Packers take a step back in Detroit

Detroit defense puts the stop on Flynn & Company, but positives are on the horizon
Hello, Rock … meet Bottom. That is the reality for the Green Bay Packers after a Thanksgiving Day loss to the Lions Thursday in Detroit. The Packers have nowhere to go but up, and that’s where they hope to head once Aaron Rodgers returns, hopefully for the next game.
What might be the worst loss of Packers head coach Mike McCarthy’s career might be the wake-up call the team needs to define its season, while there is still time. The Packers’ playoff margin for error is getting slimmer as it preps for a four-game December run. When asked if his Packers need to win out in order to at least have a chance at post-season play, McCarthy said, “I would think so, yes.”
The Packers (5-6-1) are perilously close to missing the post-season for the first time since 2008. Is Aaron Rodgers important? Well, with him at the helm, they were 5-2 this season. With him on the sidelines as a spectator with a broken collarbone, they went 0-4-1. For four games, backup quarterbacks Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn couldn’t do enough on offense to cover for the Packers’ beat up, injury-plagued defensive unit. On Thursday, that continued.
With the Lions’ Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson taking turns making big plays, the Packers’ offensive weapons were ineffective. The Lions (7-5) rode an amped up defense and stellar special teams play – including big plays by ex-Packer Jeremy Ross – to thwart the Packers.
“We’re a wounded team that got drilled by a good football team,” McCarthy said.
Now what matters is where the Packers go from here. For obvious reasons the answer is up. Where else can Green Bay go? The Packers host Atlanta Dec. 8 in their next game, after a ten day lay-off, and Rodgers hopefully will be ready to play by then. Rodgers’ return certainly would be the best news for a team desperately in need of some.
Even if the Packers don’t run the table and eke into the post-season there are several positives to take hold of.

  • This is a temporary setback. Rodgers is going to return and continue as one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks. Critical players like Randall Cobb, Bryan Bulaga and all the others also will be back next season to give the offense a boost.
  • It is safe to say the Packers hit a home run when they drafted Eddie Lacy last April. The running back is one of the rising rookie stars in the NFC and already ranks among the conference’s best. And with a healthy OL in place, plus a year of experience, he could be nothing short of amazing.
  • McCarthy has shown the ability to critically analyze his coaching staff and make what he believes are the best decisions. If he feels defensive coordinator Dom Capers, special teams’ coach Shawn Slocum or anyone else should be replaced, he won’t hesitate.
  • This five-game stretch might spare the Packers years of frustration. I have always believed that ex-Packers coach Mike Sherman and a fair amount of his players looked too much for Brett Favre to win games. Favre played well in his post-Super Bowl career here to keep Green Bay in the playoffs – or in contention – in each of his seasons. However, the Packers never won another Super Bowl after 1996, and part of it I believe is because it got too convenient to rely on Favre.

After this five-game stretch, any temptation to make the same mistake with Rodgers is erased. The best thing for the Packers would have been to win a game or two without Rodgers. Conversely, the best thing for Rodgers would have been to see his teammates win a game or two without him.
That didn’t happen. What did happen is a restating of the obvious: Football is a team game. Great quarterbacks give their team a chance for greatness, but getting there ultimately requires all 53 players and the coaches pulling together.
Everyone has to be at their best and on top of their game.
It is a difficult lesson, but one that should pay off greatly moving forward. Meantime, the Packers need to regroup with Rodgers, win the rest of their games and hope the Lions self-destruct, which as we all know is easily possible, perhaps even probable.

Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio ( Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.