OK, I’ve been very optimistic this season but I’m now ready to stick a fork into the Green Bay Packers and call them done. Consider this article their death certificate. The time of death for their playoff hopes was Dec. 7 with :00 remaining on the clock in a 3-point loss to the Houston Texans.
To be fair, the Packers do still technically have a chance; if they win their final three games and the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears lose their last three. But, I’m realistic enough to know that’s probably not going to happen.
So, rather than analyze today’s game or even bother figuring out whether or not they can win on the road against Jacksonville next week, I’ve decided to put this season out of its misery; not care whether they win or lose any more and hope Aaron Rodgers comes out of the final three (meaningless) games in one piece.
Instead, I’m going to ask and answer the question “what went wrong?”
The Packers headed into this season following a 13-3 regular season and nearly making the Super Bowl. Even with a first year starter at quarterback, expectations were high. So what happened to leave this team with a 5-8 record with just 3 games remaining?
After some sole searching, I realized the answer is really much simpler than you would think…..injuries.
Every team deals with injuries and has a plan in place to cope. But, even the best teams can struggle if too many key players are banged up and unavailable to practice or even play; especially if most of those players are from one side of the ball.
Let’s take a look at the Packers’ injuries this year and be sure to note how many are on the defensive side of the ball.
The Packers have Nick Barnett, Cullen Jenkins and now possibly Mark Tauscher among their players on injured reserve list and out for the year.
Cornerback Al Harris missed four games because of a spleen injury.
Defensive tackle Justin Harrell was injured in training camp and didn’t play until the second half of the Packers’ season.
Running back Ryan Grant suffered a hamstring injury in camp and didn’t play at his expected level until just recently.
Defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamilla, who the Packers were counting on as a pass rush specialist, never fully recovered from a knee injury and was eventually released.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffered a shoulder sprain against Tampa Bay and, while he didn’t miss any time, played at less than 100 percent for a few weeks.
Various injuries at safety have forced the Packers to move Charles Woodson, who was having a Pro Bowl Year at cornerback, to safety.
I could keep going on but I think you get the point.
The injuries were the key reason for this lost season but a couple other things really stood out as well.
For one, the move to Derrick Frost at punter was a huge mistake and his short punts in key situations led to great field position for opponents and probably made the difference in close games.
The Packers have also struggled with penalties all year; something that killed drives on offense and allowed opponents to gain first downs at the wrong time. That one was especially bad because it’s unclear why it was such an issue on what should have been a very disciplined team.
Even though I started out putting the final nails into the Packers’ coffin for 2008, I do feel fans have a lot to look forward to next season. It was a disappointing year but, overall, I do still feel the team is heading in the right direction.
For one, Rodgers has played at a very high level in his first season as a starter. Ironically, as much attention as was paid to the position this off season, he was probably the one thing that wasn’t an issue. And, you won’t find another team with more depth at wide receiver.
Secondly, Grant has really come on strong the second half the season. Part of his problem this season was likely the long contract hold out early on. Now that he has his money, you can only expect him to have a better first half of the season next year. The Packers also might have found a strong complimentary back in Brandon Jackson.
Injuries became a bit too much late this year but the defensive secondary seems to be better than it has been in ages. I expect the team to try to trade an aging Al Harris next year now that Tramon Williams has shown he can be a starter but, even if they do that, this should remain a strong group.
The same can be said about the offensive line; which has been rearranged several times because of injuries but has continued to play much better than it has in previous seasons.
If the Packers can keep their guys healthy next year and maybe add one or two playmakers on defense (especially on the defensive line) there’s no reason to doubt this team will once again be a Super Bowl contender. It’s just too bad they weren’t able to realize their potential this season.