And when they lose, the football game is followed on Monday through Saturday by the blame game.
Blame Ted Thompson for not signing This Guy, or keeping That Guy, or for trading Brett Favre or for a cold winter morning.
Blame Mike McCarthy for calling too many deep passes, or for coaching too conservatively, or for not motivating the team, or for global warming.
Blame Aaron Rodgers for holding onto the ball too long.
Blame James Campen for not coaching up his offensive linemen.
Blame Shawn Slocum for generally putrid special teams.
The blame game is all well and good after most losses. After all, in today's NFL — with expansion having watered down the talent and the viciousness of the sport leading to countless injuries — more games are lost than won.
On Sunday at Pittsburgh, the Packers didn't lose to the Steelers. The Steelers beat the Packers.
In a game featuring 131 snaps from scrimmage and 34 plays on special teams, you can use hindsight-is-20/20 vision to question any number of the coaches' decisions. You can blame Mason Crosby for missing a field goal, but it's impossible to add those three points to the Packers' final score and say they would have won by two. You can blame Jarrett Bush for gaffes in coverage, and you can blame Josh Bell for the last-play touchdown. You can blame the officials for a few calls and non-calls down the stretch.
But at the end of the day, the defending Super Bowl champions — getting an extra three days to prepare, playing at home and with an extra bit of motivation after being told how bad they were for the previous nine days — rose from the mat, showed their pride and beat the Packers.
Let me repeat: They beat the Packers.
There's no distinction in the standings, and we're not talking about a useless moral victory, either. But sometimes, it's worth acknowledging what the other team accomplished and noting that, for one day, the Packers' best wasn't good enough to beat the Steelers' best.
Say what you want about not running the ball, but McCarthy was incredibly aggressive in throwing early and often. Why bother running the ball against the Steelers' top-ranked run defense when their secondary couldn't handle the Packers' skill players? The result was five touchdowns and 36 points: their most points in a loss since falling 41-38 at Indianapolis in 1997.
Jermichael Finley, who caught nine of the 10 passes thrown his direction, was unstoppable and is emerging as an elite player at his position. Facing the Steelers' second-ranked pass rush, the pass-happy Packers — in come-from-behind mode for most of the game — allowed only one sack and Aaron Rodgers was given ample time after a few rocky series in the first quarter. Running back Brandon Jackson touched the ball two times for 5 yards and dropped a pass, yet might have played his finest game as a pro because of a dominating performance in picking up the Steelers' frequent blitzes. And, of course, Rodgers was nothing less than brilliant in the second half in leading the Packers to three consecutive must-have touchdowns. Let there be no more doubts about Rodgers' ability to come up big in crunch time.
Aaron Rodgers accounted for four TDs on Sunday.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
In the end, all of the offensive fireworks weren't enough.
With the Steelers 81 yards from victory, and with only 2:01 on the clock and one timeout at hand, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers played it conservative, figuring a defense that had come through in clutch situation after clutch situation during a five-game winning streak would come through in the clutch again. Because the Packers lost, blame Capers for not using a more aggressive scheme, right?
"That's the easy thing to say," Capers said on Monday. "If you observed the whole game, some of the bigger plays came when we brought pressure. Our pressure was really not the way to go, I didn't feel, at that time."
As I wrote on Sunday, Capers' plan almost won the game any number of times on the final drive. Rather than fault Capers, why not give credit to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger? He made countless big-time throws on that drive. His biggest play, however, came when he wriggled free from Cullen Jenkins to avoid a game-ending sack. On that play, Jenkins was great in blowing through the left side of the Steelers' line. Roethlisberger was just better.
And Roethlisberger was great on the next snap — the final snap — too. Bell was slightly out of position on the winning touchdown pass, but Roethlisberger's pass was perfect. Any further to the outside, and Mike Wallace wouldn't have kept his feet inbounds. A little further to the inside, and Bell would have been had the deflection.
At his locker on Monday, Bush trotted out the old, "The other guys get paid, too," cliché.
In this case, Bush was right.
Roethlisberger isn't Alex Smith or some other stiff at quarterback. He's won two Super Bowls, none of which came by accident. Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes aren't the too-small, too-slow guys the Bears have at receiver. Tight end Heath Miller can't run, but he knows how to get open and catches everything thrown his way.
Sometimes, the other guys are better, whether it's for one play or the entire game. Sometimes, the other guys have a better play called.
If the better player won ever snap, Reggie White would have had 1,985 sacks rather than 198.5. If the better team won every game, the 1997 Packers would have given the franchise back-to-back championships.
Would the Packers have won had Crosby not missed a field goal? Would they have won if Capers had sent five rushers after Roethlisberger on the final play? Would they have won had they had a better option to replace Al Harris at corner?
Maybe. And at the same time, the Steelers are kicking themselves for not chip-blocking Clay Matthews III on passing plays, playing the wrong coverage on Ryan Grant's touchdown run and not having a better option to replace Troy Polamalu at safety.
What makes the NFL the country's sporting passion is you never know what you're going to see. On Sunday, you saw greatness from two quality teams. Could the Packers have done things better? Of course, but for this remarkable game, the blame game deserves a bye week.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.