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Monday, Dec. 30, 2013

Green Bay Packers: Hey, You Never Know

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Admit it, Packer fans. You never truly thought they'd have an easy time at Soldier Field, even with Aaron Rodgers back and the Bears coming off a disaster in Philadelphia. But even for a December played on the brink of despair, this game was...well, you find the best word.

A phone call from Long Island went out Sunday evening...

 

Frank: Are you breathing?

Artie: I think I am. That was quite a game.

F: That's more restrained than I expected, especially since it meant bringing the playoffs to Lambeau Field.

A: But against the 49ers, and the Pack's had such great success against them lately. But come to think of it, the season opener was hardly a blowout; a few plays here and there decided things. Unlike last year's playoffs when San Fran just stomped 'em.

F: I think it's true that the "Lambeau Mystique," with the frozen tundra supposedly numbing playoff opponents, has faded.

A: Your Giants debunked it but good the last two times they made a post-season visit.

F: But it's still better to play in front of your own fans. Another question is whether this amazing win, on top of the amazing comeback at Dallas, gives the Packers some kind of momentum. If such a thing exists, this team should have it.

A: But it's been such a strange year in the NFL. So much has been so unpredictable. A lot of people had Houston projected for the Super Bowl; now the Texans will get the first draft pick. Some folks predicted a Houston-Atlanta final; together they were 6-26!

F: Which means it's utterly possible the Packers could repeat their run to the Super Bowl of three years ago.

A: Possible, sure, but I don't think the defense is capable of that kind of run—especially with Clay Matthews out again. I don't know how it compares to the 2010-'11 defense in terms of rankings, but the Bears sure were able to move the ball.

F: After playing horribly in Philly when they could have locked up the division. Along with the bad luck of missing Rodgers for so long the Packers had the good luck to share a division with the Bears and Lions, who seemed determined to blow their chances.

A: Couldn't happen to two better bunches.

F: Luck, of course, plays a role in every game. All sorts of odd things can happen, like that wild Rodgers fumble that Jarrett Boykin, with a little urging, turned into a recovery and touchdown.

A: It was freakish, yeah, but the Bears could have picked up the ball too.

F: A linebacker was about to scoop it up but didn't, assuming it was an incomplete pass. But as they say, you've got to "play the whistle," and there was none! Luck was equally available to both teams...

A: Just sitting there waiting, ain'a?

F: So there's luck, yes, but there's also playing smart. Not that the Packers were quick to grab the ball; I suspect the play's being closer to their sideline helped them hear the shouts from the bench that got Rodgers to alert Boykin.

A: Whatever it was, I'll take it.

F: Here's some more about luck. The week after the Packers tied the Vikings, the Bears went into overtime at Minnesota. The Vikings had a winning field goal wiped out by penalty and Robbie Gould had a kick to win it for Chicago—and he missed.

A: One of only three misses he had all season.

F: And Minnesota finally made the winning kick. So the Packers were lucky the Bears didn't capitalize on THEIR luck. However it happens, you've gotta win the games!

A: Which the Lions didn't do the last FOUR weeks. What a choke!

F: Sure, one of those losses was on a 61-yard field goal, but I just don't think the Lions have much character. And I'd say the Packers do have something special—call it character or fortitude or professionalism—to have weathered not only the loss of Rodgers but all their other injuries.

A: Rogers and Randall Cobb had great timing in getting back on the field. They were certainly difference-makers.

F: A few weeks ago I said this Rodgers thing might turn out very well. If they could keep their heads above water they might get a well-rested Rodgers back just in time for a playoff surge.

A: Same thing with Cobb.

F: Three years ago the Packers had six losses and wouldn't have made the playoffs if the Giants hadn't blown a 21-point fourth-quarter lead to the Eagles in a December game. They had a little luck, but they made it pay off.

A: I don't recall having the same concern about the defense three years ago, I got to tell you.

F: But as you say, the season has been amazingly unpredictable. You can take heart in the slogan I've been hearing in commercials for New York state's lottery games.

A: And these words of wisdom are...

F: Well, let's make them this week's headline.

 

Frank Clines covered sports for The Milwaukee Journal and the Journal Sentinel. Art Kumbalek always has momentum.