DETROIT—In just four short days,
This was nothing new. It has been this way for the Packers since they lost their starting quarterback,
“We’re in this to win games and we haven’t won a game in five weeks,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “You don’t want to put everything on one man, but I think it’s obvious how important Aaron Rodgers is to us.”
How important is he? The Packers haven’t won a meaningful game without him. That’s not an opinion, that’s a fact.
Maybe the saddest sight of the whole day occurred in pregame warmups, when Rodgers was caught by television throwing a football. He looked so natural, so able. If only he could play in this, the biggest game of the season.
When he left the field on Nov. 4 with a broken collarbone, the Packers had a 3-0 lead over the Bears. They were running the ball and stopping the run better than they had at any time since before their Super Bowl season of 2010. The Packers were on a four-game winning streak. They were one of the hottest teams in the league and they were building toward a big finish that would carry them into the playoffs as a hot team to be feared.
Five weeks, four losses and one tie later, everything about the Packers is in decline, including their prospects for the remainder of this season. The playoffs are now a reach.
The Packers ran for 24 yards on Thursday; the Lions ran for 241. Everything has declined since Rodgers was injured, including an always dependable passing game. It was Flynn that set team records for yardage and touchdown passes in the 2011 finale against the Lions.
“They have a lot of the same guys, but they’re a different defense,” Flynn said of the Lions.
The Packers offense has a lot of the same guys, too, but it has clearly been a different offense since Rodgers’ collarbone and the Packers’ season were simultaneously fractured.
How is it that the absence of a quarterback has caused such a fall on defense? It’s the great mystery, but the facts suggest a strong correlation.
“They dared us to throw the football and they won,” McCarthy said.
This was the kind of game for which Rodgers had become famous for winning. The defense would give up a lot of yards, as the 2011 defense did, but it would take the ball away a few times, as it did in 2011 and on Thursday, and Rodgers would capitalize on those takeaways by scoring and putting pressure on the Packers’ opponent to do the same. Patience didn’t belong to the Packers’ opponents in 2011, but it did to the Lions on this Thanksgiving Day because at no time were the Packers a threat to score.
“We were still optimistic,” Flynn said of the Packers’ mood at halftime, trailing 17-10. “We knew that’s not us out there.”
It was the Packers, but not Rodgers’ Packers, and the Packers without Rodgers aren’t the Packers.
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