MINNEAPOLIS – This is an obituary of the 2018 Green Bay Packers.
They’re not officially out of the NFL playoff race, of course. They could win their last five games, get a lot of help and squeak into the playoffs at 9-6-1.
But realistically, the Packers’ playoffs hopes are pretty much dead after their NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings took them out, 24-17, at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday night in what really felt like a must-win game for the visiting team.
The Packers simply have too many teams in front of them to think 9-6-1 has much chance of getting them in. But more importantly, there’s the little matter of actually winning five straight. Even with a favorable schedule, does anyone really think the Packers' punchless offense can put up enough points to beat one of the NFL’s best defensive teams, the Chicago Bears, on the road in three weeks?
You got the feeling that even Aaron Rodgers started realizing how improbable it sounded as he started ticking through the Packers’ remaining games.
“We’re 0-6 on the road,” he said. “So we just gotta go back home, get some rest, beat Arizona, and then come back and beat Atlanta. Then go to Chicago, a place we’ve won a number of times, beat them. Go to New York (Jets) around Christmas, beat them. And then come home against Detroit, beat them.”
Indeed. In one way or another this has been the Packers’ stance for several weeks now. Play a little better, make a few more plays, go on a run. But this was the one they really needed to start the run, and you can be sure they knew it going in. You could tell that by the way injured players kept going back in the game. You can’t say they just gave up.
But no matter, it now looks like the Packers are going to miss out on the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since Mike McCarthy became coach in 2006. The Packers just don’t have the offense to do it, which is a stunning realization when they have a two-time MVP at quarterback. Their 254 yards in total offense Sunday is a pittance in today’s NFL. They should be putting that up in a good half.
The disconnect between Rodgers and McCarthy is too great, and short of a miracle finish it’s hard to see how McCarthy survives this. Rodgers (94.0 rating Sunday) isn’t playing well, even now that he’s healthy, and that’s at the root of what has ailed this team all year. If McCarthy wasn’t able to coax it out of Rodgers for this game, with the season on the line, then it’s hard to see it ever coming.
“Between these guys being professional athletes and someone as elite as Aaron, I mean it’s all correctable,” McCarthy said, defending his quarterback. “But it starts, (pass) protection, all of, it could be all those things.”
The Packers remain winless on the road, and most importantly, failed their biggest test of the season. There’s no question that this stretch of four road games in five weeks was especially challenging — it included playing at the Los Angeles Rams and at New England, which are two of the best teams in the league, and a long West Coast trip to Seattle for a Thursday night game. Then it finished with this big rivalry game on the road on a Sunday night.
But it’s during stretches like this when teams learn who they are. That the Packers went 1-4 (their lone win was at home against 5-6 Miami) has defined their season.
“I didn’t think we’d go 1-4 in that stretch,” Rodgers said, “but that’s where we’re at. We’re here. We’re 4-6-1. Gotta win our last five, and even that might not be enough.”
Probably not. This game was big because, among other things, it gives the Vikings the tiebreaker over the Packers. The teams tied at Lambeau Field earlier in the season, so the Vikings at 6-4-1 in effect have a three-game lead on the Packers with five to play in the race for the NFC’s two wild-card spots.
The Los Angeles Rams (10-1) and New Orleans Saints (10-1) are pretty much locks to win their divisions, and the Chicago Bears (8-3) are in good shape to win the NFC North. Dallas (6-5) and Washington (6-5) are tied for the lead in the NFC East.
For the two wild-card spots, the Packers are looking up at five teams: the Vikings, Carolina (6-5), Seattle (6-5), either Dallas or Washington, and Philadelphia (5-6).
Could four of them get to seven losses, which would mean 9-6-1 would get the Packers in? It’s conceivable.
But what are the odds of that happening plus the Packers winning their last five?
Remote at best.
“I’ve got a lot more gray in the beard than I did a few years ago,” Rodgers said. “So I know that football mortality catches up to everybody, and you never want to lose a season. Especially when you felt great starting the season about our prospects. But we’re going to battle the next five weeks and put ourselves in a position to be in the conversation.”
That must have been McCarthy’s message to his team after the game, because every player I talked to in the locker room was on point in saying the goal now is to win five straight.
But this isn’t 2016. The math says this team still has a chance. But your eyes tell you it doesn’t.