12.22.2009

A Good Loss?

Remeber when the Packers were coming off a four game losing streak and everyone had counted them out? When the offense was giving up sacks like it was Christmas and the defense couldn't even get sufficient pressure on a rookie QB making his first NFL start? It's an uncomfortable memory, but I know its there.

Now recall the beginning of the winning streak that ensued. When the Packers lashed out at the Cowboys like a wild animal backed into a corner. That's essentially what the Packers encountered on Sunday in the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers were coming off an
embarrassing loss to the Browns and saw their playoff hopes dwindling, and the loss of Troy Polomalu has shown us all just how important he is to the defense. But they're still the defending NFL champs, and are still quarterbacked by a two time champion in Ben Roethlisberger. They put everything they had on the field against Green Bay in torching the Packers' secondary to the tune of 503 passing yards and blitzing Aaron Rodgers relentlessly. Coach Mike Tomlin was even so desperate to seal the win that they tried an onside kick with less than four minutes remaining with the lead. And in the end they sent the Packers home with their first defeat in over a month.

But you know, as much as that loss hurt from an emotional standpoint, it was about as good a loss as you can take. Because unlike the Cowboys in week 10, the Packers gritted their teeth and dug in. They fought back and took a lead before losing on an unbelievable throw and catch. Many sportswriters spoke of the playoff-like atmosphere of this game, and the experience of such a game is invaluable to the youngest team in the NFL. I'd much rather lose now and have a chance to learn from it than make the playoffs and have a season-ending lesson to dwell on for an entire offseason.

Yes, there were definitely some hard pills to swallow in retrospect. Mason Crosby is looking like a closer who's lost his stuff and has many questioning whether he'll find it again, while the receivers have developed a disturbing case of the dropsies. And then there's the defense and its depleted secondary, which gave up a ton of yards and points, and has some chewing on fingernails. Capers found a solution in recent weeks: blitz 'em 'til they scream. But this tactic only worked until Big Ben proved that the upper echelon of QBs will make you pay for sending seven into the backfield, especially when you're stuck with the likes of Jarrett Bush at nickel. But Capers is nothing if not crafty (see: Psycho package) , and I have confidence that if anyone can find a way to make things work with the tools on hand, he can.

Thankfully, in the midst of the bad, we also got a good look at the development of a couple players in this loss. Though it didn't stick, Rodgers gave a gritty performance to take a lead near the end of the game, and rookie seventh round pick Brad Jones came up big with two sacks. Oh, and how about that Jermichael Finley guy? I think he has most improved player locked up. Hard to believe he's only 22 and already leaving defensive coordinators' pencils covered in tooth marks. Seeing the young guys step up in such an intense atmosphere had to make Packer fans everywhere feel a little more confident about the future in Green Bay.

But a bright future doesn't change the L into a W, and right now that's the bottom line. Because as most coaches will tell you, there's no such thing as a moral victory in sports, only wins and losses. And practically speaking, they're right. Still, losing at Pittsburgh with the difference being the extra point of a touchdown pass caught out of bounds with the receiver's toes dragging on the green and the clock reading 00:00? That's really not a bad loss, and if you can build off it, it's about as good a loss as you can get.

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