10.21.2010

Sunday night brimming with opportunity


The Packers are coming off a losing streak comprised of two demoralizing games in which the offense has struggled to get the ball into the end-zone. Injuries have ravaged the team, and concern is growing within the fan base that this seemingly Super season will once again end in disappointment.

This accurately describes Green Bay's current situation, but they found themselves in a similar situation in 1996. Comparitavely, it was later in the season (mid-November). At left tackle, rookie first round pick John Michels was starting for future Hall of Fame T Ken Ruettegers, and starting flanker Robert Brooks was out for the year while slot receiver Antonio Freeman had recently fractured his arm and missed a month. Mike Holmgren's Packers lost in poor showings against the Dallas Cowboys and the Kansas City Chiefs. Even the following game at St Louis was a dull 9-3 affair at halftime, with the Rams in the lead. But in the 3rd quarter Doug Evans (right) picked off QB Tony Banks and never lost stride en route to a TD, giving them the lead. From that point on the Packers rolled undefeated all the way to the Lombardi trophy.

This year's Packers could certainly use a moment like that to reignite its Super Bowl hopes, and for that reason Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings coming to town is probably the best thing that could happen at this juncture of the season.

Take a moment to think about the potential implications this game brings. Obviously you want to beat your division rival every time, but with the VIkings one game back, the outcome holds extra weight. Win and you're 4-3, add a full game between you and Minnesota, and with the Bears facing the tenacious Redskins, there's a chance you're tied for first. Lose and you drop into 3rd place, have lost three in a row, and are heading out to New York to face a tough Jets team who hasn't lost since week one and is coming off an extra week's rest. Going into that game, McCarthy needs some momentum if he has any hopes of getting his team back on track.

Aaron Rodgers especially needs a good showing from his teammates. He just hasn't been as sharp these past couple weeks. Ever since the QB sneak in the Redskins game he seems to have the yips. We've seen him sail balls well over receivers heads and tuck, duck and run in pockets that haven't quite collapsed yet. In short, he's reverted to his Tampa form of last year, amplifying the team's weaknesses, and the Packers can't succeed when he plays like that. The receivers need to make the catches they've been dropping, and the line needs to give him reason to trust them again, because its becoming obvious that at this point in his career he can't win games by himself. And there's reason to believe they can accomplish this: the Vikings are only ahead of the Buccaneers in sacks this year, and they've suffered a rash of injuries in the secondary.

But beyond all this, there's another reason for the team to perform for Aaron. And you knew this one was coming.

Brett needs to go down. Not to injury, and not to scandal, but to a smothering Packer defense who swarms him in the pocket and zeros in on his passes before his receivers can. They need to make his day miserable and make him wish he'd stayed retired one of those three times he changed his mind. Obviously you can't ignore Adrian Peterson--to do so would be suicide--but if the defense embarrasses Brett, it would go a long way towards rebuilding morale in the locker room.

Should the Packers prevail, Favre apologists will likely point to his age in order to detract from the accomplishment, but I don't care if Brett is 50 years old--its the symbolism of the act. He represents the old guard, the shadow Rodgers and Co. have worked so hard to emerge from while searching for their own identity. Beating him, and the Vikings, would be much bigger than a tally in the win column.

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