Bye the Way, Packers Will Be Just Fine

Sure, they're 1-2, but there are a slew of positives upon sorting through the up-and-down start to the season. Our perpetual pessimist, W. Keith Roerdink, explains why he sees a glass that's half full.

There's a host of two-word combinations to sum up Green Bay's 1-2 record following Sunday's loss at Cincinnati. But I'm not here to talk about religion or anyone's mom.

The two words I actually was thinking of were: Uneasy optimism.

No, really. I'm hardly the "glass is half full" sort of guy. I'm more inclined to tell you the glass is cracked or that you need better dish detergent. But when it's a glass full of Green Bay Packers hopes and dreams for 2013, I'm still ready to drink up.

Green Bay is 1-2 heading into a Week 4 bye that somehow seems to be coming at just the right time. That's hardly a ringing endorsement for where your season is at. They've lost two winnable games on the road, they've been plagued by hamstring injuries and concussions, and the best thing you can say about their return game is that it got better by cutting their primary returner.

That's the "uneasy" part. Now for the optimism …

Let's take it from the top: The Packers went on the road and lost to San Francisco, a team that humiliated them in last year's playoffs. A loss that trumpeted the arrival of Colin Kaepernick as the most athletically gifted quarterback ever to play the game and a player that would revolutionize the position as he ran circles around Green Bay's defense. Or something like that.

So, the Packers did their homework on the pistol/read-option offense, they tweaked their defensive personnel and they went to San Francisco for the regular-season opener and lost by six, coming up short on their final drive. Kaepernick threw for more than 400 yards but didn't run all over Green Bay. The result was the same; San Francisco won. But the way Green Bay lost showed progress. There was an edge to the Packers' defense that was sorely missing when the teams last met. And considering Green Bay had a rookie at left tackle, were without two of its best players in the secondary, had two turnovers including a fumble in the red zone, and got a suspect call from the officials that led to a Niners touchdown, it came out of the game with something to build on, despite the loss.

A week later in the home opener, playing a Redskins team led by a quarterback bearing only a slight resemblance to former rookie sensation RGIII, Green Bay's offense was prolific. Aaron Rodgers tied a franchise record with 480 passing yards and four touchdowns. Running back James Starks — playing in place of rookie Eddie Lacy, who got knocked out of the game with a concussion — looked like a 2010 version of himself in becoming the first Packers back to rush for more than 100 yards since he did it on the way to Super Bowl XLV. After an inspired first half, the Packers' defense thrilled fantasy football players by letting the Redskins move up and down the field at will, but the final line was still 38-20.

The world was right again. Cosmic balance was achieved. Green Bay was 1-1 and Packers fans everywhere were penciling in a win over a scrappy Bengals team that, let's be honest, wasn't really going to beat the Packers. Of course, a funny thing happened on the way to a 2-1 record: Green Bay fell behind 14-0. Starks and tight end Jermichael Finley were knocked out of the game, joining the likes of Morgan Burnett, Casey Hayward and John Kuhn on the sideline. Then Clay Matthews — who had been diving through the air to tackle ball-carriers on his way to a two-tackle, one-sack, two-forced-fumbles afternoon, pulled his hamstring (again) and was lost for the remainder of the game. Still, the game was seemingly in hand after Cincy turned it over four straight times and Green Bay built a 30-14 lead. Suddenly, Rodgers threw interceptions on back-to-back possessions that opened the door for a comeback, and rookie Johnathan Franklin — playing a game few saw coming with more than 100 rushing yards — fumbled on a fluky fourth-and-inches play that led to a Cincinnati touchdown and a crushing loss for the Packers.

But things aren't that dire. And it's not that hard to sort through the wreckage to find a slew of positives. We'll start with Franklin. When Green Bay tabbed him in the fourth round of April's draft, he seemed like a steal. There was talk that he might actually be the rookie back to win the starting job and not Lacy. But Franklin looked anything but impressive during training camp and the preseason. When injuries forced him into the starting lineup, he looked like he was back at UCLA, where he gained 1,700 yards as a senior. His 51-yard burst down the sideline, not to mention the patience he showed following his blocks on a host of other plays, are reason to be excited. Green Bay has a beast of a rookie runner in Lacy, a talented albeit injury-prone backup in Starks, and another rocket-fueled rookie who looks like the lightning to Lacy's thunder.

Defensively, Green Bay collected five turnovers. It got a touchdown from safety M.D. Jennings, who played the best game of his career, and a forced fumble and fumble recovery from inside linebacker Brad Jones, a developing playmaker on the defense who's made Packers fans say, "Desmond who?" And when Matthews is on the field, he's one of the best defenders in the league.

Recent history has told us this team can win a Super Bowl with a 10-6 regular-season record. And it can be one-and-done after a 15-1 regular-season mark. When the schedule came out, San Francisco was a game you thought they might lose. It was only the watching of the game that had you thinking Green Bay could win it. And they could've. Packer Nation also had a "W" down next to the Bengals. But maybe the Packers make that up later in the year against a New York Giants team that suddenly looks highly beatable. Who knows?

Still, we've already seen Rodgers have one of his best games ever. Yes, the clutch comeback continues to inexplicably elude him. FootballOutsiders.com says Rodgers is 5-24 when trailing by one to eight points at any point in the fourth quarter and 9-26 when he has the ball with a chance to win the game. No, I don't really have a good explanation for either of those. But Peyton Manning aside, is there anyone else you'd rather have quarterbacking your team this year?

We've also seen the team's second- and third-string backs post 100-yard games behind a less-experienced but visibly improved offensive line. We've seen an aggressive defense that's figured out how to stop a running quarterback, if nothing else, and we've seen a giant in a No. 97 jersey make the most of his second-chance.

Oh, yeah, and Mason Crosby's a perfect 4-for-4 on field goals. So much for that story line of summer.

It's three down and 13 to go and no point in being anything other than optimistic with the talent on this Packers team.

"We can't just show flashes and take our foot off the gas," Matthews said. "But it is encouraging, we're moving in the right direction. Our record doesn't indicate that but we just have to keep progressing. Obviously, it's hard to win every game and that was a very good football team out there. We just have to keep moving forward. We'll take this bye week. Unfortunately, coming off a loss before it sucks but hopefully we'll come back and make this thing 2-2."

Which will feel infinitely better than 1-2.


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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at karoer@msn.com.


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