Merry Christmas, Packer fans. Sorry about those three hours and eighteen minutes of your life you'll never get back. At least they made it exciting, right?
Much like their battle earlier in the season with Chicago, this was a game that could've been won. Antonio Chatman and Donald Driver did their best St. Nick impressions, but an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 56-yard reception with a minute and a half to go were not the presents that would ultimately produce a win. There were too many lumps of coal dished out earlier in the game and in the end, those plays merely turned a 24-7 route into a 24-17 final that seemed easier to swallow.
Sure the Packers showed they still had pride. And their refusal to give up was admirable. But pride and determination combined with poor decision making and inconsistent play has the Packers at 3-12 with a week left in the regular season, exactly where they should be, all things considered.
Everyone knows it wasn't an injury bug that bit the Packers, it was a great white shark that took a giant chunk out of their team. But it's not just the back-ups and street free agents forced into starting roles that are making things tough on this team, it's the veteran players you're supposed to be able to count on that are messing things up, and ultimately costing them a shot at victory.
Quarterback Brett Favre has a league-leading and career-high 28 interceptions. He threw four on Sunday, including the toss to Briggs, which by the way, is one more touchdown than he's thrown to anyone wearing green and gold in four games. There is a difference between playing with reckless abandon and just playing reckless and despite a wing awaiting him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Favre has definitely fallen into the latter category this season. Javon Walker has been out all year. Robert Ferguson is out. Bubba Franks is on injured reserve and no matter how much you want to throw to him every single time you drop back, Driver is occasionally covered.
But none of that has mattered to Favre who is firing away without conscience. ‘Gunslinger' is only a flattering term when you're not shooting your team in the foot. Favre may want to win as much as anyone on the field, but he's yet to realize that playing like he still has a Pro Bowl cast around him is actually killing his team.
Then there's kicker Ryan Longwell. If ever there was sure thing on the team, it seemed to be Longwell. But that's no longer the case. Against the Bears he missed a 38-yarder that would've given the Packers a 10-7 lead and a 39-yarder that would've kept Green Bay within a touchdown. Both were wide right. Earlier in the season, he blamed the holds of punter B.J. Sander for his misses. And while he resisted the urge to point the finger at Sander's replacement, he more or less implied that was the reason.
This week's holder was Ryan Flinn, a bartender-turned-punter who was pouring pints and mixing martini's at a bar in Florida before Green Bay signed him last week to fill in for an injured Sander. Flinn admitted the ball was still spinning on his first hold, but would only offer up that "Ryan's confidence in me had probably dropped by the second one." That's a new guys' way of saying, "It was really cool to be here and I don't want to blame a veteran, but the second hold was fine."
Like Favre, Longwell has to take responsibility at some point and make his own adjustments. The hold may not always be perfect. And the holder may not always be the same guy. But Longwell needs to find it in himself to compensate for those factors and find a way to put the ball through the uprights. Those kicks, which were very makeable on an unseasonably mild December night at Lambeau, would've had the Packers trailing 24-23 late in the game instead of 24-17 and changed the way they approached their final drive.
And what about that final drive? Perched at the Bears' 35-yard line after Driver's 56-yard catch, with a minute left on the clock, the Packers offensive line gave up back-to-back sacks for minus-17 yards. With the game on the line, those kind of miscues are inexcusable. One sack, maybe. Hey, the Bears defense is the top-rated unit in the league. But two? That's unacceptable. After the first sack, Driver didn't even get a chance to find out what the play was. He just ran back, still winded after his 56-yard run, lined up, and ran another deep route. Favre's fourth pick of the game, intended for recently-signed Rod Gardner, ended the game.
As the Bears ran around Lambeau Field celebrating their first division title in four years, the chants of ‘The Bears still suck' filled the concourse as dejected Packer fans filed out, looking for something to hang their Santa hats on. But most seasons, Packer fans didn't need to bother with any chants after a Bears' game at Lambeau. The scoreboard told you everything you needed to know about the state of these rivals. Unfortunately, the scoreboard told you everything you needed to know on Christmas day, too.
W. Keith Roerdink
W. Keith Roerdink is a regular contributor to Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.