The Green Bay Packers’ 2019 season is over. Let’s talk about the 2019 Packers season.
It’s been (more or less) two solid years of change in Green Bay. Dom Capers, Ted Thompson, and Mike McCarthy have made their exits. Mike Pettine, Brian Gutekunst, and Matt LaFleur have replaced them. In the process, significant storylines and plot threads have emerged, coming to a head at different points over the last few months.
Here are our attempts to pull on the story threads that defined this year’s team. Which one — if any — jumps out to you?
Evan “Tex” Western - Winning (and losing) in ugly fashion
The 2019 Packers, as the team will proudly tell you, won ugly. The team was 9-1 in one-score games in the regular season and 1-0 in the postseason, and many of those victories came down to the wire. In fact, the only multi-score wins came against bad teams — the Broncos, Raiders, and Giants — or a playoff-bound Vikings squad without its best offensive weapon.
At least those wins were wins, as the losses were far uglier. In Week 4, the Packers’ red zone offense fell apart when they had chances to put points on the board against the Eagles. In losses to the Chargers and 49ers (twice), the team went on the road to California and got manhandled, whether due to lack of preparation, poor game-planning, lack of focus, or whatever other reason.
Overall, this season was a fun one, because the team won 14 games and returned to playoff success after two losing seasons, but it was also exhausting to watch as a fan. Too often the Packers had to hold on against an inferior team that made a late charge or needed a comeback of their own after getting behind with a poor first half. Regression in one-score games will be a common theme in the offseason — as it was late in the year, when the national media designated the Packers as the worst 13-3 team in history — and the Packers need to continue improving the roster so that the floor for that regression is something like 11-12 wins instead of 8-9.
Paul Noonan - Average Rodgers
There was a ton of change this season — a defensive overhaul, a new coach, new offensive philosophy, etc. — but none of that really matters. For the entire Aaron Rodgers era, the team has been built around the quarterback with the understanding that an average supporting cast would make them Super Bowl contenders. There was hope that a new scheme would reinvigorate that old non-gunslinger. Instead, it was more of the same uber-conservative play we’ve seen since 2015, and it’s probably time to conclude that elite Rodgers is over. Everything that takes place going forward should be framed as such, and you can argue that’s the case. The defensive personnel is loads better than it was in 2018, and this is allegedly a historic class for wide receivers. Maybe they can find their Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey to prop up a latter day great.
Rodgers is a part of every other story you could tell, and given his star power and cap number, everything has to work with or around him. It’s pretty clear what they have now at quarterback, and hopefully they plan as such.
Peter Bukowski - Turning the page on the McCarthy/Thompson era
Tex and Paul make some good points, but I’m thinking bigger picture here. McCarthy’s pink slip and LaFleur’s arrival with a new offense and a culture reset defines this season because it signals a new era in Packers football. Will Aaron Rodgers continue to decline? Perhaps. But they won without him being great. That’s winning ugly.
More to the point though, the Packers set a player-led culture, anchored by Rodgers, the Smith Brothers, David Bakhtiari and others. To a man, this was a unique experience and team, one loaded with young, talented guys who can get better. The front office already demonstrated a willingness to exercise all options at its disposal to improve.
Everything the previous regime lacked at the end—leadership, culture, aggressiveness in personnel— this new administration possesses in spades. Whatever happens in the next few years, in the waning seasons of a historic quarterback, will define this decade of football in Green Bay. Regardless of what transpires, Year 1 will go down as a paradigmatic shift in the organization. How they build on it will define their ultimate success or failures.
Jon Meerdink - Echoes of Thompson
I want to build on what Peter said by offering the other side of the same coin. Though the Packers certainly did move on from the Thompson/McCarthy era, they still dealt with a lot of the ghosts from that time, for good and for ill.
A big reason Gutekunst was able to rebuild the Packers quickly was that a lot of crucial core players were already in place. 60% of the Packers’ offensive line (Bakhtiari, Linsley, and Bulaga) were drafted and re-signed by Thompson. Likewise for Davante Adams. Thompson also added Aaron Jones, Kenny Clark, and Kevin King, though admittedly your opinion on that last pick could go quite a few different ways.
But Thompson’s misfires on defense are a big reason the Packers had to spend so heavily on that side of the ball last spring. It’s also why Gutekunst has had to spend all three of his first round picks so far on defense, including two in the secondary, which Thompson repeatedly tried and failed to fix. Perhaps Gutekunst would have made some of those moves anyway, but Thompson left him virtually no choice if he wanted to squeeze anything out of the tail end of the Rodgers era.
Gutekunst’s forced investment into the defense also meant a paucity of resources could be devoted to the offense, which, in turn, left the Packers short on fresh, young playmakers this season.
Each of these stories individually (the legacy of Thompson’s good picks, the far-reaching consequences of his bad ones) could be a defining narrative for the 2019 Packers. But like the complicated legacy of the man himself, it’s best to look at both the good and bad together.
Kris Burke - Re-opening the Super Bowl window, even if it’s small
When the Packers finished with sub-.500 records the previous two seasons that saw them jettison both their longtime general manager and head coach, many fans wondered if the team would even get another shot at a Super Bowl before Rodgers hung up the cleats.
They can wonder no more as Green Bay made an unexpected run that saw them on the doorstep of a trip to Miami. No, they didn’t win with flashy stats that would make the analytics people drool all over their keyboards, but that isn’t what the game of football is about. It’s about winning in whatever form it takes and the Packers found a way 14 times in 18 games.
Now people seem to be pointing at the Packers as a prime regression candidate. Brian Gutekunst’s job is to prevent that. A lack of weapons hindered Rodgers, although as Paul said above it is now undeniable that he is no longer the quarterback he once was. This means adding reliable weapons that make his job easier and taking some pressure off Aaron Jones in the backfield.
Gutekunst proved last spring he can be as aggressive when it comes to player acquisition as anyone and with how well Adrian Amos and the Smith Brothers worked out, he should be emboldened to do the same on offense come March (just no more Jimmy Graham-level misfires please).
The Packers are back on track again and the front office needs to take advantage of this second Super Bowl window, even if it is only for a couple years.