Clearly, nothing would have punctuated this Green Bay Packersí regular-season like 16-0. But this was a close second. The Packers turned what loomed as a glorified pre-season game for them into a resounding statement game.
Thereís an old adage in the NFL that a team is only as good as its star players. The Packers were without their three best Ė Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews and Greg Jennings Ė and maybe their four biggest playmakers when you add Charles Woodson, yet they used the same formula they have all year to beat the playoff-bound Detroit Lions, 45-41.
Thereís an old adage in the NFL that everybody loves a backup quarterback until he has to play. Matt Flynn spit in the eye of that adage with a record-setting passing day.
Thereís yet another old adage that if a team hangs on to players a year too long it eventually will come back to bite them. The Packers have done that this year with Donald Driver and Ryan Grant, and so far it hasnít mattered.
Against the Lions, Driver caught a 35-yard TD pass when he exploited a one-on-one matchup against safety Chris Harris, who was cut earlier this season by Chicago for being horrendous in coverage. Driver didnít have a single catch for more than 16 yards in the first eight games, but had nine in the last eight as secondaries became thinner and his matchups even more favorable.
Grant caught a screen pass to the side of the field vacated by a Lionsí blitz and lumbered 80 yards for a touchdown. How often do you see someone lumber untouched for an 80-yard score in the NFL?
What you witnessed Sunday was a billboard-sized tribute to the winning culture that Coach Mike McCarthy has established in Green Bay. That doesnít mean Sundayís cast would win consistently or that the Packers are going to have a cakewalk to another Super Bowl victory, but that culture is part of what will make them tough to beat in the weeks ahead.
The thing that stood out was his poise. Flynn doesnít have a big arm. The ball doesnít come off his hand the way it does with Rodgers. When Rodgers needs to fire a laser, the ball gets there like now. Flynn doesnít have that extra zip. But you couldnít argue with his accuracy. The two long passes to Jordy Nelson and the one to James Jones were beautiful throws. And, letís not forget, the wind was blowing at 20 miles per hour or more.
Maybe the most endearing part of Flynnís game is how he stands in there against a rush. Thatís something young quarterbacks normally struggle with: Keeping their poise when they know theyíre going to get crushed. On the TD pass to Driver, anybody in the stadium could have seen the Lions were sending seven guys. But Flynn stood in the pocket and got the ball there.
His performance speaks volumes about what McCarthy and assistant Tom Clements must accomplish in their quarterback school and how they coach their quarterbacks.
Flynn played within the system, didnít throw the ball up for grabs. He just looked cool and relaxed. He doesnít look 6-2, but that poise probably explains why he didnít have balls batted down and didnít make bad decisions. Itís when a quarterback doesnít hold his emotions in check that he gets in trouble.
He seemed to get his game legs back a little bit, but heís not the Clifton of old. As was the case early in the season, he was on skates more than ever before. Heís susceptible to the inside move. In his day, heíd lock onto a guy and it was over. He played around 25 snaps in this game and gave up a sack when he couldnít get his feet out in front of himself.
Clifton has been the Packersí rock for how many years? Itís understandable why theyíre going back to him. But one could ask: Why not stick with the guy who has played all year?
Marshall Newhouse gives them more in the running game. And is Clifton going to hold up for three full games? Plus, if the Packers face Jason Pierre-Paul, Newhouse has some experience against him. Left tackle is such a key position, it will be interesting to watch how the decision plays out.
Maybe if the Packers could put all four together thereíd be an answer opposite Matthews. Erik Walden gives them something against the run. Frank Zombo is a motor guy. Vic Soíoto doesnít look like an outside linebacker. He has wide hips, a broad butt. Heís not pretty looking, but he got to the quarterback. His problem is the passing game: His pass drops and inability to turn his hips and run are liabilities.
Brad Jones got a sack, but he also got reached a couple times in the running game, and linebackers coach Kevin Greene takes great pride in the fact that his outside backers donít get reached. First play on defense, Jones gets reached and itís 7 yards for the Lions. Thatís when the tackle or tight end lines up inside the outside backer and is still able to beat him to his outside shoulder and turn him in.