Monday Morning Aftermath: Green Bay Packers Week 17
The Packers punched their playoff ticket in a 10-3 victory over the 2010 NFC North Division winning Chicago Bears.
The story of the afternoon was the outstanding play of the Packers’ defense. Despite being handed a short field all day long, the unit held the Bears’ offense to 3-points. The Green and Gold consistently pressured Bear’s quarterback Jay Cutler and finished the day with 6 sacks. The constant badgering of Cutler also paid dividends for the defensive backs. Charlie Peprah came down with an errant Cutler pass in his own endzone to prevent the Bears from scoring a touchdown early in the second half and Nick Collins sealed the victory by picking off Cutler in the game’s final minute. Collins’ big play was that much sweeter given the incident he endured the last time these two teams met. Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Charles Woodson. The savvy 13-year veteran was all over the field on Sunday. The Pro Bowler finished the game with 6 tackles and a quarterback sack, and defensive coordinator Dom Capers utilized Woodson’s versatility by moving him around and confusing Cutler the entire game.
Meet Erik Walden
Not many people even knew who Erik Walden was prior to this game. Picked up as a “street free agent” by the Packers two months ago, Walden made just his second career NFL start. What he lacked in experience, he made up for in play, however. The third-year linebacker out of Middle Tennessee State led the Packers with 11 tackles and 2 sacks. Walden may be a stranger to the NFL, but Jay Cutler knows him all too well. Back in 2005, when Cutler was still a college quarterback at Vanderbilt, Walden’s small Tennessee school scored an upset victory over Cutler’s Commodores. When asked about the connection, Walden succinctly summed things up.
“It felt good because I hit him a couple times in college,” Walden said.
Special Teams live up to their name
Often a eye sore for this team, the Packers’ special teams rose to the occassion. Punter Tim Masthay had a banner day in the frigid Lambeau air by averaging 43.5 yards on 8 punts. In addition, he landed 4 of his punts inside the 20 and one for a touchback. Against Devin Hester, who is one of the best returners to ever play the game, that’s quite the feat. Speaking of returners, it was the Packers’ Tramon Williams who bested Hester. Williams picked an opportune time to have his best returning game of the season. He averaged 10 yards per his 5 returns, but returned one punt 41 yards to provide the Packers’ offense with some much needed field position.
A week after recording his best game as a professional, the law of averages appeared to catch up with the legend known as John Kuhn. The Packers faced two separate first-and-goal situations from the 1-yard line, but Kuhn couldn’t muster a touchdown. After settling for a field goal on the first trip, quarterback Aaron Rodgers executed a beautiful play-action pass and hit a wide open Donald Lee in the end zone for the game’s only touchdown. Aside from that touchdown, Kuhn’s day was much like the rest of the day for the Packers’ offense: poor. Kuhn rushed in short-yardage situations four times, but failed to record a single first down. In fact, he finished with zero rushing yards. He did manage one catch for 7 yards, but the running back from Shippensburg will need to perform much better if he hopes to help his team in the postseason.
It may not have been pretty, but a win is a win, and the Packers are headed to the playoffs. The Green and Gold travel to Philadelphia next Sunday to face the Eagles in a 3:30 game. The Packers defeated the Eagles 27-20 in the first game of the 2010 season, but much has changed since these teams met in early September. And considering the injuries the Packers have had to overcome, a birth in the postseason is quite the feat. Amazingly, the Packers suffered no injuries in yesterday’s game and defensive end Cullen Jenkins says he has a “pretty good shot” at returning to practice this week.
In a wide-open NFC, the Packers have as good a shot as any other team. If the defense continues to play at a high-level and the offense can find a rhythm, this team could do some damage. If the offense plays like it did yesterday, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers will be one-and-done once again.