That was one of the most unsatisfying games in NFL history. Nobody is happy, save maybe for Lions and Bears fans. Both the Packers and the Vikings can blame poor calls and player gaffes, but nobody can walk away feeling good. That being said, there are some positives for the Packers. Some weeks I stretch to fill the slots in this article. This week each topic deserves its own individual article. I’ll try to hide my anguish. Here’s what I know.
1. That call was BOGUS
Last week, Clay Matthews drew a foolish roughing the passer penalty that could’ve lost the game for Green Bay. This week was similar, but the circumstances of the hit vastly different. Matthews hit Kirk Cousins as he released a pass that was ultimately intercepted, landing a shoulder in Cousins midsection and taking him to the ground. The referees said after the game that Clay was flagged because he picked Cousins up and drove him into the ground.
Here’s the full referee pool report as transcribed by the NFL: pic.twitter.com/f8WsfVyfUW
— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) September 16, 2018
Let’s be clear, that did not happen. The play cost the Packers the game and was completely erroneous. It speaks to a larger issue in the NFL about rules governing quarterback hits. Early in the game Mike Daniels held up from a sack because he was trying to avoid a flag. As a Packer fan, of course I don’t want quarterbacks getting crunched and injured, a la Aaron Rodgers last year. Though the hit that broke Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone was unfortunate, that’s football. Taking the violence out and making perfectly clean hits legal isn’t good for the game, even if the health of quarterbacks is.
Do not hit quarterbacks high. Do not hit quarterbacks low. Do not hit them in the midriff. Roughing the passer on Clay Matthews. pic.twitter.com/pFyMnXxqxG
— Ollie Connolly (@OllieConnolly) September 16, 2018
2. Defense looks good
You might not think it by looking at Kirk Cousins’ 400+ yards and four touchdowns, but the Green Bay defense looked good. They kept the Vikings in check for most of the game, and made several plays down the stretch. If that interception by Jaire Alexander stands we aren’t talking about a bad performance, we’re talking about a smothering, shut down unit. The Vikings were saved by the flag down the stretch and then made several fantastic plays to score and take the game to overtime. The defense allowed 29 points in the end, but this isn’t the Dom Capers’ led squad of years past. The young secondary will improve and they’ll be a service to the team rather than a shackle in the end.
3. Offense needs to finish
Mason Crosby was 5-of-6 on field goals, with his lone miss being the 52-yarder as time expired in the 4th that would have won the game. While his five field goals were tremendous, it speaks to an offense that repeatedly stymied as they neared the endzone. If one or two of those field goals is turned into a touchdown we’re looking at 2-0 rather than 1-0-1. You can be sure the offense will focus on finishing out promising drives this week.
4. Why risk it?
This may seems strange coming off what I just said, but throwing the ball on second and third down with under two minutes to go in the 4th quarter was foolish. Mike McCarthy said after the game that the team wanted to score and ice the game. Davante dropped the ball in the endzone and Aaron’s pass was incomplete on third-and-long. More importantly, the two incompletions sent the Vikings offense onto the field with two timeouts and nearly two minutes to work with. Taking time or timeouts off the board for Minnesota would’ve changed their gameplan and would have made the difference. The risk-reward balance just doesn’t seem to be in favor of the pass, especially on third and long. If Adams catches it I’m of course not writing this, but the move seemed like a coach who didn’t trust his defense despite their strong play for much of the game.
5. Challenge rule should change
Hear me out on this one. The NFL needs to look at changing the challenge rules. In the past it was necessary to look at turnovers and scores, but now those plays are automatically reviewed. Why not let coaches use their two challenges on penalties too? Be it the missed pass interference against Jimmy Graham, the erroneous interference against Davante, the questionable hold that took away the Graham touchdown, or roughing the passer on Matthews, a difference in call on any of those plays might change the outcome. Viking fans have penalties they can complain about as well, but giving team’s the power to review penalties when replay clearly shows a mistake was made would improve the game without lengthening it dramatically, so long as the challenges were limited to two.
6. An overtime fix
Speaking of ideas that would improve NFL games. The overtime rules need to be scrapped immediately. The rules were bad when they were just a 15 minute sudden death period, they were bad when they were changed to both teams get a chance to possess the ball barring a touchdown or safety, and they’re even worse now that teams only have 10 minutes. The current time period basically ensures the team that wins the toss will get two possessions to the other team’s one in the event of no scores. The complaint has always been the same, the rules aren’t fair, they leave the outcome up to a coin flip. How many playoff games must the Packers’ lose in overtime without Rodgers and the offense seeing the field before the rule changes? College and high school overtimes present a perfect alternative. Both teams get the ball at the opposing team’s 25 yard-line. Both teams go the same direction, they get the ball at the same spot, the same number of times. Nobody can say they were screwed by a coin flip. It’s blindingly obvious, easy change that would improve games and prevent ties.
7. Class of the NFC
Of all the drawbacks from Sunday’s outing, the largest positive has to be that the Packers are one of the NFC’s best teams. They took the 13-win Vikings to overtime and should have won the game handily in regulation (you can also say they should’ve lost if not for the missed kicks, but that’s not the point I’m after here). After what appeared to be a rough showing against Chicago, despite the heroic performance by Rodgers, the Packers came out strong Sunday. If they can minimize the errors that cost them and avoid game altering penalties, they can hang with any team in the league.
8. Injury roundup
Josh Jones and Oren Burks have both missed the first two weeks of the season. While Jones seems to be without timetable, Burks is nearing a return and could make his regular season debut next week. The return of those two will only improve an already promising defense. Beyond those two, Aaron Jones returns to the fold after being suspended for the first two weeks. Jones is arguably the most talented running back the Packers have, though he does struggle in pass protection. He’ll add another dynamic to the Packers offense and take some pressure off Rodgers. Lastly, Kevin King was the most worrisome injury from Sunday’s tie. He was sidelined with a groin injury in the second half and didn’t return despite a questionable tag. The issue doesn’t seem serious but his status will be interesting as he’s performed phenomenally as a starting corner these past two weeks.
9. On to Washington
All the above being said, the game is over and the team needs to move on. Mentally, the disappointment can linger. The coaches and the veterans must take charge and ensure that the team’s performance in practice and in next week’s game isn’t compromised by this week’s frustration. They’ll be playing the Redskins in Washington at noon next week. The Redskins looked promising in Week 1 but got stomped by the Colts, 21-9 this week and are sitting at 1-1. Here’s hoping the game represents a coming out party for the Packers, who can flex their offensive and defensive muscle against what appears to be a lesser opponent.
10. It could be worse, a lot worse
Whenever you think it’s rough being a Packer fan, just remember it gets a whole lot worse. The Browns haven’t won in over 600 days. They appeared to snatch a victory over New Orleans this week, scoring a touchdown after being down six with under two minutes to play. They ended up missing the extra point and giving up a field goal to lose the game and move to 0-1-1 on the year. That’s not all. In what is perhaps the most ridiculous piece of sports news I have ever heard, Bills cornerback Vontae Davis retired at halftime in the team’s loss to the Chargers Sunday.
Buffalo CB Vontae Davis apparently retired at halftime during the Chargers-Bills game Sunday.
"He said he's not coming out. He retired…"
—Bills LB Lorenzo Alexander pic.twitter.com/ab7wJoyc7f
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 16, 2018
Wow. We may have had some bad losses or rough games in recent years, but we’ve never been “veteran retires at halftime” bad.
It’s early in the year and we’ve showed promise. Heads up, Packer fans.