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Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013

GREEN BAY PACKERS: GIVE THANKS FOR THE DIVISION

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Not a win, not a loss, and thanks to failures by the Lions and Bears, not a severe blow to post-season hopes. But the 26-26 result Sunday against Minnesota made the Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit as big as it gets for the Packers. With Frank still on Long Island, the discussion again was by phone.

 

Frank: Might as well get it over with; I imagine you're feeling...

Artie: Fit to be tied, you betcha. It's better than a loss but boy, it was a mostly ugly game, especially from the defense's standpoint.

F: I didn't see any of it because Fox gave the New York market Carolina-Miami. And anyway I was with a brother-in-law watching the Jets look spectacularly ugly in Baltimore.

A: The Vikings ran all over the Pack. For most of the game it looked like the purple bunch had one of the all-time great offensive lines. You expect some of that with Adrian Peterson rushing but his occasional sub, Toby Gerhart, was pounding through people too, especially in the overtime drive that led to the tying field goal. The defensive line was getting blown off the ball.

F: To the tune of 232 rushing yards, I see. But the defense must have tightened up while the Packers scored the final 16 points in regulation.

A: They did, and Matt Flynn saved the day in relief of Scott Tolzien, who was mostly ineffective. And Eddie Lacy was fabulous! He and Flynn kept them alive after it got to 23-7 early in the fourth quarter.

F: From my bottom-of-the-screen updates, it looked like the Packers even had a chance to win in regulation.

A: And again in OT. They got it down to the Vikings' 7-yard line, I think, in the last minute of regulation, but they couldn't get the TD that would have made it 27-23. And they got down to the 2 on the first possession of OT, when a TD would have ended things. Both times they had to settle for field goals, and the defense let Minnesota eat up most of the OT marching to the tying kick.

F: There must be something about wearing green and gold that brings out Flynn's best. He'd bombed out big-time with Seattle and Oakland.

A: Maybe an Irish thing, with the green and Flynn working for a McCarthy. There'd been talk that he might have an elbow injury but his arm looked strong to me.

F: The good news is that the leaders in the NFC North apparently don't want to lead very much. The Bears fell in St. Louis and the Lions, for the second straight week, couldn't hold a lead and lost at home to Tampa Bay.

A: Which means the tie and a 5-5-1 record has the Pack only a half-game behind those two instead of a game and half with five to play.

F: Now they face a mega-game against Megatron—super-receiver Calvin Johnson, who missed the matchup at Lambeau Field. 

A: Just like the previous week, at times the defensive backs looked like they didn't know where they were supposed to be. I wonder if Dom Capers' defensive schemes are too complicated. And of course they're playing short-handed because of so many injuries. But whoever's out there better do some better tackling if they expect to win this division!

 

A NEW PRINCIPALITY

F: Wow, Prince Fielder's reign in Detroit only lasted two years.

A: Two lousy post-seasons for the Tigers helped convince the Tigers to unload the big guy and his big contract on the Rangers for Ian Kinsler. Gee, with all that heat in Texas he might melt a bit.

F: In five post-season series for Detroit Fielder hit .196 (18 for 92) with only one homer and three RBIs.

A: Plus he had a pretty mediocre regular season, by the standards he set with the Brewers.

F: This year he hit .279 with 25 homers and 106 RBIs. In 2011, his last year here, he was .299, 38 and 120.

A: This move helps the Tigers a lot. It frees up money for them to lock in the Cy Young Award winner, Max Scherzer.

F: Fielder's contract has seven years and $168 million left. Detroit is kicking in $30 million, so essentially he's free for the Rangers next year. But that still leaves $138 million to pony up. Kinsler doesn't come cheap either, but he has "only" $57 million coming over the next four years.

A: He's a quality player, although as a second baseman he can get banged up on double plays. But with Prince gone the Tigers can move Miguel Cabrera from third to first, instead of having both him and Prince as bad defenders on the corners.

F: Fielder stands to benefit in Texas, which is a better park for long-ball hitters, right?

A: Absolutely. The Rangers kind of fizzled, power-wise, this year.

F: Well, the deal is another reminder that grand plans and huge contracts can turn into problems pretty quickly.

 

McCANN SADDLES UP

F: As if you needed another reason to dislike Brian McCann, now he'll be wearing pinstripes.

A: I hadn't heard that!

F: Yup, the catcher who blocked Carlos Gomez's jog to the plate after a late-season homer has left Atlanta as a free agent for my Yankees—for a mere $85 million over five years.

A: I thought the Yanks were trying to control costs so they could stay under next year's harsh luxury-tax consequences.

F: There were pieces in the New York tabloids about how that strategy looks done, although a lot depends on what happens with free-agent Robinson Cano and persona non grata Alex Rodriguez. Among other things, the Yankees apparently are targeting Carlos Beltran too.

A: Well, McCann has always been a productive player, although he seems to think he's been appointed as THE official judge of how the game should be played.

F: I know he's at the top of your Arrogance Meter.

A: If he'd been born in the 19th century I'm sure he'd have been out west laying down the law on the right way to run a cattle drive. Marshal McCann!

F: The Yankees could sure use some consistent offense from the catcher's spot. The tabloids ran charts showing that by himself he surpassed the four Yankee catchers this year in batting (.256 to .213), homers (20 to 8) and RBIs (57 to 43).

A: But he's nothing special defensively, and he's sure to wear down over five more years.

F: His run production has already started to sink. He's had three seasons with 90-plus RBIs, but none since 2009. But as a lefty hitter with 20-plus homers in seven of his eight full seasons, he should have some fun with Yankee Stadium's short porch.

A: Hey, the Brewers host the Yankees next year, ain'a?

F: Yup, in May.

A: I can imagine what McCann's welcome will be like, especially when Go-Go comes up.

 

LEAST IN THE EAST

F: I saw the heartbreaking way the Bucks lost to the 76ers because I was visiting a sister in the Philly area and caught the telecast there. A 10-point lead with two minutes left turns into a last-second tying three-pointer and an overtime collapse.

A: If you didn't know which team was assumed to be "tanking" this season you'd never have guessed it was the Sixers.

F: And then the next night at home, the Bucks scored a crummy 72 points in getting smoked by Charlotte.

A: I didn't watch that one, I'm relieved to say.

F: So the Bucks went into this week at 2-10, the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

A: And an East that, except for Miami and Indiana, is terrible! Chicago had a shot to compete for the conference title, but with Derrick Rose wrecking his other knee the Bulls are done.

F: Plus the Knicks and Nets, who were supposed to be so strong, have been terrible.

A: I've read recently about how Jason Kidd apparently doesn't know what to do with that dysfunctional Brooklyn bunch.

F: So potentially there's a relatively high playoff seeding ripe for the taking, but it sure doesn't look like the Bucks can take it.

A: Not just because Larry Sanders is out for a while because of that bar fight. But all the other injuries they've had, and the fact that they started right away during training camp. Larry Drew has never really had an extended period where he could get a sense of what rotations he could develop.

F: Now it looks like this could be a genuinely terrible season—an unintentional tanking.

A: And with the Bucks' luck, they'd land the No. 1 pick in next year's super-rich draft and that guy would be out for the season before training camp ended.

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek has never played to a tie.

 

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