Four Downs: Packers-Steelers preview
It’s the penultimate Four Downs of the regular season, and, yup: the NFC North is totally in the Green Bay Packers’ hands. Just how we expected it to play out. ‘Like’ us on Facebook and comment wherever comments are accepted.
1. It remains extremely difficult to watch, but when the Packers defense does the second part of its bend-but-don’t-break thing, well, we’re not saying it’s exactly effective, but holding the Dallas Cowboys to a few more field goals that could’ve been touchdowns kept Green Bay’s pulse the few ticks above flatlining it needed to make last week’s insanity-fueled second half rally a thing that really happened. It did happen, right? Okay cool.
Those were the tiny building blocks that only became such in hindsight. More than anecdotal evidence like that, the Packers defense did make a final stop when it had to have one for a second straight week. Luck and opponent’s dysfunction had hands in both, but those things always do; point is, Green Bay’s defense is probably feeling better about itself, as producing on-field results almost certainly always does in comparison to having to answer questions about doing better next time.
They remain very flawed, but in the biggest situations these last two weeks the Packers defense has been finding some way to get off the field, have had the last hand in these consecutive wins. We weren’t expecting a complete makeover in this stretch run anyway, and this style of defensive procrastination sure feels more like them. It is hasty and last-second and scrambled and messy and at times completely out of their control, but the homework is getting done on time.
2. Those two wins paired with two Detroit Lions Signature Collection-style losses by the Detroit Lions (because if anyone’s gonna use their trademark it’s them, dang it) and Green Bay is almost hilariously back in control of its own playoff life.
The NFC North is the division without a champion, but it will have a survivor from the wreckage. We do not care what the commemorative T-shirts say, though something like: “2013 NFC North Division Last Team To Not Die” sounds pretty catchy to us, and we’d be damn honored to have one.
3. On the Pittsburgh Steelers: they had a bumpy eight-game start to the season, especially defensively during those times, but as they proved with their ambush of the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday night, they’re a team that, sort of like the Packers, can be hard to cut off even when they’ve all but reached their limit of Playoff Kool-Aid. That could happen to the Steelers this Sunday with a loss or a win from either the Dolphins, Ravens, or Chargers. Only Miami plays at noon, though, so they’ll either know or still have the postseason to blindly play for by the time 3:25 comes around.
We bring this up because Green Bay’s offense has gotten off to the sort of starts to their days that are most similar to falling out of the top bunk and onto the barely-carpeted concrete of a college dorm. And whatever happens regarding the Steelers’ playoff scenarios, they’re unlikely to Charlie Brown Sad Walk onto Lambeau Field and mope around for an afternoon either way. (It’ll probably be too cold and snowy for that, for one thing.)
Anyway, better first half play from Packers Starting Quarterback Whomever and the rest of the gang should be important, especially in what sounds like will be “inclement weather conditions” in Green Bay. Though we’d point out that good starts certainly haven’t been necessary of late, because the framework of “winning” football continues to be the lie we all sell ourselves, because without that lie there is nothing separating us from complete chaos. (Note: we’re starting to believe maybe this isn’t the worst thing?) But yeah: we’d say a quick pounce on a team with verrrry slim playoff hopes to begin with is still a worthy goal worth striving for.
4. Otherwise, though – and we can say this for everyone, the defense and Mason Crosby and the special teams and the offense – it really is something to see a team both frustrating and frustrated just kinda keep swinging elbows and reaching for roots to grab hold of as they were slipping.
Mike McCarthy’s teams have usually been thrill rides of the exciting and sometimes-unhealthy variety, but we can’t remember many, if any, instances of dissent or open-questioning of one another or any of those other poisonous traits that infect teams when things aren’t going well. There’s always something to deal with in the NFL; for the Packers under McCarthy, it’s rarely been internal strife. That’s awesome.
They’ve needed a lionshare of luck (DO YOU GET IT) but once again the Packers – doing what they’ve needed to, McCarthy again not letting the whole thing completely derail – have dug themselves out of a bad place at basically the last possible moment. Maybe they are Indiana Jones; maybe they just haven’t met their maker yet. But they do once again possess everyone’s favorite postseason tagline, all together now: they have Control Of Their Own Destiny.
That control is somewhat loosened with a projected heap of snow incoming on Sunday and the as-of-this-writing still unknown status of Aaron Rodgers, as well as whatever else will happen in Green Bay that no one will be able to predict or stop, because chaos. (Again, this can be good or bad.) But if there’s a more perfect ecosystem for this year’s version of the Packers to live in than unpredictable and by-the-moment, we can’t think of it. We should know by now that they’re living until, or sometimes even after, we’d thought otherwise.
Happy holidays, Packerland. Enjoy it all.
(On the following scale: Ted Thompson is a tough guy to read. In an attempt to pay homage to his flat style of delivery, we will couple our pick with a 1-5 rating scale of our confidence translated into Thompson Confidence, which, we feel, is just as ultimately silly and tough to derive meaning from as choosing a score.)
Honorary Ted Thompson ‘I feel confident’ scale of confidence: 3.57 ‘I feel confident’-s out of 5.