GREEN BAY—A press conference-ending exchange between Coach Mike McCarthy and a reporter on Wednesday provided the most precise and honest evaluation of the Packers' season and the team's prospects for the future.
The last question of McCarthy's season-ender caught the coach by surprise: From an offensive standpoint, do you think you're built to be able to win these games late in the year?
"Hell yeah. Don't you think so?" McCarthy was genuinely perplexed by the question.
"I'm asking," the reporter said.
"My goodness," McCarthy said, emotion clearly beginning to build in him. "I can't believe you asked me that. You guys got on me about running the ball forever. We run it as good as anybody in the league. We've got the best quarterback in football."
Then came a counter from the reporter, a reference to some recent failures against the 49ers in the playoffs, and the fuse was lit and burning rapidly.
"I'll put our offense up against anybody's. We'll play anywhere; cold, hot, rain, snow. We're built the right way is my answer," McCarthy shot back. With that, he left the podium.
Evaluation complete. Offense built? Check.
If you're looking for something from the Packers' 2013 season to warm your winter, look no further than the performance of the team's offense. In 2013, the Packers established an elite running game to join its already elite passing game, giving the Packers one of the two most well-rounded offenses in the league. The other one belongs to the Eagles, but the Packers didn't have to hire a new coach and install a whole new offensive philosophy to achieve success.
The Packers finished the season as the league's No. 3 offense; seventh in rushing and sixth in passing. Remember the offense that couldn't run the ball and was chided for being soft? That all ended in 2013. The commitment McCarthy made to the running game and the arrival of Eddie Lacy changed it all.
Tuesday, June 11, is the day it changed, or at least that's the day change was promised. The promise was in response to a reporter's question about McCarthy's expectations for the running game. The coach's answer ended with this: "We'll be better, I promise you that. Big letters."
It was the seminal moment in last spring's OTAs. Seldom is something so bold said before the pads go on, but the coach let it fly, just as he did on Wednesday.
"We're built the right way." Remember those words.
When you get all done blaming everyone from Dom Capers for the team's defensive failures to McCarthy for his play-calling from the 9-yard line on Sunday to the doctor who dared do what was in the best interests of his patient, take a few minutes to do your own evaluation of the 2013 season and where it leaves the Packers going forward. It should start with this: The offense is not only built the right way, it's built to last.
Call it the "Noah's Ark Offense," because it seems to have two of everything: two left tackles, two right tackles, two star receivers, a 1-2 punch at running back and, with the return of Matt Flynn, even two quarterbacks, again.
If you can stop grumbling about the defense, take a look at the Packers offense. It's got eye-popping potential. If it can stay healthy, it can be the best in the league in 2014.
Yes, it is built the right way. It is built to stretch you with the passing game and pound you with the running game. It can spread you out on a warm, sunny day, or in a dome at playoff time, and it can tighten down and play the grunt game with the big boys in the cold.
McCarthy is the guy that made it all happen. We're talking about a rare metamorphosis; leopards do, indeed, change their spots, as evidenced by what the Packers did on offense this past season.
The same coach that won a Super Bowl with a spread offense, wrote a season-long game plan that allowed Lacy to leap into the top 10 of NFL rushers, and achieved a 45-55 run-pass balance.
The Packers' window, indeed, is not closing because the window of a team with an offense as prolific and as deep in talent as the Packers' offense is can't be closed. Consider this: Of the 11 most important offensive statistical categories, the Packers ranked ninth or better in nine of them. You might also want to consider that the Packers were without their best player, the league's best player, for half the season.
Offense isn't the problem. It's the hope.