Put the pitchforks away (but keep them handy)

Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Ramblings

In the context of everything that happened this offseason, and what all parties involved said throughout training camp, I am absolutely baffled as to how the Packers put that performance on the field against the Saints. It was troubling, to say the least, to see a team so lifeless and utterly nondescript–particularly the quarterback, who spent the offseason “working on himself” and publicly quibbling with the organization. Davante Adams, who is dealing with his own mini-standoff with the front office, said last week he thinks this is the hungriest team he’s been around. They could have fooled me, because yesterday they looked very much like myself after Thanksgiving dinner, stuffed full and ready to fall asleep in a recliner as the sounds of football play in the background.

Was there truth and merit to the things Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers said after the game? Sure. Both coach and quarterback admitted they did their jobs poorly yesterday. LaFleur mentioned at least three times his failure to have the team ready for the game. Rodgers flat out said, “I played bad.”

Normally, the blame-taking and personal responsibility from team leaders are incredibly endearing to me. Yesterday, though, all I could think was “How?” How could a team be so unprepared? How could a game plan be so off-base? Well, Rodgers might have given some insight into that, too, with perhaps the most troubling quote of the day. When asked if the team came into the game too full of themselves, expecting to just show up and roll, the three-time MVP responded, “Yeah, I think so…I think there was probably some of that.”

If that’s true, it’s only fair to admit the team, the staff, the front office and whoever else weren’t the only ones overestimating the Packers’ ability to step on the field and continue where they left off last season. Since the day Rodgers showed up at training camp, there was rampant talk among both professional and amateur media about how terrified opposing defenses should be of facing a Green Bay offense with the “Last Dance” version of Aaron Rodgers at the helm. Instead, the Packers looked like a team caught up in reading their own press clippings.

Again, LaFleur and Rodgers said all the right things in their postgame press conferences. LaFleur pointed out the sole positive of the game is that there are still 16 to play. Will that, or anything else that was said, make anyone feel better about what they saw yesterday? Not unless this team rebounds in a big way next Monday against Detroit. Fair or not, if this team looks anything like they did yesterday in the early stages of next week’s game, the boos will rain down at Lambeau Field. During training camp, Rodgers was asked if this year was as Super-Bowl-or-bust as any in his career. His response: “It’s Titletown. It’s championship or disappointment.” He should know better than anyone that you can convince the denizens of Titletown to put their pitchforks down for a while, but they’ll always keep them handy.

Having said all that…

Am I convinced what we saw yesterday is what the 2021 Packers are going to be? No, not by a longshot. Reason for concern? Of course. But let’s also keep in mind the Packers have yet to lose back to back games under Matt LaFleur. The team has rebounded very well under his leadership, particularly after embarrassing losses. In 2019, after having their lunch money taken by the San Francisco 49ers in week 12, they responded with a 31-13 win over the Giants. Last season, the Buccaneers embarrassed them in week six, and the following week the Packers beat the Texans 35-20. Both examples feature the Packers winning a “get right” game against an inferior opponent–an opportunity they get again next week. I know what you’re thinking: How can any team be considered inferior to the Packers after yesterday? I won’t argue, but the fact Green Bay put that performance on tape yesterday and still opened as 11-point favorites over the Lions next week should tell you something.

The officiating thing

Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat–the outcome of the play wouldn’t have mattered. The final deficit may have been smaller, but that’s about it. Okay, now that that’s over, I have to take this opportunity to say the roughing the passer call on Za’Darius Smith in the third quarter of yesterday’s game is the most egregious error in enforcement of that foul I have ever seen. For those who may not have seen it:

Quite frankly, Carl Cheffers should be ashamed of himself for throwing a flag on this play, and he should offer a public apology for doing so. Of course, that will never happen in a million years, because NFL officials face no kind of meaningful reprimand for doing their jobs poorly. The NFL tacks on more facets to the definition of roughing the passer year after year…and this hit qualifies for exactly zero of them. The league should be embarrassed that this was called a penalty. You simply cannot tell players you’re enforcing rules a certain way, penalize them for doing things exactly how you told them to, and then let the officials slide when they screw up.

In closing…

The NFC North went 0-4 yesterday, and none of the four teams looked very competent, to be honest. The Lions mounted a failed comeback against the 49ers after being down 31-10. The Vikings lost to the Bengals in a game that had no business going to overtime. And the Bears were sunk by the combination of a revitalized Matthew Stafford and their own defense. The only thing from yesterday that should strike fear into Packers fans is the possibility that the Bears might realize the futility of the Andy Dalton charade and make Justin Fields their starting quarterback. The division could be very bad, which is good news for the Packers. If they’ve got issues to work out, there are worse places to be than in the NFC North.

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