide receivers, a slow possession guy known more in the second half of the season for his undershirt than his actual play on the field, and an offensive line made up of donated organs, to the very brink of victory.
I've watched enough sports now in my life to have witnessed greatness in a lot of forms and only a handful measure up to what Aaron Rodgers did Saturday night. This was more than just that final play that saw him teleport about the pocket and uncork yet another prayer through the troposphere. This was a defiance. A transcendent player staring what seemed like insurmountable odds in the face and saying, "bring it." This was Ser Barristan in the streets, hopelessly outnumbered and mortally wounded, and yet cutting down his foes until the bloody, bitter end. This was, in essence, everything we want from our athletes - their souls exposed and bodies sacrificed in the name of winning - and although that didn't quite happen, it was at least comforting to know that this team - and in particular, Aaron Rodgers - went down with their swords wildly swinging. I suppose it makes sense then that one of the league's most famously stubborn players would go out on the only terms he'd allow.