EARNING A BYE PACKERS CRUSH LIONS 34-13 Jerry Gilbert
A team entering for the NFL playoffs needs to have a level of confidence that is generally undermined if they are playing badly at the end of the season. That was the fear after the Bears game, because the Green Bay Packers, soon after their loss in Dallas were once again defeated, this time by an average team. Having already qualified for the playoffs, the Packers underperformed in Chicago, and this was of particular concern because at least some of the playoff games would be in the cold and windy confines of Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
Most of the reasons for concern were eliminated by the excellent performance by the Packers against Detroit in the final regular season contest on December 30. A first team offense, that had sputtered in Chicago, was sharp and efficient a week later, as Brett Favre led his teammates to 3 touchdowns in slightly more than one quarter of play After that, he took a seat, and an offensive group consisting mostly of back up players finished the game. Directed by an inconsistent Craig Nall, the second unit managed to add another 13 points to the scoreboard, which equaled what the Detroit first string was able to do in the entire game.
The one sided nature of the contest is made more significant by the fact that the Green Bay starting offense was without its starting receivers, Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, tight end Donald Lee. Only Jennings was injured, and Coach McCarthy said later that the speedy wide receiver could have played. The offensive performance was also largely without starting tailback Ryan Grant, who was held out after sustaining a minor injury to his hand.
On defense, the strategy of resting veteran players was also employed. Nose tackle Ryan Pickett may not have been unable to play at full strength, but Charles Woodson was reasonably healthy. Aaron Kampman sat out purely to reduce the chance that he could be injured. The team that held the Lions to 3 points while scoring 21 in a little more than one quarter, was missing many of its best players.
To keep things in perspective, the Detroit Lions did not play their best game. On the other hand, they had looked like a potential playoff team earlier in the season when, for example, they nearly defeated Dallas. On this day, they could score only 10 points against the second string defense of the Green Bay Packers. That says something positive about the depth of the Packer Defense.
As mentioned previously, quarterback Craig Nall was usually not able to move the team. On the other hand, Rookie running back Brandon Jackson, in his best game of the season, ran for over 100 yards displaying strength and determination. Without the starting receivers, Koren Robinson, Ruvell Martin and Bubba Franks stepped up and made plays.
Despite the precautions, McCarthy could not prevent injuries to his starting guards. Jason Spitz could be ready to play in the next game, but Junius Coston is done for the season. This means that Daren Colledge will have to play his best football. Fortunately, rookie Allen Barbre, in his first meaningful action, was adequate last Sunday, but that was against the under performing Lions. He will be the top reserve. However, if Jason Spitz cannot play in the first playoff game, the offensive line will have a problem. Tony Moll, who is willing, but who has had little success this season, is the only other available guard.
The success of the defense against Detroit began with good play by rookie tackles Justin Harrell and Daniel Muir. If they can provide quality minutes in the weeks to come, the Packer run defense should be pretty effective. Cullen Jenkins, who may finally be healthy, continues to improve.
After losing to the Bears, Green Bay needed this game to restore confidence. Beating another team decisively while resting many starters would build the confidence of any team. Moreover, should any starter be injured, the starters will have confidence in the reserve who enters the game. These reserves just won a game almost by themselves.