Sunday School: What we learned

W. Keith Roerdink provides his weekly five observations after the Packers' season-ending victory over Detroit. Among them, Donald Driver and Jermichael Finley earn salutes from Roerdink.

1.) Wines don't age as well as Driver
Greg Jennings is a shooting star among the league's receivers and is a Pro Bowl alternate. But if he has surpassed Donald Driver as the Packers' No. 1 receiver, then it's merely as 1A to Driver's 1B. For the fifth season in a row and the sixth in his career, Driver broke the 1,000-yard mark, finishing with 1,012, thanks to his 71-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown.

Driver is the first player in Packers history to break 1,000 yards six times, surpassing James Lofton and Sterling Sharpe, who each did it five times. The 71-yard score was Green Bay's longest pass play of the year and comes almost a year after his 90-yard touchdown in last year's NFC championship game.

For the season, Driver finished with 74 catches and a 13.7-yard average. Jennings had 80 catches for 1,292 yards and a 16.2 average. But Driver's ability to still draw the double-team, make the tough catch over the middle and turn a short catch into a big gain contributed to Jennings' season the same way Jennings' ability to slip coverage downfield, outmuscle defenders on the sideline and be a red-zone threat helped Driver.

"Going into this game, everybody was trying to tell me how many yards I needed and I didn't want to know," Driver said. "I just wanted to play the game. I didn't want to think about every catch and every ball that was thrown to me. I just wanted to make the catch. Once I caught the big one, I kind of knew I was close. Greg ran out there and started screaming, so I knew I was close."

2.) Grant will have some competition in 2009
Ryan Grant had 106 rushing yards in Sunday's win, finishing with 1,203 yards on the year. Had he hit 1,250, his incentive-laden contract would've paid him another $1.5 million in base salary. But based on DeShawn Wynn's performance against the Lions, not to mention the play of Brandon Jackson prior to getting hurt at Jacksonville, Grant might have a little more trouble hitting those escalators next season.

To be sure, Grant is a talented back. You don't get 1,200 yards in the NFL if you're not. But whether it was the training camp holdout, the hamstring injury or defenses more tuned in to stopping the run, Grant didn't seem to be the same back he was in 2007. He lacked burst and seemed easier to bring down by the first tackler. His yards-per-carry average dropped from 5.2 to 3.9 on 312 carries. His longest run was a 57-yarder in the season opener, but only one other time did he go over 30. He almost had an 80-yard run Sunday, but replay showed he was down after rolling over on a Lions defender and running to the end zone.

Jackson, meanwhile, averaged 5.5 yards on 45 carries with a long of 32 and Wynn, who had just one carry prior to the Lions game, had 106 yards on seven carries against Detroit. His 73-yard burst down the sideline was the Packers' longest run from scrimmage this season.

"Being on the practice squad at the beginning of the season, taking the steps I had to, to get back to being active, finishing off with something like that, I couldn't ask for much more," Wynn said. "I'm just grateful for getting the opportunity and the coaches having the confidence in me and just getting it done."

 Expect Jackson, Wynn and injured rookie Kregg Lumpkin to push Grant back to his old form or steal carries from him in 2009.

3.) At times, 0-16 and 6-10 didn't look far apart
The Lions are the worst team in NFL history, becoming the first to go 0-16. But heading into the fourth quarter, they were tied with the Packers, 14-14. More than halfway through the fourth, they were within 24-21. In the first half, they cashed in on a Grant fumble and near the end, they hit John Standeford, a receiver even fantasy football geeks haven't heard of, for 36- and 35-yard gains that set up a Kevin Smith 9-yard scoring run.

Of course, the Packers went on to win 31-21, thanks to two fourth-quarter touchdown tosses by Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay set an NFL record with two 100-yard receivers (Driver and Jennings) and two 100-yard rushers (Grant and Wynn) for the first time in an NFL game.

The roster and the stat sheet say this game shouldn't have been as close as it was. Offensively, Detroit has Calvin Johnson -- one of the league's better young receivers who was the top pass catcher on either team in eight of Detroit's losses -- Smith, a decent rookie back, and not much else. Defensively, they rank rock-bottom in points, total yards and rushing yards given up. But prior to that heave by Rodgers, 1-15 seemed like a real possibility. Considering the Packers had seven losses by four points or less and the Lions had six by single digits, it wouldn't have constituted a major shock. That in itself is scary.

4.) Finley has figured things out
It would be silly to gush about a guy with six catches and 74 yards on the season, but rookie tight end Jermichael Finley may have as much raw athletic ability and potential as anyone in Green and Gold, and it's hard not to get excited about what he might do. Finley, as demonstrated Sunday, is a player who can stretch the field in a way that hasn't been seen since Keith Jackson was wearing No. 88.

Now, before we go off the deep end, let's keep in mind that he looked this good against a Lions defense that played a big role in their 0-16 season of shame with a secondary that only picked off four passes in 16 games — a record low.

Still, Finley is a legitimate threat who could upgrade the tight end group and form a dangerous two-headed monster with Donald Lee, a Mark Chmura-type to Finley's Jackson. Again, it's only one game and the fact that he finally caught that fade pass for a touchdown could be passed off as "third time's the charm" after coming up empty against Tennessee and Jacksonville, but that he's in the game at crucial spots speaks volumes about his the coaches views of him.

"He continues to work and get better," McCarthy said. "And it's nice to see him have success on Sundays because that's the type of players we've seen for quite some time during practice."

5.) Even when you miss, a ‘fair-catch kick' is pretty cool
Will Blackmon fell to his butt signaling for a fair catch on a punt that seemed to end the first half. But as players ran up the tunnel, the officiating crew loudly and repeatedly called them back to the field. It seemed it wasn't time for a break just yet.

According to a rule that few seemed to have any knowledge of, the Packers were due a "fair-catch kick" or, in essence, a kickoff from the spot of the catch. And if Mason Crosby could split the uprights, the Packers would head into the half with three extra points. Crosby's kick was a 69-yarder that would've been a record. Even with the wind, however, he came up about 3 yards short.

"When I hit it, I thought it was going," Crosby said. "The wind killed it right there at the end."

In his postgame press conference, McCarthy deadpanned about it being something they routinely work on in practice. In reality, it's an extremely rare thing to see. The Arizona Cardinals attempted a 68-yarder against the New York Giants previously. The last time a team made one was when Chicago Bears kicker Mac Percival hit a 43-yarder in the final minute to beat Green Bay on Nov. 3, 1968.

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


Packer Report Top Stories