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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Why The Packers Beat The Packers In The NFC Championship Game

The result of Sundays NFC Championship game is a bitter pill for Packer fans to swallow, but it can be explained rather easily.  But what appears to be a meltdown may have actually been an inevitablity for two simple reasons...

 1)The Seattle Seahawks were coaching and playing to win the Green Bay Packers were coaching and playing not to lose, and in the end you simply don't win championships if you're not playing to win. 

The Packers were the road team, you don't go on the road in conference championship game and expect to win by playing scared, the Seahawks coached and played with the mentality of a road team trying to unseat the favorite while the Packers seemed to have the mindset of only trying to avoid mistakes, which ultimately ended up being their biggest mistake of all.  Yes, Green Bay was leading for the lions share of the game, but their defensive mentality began before any points were even put on the board. 

When you're playing against the top defense in football and arguably one of the most impressive defenses in league history, chances to put the football in the end zone are few and far between and they don't get much better than when the football is resting less than a yard away from the goal line.  In the first quarter after an apparent touchdown run by fullback John Kuhn was reversed upon review the Packers handed the football off to their bruising halfback Eddie Lacy who was stopped inches from the goal line.  As early as it was in this football game the consequences of going for it on 4th and inches are not exactly dire, if you fail to convert, you put a struggling offense with a banged up offensive line inside their own one yard line, the argument that a stop on fourth and goal would swing the momentum Seattle's way almost appears to be moot because by settling for three points and letting a rare opportunity to put seven points on the board against this Seattle defense the momentum has already swung in the Seahawks direction despite the three points.  If you go for it and convert however, you swing the momentum back in your direction, and with Seattle's interior defensive line decimated by injuries going into this game and a powerful  All Rookie center in Corey Linsely, a Pro Bowl guard in Josh Sitton out in front and two powerful backs behind him to push the pile in Lacy and Kuhn, an Aaron Rodgers quarterback sneak would seem like a fairly high percentage play, especially when you consider that all the strong handed quarterback would need to do is simply stretch the football over the goal line for an instant.  This was the first example of a "let's not lose" psychology by Mike McCarthy and the Green Bay coaching staff, a mentality that's unusual for the Packers head coach, it's certainly not the mentality that got the Packers to where they were and its a glaring indication that this Packer football team went into this game intimidated by the task that was lying in front of them.


Packers fan's wouldnt need to wait long for the second example of this losers mentality as Doug Baldwin fumbled the insuing kickoff and yet again the Packers found themselves on the doorstep of a touchdown.  On fourth and goal the Packers this time were on the other side of the one yard line but certainly in a position to push the envelope following the Seattle turnover.  The Seahawks had to be looking at it as a huge win if they could keep the lead at six points despite having their heels on their own goal line twice in the matter of a few minutes in the first quarter.  Again, the momentum would be going in Seattle's direction no matter if Green Bay put three points or no points on the board, but instead of realizing how precious this opportunity was to be one yard shy of the goal line against this Seattle defense Mike McCarthy yet again sent his kicker out to boot chip shot field goal, putting the Packers up 6-0 and giving the Seattle faithful reason to breath a huge sigh of relief.  Now had Green Bay had a more aggressive mentality on their first fourth and goal situation and put the ball in the end zone I would have actually agreed with McCarthy's decision to send out Crosby for the field goal on the second opportunity, but by giving the Seattle defense two huge wins so early in the game and allowing them to look up at the scoreboard after the potentially cataclysmic set of events to see themselves only one touchdown and an extra point away from taking the lead, Green Bay set the tone for the entire game as the team on the field playing in fear, and in a championship game when you play in fear on the road against a defendng champion, it's only a matter of time before the mentality of a loser ultimately makes you just that, a loser.


On the other hand you had the Seahawks, playing perhaps the worst offensive football game of their season at the absolute worst time, with a young quarterback playing perhaps the worst game of his football career, at any level.  But the Seahwks are a championship football team, with the mentality of a winner and a champion and a coach that leads his team accordingly.  Midway through the third quarter the Seahawks found themselves stymied 19 yards away from their first points of the game, trailing 16-0.  A field goal would have been helpful, cutting the lead from sixteen to thirteen, but it still would have been a victory of sorts for the visiting Packers.  Knowing his team was in dire need of a game changing and pysche changing play, Pete Carroll pulled the trigger on the biggest and perhaps the gutsiest call of his coaching career.  Aware of a weakness in the Green Bay field goal defending unit with Brad Jones playing over aggressively on film throughout the season, Carroll played to win and attacked the opposition, catching the unprepared Packers with their pants down and as a result the Seahawks were on the board with a game changing touchdown pass from punter Jon Ryan to rookie offensive lineman Garrett Gilkey.  Had Green Bay defended the play correctly, had A.J. Hawk been better aware of the yards to go situation and stuck with his man until Ryan crossed the line of scrimmage rather than leave his receiver without a defender in sight standing alone in the end zone, Seattle would have come away with nothing, turning the football over to the Packers, completely shifting the momentum their way and arguably giving them a chance to put the dagger through Seattle's heart with a mere field goal on the ensuing drive.  It was a huge gamble by Carroll, but it was a calculated gamble, a gamble made after brilliant film study during the week by the players and coaching staff, and it was the kind of gamble championship coaches take without with a twinkle in their eye.  It was an example of a team playing to win not only a football game, but a championship.  And for Packer fans, it was a play that gave you that sinking feeling that despite the nine point lead, the course of history had just changed the iceberg had been struck and it was only a matter of time before our Super Bowl dreams would be completely under water.


Midway through the fourth quarter, Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman suffered an arm injury that apparently made him a one armed defender.  Clearly the Packers coaching staff couldn't have missed that, however instead of attacking the injured player by going after him with their Pro Bowl receiver Jordy Nelson, Mike McCarthy continued to coach scared, perhaps fearful that Sherman may have been playing possum, and likely with the memory of Sherman's end zone interception in the first quarter, McCarthy elected not to attempt to drive the dagger through the heart of the Seattle defense, even with an All Pro quarterback and a pro Bowl receiver on hand to do the driving.  McCarthy coached with so little confidence in his players that he remained fearful of a one armed Sherman against the combination of Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson.  Even if he was afraid of testing him down the field, why not throw some kind of bubble screen or quick hitch in the injured corners direction just to see if he was capable of tackling?  The reason besides his fear of Sherman, one armed or not, was that at that point in the game, McCarthy was really in "not lose" mode.  This despite his teams ability to throw the football on big downs to secure the win just a week ago against the Cowboys.  When a coach doesn't have confidence that his players can outplay the opposition, that lack of confidence cal filter down to the players themselves, and it might have been that lack of confidence that led to Green Bay's final act of football cowardice, with just over five minutes remaining in the final quarter.


Despite only being able to put the ball in the end zone one time, it appeared to even the most pessimistic of Packer backers that their team might just pull this one out.  With just over five minutes remaining in the game, Russell Wilson threw his fourth interception of the contest to Morgan Burnett, for a moment jubulation ran wild in Packer Nation, but then, for the more educated of the Packer faithful, it was almost instantly followed by befuddlement as the Packer safety, and defensive captain, inexplicably slid to the turf despite clear field and two blockers in front of him.  Yes Green Bay had a twelve point lead at the time, but with over five minutes remaining on the clock, Seattle had all three of their timeouts remaining plus the two minute warning, and the interception took place fairly deep in Green Bay territory.  Even with the turnover, Seattle's top ranked run defense could theoretically get the football back with more than four and a half minutes remaining on the clock, more than enough time to put the ball in the end zone and give themselves a shot at getting the ball back on an onside with the two minute warning still upcoming.  If Burnett had run the ball back however, even if he hadnt scored it appeared he could easily get the football to at least midfield, and with a good return, put Mason Crosby in range to extend the lead to fifteen.  Either way, the point is that there was absolutely no excuse or reasoning for sliding down other than playing scared.  Burnett's excuse was that he got the signal, appparently from fellow defensive captain Julius Peppers, to get down.  The only reason to slide down in that situation is a fear of fumbling the football back on the return, the final, and perhaps most pathetic example of the theme Green Bay played out the entire afternoon, playing not to lose.  When an NFL defensive back intercepts a pass, yes he should protect the football, but fearing he might fumble it back should not be the first instinct that goes through a championship players head.

Had Earl Thomas or Richard Sherman of Seattle picked that ball often in a similar circumstance do you think either would have slid to the turf? 

Do you think their Seattle coaches and teammates would have been telling them to do so?

Absolutely not.  Because great players, championship players play with confidence, they play to succeed, they dont play "not to fail".

Burnett's decision...and if you believe him his teammates decision to get down after the pick with that much time remaining is not only beyond conservative, its also very poor situational football.  Even if Burnett were worried about a Seahawk stripping the ball away, he still could have returned the ball up until he got near a defender and then gone down on his own.  That would have still been ultra conservative but it at least would have been reasonable.  The decision to slide down instantly was perhaps the most glaring example of the mentality that ran rampant throughout the Packer sideline all afternoon, and it starts from the top with the head coach.  It's a mentaility of fear, a mentality that they weren't good enough to overcome a mistake, the mentaility to play not to lose.  Seattle on the other hand played with the arrogance of a champion, they made mistake after mistake after mistake to the tune of five turnovers, but they never lost their swagger, they never lost their confidence and as a result, they never lost.

Sunday's NFC championship game was a tale of two teams with two coaches leading their troops with two totally different mentalities. 

One coach believed in his players and coached to win the game from beginning to end, coaching with the arrogance of a champion no matter what was happening on the field. 

Another seemed to bring an inferiority complex onto the field right from the start that by the end of the contest seemed to filter down to his players and ultimately effect their confidence in themselves and each other.


Upon reflection, after all the "what if's" and "might have been's" that littered this game the result seems pretty easy to understand.  The inevitable ultimately occured.... only one team played to win....and they won the game.



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