GREEN BAY PACKERS: NO CLAWS ON THE TUNDRA
Streaks like that have to end sometime, and the 3-1 Lions figured to pose a pretty tough challenge. But when their best player didn't suit up, well...
Artie: That was an odd game. Even though it was only 6-3 at halftime and the Pack hadn't cashed in any of several chances for touchdowns, I just didn't feel nervous.
Frank: What, your legendary game-day angst never kicked in?
A: Maybe it was because Calvin Johnson wasn't playing...
F: I'd guess that was a big factor.
A: But just with the way the teams looked, I guess I sensed the Packers' vibes and thought, “Take it easy, everything's under control.”
F: I felt the same way about the game, minus your fan's interest. The Lions moved the ball a little at the start, but after their first drive stalled I never got the feeling that Matthew Stafford was going to lead some kind of big charge. Not without Johnson to throw to.
A: I knew that “Megatron” was listed as questionable with a knee thing, but Sunday morning as I was listening to Jason Wilde on the radio and was told Johnson was out, even he was surprised and said, “Where'd you get that?”
F: The TV guys said it was only the fifth game he's missed, and I read later that he said he was “close” to playing after a morning workout.
A: They certainly must have wanted him on the field for a division game. It's not like they were playing Jacksonville. If he'd been in there the Pack would have been worrying about when to double-team him, which might have helped open things up for Reggie Bush. But as it was, they sure locked Bush up!
F: I know Stafford has a big contract, but I wonder how much of that he owes to Johnson.
A: The game just had a kind of slow pace. One team would eat up some clock and punt, then the other would. The Pack got some big plays in the second half but only one TD.
F: But those five field goals must have made you happy.
A: That's for sure; Mason Crosby went 5 for 5, including one from 52 yards and two from 40-plus. NFL kickers can be like baseball closers, just “losing it” all of a sudden. And usually when that happens it doesn't come back.
F: Not with the same team anyway.
F: But Crosby rose to the training-camp challenges Mike McCarthy gave him. That sure bodes well!
F: Eddie Lacy gave them 99 hard-fought rushing yards, just what they drafted him for, and Randall Cobb broke a big one.
A: And Aaron Rodgers made some great throws. But at the same time, some of those catches by James Jones and Jordy Nelson—I can't believe they even get their hands on some of those balls!
F: Jones just needed to keep his second foot in bounds, or it would have been a second TD.
A: He broke the plane of the goal line and he had control of the ball, ain'a? Man, the refs have gotten so nit-picky with those reception calls, "Control through the process of the catch”—what the hell does that really mean?
F: That all goes back to Calvin Johnson and that weird touchdown ruling in Chicago a few years back. I think the whole game is getting too super-precise—did a guy's knee brush the ground at the same instant he fumbled; was he brushed by someone's fingernail to produce “contact.” Talk about slowing down the pace!
A: The refs are all mechanical engineers checking the blueprints. But then they apparently can't see what looks like pretty obvious stuff—a D-back's arm around a receiver or all that helmet-to-helmet stuff they're supposed to be on the lookout for.
F: Your angst was under control Sunday, but as usual you can focus it on some injuries this week.
A: And mostly linebackers again! Clay Matthews breaks a thumb, Brad Jones rejoins the hamstring brigade and Robert Francois wrecks an Achilles' tendon to end his season. Now we'll have to wait a few days to find out how bad things are with Matthews.
F: Often a guy can play with lots of padding around a thumb, but if he needs surgery...
A: Maybe Clay can give Ryan Braun a call. “Hey, what do I take for a thumb? Got any suggestions, any contacts?”
F: Whatever the injury situation is, playing in Baltimore this weekend won't be easy.
A: They're only the defending champs, although they've made a bunch of changes. They can beat anybody at any time.
F: As for the Lions, the Packers will see them again Thanksgiving Day, and probably with Johnson in uniform. And the 22-year losing streak doesn't apply in Detroit.
BUCKEYES DON'T BUCKLE
F: Well, Ohio State's close win over Northwestern quite likely doomed Wisconsin's chances to go back to the Big Ten championship game.
A: You know, I didn't see a single second of that game. I wanted to, and I remembered it was a night game but I got hooked on the baseball playoffs, especially that Oakland-Detroit game. That was a great one, scoreless until the bottom of the ninth.
F: For Ohio State this game was a lot like the previous week against UW. The Buckeyes were beatable but they rose to the challenge, making up a deficit twice in the fourth quarter.
A: Given the outcome, I'm glad I stuck to baseball.
F: Now the Buckeyes would seem to have pretty clear sailing until their season finale at Michigan.
A: I think Northwestern was certainly the best team besides the Badgers on their schedule.
F: And the Wildcats sure won't be easy for the Badgers to beat Saturday at Camp Randall. But even if they run the table from here on, they'd have to finish a game ahead of OSU to avoid the tie-breaker, and the Buckeyes don't look like they can lose twice.
A: Things happen, but it ain't likely.
F: So for the Badgers it looks like “Capital One, here we come.”
A: Or the Walgreens’ Bowl, if there is one. Well, after seeing that A's-Tigers game my new quest is figuring out a way to trade Ryan Braun to Oakland for Sonny Gray, the rookie right-hander who matched Justin Verlander pitch for pitch.
F: Being that he's with Oakland, of course I had no idea who he was.
A: He's not one of these intimidating 6-foot-4 guys, he's more like Tyler Thornburg, like 5-10, a curve ball to die for and a fastball he mixes in at 95 or 96 miles per hour. He went eight innings and gave up four hits and two walks with nine strikeouts in 111 pitches. And I'll always be grateful that he knocked Urban Meyer and his guys right out of my head!
SOME MUST-SEE TV
F: Hey, seeing Peyton Manning out-duel Tony Romo...
A: Who, I may have mentioned once or twice, is NOT a good quarterback… usually.
F: Well, except for his last throw Sunday he was 500-plus yards worth of something. But anyway, seeing Manning score, then calmly flip the ball to the official with no histrionics, reminds me to ask if you got a chance to see that film about the Mannings that I mentioned.
A: I did, and you were right, it was terrific.
F: “The Book of Manning,” it's called and it's showing on ESPN Classic as part of a series called “SEC Storied.” I never thought I'd care to learn much about any SEC athlete, but because the film is largely about Archie Manning I tuned in. And I was really impressed!
A: Archie is kind of the Ernie Banks of the NFL—a great player who never got a shot at a championship because he played on lousy teams.
F: And he even was unlucky as a star at Mississippi, breaking his arm as a senior when he might have had a great shot at the Heisman Trophy and losing a bunch of shootouts with Alabama. But some of those highlights of Archie in college, wow, he was the Michael Vick or RG III of his time.
A: I couldn't believe it! He's starting at his own 40, retreating and reversing his field back to the freakin' 10, then somehow escaping and getting at least a first down. It reminded me of all those days I'd be going crazy watching the Packers trying to chase down Fran Tarkenton.
F: The best thing about the film, though, was how it profiled Archie as a family man. His own father committed suicide when Archie was in college, and for him family has always come first. As the film portrays him, he never pushed any of his three boys into football, and when Peyton and Eli became college stars he never pushed himself on their coaches.
A: Even though the coaches wanted his input!
F: The film shows him at college and pro games, sitting in the stands like a regular guy. And he genuinely seems like a modest, self-effacing father, proud of his sons but not going after their limelight. Because of that film, now I really want Peyton to win another Super Bowl, if only to please Archie again.
Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek is always listed as questionable.