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By CHRIS HAVEL
What’s done is done.
It seems pointless to second-guess the Packers’ GM and head coach for Green Bay’s inability to win the NFC Championship Game twice in three years.
I prefer to congratulate them on a job well done but unfinished.
Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy have raised expectations to the point where they’ve occasionally become their own worst enemies.
At times they are both rudely and roundly criticized. The Packers’ 44-21 loss at Atlanta in last week’s NFC Championship highlights the point.
A rugged 4-6 start, followed by an amazing eight-game winning streak, spawned a NFC North Division championship when none seemed likely.
It allowed the Packers (10-6) the opportunity to go to Dallas (13-3) and KO the Cowboys. That game provided tremendous satisfaction to Packers’ fans. It was a small measure of redemption for all those brutal losses in Dallas in the 1990s.
It also was fun.
Aaron Rodgers’ brilliant 36-yard completion to Jared Cook was the stuff of legends. Mason Crosby’s 51-yard game-winning field goal made that possible. Those memories are etched in my mind.
The Packers’ loss at Atlanta is mostly a blur. As one of my friends posted on Twitter: “This wouldn’t hurt so badly if we weren’t playing so bad.”
It was difficult to watch. Or as Sean Jones, the Packers’ Super Bowl XXXI champion, tweeted at halftime, “With the 29th pick the Packers select …”
As host of Sports Line on WDUZ The Fan, I receive calls from upset fans/radio listeners strongly suggesting the GM and coach need to go.
My response: “Go where?”
That, followed by, “Are you crazy?”
(That’s only if I’m feeling charitable.)
In fact, they are mostly terrific fans merely blinded by their own passion. As painful as it is to be so close only to lose out on a chance to play in the Super Bowl, the reality is this: Only four of 32 teams earn a chance to play for the opportunity to play on the NFL’s grandest stage.
To some disgruntled fans, the Packers’ 2016 season was a story of, “So close, and yet so far … so let’s fire ’em all.”
There’s, ah-hem, that viewpoint. And there’s also the much more important story. The story that begins with the line, “Damn, now there’s a team that will stick together and stick with it.”
The second scenario isn’t as sexy as cleaning house and making heads roll and all of that nonsense. But it is the accurate view. The Packers’ shortcomings have been fairly obvious for some time now.
They need a “third down” back regardless of Ty Montgomery’s new and continued role as a running back. Montgomery is good, but he needs help, and I’d only bring back Eddie Lacy if the price is right.
They also need a tight end that doubles as a downfield threat. They had it with Jared Cook, and they’ll continue to have it if they re-sign him. Cook’s return has to be a top priority.
On defense, the needs are almost too numerous to mention.
Like Thompson and McCarthy, the criticism placed upon defensive coordinator Dom Capers is mostly misplaced or unwarranted.
Capers didn’t have the horses to run the race.
Perhaps the Packers’ brain trust should’ve had the foresight to realize Clay Matthews can’t be counted on to be healthy and/or dynamic late in the season. They should’ve guessed Julius Peppers, great as he is and try as he might, couldn’t summon enough juice to be a difference-maker in Atlanta.
Maybe they should’ve cut loose defensive tackle Mike Pennel immediately after his first indiscretion, rather than keep him around only to have him suspended when they needed him most.
The only problem is maybe doesn’t matter.
What matters is what Thompson, McCarthy, Rodgers and the rest do going forward.
“The ultimate goal is a constant as far as the way we coach, the way we prepare, and really it’s a big part of messaging in our program. That’s the goal,” McCarthy said Thursday at his season-ending news conference. “We don’t shy away from it. I’m never going to be one to hedge my bets. Under-promise, over-deliver, I think that’s a weak mindset personally. … We had a successful season but we did not reach the ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Clearly, the old adage, “Fool me once, shame on you,” applies going ahead. Matthews, Peppers, et al, need to be evaluated to the highest standards.
The defensive front seven needs help along the line and at linebacker. The defensive secondary also needs to a significant upgrade. Maybe it will come with strong bounce-back seasons by Damarious Randall and Quentin Rollins.
But that’s a maybe. My hunch, if not my hope, is that Thompson becomes a player in free agency. The Packers MUST add a front-line stud on defense.
Right now, the defense is lacking an identity, unless it’s being the unit that tries not to mess things up. They desperately need the impact on the field and in the locker room. When the Packers are always drafting late in the first round there are only a few ways to acquire impact players.
It’s either free agency, a trade (which has seldom occurred under Thompson) or trading up in the draft (which has happened under Thompson). It’s time for the Packers to be aggressive.
McCarthy’s own words suggest the need to be aggressively pursuing a difference maker or two.
“I think it’s clear we’re not far from where we wanted to be,” McCarthy said.
“We’re one game away from where we wanted to be. If we’re doing comparables, that’s closer than a majority of the league.”
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games. Also check out our new Podcast: Between the Lines for more Packers insights. New episodes every Wednesday.