You’re probably not familiar with T.S. Eliot. To be fair, few are all that familiar with most poets. But you have almost certainly heard his most famous line from his most famous poem:
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
Of course, Eliot was talking about the post-Great War period of European disillusionment and not the Aaron Rodgers-era Packers, and yet I find that this is largely how I feel about the 2022 team. Of course, the stakes here are infinitely smaller and this is a dramatic way to opine about a rather silly game of egg-ball, but nonetheless, this team is whimpering out of an era.
There is no grand finale here, but also no great final loss. This is simply a bad football team. A football team that is fortunate to be in the 3-3 position it finds itself in. They are the smallest stroke of misfortune away from a 1-5 start, and the franchise would likely be better for it. They are currently caught in the middle, quite literally (they currently would have the 17th pick), but there is no real roadmap for them to right the ship. A brutal 1-5 start would at least allow them the mathematical reality to face the music and begin a rebuild four months earlier than what will become the inevitable starting point. However, it is difficult to imagine the organization will have the stomach to declare failure while even a modicum of hope remains.
The offensive line has been in shambles and the continued lack of accountability in that unit only worsens week after week. Despite David Bakhtiari playing in 96% of snaps against New England and 95% snaps against the Jets (the trans-Atlantic game was only 40%, an understandable-ish one-off), Yosh Nijman is still being relegated to bring his relief pitcher. Press conferences are filled with talk about how it isn’t good enough and yet nothing changes. Royce Newman sees yet another game at right guard and Elgton Jenkins continues to look overmatched at right tackle. Even when the coaching staff manages to make a change, they somehow make the wrong one, inputting Jake Hansen but only long enough for him to sustain an injury that forces him out of the game. All the while, Green Bay has three offensive line draft picks from this past draft sitting on the bench or on the inactives report, and a young veteran tackle stuck playing reliever for a handful of snaps each game.
The quarterback to whom this era belongs is playing as a shell of his former self right now, or rather like a past version of himself. Every yard is earned with a level of difficulty that leaves your mind trapped somewhere in December of 2015 or, god forbid, November of 2018 - memories of an offense that could hardly execute and even when they could, for whom failure was just around the corner. The one offensive weapon that does work leads to press conference answers that only provide eye rolls. If Aaron Jones is so important to the offense, perhaps the individual in charge of calling plays for said offense should prioritize getting him the ball? It all becomes so tiresome. Every possession feels like a chore. A punt is almost a relief, simply so the struggle will end for a few moments.
Defensively, the story changes but the issues remain the same. Even when the secondary plays more aggressively, as they did this past week against the Jets to great effect, the problems up front in the run game make the entire situation untenable. And the Packers tried to fix this issue over the off-season! They prioritized linebacker for the first time since the George W. Bush administration and it just hasn’t worked out. De'Vondre Campbell looks like he barely belongs in the league in the first year of a five-year deal that Green Bay can only reasonably escape in 2024. First-round pick Quay Walker has continued to make the exact same leverage and coverage mistakes that littered his scouting reports from Georgia. Speaking of Georgia, his college teammate, Devonte Wyatt, selected 28th overall, and whose major calling card was being NFL-ready at the age of 24, has played a grand total of 35 defensive snaps this season, despite being active for all but one game.
The secondary is littered with talent, but at great cost. The Packers have spent three first round picks and one major veteran free agent addition to make that happen, and yet the unit still sits at just 10th in per-play pass defense efficiency, despite the capital invested and a very weak slate of passing offenses faced. The team had to be bullied from the outside to change their point of confrontation in coverage. What exactly are we doing here?
The 2022 Packers are a beast of their own making. Years of missed draft picks in the secondary begetting more draft picks in the secondary (leaving other parts of the team without reinforcements), a peculiar quarterback who has left the organization confused as to whether they should venture on without him or lean all the way into him, and an overall team structure that just doesn’t seem to work anymore, leave them where they are. This isn’t a blame game, because the rationale for almost every decision made along the way is understandable, although that does not mean that it is without consequence.
The organization is left with a quarterback who looks miles from what he was just one year ago and a coaching staff that seems unable to make obvious personnel decisions for reasons unbeknownst to us, and on the other side of that cliff is a very dark rebuild. There is no great victory, no grand final battle. All that remains are frustrating losses that inevitably turn into numbing losses, walking this era one step closer to its final resting place in NFL history. There is no bang. This is how it ends. Not with anger nor with anguish, but with a numbing malaise.