Packer fans know what it feels like now. They’ve experienced the crushing heartbreak of watching their team blow through the regular season like an unstoppable juggernaut only to be defeated in the playoffs. The Packers of 2011 join the Steelers of 2004 and the Vikings of 1998 as the only teams ever to go 15-1 but miss the Super Bowl. Somewhat amazingly, only 2 of the 5 15-1 teams in history actually made it to the final game. 15-1 teams have now gone out before the Super Bowl 3 straight times. The Packers are the only of these teams that didn’t make it at least to the conference title game. So you could argue that the Packers’ loss yesterday was the most stunning of all these playoff flops.
But was it indeed the most stunning? I would argue no. For it to be stunning it would have to have been completely unforeseen. In truth, the seeds of the Packers’ ultimate demise were there for anyone to see. To their credit, many Packer fans pointed out their potential fatal flaw weeks before it actually killed them. The defense. Rolling up tons of points is fine, but at some point you’re going to have to stop someone, if only for one key drive. The Packers couldn’t stop the Giants at all Sunday, and their offense never got in sync enough to match New York on the scoreboard. What happened to the offense anyway? You can blame rust from starters sitting out two weeks, you can blame the wind, you can blame the Packers’ receivers for dropping too many balls. All contributed. In the end though, the onus must be placed on that defense. The offense held up their end most of the season but when the D was called upon to pull their weight, they couldn’t do it.
When you have as formidable an offensive attack as the Packers, you don’t need a great defense, you just need an okay one. That was the formula the Vikings used in 1998 to get within inches of the Super Bowl. They could score on anyone, and their defense could hold teams down just enough. But the Packers defense this year fell short of even that marginal standard. I didn’t watch the Packers enough to be able to diagnose all their defensive problems, but what I saw yesterday was pure lack of physicality at the line. The Giants’ offensive line seemed to push the Packers around. B.J. Raji has been hung with the overrated label by a lot of people and I think Sunday’s game bore this out. With Eli Manning getting almost no pass rush, the Packers secondary got torn apart. The Packers have better DBs than the Vikings but even good DBs can look silly when a veteran QB is allowed to stand back and pick his targets.
It was actually amazing how much the Packers D yesterday looked like the Vikings D all season. I can’t be the only one who chuckled sarcastically at all those third down conversions by the Giants. Dropping into soft coverage while getting no rush at all on the QB? That’s a good way to get beat. Of course the Packers’ trump card all season was their ability to stop drives by forcing turnovers. Even when getting gashed, the Packers could count on Charles Woodson or Clay Matthews or someone to step up and make the big play. I kept waiting for that yesterday but it never happened. How many times this year did we get mad at the Vikings for their similar inability to rise up and get the stop? Packer fans now know that frustration too. Their playmakers didn’t make the plays, on offense or on defense.
The Packers just played a bad game all around. It was going to happen to them sooner or later. Sadly for them, it happened against a hot team. Bad timing. But don’t feel too bad Packer fans, at least you have that recent championship to console you. That’s what separates the members of the “15-1 But No Super Bowl” club. The Steelers and Packers can shrug off that bad season because they’ve had success in other recent years. The Vikings? Their 15-1 flopperoo was actually the best thing that’s happened to them in the last three decades. Losing is a lot easier to stomach when it follows a lot of winning. Packer fans will get over 2011 pretty quick. I’m not sure most Viking fans who witnessed ’98 will ever get over it.