The Green Bay Packers' loss at Kansas City might be an early Christmas present for head coach Mike McCarthy and his team. I think more than anything, it now allows the Packers to re-focus their energies on simply winning the Super Bowl. I believe the Packers actually now have less pressure on them. Consider how much pressure they were already under, trying to chase the perfect season.
The 19-14 loss on Sunday serves as a wake-up call to a team that may have believed they were unbeatable. Certainly, the Packers now understand that they are not good enough to simply show up each and every Sunday and win. The Packers still need to bring their 'A game' if they are to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the second straight season.
Don't think for a moment that the loss on Sunday is being simply viewed as a glitch by Mike McCarthy. The Packers are all of a sudden experiencing some serious problems, as the injury bug has bitten Green Bay at the wrong time of the season. WR Greg Jennings is already out nursing a sprained knee, and starting right tackle Brian Bulaga and backup lineman Derrick Sherrod suffered respective injuries vs. KC. As a result, the Packers vaunted offence looked like a shadow of itself. Green Bay struggled with pass protection, receivers couldn't get open, and because of it, QB Aaron Rodgers completed less than 50% of his passes! We're talking about the front runner for the MVP award this season!
With just two weeks left in the regular season, it is now imperative that the Packers find a way to deal with their injuries and get back to playing their best football. The Packers will be the first to tell you how important it is to be peaking at this point of the season, and it will be interesting to see how Green Bay is able to rebound from this loss.
In The Zone
Drew Brees looks like he's in the zone. In a season where legendary QB records are set to fall by the wayside, Drew Brees has looked every bit as deserving for the league MVP award as Aaron Rodgers.
On Sunday, Brees carved through the Minnesota Vikings with the precision of a surgeon. In fact, he became the first player in NFL history to throw for at least 400 yards and five TDs, while completing at least 80% of his passes and not throwing an INT. That's a pretty good day at the office.
Brees said after the game that he's never felt as comfortable in Sean Payton's offence as he feels right now. Well, that comfort demonstrates itself each and every Sunday. Brees has already set another NFL record with 11 games of at least 300 passing yards.
Having played for Sean Payton, I can tell you that Brees' success this year has been absolutely remarkable to watch. Payton's offence is very complicated. Payton is a Jon Gruden disciple, and therefore his system is very wordy and multiple. Payton's modified West Coast attack demands that the QB understand multiple shifts, motions, formations and personnel packages. Payton will only allow his QB as much control in his system, that he proves he can handle, and Brees has proven he can handle it all. Brees reads.coverages as quickly as anyone in the NFL and I continue to marvel at how quickly he plays the game. Brees gets set up quickly, makes decisions quickly and gets rid of the football fast. His accuracy is off the charts.
Brees is playing so well that I believe the Saints could once again travel into Lambeau Field in January, and in nasty conditions, throw the football 40+ times and beat Green Bay. What an NFC title game that would be. Who knows, the MVP winner may be wearing the gold and black helmet if and when they meet. Wouldn't be a surprise to me.
Cause for Concern
Buffalo Bills fans are probably feeling very concerned right now. After beginning the year with a surprising 4-1 record, the Bills have been brought back to reality, losing seven in a row, and will miss the playoffs for the 12th straight season. Not much has gone right over the past eight weeks on the field, and there may be a giant problem developing off the field as well.
After the surprising start, the Buffalo Bills front office was quick to award QB Ryan Fitzpatrick with a 6-year, $59 million deal (with $24 million guaranteed), making the former Harvard standout the franchise QB of the team for years to come. Many wondered whether or not it was premature to award a journeyman QB with such a long-term commitment only six games into the season. The fears are becoming reality.
Over the seven-game losing skid, Fitzpatrick has looked nothing like what he did earlier this year. Instead of his efficient play and ability to manage games, Fitzpatrick has been turnover prone, throwing 12 INTS during the seven-game losing streak, and has not looked in rhythm. I believe Fitzpatrick is at times pressing, trying to do too much rather than just operate within his system. Part of him trying to do too much is a result of attempting to snap the losing skid, but I also believe he feels tremendous pressure to justify his lucrative contract. That is something that he simply cannot afford to do.
On Sunday, I was watching legendary Bills QB Jim Kelly consoling Fitzpatrick on the sidelines during their loss to division rival Miami, and I wondered what was going through his head. He's been given a lot of money, and is going to be compared to Kelly on each and every passing attempt he makes. The front office expects him to outduel the likes of Tom Brady twice a year, in search of the coveted AFC East title. That is a lot of pressure!
But to whom much is given, much is expected, and the Bills front office, as well as their fan base, expect a lot. The deal is done, and like it or not, they are stuck with Fitzpatrick for at least the next couple of years. Fitzpatrick will want another opportunity to prove himself, and it appears that next season can't come soon enough for everybody in Buffalo, again.
I've been so impressed with the Detroit Lions this season. I remember at the start of the year when they were 5-0, everyone believed they were the new darling in the NFL. Then came a 2-5 stretch that brought the Lions and NFL fans back down to reality. But the Lions have clawed their way back, and have won their last two games in dramatic fashion, and as a result, are in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
I give a lot of the credit to QB Matthew Stafford because he has been the rock for this team all season long. Stafford has demonstrated outstanding leadership, and I harken back to the off-season when he was organizing workouts in the midst of the lockout. He went out of his way to further develop his chemistry with Calvin Johnson and the rest of his WRs, and that chemistry has demonstrated itself on a weekly basis. In fact, Stafford to Johnson has become one of the NFL's premier QB-WR tandems.
While this team was fighting various injuries early this season, Stafford was able to stay on the field and off the injury lists for the first time in his career, and as a result, the Lions are currently 4th in the NFL in scoring, averaging 28 points per game, and 5th in passing offense, with 283 passing yards/game.
Finally, for the first time since Barry Sanders, the Detroit Lions have an identity. Matthew Stafford has become the face of the franchise, and with over 4000 yards passing, he has quickly become one of the game's elite signal callers. Two games remain on the regular season schedule against San Diego and Green Bay. It's a tall task, but Stafford is on the cusp of leading his team somewhere where they haven't been in 12 years.