The one thing I have learned in all my years around football is that you can never predict or know how a team is going to play on any given game day. Teams overachieve or underachieve every day. Charismatic leaders can exhort their teams to play above their heads. Poor leaders can drag a team down faster than quicksand. Good coaches can expose an opponent's weaknesses and hide their own. Bad coaches fail to adjust and produce poor game plans. And the circumstances and situations change faster than the Green Bay weather.
I was down on the Packers the first four or five weeks of the season. They got killed by the Bears, which was not a surprise. The Saints, who are a better team than the Packers escaped town with a victory, even thought they committed enough turnovers to give Green Bay a chance to steal the game. The Lions win was expected. The Eagles, who when healthy are a better team than the Pack, beat the snot out of them in the second half. The Rams survived a game they by all rights should have lost, but they, not the Packers made the plays needed to win with the game on the line.
The middle part of the season gave the team and fans some hope. Against inferior teams, The Dolphins, Cardinals, Bills and Vikings, they won three out of four. They won the games they should have won and lost one that where they outplayed the Bills, but stumbled with turnovers. There was hope.
Then came the toughest part of the season. Against the Patriots and Seahawks, the Packers were exposed for all their weaknesses and faults. They have been soundly whipped by the elite of the league. That is not a surprise to be honest. I hate to say it, but the Packers have no business competing with New England or Seattle. They are in the same league, but not in their league. If they played 10 times each, the Packers would lose nine of them.
Then came the Jets game. The Jets are actually a good team. Their quarterback, Chad Pennington, has battled shoulder injuries the last few years and they win when he is healthy and lose when he is not. He was there on Sunday and the Packers paid the price. They have a new coach, some new young offensive lineman and are playing well as of late. There is very little difference on paper between the two squads except that last part. And the worst part was that the team and especially the defense looked flat and uninspired.
In all my years of watching football, I have never seen a half as awful as the first half of that game. It was truly depressing for me as a football fan. I cannot imagine how Packer fans felt. It is a shame that that is the case. It would be nice to be able to compete at that level, but the Packers are building for the future. They had their run in the 90's and early years of this decade, but it had to happen sometime. Unfortunately with Brett Favre probably retiring at the end of the season, the bottom has not been reached yet. It is hard to imagine it being worse, but it might happen.
The sad part is not that they looked so bad, which they did, but that there is opportunity here that is being missed. The Cowboys, Saints, Bears and Seahawks look like they will run away with their respective divisions. The two wild card slots will come down to the Giants at 6-6, the Vikings at 5-7, the Panthers at 6-5 (with a game to play tonight) and the Niners or Rams at 5-7. What are the chances that one an 8-8 or 7-9 team will make the playoffs?
The Packers had a chance to be just mediocre and still accomplish something. It would be nice to have something to build on for the future. Had they been able to finish the Saints or Bills game or pull out the Rams game, they would have had a chance to compete for it. With the Niners, Lions, Vikings and Bears on the horizon, it would not be out of the realm of possibility. Would Favre come back if they were more competitive? Maybe, maybe not, but I am sure that there would be a better chance of it if the last three weeks have been offset by some positives.
The Packers have no one to blame but themselves. Losing to the Patriots and Seahawks is understandable. Getting blown out at home by the Jets is not. There is no need to recount the youth and inexperience on this team or the injuries or any other factors. We can blame the defensive coordinator or defensive backs coach all we want, but it is more than that. It is not the head coach's fault, even though he has not distinguished himself yet. It is not Ted Thompson's fault only, even though he built the team. It is not Mike Sherman's fault, even though his drafts failed to stock the cupboards. It is not Favre's fault or Nick Barnett's fault or any other players fault.
It is all their faults. No one thing or person is solely responsible. Everyone is. I want this team to succeed, but it is a long way from getting there. The Packers could win the next three or four games and still not be any good. I have a reputation for being negative, but how can anyone interpret the product and come up with a different conclusion?
Tell me one thing that went well on Sunday, besides the strength Jon Ryan showed punting, so soon after his father's death? I cannot think of anything and I am not sure that I have ever been able to say that after a football game, no matter how bad the game.
Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. E-mail him at email@example.com.