Category: Packers

Some things never change, NFL QB edition

Pro Football Rumors:

The Jaguars have agreed to trade Nick Foles to the Bears, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). In exchange, the Bears will send a compensatory fourth-round pick to the Jags. The former Super Bowl MVP will restructure his hefty contract as part of the trade, Mike Garafolo of NFL Network tweets.

It’ll be new surroundings for Foles, but he’ll have plenty of familiar faces to help him adjust. Head coach Matt Nagy is among the staffers that have worked with him in the past, which will help with the learning curve.

The Bears have been exploring alternatives to former first-round pick Mitchell Trubisky this offseason, though they’re not necessarily out to replace him. Instead, Foles figures to serve as competition for the soon-to-be 26-year-old.

Trubisky showed plenty of promise in 2018 as he led the Bears to an 11-3 mark in 14 starts, a campaign that resulted in his first ever Pro Bowl nod. However, things got really rocky last year – Trubisky had just 17 touchdowns against ten interceptions and the Bears’ D couldn’t make up for the shortcomings. The Bears went 8-7 in Trubisky’s 15 starts and finished .500 on the season, leaving them short of the playoffs.

Chicago initially insisted after the year that they’d roll with Trubisky in 2020, but reports soon emerged that they were going to look for a veteran to push Trubisky. They’ve been connected to a number of signal-callers including Foles, Andy Dalton, and Teddy Bridgewater, and we heard Monday that they were focused on trading for either Foles or Dalton.

The Bears will take on the last three years of Foles’ contract, which pays a base value of $50M before the restructure. The Jaguars will be left with a substantial dead money hit of $18.75MM in 2020 and a mid-round pick. Jacksonville seems prepared to turn things over to Gardner Minshew, the sixth-rounder who went 6-6 last year as a rookie and finished the season with a top-10 interception rate.

Foles has had plenty of success at Soldier Field, as his last win as a starting quarterback was in Chicago in the wild card round of the playoffs two seasons ago in the infamous ‘double-doink’ game. While the Bears have insisted they aren’t giving up on Trubisky, it would be highly unusual to pay a backup quarterback as much money as Foles is getting, and it would be surprising if he doesn’t take over at some point.

Chicago now has even less draft capital, as they’ve already shipped out a bunch of picks in previous deals. They now have the 43rd and 50th overall selections in next month’s draft, but no other picks in the first four-rounds, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune notes in a tweet breaking down all of their picks.

Keith Olbermann said this in the late 2000s, and now this needs updating:

So the Bears have a quarterback problem. Thus has it been for the length of the era of Rex Grossman — and the eras of Kyle Orton, Brian Griese and Jeff Blake; Chad Hutchinson, Jonathan Quinn, and Craig Krenzel; Kordell Stewart, Chris Chandler, Jim Miller, Cade McNown, Shane Matthews and happy Hank Burris. Well, that takes us all the way back to 2000.

Following Orton’s return three years after the first of his two benchings came the era of Jay Cutler … and Todd Collins, Caleb Hanie, Josh McCown, Jason Campbell, Jimmy Clausen, Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer. That takes us from 2009 to 2017, when the Bears let Cutler leave, signed Mike Glennon and drafted Trubisky.

Bears fans wring their hands when after two games, Rex Grossman’s quarterback rating matches the speed limit. But this is one of the NFL’s great unrecognized traditions. With brief interruptions of stability from the likes of Jim McMahon and Billy Wade, the job has been unsettled since Sid Luckman retired.

Wade was the quarterback when Da Bears won the 1963 NFL title. The next season, Wade was replaced by Rudy Bukich, only to replace Bukich one season later, only to be replaced by Bukich one season after that. Bukich was out by 1967, when Jack Concannon arrived, only to be replaced by Rakestraw for two games. Bobby Douglass and Virgil Carter arrived the next season when the Bears inexplicably cut Rakestraw.

This is how Da Bears could have two Hall of Fame players — running back Gale Sayers and linebacker Dick Butkus — and end up with two winning seasons (their first, 1965, and 1967, the first and last of the Packers’ threepeat NFL titles) and zero playoff berths. (Sayers’ career ended in 1971, two years before Butkus retired.)

There has always been a Rex Grossman, he has always underperformed, and they have always been about to replace him. The Bears have had 13 starting quarterbacks in the last eight seasons and 40 in the last 47. They’ve started Moses Moreno, and Larry Rakestraw, and Doug Flutie for two games in 1986, and Peter Tom Willis — all three of him.

As compared to 13 starting quarterbacks in eight seasons a decade ago, Da Bears have done much better in the past eight seasons — nine starting QBs. Dating back to the 2010 season, when Da Bears teased their fans with an attempt at a Super Bowl run (and needed three quarterbacks to lose the 2010 NFC championship to the Packers), the count is 11 starting QBs in 10 seasons.

Moreover, once the Bears told George Blanda he was too old to do anything but kick any more. This was in 1958; he would quarterback the Raiders in the AFC Championship Game in 1970.

They drafted Bobby Layne and traded him, and they drafted Don Meredith and traded him, because who would need Don Meredith when you already had Ed Brown and Zeke Bratkowski?

So there’s no explaining this revolving door at quarterback for the Chicago Bears. But if history is any indicator, it is sending this message to Chris Leak, the Florida quarterback whom the Bears cut last month: stay in touch, your era may be next.”

A decade later, there still is no explaining this revolving door at quarterback for the Chicago Bears, which indeed remains one of the NFL’s great unrecognized traditions.

 

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

The Packers play the most pressure-packed game of the playoffs, the NFC championship, in San Francisco — that is, Santa Clara — Sunday.

The question is whether this game will be like the Packers’ NFC championship wins at San Francisco in the 1997 season or Chicago in the 2010 season, or more like the Packers’ previous NFC title game losses at Atlanta and before that Seattle. Most experts pick the 49eers to win. One who doesn’t is CBSSports.com’s Pete Prisco:

The 49ers battered and bruised the Packers in the regular season, winning 38-7 in Week 12. San Francisco’s defensive line tossed Aaron Rodgers around like a rag doll, sacking him five times. San Francisco held the Packers to 198 yards that day and Green Bay was 1 for 15 on third down.

That won’t happen here.

Yes, the 49ers are coming off an impressive victory over the Vikings last week, a game where their defense dominated, but the Green Bay offense is much better now than it was in Week 12. Rodgers, who is 0-2 against the 49ers in the playoffs, looked good against Seattle last week.

It will come down to the Packers offensive line against that dominant pass rush? Can it hold up? I think it can.

The Green Bay defense is an aggressive group that loves to play with the lead. But they’ve had issues against the run all year and San Francisco is outstanding running the ball. If the 49ers win it, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could have an easy time of it against the Packers. The offense is keyed off that run game.
I think both offenses will have success here, but in the end I think it will come down to the better quarterback. I am going with Rodgers and the Packers.

January losses

Bill Huber:

The 2014 NFC Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks will live in infamy because of the Packers’ collapse, but the game should have been over before halftime. While Green Bay led 16-0 barely 20 minutes into the game, the margin should have been much more lopsided.

On Green Bay’s first possession, Aaron Rodgers believed he had drawn the Seahawks offside so he threw it deep to Davante Adams but was intercepted in the end zone by Richard Sherman. Moments later, the Packers took over at Seattle’s 19 on an interception by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix but the drive stalled just inside the 2 and they settled for a field goal. The Packers took over at Seattle’s 23 when Brad Jones forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff but the drive stalled at the 2 and they settled for a field goal. Leading 16-0, Green Bay took over at its 44 following another interception by Clinton-Dix but Rodgers returned the favor. In all, the Packers turned four first-half takeaways into just six points and settled for a 16-0 halftime lead.

Seattle got on the board on a fake field goal, with punter Jon Ryan throwing a 19-yard touchdown to lineman Garry Gilliam. Still, with a 19-7 lead, Green Bay appeared to clinch the victory on Morgan Burnett’s interception with 5:04 to play. Outside linebacker Julius Peppers told Burnett to get to the turf – and Burnett did, giving up a likely touchdown that would have driven a final stake into Seattle. Instead, three runs by Eddie Lacy went absolutely nowhere and the Packers punted with 4 minutes to go.

The wheels, of course, fell off from there. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson scored from the 1, Brandon Bostick fumbled the onside kick rather than letting Jordy Nelson field it, Lynch rumbled in from 24 yards for the go-ahead score and Clinton-Dix played as if his cleats were stuck in concrete in giving up the two-point play that gave Seattle a 22-19 lead. A gimpy Rodgers drove the Packers to the tying field goal and overtime. Green Bay, however, never saw the ball in the extra period. Seattle drove 87 yards for the winning touchdown, with Wilson beating a blitz with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse against Tramon Williams.

“You feel like it’s a waste of seven, eight months,” left guard Josh Sitton said a day after the game. “What’s the point of getting this far? I’d have rather not even made the playoffs.

“We kicked their ass up and down the field all day,” Sitton continued. “And there’s no reason we shouldn’t have won the game. Literally one of 10 plays you can pick that if we get it, we win the game. It’s frustrating when you should have won the game and you’re the better team. I thought we were the better team all day except for 3 minutes.”

Added receiver Randall Cobb: “We just fell apart. You look up with 5 minutes left, you say, ‘There’s no way you can lose this game.’ And it just seems like we did everything to lose that game in that last little bit.”

A Rodgers vs. Tom Brady matchup in the Super Bowl would have been a game for the ages. Instead, the Packers wasted a chance to win a second Super Bowl in the Rodgers era. This season, with seemingly everything going Green Bay’s way, will Rodgers ever be in a better position to win a second title than he is this season?

Green Bay leads the series 20-9, including 2-1 in the playoffs. The 2003 playoff game at Lambeau Field went to overtime. Seattle won the toss and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck famously proclaimed, “We want the ball and we’re going to score.” Instead, he threw a pick-six to Al Harris.

“I was just happy I caught the ball. There’s guys who played with me who would tell you my ball skills weren’t that good,” Harris said recently.

In the 2007 playoffs, Seattle took a 14-0 lead just 4 minutes into the game before being buried alive 42-20 at snowy Lambeau Field. Ryan Grant ran for 201 yards and three touchdowns.

In Week 3 of the 2012 season, Seattle beat the Packers 14-12 on Wilson’s “Fail Mary” touchdown pass to Golden Tate that looked like a game-ending interception by M.D. Jennings. Shortly thereafter, the league struck a deal to bring its regular officials back following a contract dispute.

Green Bay has won eight consecutive home games in the series. Seattle’s last win at Lambeau Field came in 1999, a 27-7 romp in which Brett Favre threw four interceptions and Seattle won with Jon Kitna throwing for just 109 yards.

I got to see this across from where I was sitting:

As for Rodgers, Mike Tanier writes:

The more things change in Green Bay, the more Aaron Rodgers stays the same.

Over the last two years, the Packers have swapped out coaches and general managers, revamped their playbook, drastically altered their spending philosophy and completely rebuilt their defense. They’ve changed just about everything except Rodgers and his core entourage: top receiver Davante Adams, multipurpose wingman Aaron Jones, bodyguards David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga.

The massive overhaul allowed the Packers to escape four years of 10-6 (at best) doldrums to finish 13-3, placing them two games away from the Super Bowl. The organization did its part. Now it’s time for Rodgers to do Tom Brady stuff, Hall of Famer stuff, $134 million contract stuff.

The next few weeks are a chance for Rodgers to live up to his reputation after a few too many seasons of coasting on it.

Now, there are two schools of thought when it comes to Rodgers, just as there are two schools of thought about every other NFL quarterback:

The pro-Rodgers argument: He has been the league’s best pure passer and playmaker since 2011, and he has only looked ordinary for long stretches of the last three to five seasons because of stale game plans and weak supporting casts.

The anti-Rodgers argument: His accuracy and big-play capability decline incrementally each year, but he has tuned out coaches and ignored open receivers for so long and has such a huge salary and gift for passive-aggressive blame deflection that no one in Green Bay has the authority or courage to force him to adjust.

The truth about every quarterback always rests somewhere between the capes and the critics. But in this case, the anti-Rodgers camp makes a lot of valid points.

Rodgers finished 12th in the NFL in passer rating this season, right between Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz. He finished 13th in Football Outsiders DVOA, between Watson and Philip Rivers. He finished 21st in ESPN’s QBR, between Giants rookie Daniel Jones and Brady, who had a miserable season by his standards. Rodgers, fully healthy and freed from the predictable Mike McCarthy offense that allegedly held him back, had a middle-of-the-pack season by any statistical standard.

Blame Rodgers’ “lack of weapons” if you like, but he threw for fewer yards, touchdowns and a lower completion rate than Wentz, whose receivers and running backs were pulled from the Pat’s King of Steaks line after a Flyers game. Rodgers had Adams (for most of the year), Jones, a serviceable Jimmy Graham and familiar-if-ordinary receivers like Geronimo Allison and Marquez Valdes-Scantling to throw to, yet Derek Carr outperformed him statistically while throwing to a castoff Ravens tight end and a 5’10” fifth-round pick.

A deeper dive into the data makes Rodgers look even worse. Per Pro Football Reference, Rodgers led the NFL with a Bad Throw Percentage of 21.2 percent. It’s wise to be skeptical of newfangled, subjective-sounding stats like Bad Throw Percentage, but many of the names just below Rodgers on the list (Jameis Winston, Josh Allen, Jared Goff, Mason Rudolph, Old Man Brady) earned reputations this season for throwing too many gopher balls.

Rodgers finished second to Brady with 31 throwaways, per Pro Football Reference; being a veteran and giving up on a play is one thing, but doing it about twice per game when you are supposed to be one of the NFL’s best playmakers is another. And Rodgers was one of 15 qualified quarterbacks with a Dropped Pass rate of less than 5 percent: again, his targets were not to blame for his ordinary numbers.

Dig a little deeper, and some instructive trends emerge.

Rodgers’ efficiency rate in the first quarters of games was 123.5, with nine touchdowns, zero interceptions and a completion percentage of 71.0. In the second quarter, his efficiency rating plunged all the way to 77.2, with a completion rate of 54.6, before balancing out at 94.3 (passer rating) and 62.8 (completion percentage) in the second half. To clarify that heap of statistical splits: Rodgers put up Patrick Mahomes stats in the first quarter and Dwayne Haskins numbers in the second quarter before balancing out in the above-average neighborhood for the rest of the game.

Those splits jibe with what Packers fans saw on the field all year. Rodgers usually looked efficient, and sometimes spectacular, while working within the structure of Matt LaFleur’s offense on the first few Packers drives. But then he became the self-indulgent old stage actor who refused to stick to the script and began improvising. While there were few overt signs of the Rodgers-LaFleur drama some of us anticipated/worried about/licked our chops for when the 40-year-old coach replaced McCarthy, there were too many long stretches in which Rodgers turned up his nose at his initial passing options, scrambled around directing traffic, overthrew a bomb he would have completed in 2014 and scowled impatiently as he walked to the sideline.

The result of Rodgers’ Jekyll-and-Hyde season might have been another 10-6 finish (or worse) if the Packers running game and rebuilt defense didn’t lift them to victory over Washington, the Lions (twice) and the Vikings (twice).

The 36-year-old Rodgers set a Hall of Fame standard for himself from 2010 to ’14. He has fallen well short of that standard in recent seasons. The Packers spent the last two years eliminating the reasons/excuses for his decline. Now it’s time for him to perform to that standard again, because the Packers won’t be able to beat their playoff opponents by scoring 20 to 24 points and trying to squat on the lead.

That doesn’t mean Rodgers must do everything single-handedly. Just the opposite: He must evolve the way the best-of-the-best are supposed to late in their careers. Brady replaced Randy Moss rocketry with a much more surgical approach. Peyton Manning changed teams and coaches at age 36 with his trademark professionalism and reached two Super Bowls. John Elway settled into a run-oriented system at age 36 and won two Super Bowls. They all met new coaches, weapons and realities about their declining skills halfway by learning to thrive in new systems or environments.

If Rodgers cannot lead the Packers to the Super Bowl this year, they’ll likely do even more to accommodate him next year: draft a half-dozen receivers, hold closed-door grievance-airings with LaFleur, sign Antonio Brown (that would go over swell) or whatever. That’s what teams do when they have over $100 million and a decade of organizational identity invested in their quarterback.

But if Rodgers can’t take this Packers team to the Super Bowl, it really means the next thing that must soon change in Green Bay is the quarterback. And it will all be because the quarterback himself refuses to change.

I wonder if Tanier wrote this a dozen years ago about Brett Favre. Change the names of the receivers and running backs, and you could have said basically the same things.

For what it’s worth, this year’s team’s fortunes seem much more dependent on how the defense does, and I predict the defense, not Rodgers, will decide the Packers’ fate Sunday.

 

Red, gold and green

This is not an attack of ’80s music nostalgia.

This is about Wisconsin’s Rose Bowl trip for New Year’s Day — the 10th in UW’s history, but the seventh since Barry Alvarez arrived on campus — and the Packers’ upcoming playoffs.

Each seems to not entirely impress people. The Badgers lost twice to Ohio State (whereas everyone else the Buckeyes played until Clemson lost just once) and had a bad loss to Illinois. No other UW Rose Bowl team had a bad loss on their schedule, except the 1994 (Minnesota), 1999 (Cincinnati), 2010 (Michigan State), 2011 (ditto) and 2012 (five of them) teams. The list does not include the 1998 Badgers, who nonetheless were so unimpressive to ESPN’s Craig James that he called them the worst team to ever get to the Rose Bowl … which then made them the worst team to ever win a Rose Bowl, I guess.

UW in fact never seems to impress anyone because of its traditional plodding style, except perhaps for the Russell Wilson season. When Paul Chryst was UW’s offensive coordinator, the Badgers ran the same plays, but they were much better disguised. They appear to have gone backwards with Chryst as the coach for some reason. Jack Coan hopefully won’t be the quarterback next season (once Graham Mertz is off his redshirt), but there really is no game-breaking receiver on the roster, including Quintez Cephus. On the other hand, Chryst is so far undefeated in bowl games, so whether fans like the style or not, the substance is a lot of wins. (Remember, no one complains about boring winning offenses.)

The thing about the Rose Bowl is that it’s not just about football. The UW Marching Band is in Pasadena for the first time with new director Corey Pompey.

Pompey appears to have made improvements without getting rid of the important things.

The second Bucky vs. Ducky Rose Bowl matchup features the Big Ten’s second best team (which is playing longer than its champion is) against a team that surprised most football observers by upsetting Utah, a team thought to be in contention for the College Football Playoff, in the Pac 12 championship game. The Ducks are 15th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in scoring offense, while Wisconsin is 10th in scoring defense. Wisconsin is 22nd in the FBS in scoring offense, while Oregon is eighth in scoring defense. However, most observers seem to believe the Big T1e4n is a better conference than the Pac 12, which struggles to have a CFP-worthy team and in fact hasn’t had one the past couple of seasons.

This will probably be the key: UW is 14th in rushing offense, while Oregon is 10th in rushing defense. Oregon is 43rd in rushing offense, while UW is eighth in rushing defense. That favors Wisconsin, unless the Badgers put the ball on the ground.

Speaking of unimpressive yet successful, there are the Packers, which had to overcome a 17–3 halftime deficit to beat the Lions on (once again) a game-winning field goal Sunday. That makes the Packers the number two seed for the upcoming NFC playoffs, giving the Packers a week off and a second-round home game against Philadelphia (which beat the Packers on a tipped interception), Seattle or San Francisco (which hammered the Packers in Santa Clara) in round two Jan. 12.

At the risk of grandiose predictions, this team sort of reminds me of the 2010 Packers, which needed to win their final two games of the regular season to get into the playoffs, and then had to win three road games to get to the Super Bowl. Teams with struggling offenses and relatively stout defenses (though there was much complaining about this year’s defense for the number of points they gave up in wins) tend to win games like Sunday’s.

The converse is the 2011 Packers, which were an offensive machine on the way to a 15–1 regular-season record, only to lose at home in their first playoff game. You’ve heard the phrase offense wins games; defense wins championships. (A more amusing take comes from former Vikings coach Bud Grant, who observed, “Defense wins games; offense sells tickets.”)

The NFC frankly is not that good this season, which makes one think any of the six playoff teams could get to the Super Bowl. Yes, that includes Green Bay. The Packers also could lose their first playoff game.

 

Postgame schadenfreude, Early Christmas Present (or Wasted $84 Million) Edition

Everyone knew something had to give when the Packers went to Minnesota Monday night, given that Aaron Rodgers had never won a game at US Bank Stadium, but Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins had never won a Monday Night Football game.

Rodgers is now off the schneid thanks to a fantastic defensive performance, and the Packers are again where they belong, on top of the NFC North Division after their 23–10 win.

You can imagine how happy they are in the Twin Cities. Actually, you don’t have to imagine that, which is the theme of this blog, starting with the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

The majority of the announced 67,157 in attendance — a record for a Vikings game at U.S. Bank Stadium — had long since filed out on Monday night, save for a group of several dozen Packers fans who congregated above the tunnel in the stadium’s southwest corner. They chanted “Go Pack Go,” cheered the Green Bay players — who emerged on their way to the team bus after dispatching the Vikings 23-10 — and collected autographs from the ones who decided to stop and sign.

Not since the 2018 season (and never for the Vikings’ biggest rivals) had the stadium felt so friendly to a visitor. The Vikings entered the day as the NFL’s only undefeated team at home, facing a Packers team that hadn’t won in the building in three tries. It seemed, as the Purple faithful pushed noise levels toward 120 decibels, the perfect stage for Vikings pass rushers to badger Aaron Rodgers, for the team to stand up to a formidable opponent on a big stage and for the Vikings to make their playoff path more favorable.

Instead, the postseason path for these Vikings will consist entirely of road games after a trivial home finale against the Bears on Sunday. They will be the NFC’s No. 6 seed, learning their postseason destination through the results of other games next week, after their last, best opportunity to stand up tall in the regular season slipped through their fingers.

Despite three first-half takeaways against a Packers offense steeped in self-nullification, the Vikings’ chances for their third NFC North title in five years officially expired. They gained only 139 yards, posted seven first downs all night and held the ball for only 22 minutes, 28 seconds, placing a heavy burden on a defense that eventually broke after playing 75 plays.

Aaron Jones’ second touchdown run of the game — a 56-yard burst off the left side of the Green Bay line — closed out the scoring as the Packers scored 20 consecutive points after falling behind 10-3.

Green Bay ran for 187 yards before three Rodgers kneel-downs, taking some of the workload off its quarterback as he misfired on several passes and watched his receivers drop two others. Without Dalvin Cook, though, the Vikings could manage only 57 yards on the ground, while Kirk Cousins threw for only 122 yards and was intercepted by Kevin King for the second time this year.

The Packers clinched their first NFC North title since 2016 with the victory — their first at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“Honestly today and tomorrow, we should let it sting a little bit,” said linebacker Eric Kendricks, who left because of a quadriceps injury and missed the second half. “We should let it sting. We have to know what we did wrong, watch the film, make corrections and things like that. But we should definitely let it sting, then let it go in 24 hours or so and then get back to work. We’re blessed to be able to play again. We worked hard all season to put ourselves in this position, but we have to play better in these games for sure.”

Cousins, who fell to 0-9 on “Monday Night Football,” threaded a touchdown to Stefon Diggs on a 21-yard throw with Jaire Alexander in tight coverage to put the Vikings up 10-3, but was later picked off on a deep ball to Diggs after King — who intercepted Cousins at the end of the game between the teams in Week 2 — broke from the back side of the play.

ESPN’s cameras captured a sideline exchange between Cousins and Diggs after the play where the quarterback appeared to be saying, “I didn’t see the backside corner” on the interception.

There is something strangely appropriate about the Vikings blowing $84 million on a mediocre quarterback, after they spent $25 million on Sam Bradford, who followed Teddy Bridgewater, who followed Christian Ponder, who followed Donovan McNabb, who followed Brett Favre … you get the picture. Since Favre’s first year with the Packers, the Vikings have had 27 different starting quarterbacks … including Favre.

The other appropriate thing is that this is a metropolitan area that likes to waste money on single-purpose sports stadiums. The Twin Cities have a Vikings-only stadium, Minnesota Gophers-only football stadium (because heaven forbid that the Gophers and Vikings share a football stadium), Minnesota Timberwolves-only basketball arena, Minnesota Wild-only hockey arena, and an outdoor baseball stadium because apparently Minnesotans enjoy buying tickets for games they may not actually watch due to rain or snow. That is $2.4 billion for five stadiums used by five teams, which may be why the basketball Gophers play in a 91-year-old arena.

The Strib’s Jim Souhan:

The Vikings missed Dalvin Cook on Monday night.

They missed Kirk Cousins even more.

The Kirk Cousins who played efficiently and sometimes spectacularly since the end of September did not show up for “Monday Night Football” against the Packers. In his place stood Quirk Cousins, master of the bounce pass.

He was almost as bad as a receiver as he was as a quarterback, pratfalling on a third-down route on a trick play that shouldn’t have been necessary.

Cousins’ reputation had previously been soiled by his prime-time performances, some of which could have been excused because he was playing for the laughingstock NFL franchise in Washington.

This was not that. This was Cousins leading a superior roster for a team that was undefeated at U.S. Bank Stadium and enjoying a stunning run of defensive success.

To win this game, all the Vikings needed was competent quarterback play. They didn’t get it, and unless Cousins can change the way he plays in important games, what happened on Monday night will be remembered as a badly imagined prequel to another playoff failure.

If your quarterback can’t lead in a big game, you’d better learn to be happy with the NFL’s consolation prizes — second place in a four-team division and the last of six NFC seeds.

Asked if Cousins looked shaky early in the game, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said: “You know, it’s hard for me to tell when I’m standing on the sideline. I’ll look at the tape and let you know.’’

No, he won’t.

Asked if he was surprised by Cousins’ erratic play, Zimmer said: “I’m not going to get into this ‘Kirk Cousins on Monday night’ thing. Offensively, we didn’t play as well as we could play, I’ll say that. And defensively, we could have played the run better. So there are a lot of things we need to clean up.’’

Cousins is now 0-9 on Monday nights as an NFL quarterback. That statistic can be explained away only if you didn’t watch him short-arm passes in the first quarter on this Monday night.

This season Cousins has staged a comeback against the Broncos, has beaten the Lions twice, has thrown beautiful passes against the Giants and Raiders.

This year, while leading a quality roster, he has played three games against threatening divisional opponents. He is 0-3, and his play led to all three losses.

He threw a killing, unforced interception at Green Bay in September. He looked overwhelmed against a Bears team that went in the tank as soon as the Vikings left town. And Monday, he put up numbers that would have gotten most Vikings quarterbacks — at least those without guaranteed contracts, or with promising backups — benched.

His final stat line on Monday: 16 completions on 31 attempts, 122 yards, one touchdown, one interception and five sacks. The Vikings amassed 139 yards and seven first downs, less than they would expect in a normal half.

With Cook out with dual shoulder injuries, the Vikings tried to run the ball with Mike Boone, and went nowhere. Suddenly Cousins wasn’t throwing play-action passes against tentative defenses. He would have to beat the Packers with accuracy and nerve. He lacked both.

“We’ve got to go back and look at how and why, and certainly the answers to those questions should be of some help to us going forward,’’ Cousins said.

Most NFL players after most losses speak this way: As if a little more time watching video will make all the difference. But if Cousins’ problem is an inability to perform under duress, study won’t help.

If Cousins is the Vikings’ problem in big games, their problem is incurable. Vikings fans seemed to sense that.

With the Packers ahead 23-10 with less than six minutes remaining in the game, Cousins bounced a throw to Ameer Abdullah, and boos began to rain. The boos grew louder when Zimmer decided to punt rather than going for a first down on fourth-and-24 with less than four minutes remaining.

Zimmer made the right decision. Nobody, at that point, wanted to see another Cousins pass.

The Vikings’ radio flagship, KFAN, passed on this Associated Press story:

Asked during the week about Kirk Cousins’ winless mark on Monday nights, Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer told reporters that if his team lost to Green Bay, it wouldt be because of Cousins, who’s having a career year in his second season with the Vikings.

This lackluster offensive performance might not have fallen solely on Cousins, but the $84 million quarterback was unable to pull the offense out of its lethargy against a stifling Packers n’defense in a 23-10 defeat on Monday night.

Cousins finished 16 for 31 for 122 yards, one touchdown and an interception for a 58.8 quarterback rating. Fair or not, he fell to 0-9 as a starter in his career on Monday night. Far more relevant than the time of kickoff or the day of the week was that Cousins’ two worst games of the season came against the Packers, who clinched the NFC North.

“I’m not going to get into this Kirk Cousins on Monday night thing and all this stuff,” Zimmer said after the game. “Offensively, we didn’t play as well as we could play. I’ll say that, OK. Defensively, we could play the run better. So, there’s a lot of things that we need to clean up.”

Even at home, where they were 6-0 coming into the game, the Vikings had just 139 yards of offense. Their longest drive was 31 yards, they had seven first downs on 13 possessions, and they were 4 of 15 on third down.

“When you don’t convert third downs, go three-and-out, you just don’t have that many plays,” Cousins said. “You don’t have many bites at the apple to get going. We certainly did not play well enough from start to finish tonight.”

They had prime opportunities in the first half, after three takeaways by the defense gave them the ball in Green Bay territory each time.

After Eric Kendricks returned a fumble to the 10-yard line to set up Minnesota’s first possession, Mike Boone ran for 5 yards. Then Cousins threw two incompletions to fullback C.J. Ham, the second thrown too high and hard for Ham to catch as it sailed out of bounds and the Vikings settled for a field goal.

After a rare interception by Aaron Rodgers, Cousins capitalized with a touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs for a 10-3 lead.

“They couldn’t play-action pass,” Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. “That’s their bread and butter. They get easy completions for Kirk Cousins. We got a chance to get him to drop back on third down so we could do our job.”

It wasn’t the first time.

Cousins had a season-low 52.9 passer rating in a 21-16 loss at Green Bay earlier this season, including an interception by Kevin King in the end zone with 5:17 remaining when the Vikings had first-and-goal from the 8.

King intercepted Cousins in this game, too, snaring a deep pass intended for Diggs in the third quarter. The Packers then drove 53 yards in eight plays for the go-ahead touchdown.

“Just trying to bring him across the field, and the backside corner sank,” Cousins said. “So he made the play. I probably shouldn’t have brought him across the field. Either take him vertically or progress on.”

Under duress all night, sacked five times, Cousins couldn’t find many open receivers. Diggs, who’s scored in seven straight games against Green Bay, had three catches for 57 yards. Adam Thielen was held without a catch on four targets.

With the loss, Minnesota was locked into the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs.

“Certainly the Packers beat us tonight, so we’ve got to go back and look at how, why and certainly the answers to those questions, in theory, should be of some help going forward, not just if we play them again but in general,” Cousins said. “So we’ll have to study that, and that will be the silver lining is just learning from the mistakes so they get corrected. Then when games up ahead are being played, they don’t repeat themselves.”

Strangely, the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Bob Sansevere couldn’t bring himself to be severe enough about the Vikings. He’s correct in that there is no overwhelming team in the NFC, including the Packers, but if that’s the case shouldn’t the Vikings be better than the occupants of the last NFC playoff spot?

The other question that comes to mind is this. By the Packers’ beating the Lions earlier this season and Wisconsin’s wins over Central Michigan, Michigan and Michigan State, Wisconsin owns Michigan. With UW’s win over the Gophers and the Packers’ sweep, does Wisconsin own Minnesota too?

 

Postgame schadenfreude, Which Jones Owns the Cowboys edition

This may be hard to believe for those of us who watched the Packers regularly lose to the Cowboys in Texas Stadium, but in AT&T Stadium Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are 4–0.

Win number four was Sunday’s 34–24 victory that keeps the Packers in first place in the NFC North. Even Cowboys fanboy Skip Bayless feigned being impressed:

Jean-Jacques Taylor found out 10 things, including …

— For now, the Cowboys are frauds — masters of the blowout win over inferior opponents and losses to the good teams they play such as New Orleans and Green Bay. These Cowboys no longer get the benefit of the doubt, and a win over the New York Jets next week isn’t going to change that. The Cowboys need a win over the Eagles heading into the bye week for us to feel good about this team. Anything less than 5-2 is a disaster.

— The front office believes in Dak Prescott. So do the coaches and players. Well, we’re about to see how he fights through the adversity of the last two losses. He’s not solely responsible for the losses by any stretch, but the quarterback gets the credit and the blame. His decision-making must be beyond reproach. It wasn’t Sunday. He could’ve thrown as many as five interceptions. He needs to fix that ASAP. …

— Green Bay running back Aaron Jones has five career 100-yard games. Two have come against the Cowboys. He has 20 career rushing touchdowns, and five have come against Dallas. The 2017 fifth-round pick from UTEP via El Paso Burges High School owns the Cowboys.

— Dak Prescott threw for a career-high 463 yards, including nine completions of 20 yards or more, against Green Bay. The 44 attempts were tied for fourth most of his career. That’s not how the Cowboys want to play. Dallas is 8-11 when Prescott throws more than 32 passes in a game. The Cowboys want to play a ball-control style and throwing it more than 40 times doesn’t allow them to do that. …

— The Cowboys sacked Aaron Rodgers twice. A less mobile quarterback may have gotten sacked three times as much. The Cowboys hit him five times and pressured him much of the first half but couldn’t quite tackle him. He completed 22 of 34 passes for 238 yards and an 85.2 passer rating. It was his worst passer rating against a Garrett-coached team. Surprise. …

— Ezekiel Elliott carried the ball just 12 times, tied for the second lowest of his career. The Cowboys fell behind 31-3 in the third quarter, ending their ability to run. Elliott carried the ball just three times in the second half. Against New Orleans, he had the third-worst output of his career. He’s running well, but the way the game has played out has rendered him ineffective. He would’ve easily run for 100 yards in a normal game with the way the Cowboys were gashing Green Bay’s defense.

— Brett Maher must go. He missed a key field goal with 1:44 left that robbed the Cowboys of an opportunity to try an onside kick. He also missed a 54-yard attempt at the end of the first half. He’s supposed to be a long-distance specialist — and he was kicking in a dome. The Cowboys can’t have much confidence in him. If it affects in any way how Garrett coaches, then Maher needs to get released.

It’s hard to figure out why Maher is struggling. The Packers’ Mason Crosby probably would love to kick at AT&T all the time, given his proclivity at 50-plus-yard field goals that turn out to be a DAGGER! for the home team.

Clarence E. Hill Jr. found out five things, including:

IS DAK PRESCOTT REGRESSING?

Quarterback Dak Prescott’s outstanding play was one of the league’s biggest stories through the first three games of the season. The Cowboys were 3-0, and he was putting up numbers that had him in early MVP conversations.

It was especially notable since the Cowboys are in negotiating a long-term contract extension with Prescott and his agents.

But that was before the last two outings, losses to the Saints and Packers that may cause some to wonder.

Prescott had no touchdowns and an interception in the 12-10 loss to the Saints before throwing a season-high three picks against the Packers.

The Cowboys trailed 31-3 before he rallied them back to 31-17 early in the fourth quarter. His third interception resulted in a Packers field goal to make it 34-17 and all but killed the Cowboys’ comeback.

Prescott’s overall numbers were spectacular, and give him credit for leading the Cowboys back, but this was not one of his better performances.

THE LOST FIRST HALF

The Cowboys trailed 17-0 at halftime to the Green Bay Packers, largely because a slew of mistakes by the offense and a lack of plays on defense. Amari Cooper dropped a pass that hit him both hands and turned into an interception. Quarterback Dak Prescott threw another interception that was a late throw to a crossing Randall Cobb. The defense didn’t tackle and helped drives with penalties. Kicker Brett Maher missed a 54-yard field goal.

The Cowboys offense moved the ball but just couldn’t get anything done. Prescott led the offense in Green Bay territory on four of six first-half possessions. Two ended with interceptions, another with a sack and another with the missed field goal. Cowboys fans booed them as they left the field, and the Packers fans in attendance chanted, “Go Pack Go.”

RUN DEFENSE AND POOR TACKLING

Green Bay running back Aaron Jones had 19 and 21 yards rushing in the Packers’ last two games, against the Eagles and Broncos. The Packers entered Sunday with the 26th ranked rushing offense, averaging 86 yards per game.

So what Jones did to the Cowboys was shocking. His first touchdown run of 18 yards was the longest run by the Packers all season. He added three more touchdown runs, becoming the first Packer to have at least three in a game since 2002.

That he waved goodbye to cornerback Byron Jones on his third score only added insult to the embarrassment. Jones ran untouched for much of the day, and when he didn’t, he broke tackles, ran through tackles and made the Cowboys’ vaunted linebacker corps miss, namely Leighton Vander Esch and Sean Lee.

Jones had 107 yards rushing on the day. His four touchdowns were most ever by one running back against a Cowboys defense in team history.

In fact, based on the Packers radio broadcast, the Packers fans were louder than the Cowboys fans, particularly after the last missed field goal.

Part of the Cowboys’ problem is their quarterback, according to Tim Cowlishaw:

Even on an afternoon when he throws for 225 more yards than the opposing quarterback, Dak Prescott still has much to learn from Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. The game was also a reminder to all of us who might think Prescott or Rodgers are showing themselves this season to be something other than what they have always been.

Not. So. Fast.

Rodgers didn’t even have to be the most productive Aaron in the Green Bay backfield Sunday, leaving running back Aaron Jones to score four touchdowns while rushing for 107 yards, but Rodgers still did all the significant things — mainly no interceptions and no costly sacks until the game was about out of reach but also some insane improvised throws — to lead a 34-24 upset win over the Cowboys.

Prescott did all the wrong things, even while throwing for a career-best 463 yards. It’s fair to mention that his first of three interceptions bounced off of Amari Cooper into the defender’s arms and that one could have argued for interference on the third interception. Then again, Prescott had another interception in the end zone overturned by penalty and there were at least two other up-for-grabs throws that Packers could have brought down.

In short, Dak Prescott is no Aaron Rodgers. That’s not exactly a sin and barely even a shortcoming, but with so many months having been exhausted discussing whether Prescott might become the game’s highest-paid quarterback, Sunday’s loss was instructive.

Five games into the season, the Cowboys are nothing more than a mystery. They beat two of the league’s worst winless teams — Washington and Miami — along with a 2-3 Giants team that’s likely to finish with a losing record. Against New Orleans, the Cowboys lost a tight defensive struggle on the road. Sunday’s defeat was far worse. Playing a team missing Rodgers’ security blanket, Davante Adams, the Cowboys fell behind 31-3 before they even thought about getting involved in the game.

“You have to play winning football,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “You can’t turn the ball over three times. You have to do a better job defending the run.”

We can debate whether or not Garrett actually won over some of his many detractors by not just showing emotion, but getting flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty while spiking his challenge flag after officials missed a Cooper catch on the sidelines.

“All I can tell you is there was abusing language toward an official,” referee Ron Torbert told pool reporter Calvin Watkins. “That’s all I’m prepared to tell you.”

Prescott threw a 27-yard pass to Ezekiel Elliott on the next play, so it’s not as though Garrett’s penalty hurt the team. In fact, they might have played with more energy beyond that point, although, trailing 31-10 to start the fourth quarter, a team is expected to show at least a little something.

But if this team remains a mystery, it’s largely because the same can be said of its quarterback. He checks all the boxes when it comes to career record and most statistical measures. Still, the last two Sundays have at least suggested this team’s probably more closely related to the 10-6 or 9-7 clubs of the last two years than the 13-3 team that took the league by storm in Dak and Zeke’s rookie season.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was quick to point out that Prescott uses setbacks well, that he bounces back quickly and will lose no self-confidence over these last two defeats. But he was also quick to mention that Dak has thrown five interceptions against the Saints and Packers. One might question whether an overabundance of self-confidence is such a great thing under the circumstances.

Before halftime, trailing 17-0, it looked like Prescott might lead the Cowboys on a scoring drive. With Dallas set to receive the second-half kick, it was conceivable the club could cut Green Bay’s lead to 17-14 before Rodgers got back on the field to encourage more chants of “Go Pack Go” from the cheeseheads. But the drive bogged down at the Packers’ 36 and Brett Maher missed a 54-yard field goal.

Maher would basically put the wraps on this game by missing a 33-yarder just inside the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter.

It was a game that showcased more weaknesses than the Cowboys thought they possessed. But on consecutive Sundays, in vastly different situations against good teams, the quarterback has been unable to pass or run the Cowboys out of trouble.

 

Postgame schadenfreude, (insert annoying horn-like sound here) edition

Thanks to the NFL schedule and the Packers’ suddenly developing a defense, blog readers get to examine another Packer win over an archrival from the archrival’s media point o’ view.

But first, here’s the sound of Vikings retreating:

Now start with the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Chip Scoggins:

There is a lot to unpack from the Vikings’ 21-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

The long list includes the Vikings’ horrendous start, Stefon Diggs’ overturned TD, a million penalties, OPIs galore, Dalvin Cook’s brilliance, the defense’s 180 and Kirk Cousins’ turnovers.

Cousins’ mistakes were killer, especially his final interception in the end zone with the Vikings in position to take the lead late in the fourth quarter.

Throwing into double coverage on first down was either a panicky or overly daring move that shouldn’t happen with a veteran quarterback in that critical situation.

Here are other key decisions that created an eventful game:

Scenario 1: Green Bay’s game plan early

Decision: Aaron Rodgers used play-action on the first play of the game to hit a wide-open Davante Adams for a 39-yard catch.

Reaction: Xavier Rhodes had coverage on Adams but released him so not sure if this was busted coverage/miscommunication or what. But it was the start of Rodgers’ masterful first half in which he exploited the Vikings’ thin secondary in building a 21-0 lead.

The Vikings were without nickel corner Mackensie Alexander and Mike Hughes, forcing Jayron Kearse to start at slot/nickel. Kearse gave too much cushion on a 21-yard completion to Adams on the second possession, which caused Mike Zimmer to insert Nate Meadors at nickel. Rodgers promptly went at him on a 12-yard TD catch by Geronimo Allison.

Rodgers completed eight of his first nine passes (the lone incompletion was a throwaway) for 119 yards and two touchdowns. …

Scenario 3: Cousins INT

Decision: Late in the first half, with the Vikings gaining some momentum, Cousins forced a throw to Diggs in the middle of the field with four Packers defenders around him. Four! The ball was deflected and then intercepted by linebacker Preston Smith, giving the Packers the ball back around midfield.

Reaction: That can’t happen. Period. Bad decision by Cousins. …

Scenario 5: Cook’s OPI

Decision: Stefon Diggs scored on a 3-yard TD catch at the end of the first half, but it was overturned when a booth review signaled Cook for pass interference at the goal line.

That pushed the Vikings back 10 yards and they settled for a field goal, cutting the halftime deficit to 21-10.

Reaction: Two thoughts: 1) I honestly didn’t know a PI could be called on a booth review in that situation; 2) I don’t agree with the call.

My colleague Mark Craig is the pool reporter and will get explanation from referee John Hussey after the game on the penalty.

Scenario 6: Diggs’ celebration penalty

Decision: Diggs caught a 45-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter on a beautifully thrown pass by Cousins. One problem. Diggs took his helmet off to celebrate. The penalty moved the extra point back, and Dan Bailey’s kick was blocked, putting the score at 21-16.

Reaction: I hate the rule, but it is a rule.

Scenario 7: Cousins’ INT

Decision: With the Vikings at the Green Bay 8 on first down, Cousins scrambled to his right and floated a pass to Diggs into double coverage in the corner of the end zone. Packers cornerback Kevin King made a leaping interception with 5:10 remaining.

Reaction: Another poor decision by Cousins.

About the offensive pass interference call (one of four in the game, the most I have ever seen in a game), the Strib’s Mark Craig describes what happened:

The confusion began with John Hussey’s open mike catching the referee asking the league office in New York, essentially, “What the heck’s going on?”

“Can you tell me why we’re stopping the game?” Hussey said after Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs with 1 minute, 8 seconds left in the second quarter of Sunday’s 21-16 loss at Lambeau Field.

Diggs clearly caught the ball. And he clearly crossed the goal line to presumably move the Vikings to within a touchdown of a Packers team that led 21-0 after 16 minutes.

But this is the NFL in 2019. Assume nothing. Delay jumping for joy or punching a wall. And put no points on the board until Alberto Riveron, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating, checks to make sure there are no no-calls to be called.

When Hussey huddled in front of the replay monitor longer than usual, you knew Alberto had spotted an infraction.

“We saw clear and obvious visual evidence that No. 33 [Dalvin Cook] significantly hinders the opponent [safety Darnell Savage] while the ball is still in the air,” Riveron told this pool reporter after the game. “Therefore, we negate the score and call offensive pass interference here from New York and penalize them 10 yards.”

The Vikings settled for a field goal and a 21-10 deficit. Throw in Dan Bailey’s missed 47-yard field goal and a blocked point-after attempt from 48 yards — compliments of Stefon Diggs’ 15-yard personal foul for selfishly removing his helmet after a touchdown catch — and, well, the Vikings would have been leading with 5:10 left. And, who knows, Cousins probably doesn’t throw his second horribly forced interception of the day on first-and-goal from the 8.

But …

Don’t blame Riveron. Cook did help clear a path when he blocked Savage while the ball was in the air.

It was offensive pass interference, one of three on the Vikings and four in the game. And the new rule, adopted on a one-year trial basis, is PI calls and no-calls are reviewable from the booth when there’s a turnover, a score or the game is in the final two minutes of a half.

If you’re grumpy about the call, blame the Saints for getting hosed out of a Super Bowl trip on the mother-of-all no calls in last year’s NFC title game.

Coaches, of course, have been complaining about offensive pass interference on the goal line for years. As Star Tribune sports columnist Patrick Reusse points out, nobody complained more bitterly and regularly about pick plays on the goal line than Vikings Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant.

Sunday, the league office and the game officials weren’t shy about calling OPIs. Besides Cook, Diggs and Adam Theilen both were flagged.

“I feel like it was a point of emphasis this game,” said Diggs, who had an animated conversation with field judge Allen Baynes coming off the field at halftime. “I feel like they went the extra mile trying to emphasize it as a whole, so we’ve just got to watch the tape and figure out what’s what.

“I don’t know the call. I haven’t seen it on tape. I asked him at halftime. He said, ‘You can’t close [your] fist, use your shoulder. You can’t extend at all.’”

After the game, coach Mike Zimmer still wasn’t clear what happened on the negated touchdown. He said it was his understanding that it wasn’t on Cook but rather “the second guy that came through.”

But New York made it clear that it definitely was Cook. And that was news to Cook in the locker room after the game.

“That was the play call, we got out and I don’t know [what happened],” he said. “I can’t tell you. I didn’t even know it was on me, to be real. So I can’t respond. I can’t describe it.”

Welcome to the NFL, 2019. If you think you’ve gotten away with pass interference, just remember. Alberto is watching your every move from New York.

 

100 years ago today

Today in 1919, the Green Bay Packers were created.

Tom Oates:

When you grow up in Wisconsin, it’s not if you become a Green Bay Packers fan, it’s when.

For me, the when came the day after Christmas in 1960.

That was when the Packers, two seasons removed from a 1-10-1 record that was the low point in the franchise’s 100-year history, lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL championship game at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. It was the only playoff game a Vince Lombardi-coached team ever lost and it was the very first football game I remember watching on television.

I was only 8 at the time and even though the Packers lost to the Eagles after Chuck Bednarik, the NFL’s last two-way regular, tackled Jim Taylor inside the 10-yard line on the final play, I still have vivid memories of the game.

Norm Van Brocklin hitting Tommy McDonald on a corner route to give the Eagles a 7-6 lead. Bednarik and Tom Brookshier hitting Paul Hornung and knocking the Packers star out of the game with a pinched nerve in his neck. Max McGee defying Lombardi’s orders and running 35 yards from punt formation, setting up his own go-ahead touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. Ted Dean taking the ensuing kickoff back 58 yards, putting the Eagles in position for the game-winning touchdown. And finally, Bednarik dropping Taylor at the 8, preserving the Eagles’ 17-13 victory by sitting on the Packers fullback until time expired.

That’s all it took — one game — and I was hooked for life. An unbreakable bond with the Packers was formed that day.

Of course, my story is similar to millions of others who grew up in Wisconsin and fell in love with the most unique franchise in professional sports, a state treasure that has survived — and thrived — in the NFL’s smallest city. Only my story has a slight twist.

You see, I lived in the Chicago area until 1959, when my dad packed up the family and moved us to Appleton, some 30 miles from Lambeau Field (then known as City Stadium). Talk about serendipitous: We arrived in Packerland two months before Lombardi coached his first game for the franchise he would make famous by winning an unprecedented five NFL titles in seven years.

By the end of Lombardi’s second season, the Packers were in the NFL title game and I was captivated by their players, their coach, their winning ways. So, it seems, was everyone else in Wisconsin. And, thanks to the wisdom of NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, football fans across the nation also adopted the small-town team with the rich history as their own.

It was Rozelle who married the NFL and network television in 1961, leading to six decades of wedded bliss in which the league became the colossus of American sports. With legends such as Lombardi, Hornung, Taylor, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke and Willie Davis helping the Packers win five NFL championships (and the first two Super Bowls) from 1961 through 1967, the Packers were the first dynasty of the television era and Green Bay became known, justifiably, as Titletown.

Almost 60 years later, with the tradition carried on by superstars such as Brett Favre, Reggie White and Aaron Rodgers, the Packers remain one of the NFL’s most-storied franchises and Lambeau Field one of its most-cherished shrines.

Indeed, the Packers are the universal language of Wisconsin. No matter what divides us socially, politically or geographically, residents of the state always have the Packers in common. From one end of Wisconsin to the other, the Packers are a sure-fire conversation starter, a source of great angst at times, great joy at other times and great pride forever.

Other major sports entities in the state have had their days in the sun but the Packers are a clear-cut No. 1 in Wisconsin. The reason is simple. The Brewers, Bucks and Badgers have all had stretches where they garner national attention and sell out their stadiums and arenas, but the Packers are the only team in the state that commands our attention whether they go 12-4 or 4-12.

Proof of that lies in two of the most magical words in Wisconsin: season tickets.

Starting with Lombardi’s second season in 1960, the Packers have sold out every game they’ve played at Lambeau Field despite its capacity rising from 32,154 when it opened in 1957 to its present-day 81,441. Even during the dismal 24-season stretch from 1968 through 1991 when the Packers were a dysfunctional organization and their on-field fortunes predictably sagged, the fans kept showing up — at Lambeau and, until 1994, at Milwaukee County Stadium. Packers fans kept believing right on up to the time Favre, White, Mike Holmgren, Ron Wolf and Bob Harlan joined forces and showed the franchise how to win again.

Perhaps the most amazing sign of the fans’ devotion is the Packers’ season-ticket waiting list, which has kept growing even though the stadium and the ticket prices have, too. A year ago, there were more than 135,000 names on the list. With the stadium’s capacity essentially maxed out and season tickets being passed from generation to generation, someone at the bottom of that list might get tickets in, oh, 100 years or so.

Another sign of the unmatched loyalty of Packers fans are the stock sales that have bailed out the franchise from various financial situations. There have been five sales of Packers stock over the years, the first in 1923, the most recent in 2011. Though Packers stock carries no monetary value and only extremely limited voting power, there were 361,169 proud stockholders as of 2018.

Therein lies the reason for the unwavering devotion of Packers fans all over Wisconsin. While billionaire owners in all professional sports treat their franchises like toys, the Packers are community-owned. Everyone has a stake. And there is an intimacy with the franchise that could never happen in major metropolitan areas. With only 105,000 people in Green Bay, fans often run into their heroes at the grocery store or the gas pump.

Like so many in Wisconsin, I learned this at a young age. The first expansion — an additional 6,519 seats — at then-City Stadium took place in 1961. My father drove to Green Bay and secured eight season tickets from the new supply, another example of good timing because the waiting list was started that same year. Thus began the Sunday football memories of my youth.

Watching 13 future Hall of Famers play for Lombardi. Getting autographs outside the locker rooms when both were at the south end of the stadium (a new home locker room on the north end opened in 1963). Tailgating with a large contingent of Appleton people in Don Terrien’s parking lot across Valley View Road from the stadium (the Packers bought the property in 2007 and it’s now part of Lot 9). The 13-10 playoff victory over the Baltimore Colts in 1965 when Don Chandler tied the game with a disputed late field goal (sorry, I didn’t have a good view of from Section 28, row 47) and won it with another field goal in overtime. The NFL title game a week later when the Packers beat the Cleveland Browns (Jim Brown’s last NFL game). The Ice Bowl victory over the Dallas Cowboys for the 1967 NFL title, the coldest and most-famous game in league history (OK, so I left at halftime).

Those remain some of the fondest memories of my youth. If you grew up in Wisconsin, you undoubtedly have your own. No matter how different our Packers experiences are, however, they all end up in the same place, a life-long love affair with the greatest franchise in sports.

It’s funny for me to realize that every Packers Super Bowl win has been during my lifetime. I have told the story here of picking up a book called, I think, Greatest Sports Legends in my elementary school library and reading with amazement the description of the Packers’ winning the first two Super Bowls (when I was 1½ and 2½ years old, respectively), given my father’s autumnal watching of and swearing at the perpetually poorly performing Packers. (Except for 1972, when the Pack won the NFC Central, only to get literally stuffed by Washington in the playoffs.)

It took 20 years after that, including the 1982 playoff team and a few .500 seasons, but most other seasons of play that ranged from mediocre to abysmal, for the Packers to start getting it right. (The nadir of Wisconsin football was 1988, when the pACKers were 4–12, but the BADgers were 1–10.) The genesis was 1987, when Bob Harlan was on the track to becoming the Packers’ president and was genuinely bothered by the perception that the Packers didn’t care about winning because they sold out games regardless of record.

Harlan focused on the business end of the franchise, while breaking the previous mold of general manager/coaches by hiring Tom Braatz to be the GM, with complete football authority. Braatz produced only one winning team, so Harlan fired him in 1991 and hired Ron Wolf. Wolf hired Mike Holmgren to coach and traded for quarterback Brett Favre, and you know how that turned out.

And then Ted Thompson replaced Mike Sherman, and Thompson hired Mike McCarthy and drafted Aaron Rodgers, and you know how that turned out.

And now the Packers are in the Brian Gutekunst/Matt LaFleur era, and we will all see how that turns out.

 

Presty the DJ for Aug. 11

We begin with a non-musical anniversary, though we can certainly add music:

On Aug. 11, 1919, Green Bay Press–Gazette sports editor George Calhoun and Indian Packing Co. employee Earl “Curly” Lambeau, a former Notre Dame football player, organized a pro football team that would be called the Green Bay Packers:

(Clearly the photo was not taken on this day in 1919. Measurable snow has never fallen in Wisconsin in August … so far.)

Today in 1964, the Beatles movie “A Hard Day’s Night” opened in New York:

Two years later, the Beatles opened their last American concert tour on the same day that John Lennon apologized for saying that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus. … Look, I wasn’t saying The Beatles are better than God or Jesus, I said ‘Beatles’ because it’s easy for me to talk about The Beatles. I could have said ‘TV’ or ‘Cinema’, ‘Motorcars’ or anything popular and would have got away with it…”

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for Aug. 11”

Starr, Favre and A-Rodg

This season marks 100 years since the creation of the Green Bay Packers, who have won more National Football League titles than any other team in the NFL.

One of the Packers’ greatest traditions is its quality quarterback play, at least when they’ve had that. (And they have not always had that.) The Packers have three NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks — Arnie Herber, Bart Starr and Brett Favre — and undoubtedly will have a fourth after Aaron Rodgers retires.

Elsewhere in the NFC North, Detroit has two, Earl Clarke and Bobby Layne, but neither spent most of their careers with the Lions. Chicago has four, Jimmy Conzelman, John Driscoll, Sid Luckman and George Blanda, but only Luckman spent most of his career (all of it, in fact) with Da Bears. (In essence the Bears have been trying to replace Luckman ever since he retired in 1950. Da Bears might have won more than zero NFL titles with Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus on the roster had they not let Blanda go to the American Football League.) Minnesota has two, Fran Tarkenton and Warren Moon, and Moon didn’t play long with the Vikings. (And, for that matter, the Vikings traded away Tarkenton, and then traded to get him back.)

Other teams have Hall of Fame quarterbacks — for instance, San Diego’s Dan Fouts, Miami’s Dan Marino and Buffalo’s Jim Kelly — who never won Super Bowls. Teams are lucky to have one Hall of Fame QB in their history, let alone more than one. (Miami has Bob Griese and Marino, and Dallas has Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. San Francisco has Y.A. Tittle, Joe Montana and Steve Young. The Cleveland/L.A./St. Louis/L.A. Rams have Bob Waterfield, Norm Van Brocklin and Kurt Warner, though Warner also counts as a Giants and Cardinals QB.)

Jason Wilde writes about the three QBs in the headline:

Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers eventually lost count. That’s how often the two Green Bay Packers star quarterbacks received handwritten notes from the man who set the standard — in every possible way — for them in Green Bay: Bart Starr.

“How many he wrote? I mean, hundreds,” Favre recalled this summer, several weeks after attending — and, along with Rodgers, speaking at — a private memorial service for their quarterbacking role model after Starr passed away at age 85. “Not only after good games, not even necessarily after a game. A tough game, a tough loss, maybe I didn’t play too well. …

“One of the letters I got from Bart was after we had won the Super Bowl in New Orleans (after the 1996 season). This letter starts off like basically all of them did from Bart: ‘Hey Brett, congratulations. What a great season, what a great win. I could not be happier for you and your team. …’ So on and so forth.

“But, you know, Bart was a perfectionist in so many ways, and a true gentleman and professional. This is typical Bart. Then he (writes), ‘I am a bit concerned about how you wore your hat during media day.’ I think it was turned backwards or something like that. You couldn’t help but get a chuckle out of it. But that was Bart, he was always quick to congratulate and commend and say all kinds of nice things, but he would also point out things that he felt in his eyes were unprofessional and he just wanted you to be aware of it.”

For the past three decades, Favre and Rodgers have done their best to live up to Starr’s ideals. And while that’s not always the easiest thing to do — as a human being, or as a quarterback — their success has given the Packers something no other NFL team can claim in the past century: three Pro Football Hall of Fame-level quarterbacks.

“Here’s a guy who won more championships than anybody. And people talk about the kind of person he (was),” Rodgers said. “I think there’s no greater compliment than a guy who’s accomplished so much on the field and the first thing people talk about is the kind of person that he is.

“I met him back in 2006 at Fan Fest, and I remember the feeling of excitement meeting him. I used to watch him on an old VHS (tape) — highlights of him from the first couple Super Bowls and knowing the stories.

“He lived a fantastic life. He impacted so many people. He did so much for people that you probably will never know about. I think he taught a lot of us great lessons about what it means to be a Packer.”

Starr, of course, led Vince Lombardi’s legendary Packers teams to five titles in a seven-year span, including victories in the first two Super Bowls — earning Super Bowl MVP honors in each game. His teams were 9-1 in postseason play, and his playoff passer rating of 104.1 remains the best in NFL history. A 17th-round pick from Alabama in the 1956 NFL Draft, he became the starter in 1959 and played 196 regular-season games (153 starts) in 16 seasons in Green Bay.

His playing career, which individually included the 1966 NFL MVP award and four Pro Bowl selections, ended when he retired in February 1972, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

While the Packers weren’t completely devoid of quality quarterbacking during the two decades between Starr’s retirement and Favre’s arrival in a February 1992 trade with the Atlanta Falcons — if not for a host of injuries and a pitiful defense for much of his career, Lynn Dickey might be rightfully mentioned in the same breath as Favre and Rodgers as Starr’s successors — it was Favre’s arrival that led to the 1996 team’s Super Bowl XXXI title, the organization’s first since Starr led the 1967 team to the Super Bowl II championship.

Favre also played 16 seasons in Green Bay before finishing his career with one season with the New York Jets and two with the NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings. A three-time NFL MVP and 11-time Pro Bowl pick, Favre started 253 straight games in Green Bay, led the Packers to the playoffs 11 times and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016, after he and the franchise reconciled several years after the trade that sent him to New York.

That trade, of course, paved the way for Rodgers, the team’s 2005 first-round draft pick who served a three-year apprenticeship behind Favre until becoming the starter in 2008. In his third season as the starter, Rodgers led the 2010 team to the Super Bowl XLV title, winning the game’s MVP award. He enters his 12th season as the starter with two NFL MVP awards (2011, 2014), seven Pro Bowl selections and the highest career passer rating in NFL history (103.1). The 35-year-old is a shoo-in to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer five years after he someday retires, although he intends to play into his 40s.

The 2019 season will mark the 28th of the Favre-Rodgers Era, starting with Favre’s first season in Green Bay in 1992. Over the last 27 seasons, the duo started a remarkable 411 of 432 games the Packers played (95.1%). Add in their combined 38 playoff games (including three Super Bowl appearances) and it’s 449 of 470 games.

According to Packers official team historian Cliff Christl, no NFL franchise has had such an extended run of quarterbacking greatness — or can boast three Pro Football Hall of Famers, with Rodgers ticketed for Canton eventually.

The San Francisco 49ers had Joe Montana and Steve Young for 18 years (1981-98). The Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams had back-to-back Pro Football Hall of Famers with Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin for 13 seasons (1945-57) and later had Kurt Warner, who led the franchise to the Super Bowl XXXIV title, won two NFL MVPs and was inducted into the Hall in 2017.

Over their histories, the 49ers had Montana, Young and John Brodie, as well as Y.A. Tittle, although Tittle was better known for his stint with the New York Giants; the Dallas Cowboys had Don Meredith, Roger Staubach, Danny White, Troy Aikman and Tony Romo; the Washington Redskins had Sonny Jurgensen, Joe Theismann and Sammy Baugh; the Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts had Johnny Unitas, Bert Jones, Peyton Manning and now Andrew Luck.

But it’s hard to argue that any franchise had a better history at the position than the Packers, who before Starr also had Arnie Herber, a pass-throwing halfback from 1930 to 1940 who entered the Hall in 1966, and Cecil Isbell, who ended his playing career abruptly after five seasons but was still a member of the NFL’s 1930s all-decade team alongside Herber.

“When you live in Green Bay, you know about the Lombardi years and Bart Starr and all the guys that made those teams special, and you’d like to be a part of something special yourself,” Rodgers said. “We have to raise our level of play, obviously. We need to win some more championships.”