At this point, following a 16-13 loss at Washington in overtime, they're paper champions.
The 2008 team – one year removed from a blown trip to the Super Bowl – finished just 6-10 despite finishing fifth in scoring and plus-seven in turnovers. Its plus-39 point differential was a league record for a team that finished 6-10 or worse and spoke volumes to the talent in the locker room but the inconsistency on the playing field.
"Disappointing is what it is," guard Daryn Colledge said. "The defense gave us every opportunity and we didn't do it."
Throughout that year, you waited (and waited and waited) for the Packers to get into the fast lane and zoom into the playoffs. Throughout the first five games of this season, it's the same feeling. The Packers are 3-2, so it's not like the season has become a towering inferno of blown expectations. Nonetheless, this season is teetering on the brink of disaster.
The injuries, of course, are bordering on ridiculous. The 2008 team was hit pretty hard, too, with eight starters missing a total of 43 games. If Nick Barnett's season really is over, the 2010 team will finish with 39 missed starts from Barnett, Ryan Grant and Morgan Burnett alone. The cliché is that injuries are no excuse, but let's get serious. Without Clay Matthews, the pass rush disappeared. Without Jermichael Finley, the offense sputtered to 2-for-13 on third down. Without Burnett, Charlie Peprah was exploited for a long completion to Santana Moss and a long touchdown by Anthony Armstrong.
Something is missing beyond Finley and Matthews, though. Just like the Packers outplayed Chicago a couple weeks ago, the Packers should have had Sunday's game in the bag by halftime. With 1 yard standing between the Packers and a 14-0 lead, who can blame coach Mike McCarthy for going for the touchdown? However, on fourth-and-goal, McCarthy had John Kuhn and Korey Hall in the backfield with Jordy Nelson at wide receiver and leftover tight ends Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree in the lineup. On the bench? Oh, only Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Brandon Jackson.
Rodgers stuff on a goal-line sneak.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Maybe McCarthy simply outsmarted himself, though his only regret was not calling that play on third down instead of fourth. The personnel he had on the field screamed a power run to Kuhn but the Redskins weren't listening. The play-action fake didn't fool anyone, Rodgers had immediate pressure and Quarless was smothered.
A touchdown would have made it a two-touchdown game, and as McCarthy put it, would have put the defense in position to "pin their ears back a little more." Just like the loss at Chicago and the win at Detroit, the Packers let the outclassed Redskins hang around. You just can't do that against a top-shelf quarterback like the Bears' Jay Cutler or the Redskins' Donovan McNabb.
In 2008, the Packers finished 0-7 in games decided by four points or less, due mostly to the defense's inability to make a big play at a big time. This year, it's the offense that hasn't made a big play at a big time.
"Even though you outplay someone, that doesn't mean you're scoring points," cornerback Tramon Williams said. "You're outphysicaling them, you're outplaying them, you're winning for the most part of the game, but you look up at the scoreboard and you may be winning, but you're only up by three points. They're still in the game."
The Redskins stayed in the game because the Packers' long list of playmakers didn't make nearly enough plays. Last year, Rodgers threw 14 touchdown passes with no interceptions and had the highest third-down passer rating since Kurt Warner in 1999. On Sunday, Rodgers completed just 3-of-9 passes for 18 yards and a touchdown on third down. His rating plunged to just 65.6. It's not all Rodgers' fault, not with three dropped passes, a scramble and two sacks on Sunday as Green Bay converted just 2-of-13 third downs.
In the last six quarters against two of the NFL's worst defenses, the Packers have scored one touchdown.
Sure, having Finley for more than two plays would have helped, but injuries only go so far in searching for answers. Driver had three of the receiving corps' seven drops, including a big one on third down in the third quarter that was the difference between a shot at a touchdown and a missed field goal. Where is Greg Jennings? He has three consecutive two-catch games and has caught only 14 of the 31 passes (45.2 percent) thrown his way. Take away Rodgers' three scrambles, and the pass-to-run ratio was 53 to 16. It's as if Brandon Jackson's 71-yard run never really happened.
The Packers obviously have talent. This is the same nucleus as the 2007 and 2009 teams that combined for a 24-8 regular-season record. Something has gone dangerously wrong, though. The 2008 team never figured out how to make that game-changing play. The 2009 team started 4-4 but figured out how to win games.
The 2010 team, with the experience from the past couple of years, should be battle-hardened by now. Instead, the offense has taken a considerable step backward. Where will this team go from here? Will it surge into the playoffs or crash and burn? With home games against Miami and Minnesota coming up, we'll get those answers soon.
"Instead of 5-0, we're 3-2," Driver said. "But we've got a lot more football to play. We've got 11 games still to play and we've got to go on this winning streak. It starts next week at home."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.