The season is over for the Green Bay Packers. Done. Finished.
After a humiliating defeat to the New York Giants Sunday night in New Jersey, the book has been written on the Pack and this offense.
Defensively, they can't generate pressure or get stops when they need to.
Forget that they went 15-1 last year with an even worse defense and fewer skill position players. Forget that Green Bay is 7-4 (8-3*) despite not having Greg Jennings for essentially the whole season. If you don't think that matters, looks at the difference between when Minnesota had Percy Harvin and when it didn't.
Forget that Clay Matthews, the only man playing well enough to have a shot to unseat J.J. Watt as Defensive Player of the Year, is hurt, and that Charles Woodson, a Hall of Fame utility defensive back, has a broken collar bone.
It would be easy to throw dirt on the 2010 Super Bowl Champions, their deity at quarterback reduced to mere mortal in recent weeks. The injuries have piled up to 2010 levels and perhaps even beyond. New York, San Francisco, Chicago, they have the blueprint to beat the Packers.
But let's not pretend like the New York Giants suddenly own the Packers. True enough, the Pack were stunned at Lambeau Field last January following a triumphant romp to a 15-1 regular season record and a legitimate chance to go undefeated.
It was, for what would be the first of two, a blowout.
If it were as easy as the doubters and the pundits would have you believe, that there was a blueprint, you could play two deep safeties, rush four, stop the run with seven and stop—or at least slow down—Aaron Rodgers with his diverse array of skill players.
Remember, though, that just a month before last year's playoff loss, Rodgers had gone into New Jersey and beat the Giants on a last-second field goal. The offense hung 38 points on that front four rush and two deep safety look.
The MVP threw for almost 370 yards and a four-pack of touchdowns. Green Bay rushed for just 89 yards on 28 attempts. Jennings, who didn't play in Sunday's debacle, had seven catches for 94 yards and a score.
Matthews had a sack, a forced fumble and a pick-six.
It would be easy to overlook the injuries for the Packers this season because every team has them. What's more, the Packers have played so well through the adversity this season. But Greg Jennings is a Pro Bowl receiver and Clay Matthews is a top five defensive player in the NFL. Charles Woodson is a former Defensive Player of the Year.
How many teams can win on the road without their top offensive weapon and their two best defensive players?
Furthermore, Green Bay's previous encounter with the Giants? The Pack won 45-17 to start one of the greatest runs in modern NFL history en route to the 2010 Super Bowl trophy.
These were ostensibly the same Packers and Giants team in the last four games, and they've split them with each team winning at each other's home stadium.
It is true that the best teams in the NFC outside of the two already discussed, San Francisco and Chicago, can rush the passer effectively out of their base packages and play two safeties deep while still being able to stop the run.
But only New York has an offense capable of putting enough points up to stick with Green Bay. The Pack already whipped Chicago in in September and were a fourth-down conversion away from having a chance to tie the 'Niners to open the season.
Despite this blueprint—which, by the way, the Chiefs supposedly created in the midst of Green Bay's lone loss of the 2011 season—Green Bay is 7-4 and are a blown replacement referee call away from being 8-3.
Look, there are no excuses for getting blown out on national television in prime-time or at home in the playoffs.
But there are explanations. Teams get beat. Ask the Texans. Did the Packers create a blueprint when they demolished Houston?
Have your quarterback throw six touchdown passes, completely shut down Arian Foster and force Matt Schaub into a few picks. There's the blueprint.
Green Bay, when it plays its best, is one of the best teams in football. After watching what it did to Houston, it's hard to believe that anyone can beat it if it plays its best.
Single high safety or two. Pass rush or no.
They haven't played their best very often, and injuries have been a major part of that. Jennings is back this week, and no amount of Randall Cobb highlights can take away from how dynamic Jennings is in this offense.
Matthews, if he doesn't play this week, likely will next week.
And despite the blip on Sunday, this young secondary has been outstanding, particularly Casey Hayward and the young safeties. Woodson will be back and this defense will be better.
Green Bay is 8-3—alright, 7-4—and hasn't played its best, save for one game.
Finishing 4-1 or even 5-0 is not out of the realm of possibility. In fact, anything less than 4-1 would probably be considered a disappointment.
Let's eschew the typical reactionary armchair quarterbacking that inevitably comes after a big win or a blowout loss and instead focus on the reality that the Packers' best was always needed to win a Super Bowl.
The NFC is too good for anything less. But the same is true for New York or San Francisco or Chicago and Atlanta.
When the Packers play their best, they can beat any one of those teams, and they've proven that since guys like Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews asserted themselves as dominant players in the league.
A blowout loss doesn't change that, but they'll still have to prove it on the field by buoying this team and bringing out its best.
That was the plan all along.
In other words, despite a humbling loss at the hands of the defending champions, nothing has changed.
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