Crash and burn/The Red Line
There are very few sports I won’t give at least 15 minutes of my time to, if I’m in the right mood.
These experiences allow me to frame tortured analogies for columns such as these and are why I consider ESPN viewing to be professional development.
You probably missed it, but in a NASCAR race in Iowa in 2011, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. blew up his engine while coming in for the checkered flag. Blinded by the smoke and slipping in oil, Carl Edwards ran him over and inadvertently pushed Stenhouse across the finish line in first place.
But this is not a NASCAR column. This is a column about the Green Bay Packers.
The smoking, flaming hulk that was the Packers 2013 season finally came to rest Sunday night in Green Bay at the point in which no assistance, not from the Lions, not from the Bears, not even from God Himself, could get this team into the second round of the playoffs.
To be frank, I’m not sad that the Packers’ season is over. I’m a little shocked it lasted as long as it did.
Maybe, unlike me, you’re kind of mad. Fire Dom Capers, you say. Blame it all on A.J. Hawk or Marshall Newhouse or Jarrett Bush or one of the many green-and-gold scapegoats who have caused everything that has gone wrong in Green Bay up to and including the partial collapse of the Leo Frigo Bridge.
Before casting stones, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Did you really think this team, as comprised on Sunday, was going to win three playoff games against San Francisco, Carolina and probably Seattle (the last two of them on the road) not to mention the Super Bowl?
M.D. Jennings is not Charles Woodson. Chris Banjo, Andy Mulumba and Don Barclay played a large portion of the game. And that was just Sunday.
Let’s imagine that the snap was dropped on Phil Dawson’s game-ending kick (a distinct possibility given the brutal conditions), picked up by, I don’t know, John Kuhn, and returned for the most improbable play in NFL history.
How many suspensions of disbelief are required to get from that play to the Meadowlands? Far too many. Three-legged horses don’t win the Kentucky Derby, and if the Packers weren’t going to win, they ought to get it over with and not waste everyone’s time.
2. At any point in this season, including before The Most Famous Broken Collarbone in NFL History, did you really believe the Green Bay Packers were a better football team than the San Francisco 49ers?
This is becoming something of a problem. The 49ers have played Green Bay in the first and last game of each of the last two Packers seasons and won all four times.
San Francisco played in the toughest division in football, one that produced a 10-win Arizona team that didn’t make the playoffs. Green Bay played in the NFC North, a farcical disaster about which I will rhapsodize in a few paragraphs.
The Packers still haven’t figured out Colin Kaepernick, Aldon Smith or any of San Francisco’s wide receivers (this time, it was Michael Crabtree instead of Anquan Boldin).
As it was, the Arctic conditions did as much as any Packer defender to at least turn the game into a coin flip, an opportunity the Packers didn’t exactly take advantage of.
Rest easy, Packer fans, the teams won’t play in the 2014 regular season.
3. Given the injury situation by the end of the game, was there a legitimate chance Green Bay was going to get a stop and then win the game in overtime?
Clay Matthews was out with a broken thumb or another television ad shoot. Mike Neal – injured knee. Sam Shields – injured knee. Mike McCarthy would have probably tried to summon the ghost of B.J. Raji (wait, he’s not dead? Couldn’t tell.) or Ray Nitschke from the vapors of the collective breath of Lambeau Field to hold the line, but they were going through the NFL concussion protocol.
At that rate, McCarthy probably would have been best served to run out on the field and try to tackle Kaepernick himself, or at least pull a Mike Tomlin and try and pretend to trip him.
Now that we’ve established the 2013 Packers as a lost cause, let’s enjoy the consolation prizes:
1. The Chicago Bears, given a moment of truth game against their biggest rivals on their home field for a second time in the last four seasons, threw up all over themselves again, then immediately signed Jay Cutler to a multi-year contract.
This is like watching your enemy go out to dinner, spend the evening vomiting due to food poisoning, then take the doggie bag out of the fridge for lunch leftovers the following day.
2. The Detroit Lions, handed the best opportunity to win the division they’ve had in years, self-destructed down the stretch in the most Lions way in Lions history.
Wayne Fontes, who coached the Lions to multiple wins in vital December games, playoff appearances and an NFC Championship Game, is unemployed. Just saying.
3. The Minnesota Vikings. After their tie at Lambeau Field (what I thought was one of the funniest games in NFL history) and a variety of meaningless wins and losses, they have no coach, no home field (I’ll work on the Metrodome demolition crew for free if they ask) and no competent quarterback. Sounds like a recipe for success to me.
Like the previously mentioned Mr. Stenhouse, the 2013 Packers season blew up about two months ago, but these guys pushed them across the finish line. This team went 8-8-1 and its division championship gear isn’t being worn in Bangladesh.
All things considered, it could have been a lot worse.
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/redveale.