Each Wednesday, Weston Hodkiewicz provides an inside look at the Green Bay Packers in his Walkthrough blog. Stu Courtney sits in again this week.
Memo to Green Bay Packers fans disappointed with their team’s performance: You have plenty of company around the NFL.
You might think the New England Patriots had a good season. They started 10-0, earned the second seed in the AFC playoffs and fell short of returning to the Super Bowl only after a potential game-tying two-point conversion attempt failed in the final seconds of a 20-18 loss Sunday at Denver.
You would be wrong.
Likewise the Arizona Cardinals, who won the NFC West with a 13-3 regular-season record and beat the Packers in thrilling fashion, 26-20 in overtime of their divisional playoff game, before falling to the Carolina Panthers 49-15 in the NFC title game.
Same goes for the Packers and all the other teams that were good enough to advance to the postseason but not good enough to earn one of the two berths in Super Bowl 50.
As Cardinals coach Bruce Arians aptly put it: “Unless the confetti is coming down on you and you’re putting rings on, the season’s not successful.”
Carolina and Denver still have a shot at a successful season if they can win one more game. Let’s take a quick look at what went wrong with the other six teams that reached the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, in the order that they were eliminated:
Chiefs: They won their last 10 regular-season games after a 1-5 start and trounced the Texans 30-0 in the first round of the playoffs. Then, against the Patriots, the Chiefs forgot how to manage the clock. Down 27-13 but with a first-and-goal at the New England 1 with 2:33 left and all three of their timeouts, Kansas City disdained a pass that would have stopped the clock if it went incomplete and instead lost a yard on a running play. The Chiefs then huddled and didn’t get another play off before the two-minute warning. By the time they finally scored to pull within a touchdown, they had no choice but to try an onside kick, which failed. Patriots win, 27-20.
Packers: Everyone knows they had no deep-threat receiver after losing Jordy Nelson to a season-ending ACL injury in August. But hey, it turns out that they did have one — they just wouldn’t play him. Jeff Janis, owner of 4.3-second speed in the 40, sparkled as the gunner on special teams but rarely got to play on offense until injuries forced the Packers to press him into service in the playoffs vs. Arizona. All Janis did in that game was haul in seven passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns, including a game-tying Hail Mary catch and, on the same drive, a 61-yarder on fourth-and-20. We’ll never know what Janis might have done in overtime if the NFL rulebook had given the Packers’ offense a chance to touch the ball.
Seahawks: Maybe their body clocks still were on Pacific time and they hit snooze on their alarms. Whatever the reason, Seattle failed to show up for the start of its 1 p.m. Eastern date at Carolina and was outscored 31-0 in the first half. The Seahawks won the second half 24-0, but the wakeup call came too late and Seattle blew its shot at going to a third straight Super Bowl.
Steelers: They limped into Denver without star receiver Antonio Brown, who suffered a concussion late in the back-alley brawl that was Pittsburgh’s first-round win at Cincinnati, and running back DeAngelo Williams, sidelined by a foot injury. Williams had been filling in for starter Le’Veon Bell, who went down with an injury in midseason. That forced the Steelers to rely on third-string running back Fitz Toussaint, who naturally fumbled with Pittsburgh leading 13-12 and less than 10 minutes remaining. Peyton Manning then drove the Broncos to their only touchdown, and the Steelers never recovered. Broncos win, 23-16.
Patriots: Tom Brady was sacked four times Sunday in New England’s loss at Denver. Not surprisingly, offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo reportedly was sacked the next day. The Broncos also recorded 23 quarterback hits, the most by any team in a game this season. In DeGuglielmo’s defense, the Patriots were operating with an injury-riddled offensive line that featured three rookies.
Cardinals: They apparently used up all their magic against the Packers. Arizona turned the ball over four times in the first half at Carolina and trailed 24-7 at the break. Carson Palmer threw three fourth-quarter interceptions after being picked off only once in the final quarter during the regular season (he also threw a fourth-quarter pick to the Packers’ Damarious Randall during their divisional playoff game). Even Larry Fitzgerald had a lousy day (four catches for 30 yards). No confetti for the Cardinals this year, which may provide some small consolation to Packers fans still smarting over the way Arizona pulled the plug on Green Bay’s season.