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Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010

A Season of Promise Keeps Getting Fuzzier

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With the Packers playing 2-10 Detroit, the Observers figured they'd be focusing on things like the Brewers' encouraging trade for a new starting pitcher, the basketball battle between Marquette and Wisconsin, and the Heisman Trophy win by a player whose father stands accused of trying to sell his talents.

Then Aaron Rodgers was forced from the pocket and chose to tough it out as a runner, and in an instant the Observers' plans, Rodgers' health and the Packers' playoff chances took a jolting.


Artie
: It figures, after all the injuries the Pack already has gone through, that the No. 1 guy would get concussed in a game they had no business losing.

Frank
: And this is Rodgers' second concussion of the season. The first didn't cost him any playing time, but who knows whether No. 2 makes the recovery take longer?

Artie
: I can only hope they have a no-Flynn situation this weekend at New England. I thought Matt Flynn did mostly OK against the Lions, but that end-zone interception—brutal! What a weird, odd game.

Frank
: Weirdest of all was the first-quarter play where Greg Jennings takes a Rodgers bomb in stride, then somehow flubs the ball to the defender—from touchdown to disaster.

Artie
: If he holds on, the Pack wins for sure. Instead, a 7-3 mess.

Frank
: The Lions sputtered on offense but, wow, that pass rush! It wasn't quite Thanksgiving Day 1962, but it sure was fierce.

Artie
: Rodgers was getting no time to survey things. Which drove him to that run.

Frank
: You could say he was football-tough in not sliding, but not football-smart.

Artie
: If it was the second half with the game on the line I could understand it. But at that point, and with one concussion already logged—bad call.

Frank
: The Pack still had a great chance to win in the last minute. But on short-yardage in Detroit territory, instead of a quick slant or swing pass to get the first down, Mike McCarthy called a medium-depth pass and then a home-run shot, both of which failed. Later he said he shouldn't have put Flynn in that spot and added, "Anytime your offense scores three points, that's on me."

Artie
: Who am I to disagree?

Frank
: At 8-5 the Packers stayed a game behind the Bears in the division,thanks to the Patriots' snow job at Soldier Field. But now Green Bay has to play at New England, maybe without Rodgers, and they're a game behind the Giants anda tiebreak down to Tampa Bay for a wild card.

Artie
: They get shots at the Giants and Bears at Lambeau, but if they don't beat the Pats it might not matter.

Armed With Optimism

Frank: The Brewers' trade for right-hander Shaun Marcum looks pretty good on paper. This year with Toronto he was 13-8 with a 3.64 ERA. He's relatively young at 29 and relatively cheap, due for arbitration but coming off an $850,000 salary.

Artie
: All true, but remember, Jeff Suppan looked good on paper in December 2006. So did Braden Looper in ’08 and Randy Wolf a year ago. Wolf had a good second half this year, but overall he was just mediocre.

Frank
: The last promising pitcher the Brewers acquired from Toronto, Dave Bush, had his moments but was Mr. Inconsistency for five years. Marcum better be better.

Artie
: Especially since Doug Melvin gave up the Crew's top prospect, Brett Lawrie, to get him.

Frank
: The trade must indicate they're confident of keeping Rickie Weeks beyond this year. They had switched Lawrie from catcher to second base as insurance against Weeks' departure.

Artie
: If Yovani Gallardo can keep progressing and Wolf stays more Jekyll than Hyde, Marcum presumably means there's three-fifths of a good starting rotation. But they could still use another guy.

Frank
: I can't believe they've shown interest in Carl Pavano. The guy had one excellent year with Florida, cashed in as a free agent with the Yankees, then made exactly 26 starts over four years for their $40 million because he repeatedly broke down. He got tagged as a malingerer, went to the scrapheap, was mediocre for the Indians and Twins in ’09 but went 17-11 for Minnesota this year. So now he's back to being worth $10 million a year?

Artie
: Plus he'll be 35 in January. It just shows that any kind of pitching is in such demand.

Frank
: The Brewers, of all people, should know the pitfalls of signing free-agent pitchers in their 30s.

Artie
: The only way it would make sense to sign Pavano would be if it was "mad money"—if Mark Attanasio suddenly found an extra $20 million in a safe-deposit box he'd forgotten about.

Frank
: Zack Greinke can be had in a trade, but Kansas City must want an awful lot for the ’09 Cy Young winner.

Artie
: The Royals can't be interested in "renting" Prince Fielder for a year. It would take a lot of prospects—including young pitchers, which the Brewers don't have much of. They could swing for the fences and offer Lorenzo Cain and Corey Hart along with maybe Manny Parra...

Frank
: But that would be a steep price for one arm.

Everything We Expected

Frank: I thought UW's five-point margin over Marquette reflected the game exactly. The Badgers did what they do—control the pace, rebound, play solid defense—ju-u-u-st a tad better than Marquette executed their pressuring, driving, in-your-face game plan.

Artie
: It was a real pleasure to watch. It said a lot that the Badgers could win in that hostile environment, and it said a lot for the Golden Eagles that they kept coming back.

Frank
: UW had the lead at double digits in both halves, including with about three minutes left. But MU had a shot at tying the score until that last turnover.

Artie
: They're adjusting to a lot of new faces, but Buzz Williams is a terrific coach. They'll raise some hell in the Big East.

Another Temporary Trophy?

Artie: Last year Mark Ingram's father couldn't be at the Heisman ceremony because he was in prison. This time Cam Newton's father skipped the event because the NCAA says he tried to sell his son to Mississippi State after Cam decided to leave Florida.

Frank
: In an ESPN interview Cam said, "Who am I to say that what he did was true or not?" So he wants us to believe: 1. He had no idea what his father was doing, and 2. He never asked!

Artie
: It's like, "Dad, I don't know where I want to go next, so you handle everything and let me know when it's done."

Frank
: Like Prince Fielder saying, "I just go where I'm supposed to go." In other words, these are just business decisions.

Artie
: Just like the NCAA's decision to absolve Cam, at least long enough for him to lead Auburn against Oregon for the national title. On the field he's been tremendous, but he might eventually have to consult Reggie Bush on how to ship the trophy back.

Frank
: Meanwhile, the bowl season begins Saturday—thirty-freakin’-five of them—and here are some thrilling numbers: Eighteen bowl teams have 7-5 records, one is 7-6 and 13 are 6-6. That's almost half of the entire bunch! But of course the bowls don't exist to reward excellence, just to make money for the host cities by giving the teams' fans someplace to vacation.

Artie
: I'll tell you how many of the 35 games I'll spend any time on—the Badgers' Rose Bowl and Auburn-Oregon. Oh, and one more game—the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl on Saturday for the Division III title, with UW-Whitewater and Mount Union playing for the sixth straight year! Best of all, it's a bowl that's the end of a genuine playoff system.

Selling Him Short

Frank: Well, now I can go back to Yankee Stadium next year. If Derek Jeter and the team had parted ways, I'd have had to boycott the Bronx.

Artie
: Now the Yanks need the league's approval to make a defensive adjustment—going to softball mode for a 10th guy in short-center to help their rapidly aging shortstop.

Frank
: Hey, Jeter won a Gold Glove this year, and who votes on that? Rival managers and coaches.

Artie
: They were suckering the Yanks. Jeter at short means more hits for them.

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