As we do each week, APC takes a round-table look at the Green Bay Packers' last game. This time, we break down the Packers' 20-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, which has forced them into the 5th seed in the NFC and gives them a road game in the first round of the playoffs.
Whether the Green Bay Packers won or lost Sunday's season finale to the Minnesota Vikings is ultimately irrelevant. This isn't a squad capable of taking advantage of their playoff berth, as made painfully clear during the four months that preceded the game. For a combination of reasons, Green Bay lacks the necessarily components this year to be more than an also-ran, something the team won't acknowledge until the offseason.
What matters is how the Packers adjust to this season. More than just adding more talent, the front office needs to retool the roster so as to better protect against injury. Meanwhile, the coaching staff needs to figure out why the offense stagnated so badly in the time since the bye week. If both sides take care of their jobs, next season can have a different ending than the inevitable early exit that awaits them in a week or two.
I am finding it hard to be disappointed or upset about this game. It's a bummer the streak of division titles has come to an end, but this team doesn't deserve it anyway. On top of that, it can be argued a loss brought on a more favorable playoff outlook. Also, Minnesota is a dangerous team. They have as much young talent as any team out there, and can compete with anyone when they they play to their strengths.
The Packers defense executed their gameplan about as well as they could have hoped to. They stopped Adrian Peterson from setting the tone and only allowed him to gain 3.5 yards per carry. Teddy Bridgewater barely completed half his throws and failed to toss for 100 yards. That should win you most games even if your own offense is just mediocre. The problem is that this offense is not even that.
Another depressing showing for the first three quarters left me right where I've been for the past two and a half months: uninspired and without expectations. No matter how poor the offense plays I am no longer surprised or confused. The fact that this level of inefficiency has become the norm is simply depressing. It is hard to go into any game with optimism.
I look at the playoffs now without any expectations. This team certainly has the talent to beat Washington, but I will be far from surprised if they fail to. What I am now looking forward to the most is how McCarthy addresses the team's offensive issues in the offseason. Beyond finding speed on the outside and adding quality depth, I don't see a whole lot of holes. And who knows, they may not even need to upgrade the receiver position. With everyone getting one more year under their belt and Jordy returning, it could be a much improved position.
It will certainly be different watching the playoffs this year without a Super Bowl or bust mindset. Whatever happens, happens, and I think I will be content with any outcome. The most important thing is figuring out why the offense lost all rhythm and finding a solution for the 2016 season.
If you would've told me two months ago that the Packers - at the time a 6-0 freight train - would end the season the way they just did, I'd assume that either A.) Aaron Rodgers got seriously injured or, B.) The team was attacked by a large pack of mountain lions. But alas, here we are with, as far as we know, a healthy Aaron Rodgers and the 2015 Packers sputtering into the playoffs like a Chevy Vega with 200,000 on the clock and a clogged carburetor.
Of course, as many have pointed out, the last time the Packers ended the season not atop the NFC North, they won the Super Bowl. But a lack of a divisional title is pretty much the only thing the two teams have in common. 2010 saw a team that needed two wins just to make the playoffs, got on a roll in having won those games, and rode that momentum in burning the whole damn place to the ground. It was glorious.
And who knows, maybe this team can get on a similar roll. Having Aaron Rodgers on your team makes anything possible. But in all likelihood, those hopes are probably steeped far more in optimism than realism. This is a flawed team in almost every facet - from the talent on the roster, to the coaching (last night's bungled timeout near the end was as unforgivable a mistake as there is for a coach with as much experience as Mike McCarthy), to the performance and execution of the players themselves. It's all crap and it was clear somewhere around the third quarter - after the Vikings took firm control and before the Packers mounted one of their now patented ‘F-it let's just do whatever' last minute comebacks - that the players knew it just as much as the fans watching at home did.
For me, that lasting image of last night's game came after Rodgers' interception in the end zone with a couple minutes left on the clock. The camera caught Rodgers and...I mean, there was nothing there. No visible frustration that he'd just tossed the cardinal sin of his position, not even a hint of anguish at how close he'd come to essentially sealing a 5th NFC North Championship. His gaze was an empty one, the kind you have sitting in traffic on a Monday morning on the way to work, as if to say, ‘This is what it's come to.' And unfortunately, he's not wrong. In sports, hope is the most powerful thing there is. It keeps us emotionally invested in the down years, irrationally excited during the draft and before the season, and engaged even when it seems like your team has no shot at winning. Next week, the Packers play the Redskins in the NFC Wildcard round and while I hope they win, I have little faith that they actually will. Going by Rodgers' expression, I'm not sure he does either.
This is what it's come to.
I have been saying for the past month that the Packers need to forge their identity as a power running team if they expect to win games the rest of this season. For one drive on Sunday night, it seemed that they would go that route, as they ran the ball ten times while passing it just four on their first series against Minnesota. Then, as they have been all too quick to do lately, Mike McCarthy and his offensive coaches promptly stopped running the ball.
Eddie Lacy carried the ball seven times on that first drive. He had six total carried throughout the entire rest of the game. Against Dallas, we all saw what this team is capable of when they commit to the run, have early success, and maintain that commitment. They had the early success against Minnesota, but they did not maintain their commitment, which effectively killed any chance they had of putting up a solid day offensively.
The only hope that I hold for a Packers win in Washington on Sunday afternoon is that somehow, some way, McCarthy goes back to the gameplan he implemented in Dallas.
Has there ever been a less scary playoff team than the 2015 Green Bay Packers?