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Mike Vandermause column: Playoff flop makes footnote of record-breaking season

Jan. 19, 2012
 

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Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy protests a fumble call in the first quarter of Sunday's NFC divisional playoff against the New York Giants at Lambeau Field. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette

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Not good enough.

Those three words sum up the Green Bay Packers’ 2011 season.

It seems odd to refer to a team that finished with a 15-2 record that way, but it’s an indication of how high the standards are around here.

They don’t give out trophies for dazzling regular-season records, so the Packers’ 15-1 mark will be remembered as a footnote.

“We clearly understand in Green Bay it’s about winning championships,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy after his team’s disappointing 37-20 playoff loss to the New York Giants. “Just going to the playoffs is not enough.”

It wasn’t good enough that the Packers earned the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage because they will be sitting on their sofas Sunday watching San Francisco and New York battle in the NFC championship.

It wasn’t good enough that the Packers led the NFL in scoring this season because when it mattered most their offense didn’t produce.

It wasn’t good enough that the Packers committed the second-fewest turnovers in the league because with their season on the line they coughed up three fumbles, and an official’s blown call prevented another.

Everyone can agree the Packers are one of the better teams in the NFL. But there are reasons they weren’t good enough to win a playoff game, let alone claim a second consecutive Super Bowl title.

It started with a defense that ranked last in the NFL in yards allowed.

When asked to characterize the defense at his season-ending press conference Wednesday, McCarthy said: “I would say not good enough.”

The Packers were a terrible tackling team, had one of the weakest pass rushes in the league and got lit up for more passing yards than any team in NFL history. It’s a wonder that despite all those warts they lost one regular-season game. But it came back to bite them hard in the playoffs when the Giants exploited their flaws.

“We weren’t good enough in the areas of fundamentals to win,” McCarthy said of the Giants’ game.

He added: “The tackling just was not there all year. … We did not tackle well enough as a football team.”

Throughout the regular season the Packers’ prolific offense covered a multitude of defensive sins but couldn’t sustain it in the playoffs.

Following an MVP-caliber regular season, quarterback Aaron Rodgers had his worst game of the year against the Giants. He wasn’t his usual tack-sharp self and missed open receivers in key situations.

But Rodgers didn’t get much help from his teammates, who dropped a mind-numbing six passes. Throw in four turnovers, missed blocks and blown assignments, and it’s easy to see why a normally fine-tuned machine was sputtering.

The offense wasn’t good enough to overcome its own blunders against the Giants, let alone make up for the defense’s miscues.

Theories abound about why the Packers played so poorly in the biggest game of their season.

Maybe the death of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin’s son the week before the Giants game cast a much larger cloud over the Packers than anyone realized.

Maybe some key veterans like Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson lost their edge after a 20-day or longer layoff between games.

Maybe the team peaked too early, or simply panicked when things didn’t go their way against the Giants.

“Did we handle the highs and lows of that football game as well as we did other games?” said McCarthy. “Probably not.”

Three days after the loss, McCarthy was still struggling to figure out what happened.

“We did not play to the identity that we were able to formulate all season, and that’s my frustration,” he said.

Translation: Who were those impostors wearing green and gold uniforms last Sunday?

For the Packers it was an abrupt and disappointing end to what had the makings of a historic season. In the end, it wasn’t nearly good enough.

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.

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