Why the Pack­ers look finished,

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - Pete Dougherty Con­tribut­ing: Zach Kruse

MIN­NE­AP­O­LIS – This is an obit­u­ary of the 2018 Green Bay Pack­ers.

They’re not officially out of the NFL play­off race, of course. They could win their last five games, get a lot of help and squeak into the play­offs at 9-6-1.

The Pack­ers rat­tled off six con­sec­u­tive wins to win the NFC North and get into the play­offs in 2016.

“It seemed like that in ’16 as well. No­body thought we could do it,” quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers said. “We’ve done it be­fore.”

“I know I’ve got to play bet­ter,” Rodgers he added. “I will. And we’ll put our­selves in po­si­tion.”

But re­al­is­ti­cally, the Pack­ers’ play­offs hopes are pretty much dead af­ter their NFC North ri­val Min­nesota Vik­ings took them out 24-17 at U.S. Bank Sta­dium on Nov. 25 in what re­ally felt like a must-win game for the vis­it­ing team.

The Pack­ers sim­ply have too many teams in front of them to think 9-6-1 has much chance of get­ting them in.

But more im­por­tant, there’s the lit­tle mat­ter of ac­tu­ally win­ning five in a row. Even with a fa­vor­able sched­ule, does any­one re­ally think the Pack­ers’ punch­less offense can put up enough points to beat one of the NFL’s best de­fen­sive teams, the Chicago Bears, on the road in three weeks?

You got the feel­ing that even Rodgers started re­al­iz­ing how im­prob­a­ble it sounded as he started tick­ing through the Pack­ers’ re­main­ing games.

“We’re 0-6 on the road,” he said. “So we just gotta go back home, get some rest, beat Ari­zona, and then come back and beat At­lanta. Then go to Chicago, a place we’ve won a num­ber of times, beat them. Go to New York (Jets) around Christ­mas, beat them. And then come home against Detroit, beat them.”

In­deed. In one way or an­other this has been the Pack­ers’ stance for sev­eral weeks now. Play a lit­tle bet­ter, make a few more plays, go on a run. But this was the one they re­ally needed to start the run, and you can be sure they knew it go­ing in. You could tell that by the way in­jured play­ers kept go­ing back in the game. You can’t say they just gave up.

But no mat­ter, it now looks like the Pack­ers are go­ing to miss out on the play­offs in backto-back sea­sons for the first time since Mike Mc­Carthy be­came coach in 2006. The Pack­ers just don’t have the offense to do it, which is a stun­ning re­al­iza­tion when they have a twotime MVP at quar­ter­back. Their 254 yards in to­tal offense against Min­nesota is a pit­tance in to­day’s NFL. They should be putting that up in a good half.

The dis­con­nect be­tween Rodgers and Mc­Carthy is too great, and short of a mir­a­cle finish it’s hard to see how Mc­Carthy sur­vives this. Rodgers (94.0 rat­ing vs. Vik­ings) isn’t play­ing well, even now that he’s healthy, and that’s at the root of what has ailed this team all year. If Mc­Carthy wasn’t able to coax it out of Rodgers for this game, with the sea­son on the line, then it’s hard to see it ever com­ing.

“Be­tween these guys be­ing pro­fes­sional ath­letes and some­one as elite as Aaron, I mean it’s all cor­rectable,” Mc­Carthy said, de­fend­ing his quar­ter­back. “But it starts, (pass) pro­tec­tion, all of, it could be all those things.”

The Pack­ers re­main win­less on the road, and most im­por­tant, failed their big­gest test of the sea­son. There’s no ques­tion that this stretch of four road games in five weeks was es­pe­cially chal­leng­ing — it in­cluded play­ing at the Los An­ge­les Rams and at New Eng­land, which are two of the best teams in the league, and a long West Coast trip to Seat­tle for a Thurs­day night game. Then it finished with this big ri­valry game on the road on a Sun­day night.

But it’s dur­ing stretches like this when teams learn who they are. That the Pack­ers went 1-4 (their lone win was at home against 5-6 Mi­ami) has defined their sea­son.

“I didn’t think we’d go 1-4 in that stretch,” Rodgers said, “but that’s where we’re at. We’re here. We’re 4-6-1. Gotta win our last five, and even that might not be enough.”

Prob­a­bly not. This game was big be­cause, among other things, it gives the Vik­ings the tiebreaker over the Pack­ers. The teams tied at Lam­beau Field ear­lier in the sea­son, so the Vik­ings at 6-4-1 in effect have a three-game lead on the Pack­ers with five to play in the race for the NFC’s two wild-card spots.

The Los An­ge­les Rams (10-1) and New Or­leans Saints (10-1) are pretty much locks to win their di­vi­sions, and the Chicago Bears (8-3) are in good shape to win the NFC North. Dal­las (6-5) and Wash­ing­ton (6-5) are tied for the lead in the NFC East.

For the two wild-card spots, the Pack­ers are look­ing up at five teams: the Vik­ings, Carolina (6-5), Seat­tle (6-5), ei­ther Dal­las or Wash­ing­ton, and Phil­a­del­phia (5-6).

Could four of them get to seven losses, which would mean 9-6-1 would get the Pack­ers in? It’s con­ceiv­able.

But what are the odds of that hap­pen­ing plus the Pack­ers win­ning their last five? Re­mote at best.

“I’ve got a lot more gray in the beard than I did a few years ago,” Rodgers said. “So I know that foot­ball mor­tal­ity catches up to every­body, and you never want to lose a sea­son. Es­pe­cially when you felt great start­ing the sea­son about our prospects. But we’re go­ing to bat­tle the next five weeks and put our­selves in a po­si­tion to be in the con­ver­sa­tion.”

But this isn’t 2016. The math says this team still has a chance. But your eyes tell you it doesn’t.

DAN POW­ERS/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK-WIS­CON­SIN

Pack­ers quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers is brought down by Vik­ings end Danielle Hunter (99) and tackle Tom John­son (96) in the sec­ond quar­ter.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.