When your team has a 2-10 record and no chance of making the playoffs, a player can be easily tempted to mail it in. That was the situation facing the Green Bay Packers last Sunday night at Lambeau Field. The struggling Detroit Lions were in town, and it was a frigid 14 degrees. Nothing to play for but "pride." Yet, the Packers responded in positive fashion. They were professional. They scratched and clawed their way to a 16-13 overtime victory, and I was impressed with the way they conducted themselves. They found a way to win when it might have been very easy to just go through the motions.
It was kind of a crazy game with some questionable calls by the referees. The Packers caught a huge break on Samkon Gado's "forward pass" out of the end zone. Green Bay got away with one there. I also thought the Lions helped the Packers a great deal at times especially in the overtime with the personal foul call on Shaun Rogers for his late, out-of-bounds hit on Gado. That put Green Bay in range for the winning field goal. Detroit's play calling should have raised a few eyebrows, too when Jeff Garcia was stuffed on fourth down at the goal line with seven minutes left in regulation play. A field goal would have given them the lead and put even more pressure on the Packers offense.
Having said all of that, the Packers still came out of it with a win. They did it with a decent running game and a tenacious, never-say-die defense. On defense Green Bay's run stopping ability in short yardage situations was outstanding. Grady Jackson led the charge, plugging up the middle and just plain winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. He got great inside penetration over the center and, as a result the Packers defensive line blew up several key plays. The defense deserves a lot of credit especially after Green Bay's first offensive series when Brett Favre lost the handle on the football and fumbled. Detroit was in great position for a big score early, but the defense forced them to settle for a field goal. That served notice to Detroit that the Packers were going to battle them all night long.
As for the running game, I saw some great efforts from Gado and from the entire offensive line. The Packers offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and that was impressive because the Lions have a pretty stout defensive front four. I thought the Packers executed an intelligent game plan -- not trying to muscle the ball up the middle against Rogers and his big playmates. Instead Green Bay ran very effectively on the outside slant plays off tackle. Gado showed great patience in waiting for the holes to open up. He waited for his linemen to make their blocks and he was rewarded several times, including his beautiful 64-yard touchdown run down the sidelines. It was a textbook example of the stretch play, and once that final seal block was made Gado was off to the races. It was great to see Green Bay's running game be consistent throughout the entire course of the game not just one or two good series here or there. That allowed Favreto manage the game instead of having the pressure to continually come up with the big play.
One other note about Gado: I really like the professional approach he brings to his game. It's refreshing to see a rookie with his head on straight. A lot of young guys come in and are not as receptive or as professional as Samkon has been, and it's evident that he is a very intelligent player. To come in and learn the offense as quickly as he has and to be as effective as he's been for the past five weeks is no easy feat. Gado has done more than the Packers could possibly have expected when they picked him up on the free agent wire. He's been a pleasant surprise and he deserves a lot of credit for working incredibly hard with running backs coach Edgar Bennett in learning the offensive schemes and game plans. Gado has been so impressive that the hot topic on many of my radio shows last week was on whether he is good enough to allow the Packers to not worry about the running back situation during the next NFL draft. Frankly I think he is. For him to be so green and yet so productive tells me he's just going to get better. With his attitude, professionalism and mental approach to the game, Gado could be the Packers' number one guy next year if Ahman Green is not able to come back at 100 percent. At worst Gado should fit in well with the rest of the running back rotation and give the Packers real depth at the position.
As I surveyed the scene at Lambeau Field Sunday night, one other thing struck me -- the incredible Sixth Man. Of course I'm talking about the great Packers fans. It was an amazing atmosphere for a team that was 2-10. I noticed it right from the beginning of the evening. I was doing my weekly pre-game show at a restaurant near the stadium, and it was a jam-packed, exciting atmosphere. You never would have guessed that this was a "meaningless" game. It's just a tribute to the people of Wisconsin. Packers fans are second to none and they are as loyal as it gets. They were starving for a win just as much as the players. These fans really stand behind their team and, as a former player, I can tell you that it means an awful lot to the players.
The Baltimore Ravens are up next on Monday Night Football. Once again, it will be a primetime opportunity for the players because everybody in the nation gets to watch your team play. For a lot of the younger players, it's a chance to really make a name for themselves not only for this year but to impress the coaches as they go through their evaluation process for next season. From the Packers' emotional standpoint, it will definitely be worth winning two in a row.
Don "Majik" Majkowski was inducted into the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame earlier this year. His career for the Packers spanned six seasons (1987-92), including being named to the Pro Bowl in 1989 when he led the NFL in passing yards. In addition to his duties with Packers.com, Majik provides football analysis for WSSP-AM, SportsRadio 1250 in Milwaukee, WDUZ SportsRadio 107.5 & 1400 The Fan in Green Bay, WTSO - ESPN 1070 in Madison, WDEZ in Wausau, and WIZD in Stevens Point. Visit Majik's Web site, www.majiknetwork.net, for more information.