Do The Green Bay Packers Have Trouble Putting Opponents Away?

Before I get to the Green Bay Packers, I just want to quickly comment on three items that appeared in my Twitter feed this morning. My criticisms are petty and brief, but I can’t let these slide. The common thread? A mainstream sports media that is seemingly incapable of delivering commentary simply or without hyperbole.

  • Seth Davis comments on Kansas’ Thomas Robinson losing his mother to a heart attack this past weekend. Of course, it cannot just be called a “heart attack.” It must be an “untimely heart attack,” which is so obviously dissimilar from those auspiciously-timed myocardial infarctions. I suppose timely heart attacks exist – right before Kim Jong-il presses the “Initiate Nuclear Launch” button would qualify – but in this situation, it goes without saying that the heart attack was a bad thing.
  • Andy Katz says that Kansas deserves tons of credit for winning a conference road game while grieving for Robinson’s mother. At the risk of being insensitive, there is no way that her death made it more difficult for Josh Selby, Tyrel Reed, Tyshawn Taylor, and the Morris brothers to play basketball. Kansas does deserve credit, however, for winning a conference road game against an improved Colorado squad.
  • In the wake of Michigan State dismissing guard Korie Lucious from the team, Seth Davis says that “a tough season just got a lot tougher.” Right, because losing a junior who can’t hit 40% of his twos or 30% of his threes is a huge loss.

Now, please watch this clip: 

This clip, from the movie Anchorman, is an unintentionally perfect characterization of mainstream sports analysis today. Will Ferrell’s question “do you really love the lamp, or are you just saying it because you saw it?” captures analysts’ maddening tendencies to focus heavily on what they just saw rather than what a body of work says. You see this all the time. The New York Giants got a trillion penalties against the Tennessee Titans in Week 3 and people said that Tom Coughlin lost control of his team. Then they beat the crap out of the Houston Texans on the road two weeks later, and we heard that the strife and discord has brought the team together. Neither was true, but that doesn’t keep this practice from being commonplace.

I bring this up because of something I heard on Bill Simmons’ podcast this morning. NFL analyst Mike Lombardi echoed a sentiment that I hadn’t heard before this past Monday, but have been hearing quite a bit this week. He said:

And then Green Bay hasn’t really put a team away. I mean, Green Bay looks beautiful moving down the field. Those first couple drives against the Bears, you thought this game was going to be over quickly. But then they end up being 2-for-13 on third down. They don’t really have a way to put the team away . . . When you boil it down, the Packers lack a killer instinct.

He talks about this several times in the podcast, saying that the Packers let teams “hang around” while citing their Week 5 overtime loss to the Redskins as an example of this tendency. I could be wrong – and indeed, there’s no way of knowing at this point – but I’m confident that no one is talking about the Packers perceived inability to “put teams away” if they beat the Bears by 14 last weekend instead of seven. With all eyes on the NFC Title Game and the Bears missing their starting quarterback for the second half, we expected the Packers to pull away from the Bears. But because football is football and anything can happen in a one game sample (and we’re talking about a one half sample here), the score remained close and now the Packers have an undeserved reputation as “lacking a killer instinct.”

Out of curiosity, I’m going to find out for myself if the Packers are really a bunch of mentally-soft sissies. I will do so by taking a page out of Joe Posnanski’s book, and go game-by-game through the Packers’ schedule, examining how the game ebbed and flowed, and looking for evidence of them being a bunch of weak-willed, lily-livered creampuffs.

* * * *

Week 1 @ Philadelphia: Packers 27, Eagles 20

The Eagles take a 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, which was a rock fight featuring two punts after three-and-outs, an interception, and a field goal. The Packers come back in the second, scored a touchdown after a long drive and kicking a field goal while containing the Eagles’ explosive offense. Three touchdowns are scored in the third quarter; the score is 27-10, Packers, going into the fourth. The Packers can’t move the ball and the Eagles score 10 more points before the game ends.

Lily-livered or gladiatorial?: Gladiatorial. Against a lesser opponent, perhaps it would be lily-livered. But the Eagles were a darn good team this season – fifth-best in football, by DVOA – and it was week one.

* * * *

Week 2 vs. Buffalo: Packers 34, Buffalo 7

The Bills had 186 yards of total offense in this game. Fin.

Lily-livered or gladiatorial?: Gladiatorial.

* * * *

Week 3 @ Chicago: Bears 20, Packers 17

The Packers led 7-0 after an ugly first quarter. The Packers get a field goal to start the second, and the Bears score a touchdown right before the half, making it 10-7 at the break. No one scores in the third quarter. All hell breaks loose in the fourth quarter, as the Bears score a touchdown, the Packers respond with a touchdown, the Bears respond to the Packers’ response with a field goal, the Packers turn the ball over, and the Bears kick the game-winning field goal.

Lily-livered or gladiatorial?: Inconclusive. The Bears are a good team and the game was in Chicago. Plus, you can hardly call blowing leads of 7-0, 10-7, and 17-14 a referendum on a team’s fortitude. On the other hand, the fumble and the fourth quarter Bears’ scoring weren’t good. I am now on even more careful watch for lily-livered behavior.

* * * *

Week 4 vs. Detroit: Packers 28, Lions 26

The Packers had a 21-7 lead in the second quarter and a 28-14 lead 26 seconds into the second half against a bad (but not terrible) Lions team in Green Bay. But turnovers gave the ball to the Lions for much of the second half, who responded with an onslaught of Jason Hanson field goals. Obviously, the Lions came up just short.

Lily-livered or gladiatorial?: Lily-livered. The Lions committed 13 penalties for 102 yards and turned the ball over three times, yet the Packers still won by just two.

* * * *

Week 5 @ Washington: Redskins 16, Packers 13

The Packers managed to scratch out a 13-3 lead halfway through the third quarter, but simply couldn’t sustain any offense in the second half after settling for field goal attempts in the first half. The Redskins tied it up with a field goal towards the end of regulation and went on to win in overtime.

Lily-livered or gladiatorial?: Lily-livered.

* * * *

Week 6 vs. Miami: Dolphins 23, Packers 20

The Packers had a 10-7 lead after one, but their offense stalled in the second and third quarters, giving the Dolphins a 13-10 lead heading into the final quarter. Ten points from the Packers and seven from the Dolphins sent the game into overtime, where the Dolphins won on a field goal.

Lily-livered or gladiatorial?: Inconclusive. Although this game might not seem very different than the previous game, the Packers never led by more than three, making this game too close for the Packers to ever really blow a lead. You could argue that they should have led the Dolphins by more than three in the first place, but in examining the game, it just looks like the Dolphins played out of their minds that day.

* * * *

Week 7 vs. Minnesota: Packers 28, Vikings 24

Green Bay was down 17-14 at the half, following one of the few good halves of football Brett Favre played all year. They responded with two quick touchdowns in the third quarter to take a 28-17 lead. Fortunately for them, Favre threw three interceptions in the second half which masked their inability to get their offense going again.

Lily-livered or gladiatorial?: Lily-livered. Even though the Packers never built up a sizable lead, the fact that they almost lost to the woeful Vikings, in Green Bay, in a game where Favre threw three interceptions is not impressive. I get the sense that the Vikings would have won this thing if they had a halfway-decent quarterback at the helm.

* * * *

Week 8 @ New York Jets: Packers 9, Jets 0

This game was an abomination. I don’t want to write about it or it will make my day worse.

Lily-livered or gladiatorial?: Gladiatorial. Say what you will about the Jets – Lord knows I have – but shutting them out in New York is an impressive feat.

* * * *

Week 9 vs. Dallas: Packers 45, Cowboys 7

Much to the delight of every viewer with a soul and a functioning brain, the Packers destroyed the Cowboys on NBC’s Sunday night game.

Lily-livered or gladiatorial?: Gladiatorial.

* * * *

Week 11 @ Minnesota: Packers 31, Vikings 3

Aaron Rodgers went crazy in this one, going 22/31 for 301 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. Brett Favre was terrible and threw an interception. The sun rises in the east.

Lily-livered or gladiatorial?: Gladiatorial.

* * * *

Week 12 @ Atlanta: Falcons 20, Packers 17

Despite outgaining the Falcons by over a hundred yards, the Packers never led in this one.

Lily-livered or gladiatorial?: Gladiatorial. The Falcons only lost three games all year, and have been nearly impossible to beat at home for three years now. Can’t fault the Packers here.

* * * *

Week 13 vs. San Francisco: Packers 34, 49ers 16

The outcome was in doubt at halftime, as the Packers only led 14-13. The Packers’ defense held the 49ers to just a field goal in the second half while their offense scored 20 points, giving the Packers a solid win.

Lily-livered or gladiatorial?: Gladiatorial.

* * * *

Week 14 @ Detroit: Lions 7, Packers 3

Aaron Rodgers was knocked out of the game in the first half, giving way to Matt Flynn for the remainder of the affair. Given that Rodgers is back and healthy right now, there’s no point in discussing this game as it relates to the Packers’ “killer instinct.”

Lily-livered or gladiatorial?: Inconclusive.

* * * *

Week 15 @ New England: Patriots 31, Packers 27

Technically, I should give this game the same treatment as the above game and throw out the result, since Matt Flynn started for Aaron Rodgers at quarterback in this one. But I’ll just say this: it seems unlikely that a team lacking a killer instinct would take the then-12-2 Patriots down to the final possession, on the road, with their backup quarterback.

Lily-livered or gladiatorial?: Inconclusive.

* * * *

Week 16 vs. New York Giants: Packers 45, Giants 17

I watched this game. I am a Giants fan. If the Packers lack a killer instinct, I sure as hell didn’t see that deficiency here.

Lily-livered or gladiatorial?: Gladiatorial.

* * * *

Week 17 vs. Chicago: Packers 10, Bears 3

This one was a snoozer. Neither team cracked 300 yards of total offense, the score was 3-0 at the half, and there were 16 total punts. And unlike in their first matchup of the season (when it was debatable how good the Bears would be), the Bears had revealed themselves to be a legitimately good team at this point. A seven-point win against another playoff team is nothing to scoff at.

Lily-livered or gladiatorial?: Gladiatorial.

* * * *

Wild Card round @ Philadelphia: Packers 21, Eagles 16

The Packers beat an excellent Eagles team for the second time this year, both times in Philadelphia. Certainly, the Packers led by scores of 14-3 and 21-10 at different points, but given the quality of the competition, the venue, and the implications, it would be absurd to say the Packers failed to put away the Eagles in this one.

Lily-livered or gladiatorial?: Gladiatorial.

* * * *

Divisional round @ Atlanta: Packers 48, Falcons 21

Remember what I said about the Falcons being nearly unbeatable at home? Well, the Packers absolutely demolished the #1-seed Falcons, garnering 442 yards of offense while holding the Falcons to 194. This was a butt-whooping.

Lily-livered or gladiatorial?: Gladiatorial.

* * * *

Conference Championship @ Chicago: Packers 21, Bears 14

We have finally come to the game that gave birth to the idea that the Packers lack a killer instinct. As I mentioned earlier, the Packers had trouble finishing off a Bears team that lost Jay Cutler to injury at halftime, and that eventually settled on its third-string quarterback as his replacement. Certainly, the Packers at full strength are more than a touchdown better than the Bears led by Caleb Hanie. But the Packers’ inability to demonstrate that advantage over 30 minutes of play is not sufficient enough evidence to draw conclusions about the toughness or character of the team.

Lily-livered or gladiatorial?: Lily-livered.

* * * *

By my admittedly-unscientific count, the Packers had four games this year where one could reasonably look at the box score and drive charts and say “they should have won that game” or “they should have won that game by more”: Week 4 against the Lions, Week 5 against the Redskins, Week 7 against the Vikings, and in the NFC Title Game against the Bears. But the thing is, the Packers won three of those games. And how many times have you heard someone say – in analyzing any major sport – that the test of greatness is the ability to pull out close wins even when a team isn’t having its best day? A hundred? A thousand? So why aren’t we hearing that about the 2010 Packers? We aren’t hearing it because the last thing mainstream football analysts like Mike Lombardi saw was the Packers struggling to pull away from a depleted Bears team. And far too often, the drawing of definitive conclusions based on a shard of recent evidence is passing for serious analysis.

Like I said: “Do you really love the lamp, or are you just saying it because you saw it?”

 


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