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We have reached decision time

Please, blow up the rulebook and start over


Jamie from Racine, WI

Vic, thanks for the great column. You continue to insist the problem with the Packers is not the play-calling, and I have no reason to doubt that. On the other hand, something happened to this Lions team we're going to face on Thursday when they replaced their offensive coordinator/play-caller. What's the difference? Same players, different what?

For Jim Bob Cooter's first game as Lions play-caller, the Lions offense was ranked No. 26 overall, No. 32 in rushing and No. 9 in passing. After three consecutive wins, that offense is ranked No. 23 overall, No. 32 in rushing and No. 7 in passing. The bigger gains are on defense. Heading into that Week 10 game in Green Bay, the Lions defense was ranked No. 26 overall, No. 30 against the run and No. 18 against the pass. Currently, the Lions defense is ranked No. 18 overall, No. 22 against the run and No. 16 against the pass. So, my answer to your question would be the difference in the Lions is they got better, especially on defense. Be that as it may, I applaud your plays, not players effort. That was an inventively tricky way to approach that question and, for a moment, I thought you had me, but the facts bailed me out. Once again, I can say without a shadow of a doubt, it's players, not plays. I am unbelievably good at this.

Randy from Portage, WI

Not happy about the Packers loss to the Bears but feeling much better after reading the team's responses. In my opinion, they are owning it and working hard. I gave up on this team too early in 2010. I won't do the same this year. In weeks to come, I think we'll be pleased. Also, on your comments that a rematch with Seattle in Green Bay is kismet, I see it as middle seeds in the divisional round.

I don't think Seattle will be a middle seed. I see the Seahawks as a five or six. They need to get Marshawn Lynch back and start pounding the ball. The Seahawks defense isn't the same without Lynch. If they get Lynch back, the Seahawks will be dangerous.

Paul from Farnborough, UK

Vic, when we seem to be going through a sticky patch of form, why do I always hear we're getting back to basics, or we're going to work on the fundamentals? Shouldn't those things already be ingrained in a player's psyche by now?

FULL CONSISTENCY? Forget about it. You keep hearing about getting back to basics because that's what wins. I heard it nearly every year for all the years I covered Chuck Noll's teams. There was always a point in the season when performance declined and Chuck would say, "It's time to get back to basics." Coach McCarthy would've been a young fan back then. Maybe he read Chuck's remarks in the newspaper and bought into it. Or maybe Coach McCarthy heard Marty Schottenheimer use those words when Coach McCarthy coached for Coach Schottenheimer, who played briefly for Coach Noll. It's coachspeak, but it's the truth. When a team's performance declines, it's usually because it didn't finish blocks and it missed tackles, and it didn't protect the ball and play with proper technique, etc. Those are examples of the fundamentals of football and they must be taught and re-taught.

Mike from Oconomowoc, WI

Is Ben Roethlisberger the last gunslinger?

Losing Le'Veon Bell is forcing them to play that way. It's surely not the way they want to play. It puts a terrible strain on a secondary that was their major concern heading into the season. There aren't many teams that can win the gunslinger way. It was as though someone had moved the Steelers' logo to the left side of their helmets.

Vic from Green Bay, WI

When this team takes what they want on offense, they will establish an identity. I like to see an offensive line fire out low and drive the defense back. Now I just want to see it done in the fourth quarter when it's a one-score game, instead of three straight passes.

Your identity is what you are, not that to which you aspire. The identity of the 2015 Packers will be decided in what's left of this season. If the Packers rally to overcome their November slide, that rally will become their identity. If the slide continues, their identity will have already been established. We've arrived at decision time.

Bernie from Spokane, WA

Can the identity of this team be defense and running the ball? It clearly is the strength of the team, yet, we never seem to stick with the running game and just eat the clock. We have a 1-2 punch at running back. Why not run it 30 times?

The mania for identity is greater this year than I can ever remember. I think Coach McCarthy caused this with that "Hero's Journey" stuff. Yes, the Packers can establish an identity for be a run-the-ball, play-defense team. Whatever it takes, right? Just win, baby, because you want winning, not losing, to be your identity.

A.J. from New Orleans, LA

Vic, I don't get it. Lacy couldn't be stopped, yet, Aaron still had over 40 attempts. What was up with that?

Aaron Rodgers attempted 20 of his 43 passes in the fourth quarter, when the score and the clock forced the Packers to pass. Prior to that point in the game, the Packers possessed a nice mix of run and pass.

Colton from Verona, WI

Vic, I was at the game with my wife on the eve of my birthday. I was disappointed with the result, and I must admit the weather was treacherous. I was ringing water out of my insulated gloves throughout the second half. I thought of you often and smiled when I compared the pros and cons of our vantage points.

It got terribly stuffy in the press box. I had to loosen my collar.

Tabb from St. Louis, MO

You've said a team will take on its coach's personality. It seems like the defense and special teams have a lot of McCarthy, but the same can't be said about the offense. Mind you, I do not equate winning with fire, the offense simply looks gassed.

That's not what I mean by taking on the personality of its coach. That's little picture stuff that's formed by the team's personnel. It's the big-picture personality of a team that reflects its leadership. Does it play with resolve? Does it play its best when it matters the most? Does it play with grit and determination? Does it play with an edge? I clearly see Coach McCarthy's stamp on this team. We can talk about this more in the future; I think it's a big deal. If a team doesn't reflect its coach's personality, it'll undergo changes until it does. Strong-willed coaches will not coach "another man's" team.

Matt from Mt. Pleasant, WI

Vic, watching Bill Belichick's postgame interview was interesting to me. The reporters seemed hesitant to ask any questions, despite a pretty big story. Have you ever been scared to ask a question?

It happened to me one time. It was a question I didn't want to ask, and I was fortunate another man asked it. It was late in Coach Noll's career. The team was doing poorly and Coach Noll was at the age when men retire. The question needed to be asked. I couldn't do it.

Ryan from Elgin, IL

Your old friend is here at last. What do you think your old friend will be telling you in the next two weeks?

Two weeks? How about this week? The big game is here, Ryan. Three days from now, the Packers will be playing a game that could determine this team's fate. I don't know if that'll be true or not, but I think we've reached the point in the season that we need to consider the possibility the next game is THE game.

Nathan from Eau Claire, WI

As I watched the Patriots, I noticed they put the receivers in motion so they can't be jammed. Why aren't more teams doing this?

Maybe they want to invite the jam because they believe their receivers will defeat it and achieve immediate separation. Why do something you don't have to do?

Rick from San Marcos, TX

Vic, you called it. Denver was the team to knock off the Patriots. How do you feel that game changed the landscape of the AFC?

I don't think I called it. What I might've said is the Broncos have the secondary to beat Brady, which is to say a secondary that could match up with the Patriots' pass game. Last night, the No. 1 pass defense defeated the No. 1 pass offense. It's all about how personnel matches up. How does that game impact the AFC? Not much. If the two teams play in New England, the advantage would shift to the Patriots.

Sean from Milwaukee, WI

Vic, did the Patriots lose their identity on Sunday?

Because of one game? I think the Patriots' identity is much too strong for one game to change it.

Jonathan from St. Joseph, MO

Did the referees bail out the Broncos last night?

You can apply that question to every game. The officiating is the No. 1 story in too many games. It's a source of great frustration. In the Seattle game, Phil Simms, Jim Nantz, Mike Carey and Walt Anderson all proved they don't know what a catch is. I laughed out loud, and then I went upstairs and arranged my sock drawer. The catch thing has become painful. The guy that invented the Calvin Johnson rule has become public enemy No. 1. Now we've got concussion protocol, and rightfully so, but it can force a quarterback to leave the game after he's been hit in the head on a play that was penalized. What's the message? Take the penalty and force the quarterback out of the game. Maybe the NFL SHOULD adopt the college targeting rule. I don't know what the answers are, and I really mean that. I've covered this game for 44 years and I genuinely don't know what a catch is. It's not the officials' fault. Tommy Bell and Jim Tunney are legendary referees, the standard by which officials are judged, but I don't think they could've officiated today's game. If I was Roger Goodell, I'd order Dean Blandino to blow up the rulebook and start over. The frustration level for fans is overwhelming. Be that as it may, the NFL's popularity continues to rise, so apparently the fans like it. I don't.

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