“4th and 26.” “The Catch II.” “The Randy Moss Moon Game.”
All are fan- and media-created monikers for NFL playoff losses by the Green Bay Packers over the years. Will last night’s debacle at Lambeau Field be known by a pithy title ten years from now? Or is it so painful that it will merely retain the dry, official game tag spoken with requisite distain and disgust (The 2007 NFC Title Game, The 2009 NFC Wild Card Game)?
I submit to you that the most appropriate alias for this game is “The Great Missed Opportunity,” or “The Missed Opportunity Game.” The Packers’ 37-20 loss to the Giants was not caused by any one play or player, so that makes the three examples at the beginning of this piece inadequate (I mean, what are we gonna do, call this “The Rodgers-to-Finley 3rd Down Disconnect Game”?).
No, this game was just a big, fat wasted opportunity. You could call it “The Choke Game,” and although the image of someone writhing on the ground with both hands over their throat serves as a good visual analogy for this game, the “choke” concept doesn’t fully express what I feel this morning. I feel like the Packers’ season genuinely shouldn’t be over. Yeah, I know the Giants showed up to play, but the Packers did too, right? Oh, they didn’t? Wait… after a season one loss away from being undefeated the team didn’t even show up? For the playoffs?
In my opinion, last night’s comedy of errors in Green Bay most closely resembles the 2004 playoff loss to the Vikings a.k.a. “The Randy Moss Moon Game”. Yeah, that’s right. I just compared a game played by a Mike McCarthy team with a 15-1 record and the presumptive league MVP to one prepared by the train wreck of the Mike Sherman regime. The truth hurts.
So all we as fans can do at this point is ask why. How the hell did this happen? Let me list my reasons:
1. The Giants Are Good – As fans of the losing team it can be easy to forget that the other team gets paid too. The Giants are on a roll mirroring the Packers’ last season and their own from 2007. I’m not saying the Packers weren’t the better team every other week of the season, but yesterday, the Giants took that mantle.
2. Lost the Turnover Battle – Simple. You lose the turnover battle and the road to winning the game morphs to a steep incline.
3. Dropped Passes – I don’t really understand this one. The team started to drop passes with James Jones last season and then almost everyone had one in Super Bowl XLV, but I always kind of assumed McCarthy and receivers coach Bennett would get it under control. It seems to be a widespread mental thing among all the players at the position on the roster.
4. Rodgers and McCarthy Both Lost Composure – You can debate me on this one and I might be wrong, but McCarthy’s play-calling felt reckless (and possibly panicked and/or desperate) all night. Yes, if they recover that first half on-side kick I’m jumping up and down for joy, but I’d still be thinking in the back of my mind, “What the hell was that?!” That might be the highest-risk, highest-reward play a coach can call… and you call it when the game is tied in the first half? Why? As for Rodgers, he appeared on television to have completely lost his mind midway through the third quarter. His passes were errant, he looked flustered constantly and he never checked down to the underneath routes which were almost always wide open. He seemed to want to make up a ten-point deficit with one throw.
5. Resting Players Ain’t the Way to Go – I trust McCarthy. So when he decided to rest the majority of the starting roster the final regular season game of the year I gave him the benefit of the doubt even though I openly stated it wasn’t the way I would go. Yes, I realize hindsight is 20/20, so with that in mind, instead of blaming McCarthy for resting players, let’s just take a lesson from hindsight for the future. McCarthy made a huge deal in 2009 about how he wanted momentum going into the Wild Card game against the Cardinals even though nothing good could come from winning their final regular season game. So he started everyone. Yes, the Packers lost the playoff game the following week, but I don’t think anyone could argue it was due to the Packers not resting players. The team showed up and played well. The game went to overtime and a fluke turnover (and uncalled facemask penalty) lost the game for them. Last night, the Packers resembled a team whose two primary playmakers on offense have been resting for 3 and 5 weeks respectively. Rust exists.
You’ll notice I don’t list the defense as a reason the Packers lost. Ironically, they weren’t. The defense played the way they have all year – not great, but not deplorably either. They were constantly given short fields to defend after turnovers by their offense. They forced multiple three-and-out series’ for the Giants. They forced a turnover. No, the defense did not lose this game. The offense played its worst game since the Sherman era, and I’d like to see the Ravens or 49ers defense try to extinguish that dumpster fire.