As the calendar turns to October, we are fast approaching the quarter mark of the NFL season and can begin to assess exactly who the 2021 Green Bay Packers are.
After a tumultuous offseason that culminated in Aaron Rodgers’ triumphant return to Green Bay on the eve of training camp, it appeared all was calm and the Packers’ train to the Super Bowl was back on track and ready to steamroll through the NFC. The drama was over, the focus was back on football and everything was back to normal.
Then the season started.
The Packers weren’t just beaten by the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, they were humiliated. Joe Barry’s debut as defensive coordinator was an abject disaster and even Rodgers was taking heat for looking disinterested in the game. The overreactions were predictable.
Losing the first game of the season is usually not a reason to panic, but when you’re the Green Bay Packers and all-in on potentially Rodgers’ last season, the panic button is much more tempting to press. This is not a criticism of anyone who had concerns after that loss, either, as critical thoughts are valid and legitimate. Nobody saw that train wreck coming.
As bad as it was after Week 1, all was not lost. It was after that defeat that the Packers started teaching their fans and outside observers a simple lesson: have faith.
With the supposedly listless Detroit Lions on the schedule the following Monday night, the thought was Green Bay would use it as a “get right” game to work out the rust since most starters missed preseason and needed some time to get back into the groove. The Lions represented the perfect opportunity for that to happen.
So we thought, at least initially.
The defense continued to look lost early on, as Jared Goff looked like an All-Pro and took Detroit right down the field for a 7-0 lead. Thankfully the Green Bay offense was up to the task, tying the game on their first drive. Unfortunately the defense didn’t help much during that first half and Detroit had a surprising 17-14 lead at halftime.
With a game and a half of evidence in their memory banks, calls were already coming for Barry’s job. His track record as a coordinator hardly inspired confidence when he was hired, and it was looking like more of the same even with his stint in Green Bay still in its infancy. It appeared the defense was going to be historically bad even if the offense was showing signs of life.
That’s when that lesson of having faith once again reared its head.
The defense pitched a shutout in the second half as the offense finally started firing on all cylinders and the Packers took the lead. They never looked back en route to a 35-17 win. The second half shutout was a welcome sight but there was already a built in excuse: “oh, it’s just Detroit. San Francisco will eat their lunch next week.”
Let’s say it again: “have faith.”
With a defense that no one had faith in and an offensive line using its third option at left tackle, expecting the Packers to leave San Francisco at 1-2 was entirely reasonable. Add in their recent history on the West coast and the stage was set for another Packers loss.
Instead, the Green Bay defense pitched what would have been a first half shutout if not been for a massive special teams breakdown in the closing minutes. It was a statement performance against a brilliant offensive mind in Kyle Shanahan and could serve as the moment when the unit gelled and Barry’s scheme finally sunk in.
There were some issues in the second half, but sometimes you have to tip the hat to the opponent instead of unilaterally blaming the defense. You’re not keeping Shanahan in the corner an entire game. The 49ers’ final drive had an air of inevitability to it, especially in light of some rather questionable officiating decisions.
The 49ers did score and take the lead, leaving the Packers 37 seconds to get into field goal range. Even though we’ve all seen Rodgers pull a rabbit from his hat multiple times, against a team like San Francisco a comeback would be a steep mountain to climb.
Once more the team brought the “having faith” lesson out one last time and the Packers made that steep mountain look more like an anthill.
Two brilliant Rodgers-to-Adams throws (especially impressive considering Adams was knocked from the game earlier when 49ers safety Jimmie Ward appeared to lead with the crown of his helmet) allowed the Packers to spike the ball for a Crosby field goal. The Packers win 30-28 and suddenly all is well again in Green Bay.
This is why “faith” is the keyword for them three weeks into the regular season. The first week, faith was tested as the unexpected happened and the team was humiliated. Week 2 saw faith renewed after another rough start gave way to the Packers emerging from the fire and showing signs of being the team everyone thought they were. Week 3 was faith rewarded as the Packers came out in a game many expected to lose and punched San Francisco in the mouth early and often. The 49ers clawed their way back and when many thought Green Bay would fold, they stood tall and found a way to win. It was a signature win for the team under Matt LaFleur and could serve as a springboard for bigger things down the road.
It’s a long season and that faith will undoubtedly be tested again. The key is, and always will be, to never lose it. The Packers clearly have faith in themselves and that will serve them well as more adversity arises.
As Cullen Hightower once said, “Faith is building on what you know is here so you can reach what you know is there.”
The Packers know they have a team capable of winning a Super Bowl. Now they just have to reach and take what they know than can get.