After the Gory Year

Acme Packing Co.:

It’s been official for just over a week, but it’s still hard to believe.

The Green Bay Packers will miss the postseason for the first time since the 2008 season.

To put that in perspective, the last time the Packers missed the playoffs George W. Bush was at the very end of his presidency, “The Dark Knight” was the top movie of the year and Brett Favre was a New York Jet.

Translation: it was a long time ago.

This means the Packers are in unfamiliar territory, both for them and their fans. The Packers would have tied an NFL record for consecutive seasons qualifying for the playoffs had they made it, yet many fans are demanding major changes from the general manager down to the head coach.

As for the Packers actually making those changes, it’s difficult to imagine much changing save a pending replacement of the defensive coordinator. Team president Mark Murphy will pump up both general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy’s record, citing making the postseason the previous eight seasons plus three NFC North championships and two NFC title game appearances in the past five years as proof the franchise is in good hands.

No matter where you fall in this debate, those are all facts. The Packers have had a tremendous amount of success the past few seasons, but in a city nicknamed “Titletown USA,” anything short of bringing home a Lombardi Trophy is ultimately a disappointment. Still, McCarthy and Thompson have kept the Packers in the upper echelon of the NFL and they are owed much respect and gratitude.

That being said, if you look at specifically the last three seasons of Packers football, the signs are there that it’s time for a change.

“But they just made the NFC championship last year, and they won a playoff game the year before that!” That is what some fans will say, but hear me out.

First, let’s look at 2015. The Packers offense — McCarthy’s baby — was sluggish for a vast majority of the year. In fact, had it not been for a Hail Mary perfectly executed, the Packers likely would have missed the playoffs and the playoff streak would have stopped at six seasons instead of eight. In short, Aaron Rodgers saved the day.

Now look at 2016. The Packers were 4-6 and the calls for McCarthy’s job were intensifying despite McCarthy declaring himself “a highly successful NFL head coach.” Rodgers then uttered the famous “run the table” comment and he went on a tear that led the Packers to within one game of the Super Bowl before they were run out of town by the Atlanta Falcons. Once again, Rodgers bailed the team out.

The 2017 season rolls around, and Rodgers is once again playing like an MVP. The Packers are 4-1 and fans are again dreaming of another postseason run.

Then Rodgers broke his right collarbone.

Everything went downhill from there. Without Rodgers around to consistently bail the team out, the Packers were exposed for what they really are beyond their all-world quarterback: a lousy football team. How lousy are they? They needed rallies to go to overtime in wins over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Cleveland Browns.

To repeat: The Packers nearly lost to one of the worst teams in NFL history when they rallied past Cleveland in overtime. The red flag officially went up for many fans after that game.

The bottom line in all this, in my opinion, is that is time for a change in Green Bay. McCarthy is a good coach, one who leads his team through adversity better than any coach in the league outside of Bill Belichick. He’s also by all accounts a great man whose family has given so much to the Green Bay community and Wisconsin as a whole.

Unfortunately, McCarthy in Green Bay has become Andy Reid in Philadelphia and Mike Shanahan in Denver. All were successful, but sometimes you just need a change. Reid never got close to the Super Bowl again after losing Donovan McNabb and Shanahan got to one AFC title game with Jake Plummer after John Elway retired. That’s where McCarthy appears to be in Green Bay. Everyone is now too comfortable, and the message has just gotten stale. He hasn’t lost the locker room, but it’s time to look at other options.

McCarthy’s contract is up after next season, so this will be an interesting situation to watch. Teams often don’t like coaches going into a season as a lame duck entering their final year, but Thompson gave Mike Sherman an extension in 2005 before firing him at the end of that season.

Speaking of Thompson, he deserves praise for being the best steward of the franchise since Ron Wolf. He’s endured more unfair fan criticism than any other GM in the league. Fans bemoan his lack of activity in free agency then he goes out and signs Martellus Bennett. We all know how that ended and some of those same fans yelled at Thompson when Bennett was released. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, folks.

Thompson still clearly enjoys scouting, but it might be time for a change in the front office too. The Packers only made the playoffs the previous two seasons by the sheer will of their franchise quarterback. Take Rodgers out of the equation and you see just how poor of a roster Thompson has built. He clearly did not learn the lessons of Wolf, his mentor and predecessor. “Oh we have Aaron, he’ll keep us relevant,” has held the Packers back much like the same phrase except with Brett Favre’s name held Wolf — and particularly Mike Sherman — back in the early-to-mid-2000s. The Packers should have followed the Patriots and built a strong team around their quarterback and not just surround him with adequate talent.

As someone who has backed Thompson and McCarthy throughout the past several years, this is incredibly tough to write. They brought a lot of success to the storied franchise and joy to the fans. Both men will one day take their place in the Packers Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately, it’s just time for a change.

A better comparison for this season is 2006, before which the Packers relieved GM/coach Mike Sherman of the first half of his title, replacing him with Thompson, who relieved Sherman of further employment following a 4–12 season. In his first three seasons, McCarthy went 8–8, 13–3 (and an overtime loss in the NFC championship) and 6–10 in 2008, Rodgers’ first season as quarterback.

It is interesting to note that, based on social media comments, the order of people Packer fans would like to see replaced starts with defensive coordinator Dom Capers, followed by Thompson, followed quite a distance later by McCarthy. This is despite the fact that the Packers’ rankings in scoring defense (21st) and offense (19th) are similar compared with the rest of the league. The defense did not lose to Baltimore or Minnesota; the offense failed to score, and the defense deserves credit for giving up only nine points to Seattle in the opening 17–9 win. What is worse — giving up more than 30 points five times, or scoring less than 20 points six times?

Only two of the Packers’ eight losses were by one score — Pittsburgh, where quarterback Brett Hundley arguably played his best game (and yes, the defense failed), and Carolina, Rodgers’ aborted comeback attempt. Before the season I predicted the losses at Atlanta, Minnesota and Pittsburgh; I predicted a loss in Dallas, which didn’t happen. What torpedoed this season was the unpardonable sin of losing at home to New Orleans, Detroit and Baltimore, all of which were losses by more than a touchdown.

For what it’s worth, I have read a few predictions of NFL coaches who are about to coach their last games this weekend. None of them list McCarthy.

Regardless of Packer fans’ opinion, Capers is highly regarded in the NFL. The bigger issue with the defense is the players, and that goes past Capers to his boss’ boss, Thompson. The Packers have a long list of defensive draft failures, and if your plan is to develop draft picks and not sign free agents, your draft picks better pan out, but many of the Packers’ draft picks on defense have not.

Unfortunately, the same can be said about Thompson’s acquisitions this year, two in particular — tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. If you’re stuck with an inexperienced quarterback, the short passing game is essential, but whatever the Packers paid Bennett and Kendricks was wasted money.

I often say on this blog (because it’s true) that doing nothing is better than doing the wrong thing. A lot of Packer fans want to see Thompson replaced by Eliot Wolf, the Packers’ director — football operations, and son of Ron. The young Wolf was a candidate for the Giants’ GM job, and is reported to be a candidate for other positions. Thompson has gotten enormous plaudits in the NFL for his ability to evaluate talent, but evidently that’s no longer working so well in Green Bay. Tom Silverstein notes the Packers have more room to pursue free agents next year due to a larger salary cap, but for every Charles Woodson, the Packers have had a Joe Johnson and then some. (Though it’s not as if the Packers have done very well in the draft, as previously noted.)

As for McCarthy, he would be snapped up nearly immediately if fired. That may be OK to some fans, but Packer fans who remember the franchise’s history should remember that a new coach doesn’t necessarily lead to better on-the-field results (see Bengtson, Phil, and Rhodes, Ray). A new GM and coach would likely mean you could write off the 2018 season, and even if Rodgers returns (which is far from a sure thing), he doesn’t have that many years left.

The real reason for this season’s failure is Thompson’s responsibility — players, or lack thereof. Schemes don’t matter as much as you’d think, and coaching matters, but not as much as player talent does. Blame Capers if you like for poor defensive play, but Capers can only work with what he’s provided, and it’s not as if he forgot how to coach in the past few seasons. I have yet to read anyone with actual NFL expertise claim the Packers are running a bad defensive scheme. It’s always the players, for better and/or worse.



Postgame schadenfreude, How ’bout Them Hawkeyes and Da Bears Still Suck edition

Despite what was predicted, and despite the Packers’ recent imitation of their Gory Days, Wisconsin football fans had quite a weekend.

The Badgers, dissed despite their 9–0 record, may have earned some respect with their 38–14 win over Iowa(y), which previous demolished Ohio State. The Badger defense was so stout that the Hawkeyes’ only scores came from UW quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s two pick-sixes.

The Des Moines Register’s Chad Leistikow:

Iowa players and their head coach chalked up Saturday’s 38-14 debacle at Wisconsin to the usual culprits you hear in postgame interviews after Hawkeye losses.

“It’s the same stuff that won the game last week,” offensive lineman Sean Welsh said, noting the stark seven-day contrast in outcomes between drubbing top-five Ohio State and getting embarrassed by top-five Wisconsin. “It’s details and execution. I’m sure you’ve heard that enough.”

Historic euphoria one week.

Historic futility the next.

Iowa’s offense gained 66 yards Saturday. That’s the worst output of the 19-year Kirk Ferentz era, “eclipsing” (if you want to call it that) the 100 yards in the disastrous desert performance in a 44-7 loss to Arizona State in 2004.

The 66 yards is the fewest Wisconsin has ever allowed to a Big Ten Conference opponent and the second-fewest ever.

That’s the third-fewest by any FBS team ranked in the top 25 over the past 20 seasons.
If you’re upset Iowa didn’t throw the ball more, consider this stat: Quarterback Nate Stanley dropped back to pass 28 times Saturday; the Hawkeyes netted four yards on those plays.

He threw for 41, was sacked for 37 and committed three turnovers.
It’s as bad as you can get, a week after rolling up 487 yards and 55 points against the Buckeyes. Two Josh Jackson touchdowns on interception returns saved Iowa from further scoreboard shame.

“You can’t explain it,” Ferentz said, “other than just we played clean football last week.”

That may be the truth. But it’s not the real story of Saturday’s game.

That would be the bronze bull that Wisconsin players happily carried off the field. Not the Heartland Trophy itself, of course, but what it symbolizes.

The Badgers are the bullies of the Big Ten West. They were crowned division champions Saturday after improving to 10-0. They’re heading to Indianapolis for the league title game for the fifth time in seven years since the Big Ten went to divisional play.

They’re what Iowa aspires to be.

“Those guys taking it right in front of us,” linebacker Ben Niemann said, “that’s tough.”

Saturday was a reminder that Wisconsin is the bell-cow program that those inside the Iowa Football Performance Center must figure out how to take down.

The Badgers do everything well that Iowa wants to consistently do well.

They run the football with power. They play great defense. They beat you up.

The Badgers racked up 247 yards on the ground Saturday; Iowa had 25, with its longest carry a 9-yard run on a third-and-long.

They may not look like Alabama or Ohio State or USC. But Wisconsin surgically and schematically attacks you, and exposes your weaknesses.

“They have a big O-line and big running backs,” senior safety Miles Taylor said after his fourth go-round against Wisconsin. “They power, power, power, run the play-action (and) get somebody to the flat. Run, run, run, play-action. That’s their DNA. They try to get you to come up for the run and slip somebody out and, boom, it’s a big play.”

Wisconsin has been hammered by injuries all season, at almost every position. It lost its best linebacker before the season even started. Its best safety didn’t play Saturday; neither did its top two receivers. Its injury report barely fits on a piece of paper.

But it didn’t matter Saturday. It hasn’t mattered all season.

The Badgers kept shuttling in fresh bodies and did whatever they wanted, on both sides of the ball, and Iowa was helpless in stopping it.

“These guys were playing at a real high level,” Ferentz said, “and we weren’t able to match that.

“Usually, good teams in the Big Ten play good defense. That’s what these guys have done.”

Yeah, Iowa got the best of the Badgers here in 2015. It took four turnovers, including a fourth-quarter goal-line fumble when the quarterback tripped, but the Hawkeyes got them — by a 10-6 score.

Iowa won the West that year, and deserved it.

But the Badgers own this rivalry right now — the fake punt and 31-30 win in 2010; 28-9 at Kinnick Stadium in 2013 after a two-year series hiatus; 26-24 in 2014; 17-9 last year. Now this.

I do think the Hawkeyes are positioning themselves for a good run the next two seasons. This will probably be Stanley’s worst day as Iowa’s quarterback — 8-for-24 for 41 yards. The sophomore is going to be a good one. This will motivate him.

The Hawkeyes have young players at a lot of key positions, tackle and tight end among them.
Iowa’s 2018 schedule looks pretty friendly, too.

But the mountain it has to climb, Wisconsin, isn’t going anywhere.

As if they needed a reminder, take a look at the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten opener in 2018.
Wisconsin, on Sept. 22, at Kinnick Stadium.

Then came Sunday’s 23–16 Packers win over Da Bears, which proves that Da Bears can’t even beat the Packers without Aaron Rodgers.

About that, the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs writes:

So much for the idea that the Bears would have the upper hand on the Packers without Aaron Rodgers.

We can dismiss that thought immediately, and this is probably a good point to push back any imaginary timeline for the Bears pulling even with their archrival.

Coach John Fox talked about being close after the Packers finished off the Bears 23-16 at wet and cold Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon. It was a one-score game, but these franchises remain far apart even after so many factors pointed the Bears’ way.

The Bears were coming off an open date and had an extra week to prepare. The Packers had a short week after being throttled at home by the Lions on Monday night when right tackle Bryan Bulaga and safety Morgan Burnett were lost to injuries. Then there was the midweek fallout from the Packers’ sudden release of tight end Martellus Bennett for a reeling club that had lost three straight. And let’s reiterate Rodgers was out with a broken right collarbone, replaced by former fifth-round pick Brett Hundley, who was making his third NFL start, two fewer than Bears first-round pick Mitch Trubisky.

Las Vegas oddsmakers made the Bears favorites for the first time all season, and they were favored over the Packers for the first time since 2008. That’s because there was a belief the Bears were strong on defense, strong enough to carry a fledgling offense lacking wide receivers, strong enough to bottle up Hundley, who looked dreadful in two previous starts.

This is a devastating loss for Fox, who is 1-5 against the Packers since his hiring in 2015. A victory would have put the Bears within a game of .500 and added to a feel-good vibe that has been at Halas Hall with people talking about improved culture and a deeper roster. Now they’re 3-6 and potentially headed for a fourth consecutive last-place finish in the NFC North. Consider that since the NFL/AFL merger, the Bears are the only NFC Central/North team to finish last in the division four straight years, something they did previously from 1997 to 2000. Not even the Buccaneers, who were a train wreck upon their inception, managed four straight seasons in the cellar. These Bears are two games behind the Packers and Lions, who are tied for second place, with seven remaining.

The Packers converted 7 of 16 third downs and also a fourth-and-1 late in the third quarter. A Bears defense that looked good against Drew Brees and great against Cam Newton failed to come up with a big play. The Bears knocked out the Packers’ top two running backs as Aaron Jones (knee) and Ty Montgomery (ribs) didn’t make it to the third quarter. Third-string back Jamaal Williams filled in and rushed for 67 yards rushing as Green Bay piled up 160 on the ground, the most the Bears have surrendered all season. Yes, they were missing linebacker Danny Trevathan, sidelined with a calf injury, but don’t confuse him for a vintage model of Brian Urlacher or Lance Briggs.

Cornerback Prince Amukamara filled the wrong lane on Montgomery’s 37-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, but it was Hundley who did the Bears in late. He tucked it and ran for 17 yards on third-and-2 from the Bears’ 37-yard line midway through the fourth quarter with the Packers clinging to a 16-13 lead. Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee crashed hard inside and Hundley, who was oblivious to pressure at times earlier in the game, deftly escaped around the edge to gain 17.

There wasn’t a more frustrating play for McPhee, who was trying to make something happen for a defense that saw its streak of getting at least two takeaways in three consecutive games end. McPhee didn’t communicate his plan to defensive end Mitch Unrein in time, so there was no stunt, and the result was an escape hatch for Hundley, who finished 18 of 25 for 212 yards. …

Two plays later, Hundley scrambled out of the pocket to his right and zipped a back-shoulder pass right by cornerback Kyle Fuller’s helmet for a 19-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams with 5:29 to play, the decisive score in the game. It’s the kind of play you’re accustomed to seeing Rodgers make.

The Bears were battling to get the ball back before the two-minute warning. They had one timeout remaining and the Packers faced third-and-10 when Hundley dropped a dime over Fuller, who was holding Adams, for a 42-yard gain. Good defenses don’t let Brett Hundley do that to them with the game on the line.

Culture and depth are difficult things to sell when wins don’t come along with them. This was supposed to be the start of an easier second half of the season for the Bears, but when they get beaten at home by Hundley, that should be reassessed.

The win included this bizarre moment chronicled by the Tribune’s Rich Campbell (not the former Packers quarterback):

As coaching decisions go, John Fox’s replay challenge Sunday against the Packers will be talked about long after his tenure is finished, whenever that might be.

Bears fans will never forget that 23-16 defeat on a rainy Sunday at Soldier Field when Fox won a challenge that lost the ball for his team. The details of the backfire are vexing on multiple levels and, ultimately, helped victory escape the Bears on a day they had to have it to sustain meaning in their season.

“Obviously, that’s a play you’d like to have back,” Fox said. “But that’s not how this game works.”

Watch the replay of Benny Cunningham’s 23-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter, and two things become clear.

One, the Bears running back did not score a touchdown.

Two, he screwed up trying to do so.
Let’s review: As Cunningham juked his way to the front right corner of the end zone, he dove and extended the ball while Packers safety Marwin Evans shoved him out of bounds. Cunningham crashed into the pylon as the ball slipped free. Officials ruled Cunningham out at the 2-yard line.

“We’re taught not to do it; unless it’s fourth down, you don’t reach the ball out,” Cunningham said. “But, honestly, at the time, I wasn’t thinking about that. I was trying to score a touchdown for the team.”

Fox, under advice from his assistants who help with video reviews, challenged the ruling that Cunningham stepped out of bounds.

“Every indication we had was he scored,” Fox said. “And, if anything, he would be at the 1 or inside in the 1.”

So rather than have his offense line up with three tries from the 2-yard line, Fox threw the challenge flag with hopes of being awarded a touchdown or, at worst, having the ball advanced a few feet.

But replays showed Cunningham lost possession before he hit the pylon, which, in the context of the video review, had unintended consequences.

And that’s where it got murky.

Replay officials in New York decided Cunningham lost possession before he was out of bounds and before he hit the pylon.

Overturned call. Touchback. Packers ball.


“When I watched the review, I felt like they made the right call,” Cunningham said. “Just a bad play on my part, but the refs got it right.”

To Fox, the fumble wasn’t as obvious.

“I think maybe on 50 times, like some people get to look at it, I think maybe you could see that,” he said. “But on our look during the game, that wasn’t really even discussed.”

Here’s the thing, though: Cunningham’s left foot dragged onto the sideline as he dove for the pylon.

Slow down the replay frame-by-frame and it’s still nearly impossible to determine if Cunningham lost possession before his foot touched the sideline. What’s more, as Dean Blandino, the NFL’s former head of officiating, explained on Fox Sports, the determining factor should have been whether Cunningham was in contact with the ball while he was out of bounds and before he hit the pylon.

“Even if he doesn’t have control, and he’s just touching that loose ball with a foot out of bonds, that would make the play dead prior to it hitting the pylon, and it would not be a touchback.”

In that case, the Bears should have retained possession where Cunningham fumbled, the 2.

Referee Tony Corrente explained the ruling to a pool reporter who did not get clarification about Cunningham making contact with the ball after he was out of bounds.

Said Corrente: “Looking at the review, he did not step out of bounds and started lunging toward the goal line (with both hands on the ball). As he was lunging toward the goal line, he lost the ball in his right hand first, probably, I’m going to guess, two feet maybe short of the pylon.

“As he got even closer, the left hand came off. We had to put together two different angles in order to see both hands losing the football. After he lost it the second time, it went right into the pylon. Which creates a touchback.”

In Blandino’s view, there wasn’t sufficient evidence to overturn the call on the field. And that’s what makes the decision so difficult for the Bears to swallow.

For the second time in as many games they were hurt by the result of a call that was overturned by video review.

Fox didn’t openly feel snakebit by the league’s video review process, saying the Bears create their own luck.

The head coach at least tempted fate by asking for the review. And, because officials ruled Cunningham fumbled in bounds, Fox technically won the challenge.

The Bears were not charged a time out.

Time may well be up for Bears coach John Fox, at least according to the Tribune’s David Waugh:

As defenses go, the one Bears coach John Fox offered Sunday at Soldier Field after the Bears’ 23-16 loss was as flimsy as the one he saw flailing all day against the Packers.

“In nine games, two of them we didn’t give ourselves a chance, but in seven games we’ve had the opportunity to win every single one of them,” Fox said. “The reality is, we are 3-6.”

The reality is, coaching makes the difference in close games, and the Bears’ sixth loss threatens to become the one history remembers as the point of no return for faith in Fox. In four futile, frustrating quarters against a beatable opponent at home, the Bears undid eight games’ worth of progress.

It was premature to speculate about Fox’s future around their open date because a respectable start put the Bears in position to realistically approach a .500 season. But those of us who considered the possibility of Fox saving his job with a strong second half now can concede the Bears looking so sloppy and unprepared after a weekend off make that unlikely. Dropping to 1-5 against the Packers will get the McCaskeys’ attention quicker than any other of Fox’s shortcomings. In other words, feel free to start jonesing for Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels or Googling Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich. Dave Toub anyone?

Save any cockeyed optimism about the Bears coming close or rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky making progress for another day, one perhaps when they weren’t outcoached and outplayed by a Packers team playing on short rest with backups at quarterback, running back, tight end and offensive tackle. This is what happens when a 3-5 team gets full of itself, fattened by what-ifs and maybes in a football city starved for success.

Opportunity knocked to see if the Bears wanted to save their season, and Fox left it standing on the front porch of possibility, ignored. So say hello again to Bears hostility, everybody. Any feel-good vibes that surrounded Halas Hall for the last month or so vanished, sometime between Fox’s ill-advised challenge and his defense’s poorly timed surrender. We could build a case for the bright side by examining the relative ease of the rest of the Bears schedule, but that would create the false impression that it matters. It doesn’t, not for a Bears team that committed 11 penalties in the first half (four were declined) and gained zero yards in the third quarter.

Sunday’s most memorable mistake came courtesy of Fox, who challenged a ruling that running back Benny Cunningham was out of bounds at the 2 as he dived for the pylon on a second-quarter run. Had Fox accepted the ruling without challenging, the Bears would have faced first-and-goal at the 2 and, in all likelihood, tied the game at 10. Instead, Fox threw the red flag. Replay officials in New York determined that Cunningham fumbled the ball into the end zone — resulting in a touchback that gave possession to the Packers. Officials should have placed the ball at the 20 wrapped in a bow.

In technically winning the challenge, Fox lost the benefit of the doubt in Chicago, probably for good. Fox took responsibility for the faux pas, the most egregious part being that nobody with the Bears had the presence of mind to consider a potential touchback.

“That wasn’t part of what we thought we would be the result,” Fox said. “Maybe you can see it after looking at it 50 times like some people are able to do.”

The Bears will be replaying this loss in their heads for a long time, especially defensive players who failed to back up so much big talk.

The Brett taking snaps for the Packers was Hundley, not Favre. Yet the quarterback making his third NFL start executed and improvised like a seasoned pro, completing 18 of 25 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown with a passer rating of 110.8. But the play that affected the outcome most — the one that may have signaled the beginning of the end for Fox — came on a 17-yard scramble on third-and-2 with 7:12 left and the Packers protecting a 16-13 lead. Rather than punt the ball back to the Bears, the Packers scored two plays later.

Hundley outplayed Trubisky, who showed improvement again by completing 21 of 35 for 297 yards but contributed to five sacks by holding the ball too long. A pretty 46-yard touchdown pass to Josh Bellamy showed nice touch, but other plays revealed a rookie uncomfortable in the pocket. Fox called it Trubisky’s best of his five starts, but it sounded like faint praise given how little confidence the coaching staff showed in the quarterback at two critical moments.

The first came on Cunningham’s fumble: Fox challenged instead of accepting first-and-goal from the 2, indicative of a coach fearing something bad could happen. The second example happened when the Bears called a quick screen for Kendall Wright for 4 yards on third-and-10 at the Packers’ 35 with 4:06 left, setting up Connor Barth‘s 49-yard field goal. Why not trust Trubisky to make a play downfield that might lead to a touchdown?

Will Fox regret this game most if the Bears change head coaches at the end of this season, an inevitability that apparently won’t affect him?

“I’ve been doing this too long,” Fox said. “I’ve never worried about my job security and I won’t start moving forward.”

After a disappointing Sunday, most fans would agree with Fox: He definitely has been doing this too long.

The Tribune’s Steve Rosenbloom agrees:

The Bears’ final regular-season game will be played Dec. 31, which means John Fox’s “Black Monday’’ should be Jan. 1. So, yeah, an early happy new year, Bears fans.

If the Bears really wanted to do this right, they’d send out “Save the Date’’ date cards.

The Bears should’ve fired Fox before he left the field after Sunday’s awful 23-16 loss to the evil, dreaded Packers, but they won’t fire their coach before the end of the season because they don’t do that. Eventually, however, they always fire their failed coach because that’s the best thing the Bears do. When the Bears whack Fox, we’ll point to this loss to the Packers the way we pointed to a Packers loss that forced the ultimate firing of Marc Trestman, addled in both NFL coaching chops and sound, same as Fox.

Fox’s Bears were favored over the Packers for the first time since 2008. They were supposed to have the best quarterback on the field in this rivalry for the first time in more than a generation. In the first two games with Brett Hundley replacing the injured Aaron Rodgers, the Packers never scored more than 17 points in losses to the Lions and Saintswhile allowing 56 points total. Fox’s Bears, nonetheless, allowed more points and failed to beat up the Packers’ weak defense the way actual teams did.

The Packers were coming off a short week following a division loss. It was all set up for the Bears, who had two weeks off in which to show they were smarter and healthier.

And splat. Face-plant. Piddled down their pant legs.

When Fox’s defense needed a stop, it failed to prevent a fourth-quarter, 75-yard drive, failed to stop obvious runs and then failed to stop Hundley from throwing a soul-killing TD pass, the Packers’ first passing TD since Rodgers went down almost a month ago.

Defense is what Fox’s Bears are supposed to do. Offense is the issue, and it still is. A week off didn’t make Fox’s offense much better. It gained zero — count ’em, zero — yards in the third quarter.

Rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky lofted a beautiful rainbow that produced a 46-yard TD, but he continued to show an inability to recognize a blitz and the subsequent open area. He also failed to realize when he had to throw away a ball to avoid a sack because the offensive line continue to show an inability to read a blitz. And he failed to recognize an open receiver on play-action.

But this was to be expected with a young quarterback. That’s why the decision to start Mike Glennon in September continues to make the Bears coaching look worse. Trubisky’s learning curve should’ve been further along.

Fox, though, can’t use the excuse of a young quarterback without pocket presence because the Packers had the same issue. The Packers found a way to win. Fox found a way to screw up. I mean, he screwed up so badly that he made Trestman look like Bill Belichick.

Benny Cunningham had just taken a screen pass 24 yards to the Packers 2. He was ruled out of bounds as he reached to hit the pylon with the ball. Fox challenged, and was embarrassed even for a guy known for bad game-day decisions in his 12-29 Bears career.

Replay officials ruled Cunningham in-bounds as he reached for the pylon and said he subsequently fumbled the ball out of bounds before he hit the pylon. Touchback, not a touchdown.

If the Bears don’t challenge, they have the ball at the Packers 2 with four chances to tie the score. But Fox apparently didn’t think his offense could get in, and so he pushed it. Oops. Suddenly, the Packers were starting at their own 20 with a seven-point lead in a game that the Bears would lose by seven.

The Bears offense false-started several times and had the center forget the snap count. They looked lost in the last two minutes of the first half. The Bears defense gave up 121 yards to the Packers’ second- and third-string running backs. They allowed Hundley to average a solid 8.48 yards per attempt and failed to intercept him. All of this came after the Bears had time off to practice things. Like football.

Or, worse, if they did practice and this was the result, then Fox shouldn’t be allowed to come back next week.

But he will. Because that’s what the Bears do.

And then he won’t come back in January. Because that’s also what the Bears do. The only thing the Bears do.

The Kittens

Tonight’s Packers opponent is cursed … by the Curse of Bobby Layne, a streak of unbelievable bad luck since the Lions traded away the NFL Hall of Fame quarterback:

The Humiliations

Almost immediately the curse took effect when Lion QB Tobin Rote was injured in practice days after the Bobby Layne trade and the defending champion Lions would finish 4-7 that year. …

If someone or something is truly cursed, no matter what they did, no matter how hard they try, something always keeps them from succeeding. Sometimes this bending of fate leaves behind an almost humorous bi-product that lingers long after the event. We decided to call these “humiliations” (rather than stench). Lets take a look at some of the most memorable ones.

Plum Did Dumb

The Lions had been playing second fiddle to the Packers under Vince Lombardi and vowed to prove that they were superior to the Packers. It appeared that the Lions were on their way to defeating the Packers as they led 7-6 and had the ball at midfield with 1:46 to play. Lion Joe Schmidt instructed QB Milt Plum to continue eating time off the clock by running the ball. However Lion QB Milt Plum would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when he tried passing the ball. The Lion receiver Terry Barr fell down and the pass was intercepted by Packer Herb Adderly who returned the ball to the Lion 22 yard line. As the Lion defense came onto the field, Alex Karras was in a rage screaming obscenities at Plum. Paul Hornung kicked the game winning field goal with 33 seconds left and the Packers would go on to win the NFL Championship, finishing the season with only 1 loss, that being to the Detroit Lions when they had a rematch on Thanksgiving day. The 1962 Green Bay Packers would be remembered as one of the greatest teams of all time, outscoring opponents 415-148, yet had the Lions not passed the ball that fateful day and ran down the clock, it would have been the Lions playing for the Championship in 62. Joe Schmidt would never forget the pass call, calling it “dumbass” and a “blunder that could never be erased” and legend has it that Alex Karras threw his helmet at Plum after the game, calling him a “pipe smoking jerk”. As a further humiliation to the Lions that day, the water did not work in the visitors locker room and the Detroit players had to be ushered into the jubilant Packer locker room to shower down.

Schmidt Fined
The Lions Hall of Famer and eventual coach Joe Schmidt and several Lion players were fined $2000 by Pete Rozelle for betting $50 on the 1962 championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants. How powerful can this curse be to allow the NFL find out about a $50 dollar bet?

Karras Suspended
Lion Pro Bowler Alex Karras and Green Bay Packer halfback Paul Hornung were suspended indefinitely for gambling. Alex Karras was also told to stay away from a bar called the Lindell Athletic Club (AKA Lindell AC) by Pete Rozelle who charged it was a center for illegal sports betting. In outright defiance, Karras bought shares in the bar and became bartender there during his suspension. One day, ex Green Bay tackle Richard Afflis (AKA Dick the Bruiser) wandered into the bar and challenged Karras to a wrestling match. Karras agreed and the two began hamming it up to promote the wrestling match. A patron mistook this as a real fight and broke a pool stick over “The Bruisers” head. A fight broke out seemingly everywhere resulting in one of the largest brawls in Detroit history. “The Bruiser” alledgedly broke some bones in a police officer and got a hefty fine. The fight caused national attention and the wrestling match proceeded with “The Bruiser” defeating Karras after Karras opened up a gash in “The Bruisers” forehead. Karras eventually got out of the bar business, apologized to the NFL, and was reinstated in 1964 after a year suspension.

On the last game of a 4-9-1 season, head coach Harry Gilmer was pummelled by snowballs thrown from irate Detroit fans from the stands at Tiger Stadium. The fans then began chanting “bye bye Harry” as the snowball throwing continued. The Lions would go on to lose the game, 28 – 16 before the homecrowd. After the season, William Clay Ford fired his coach and hired ex Lion linebacker Joe Schmidt as new head coach.

63 Yard Field Goal
The Saints had just replaced their coach and had only one win up to that point in the season. The Saints kicker was an anemic 5-15 up to that point in the season. They were not much more than an expansion team but they had the curse working for them when they lined up for the last play of the game. With the Lions winning by one point, Tom Dempsey kicked a 63 yard field goal, a record that still stands to this day. Tom Dempsey, was handicapped and born with only half a foot but with the help of the curse kicked 4 field goals against the Lions that day.

1st modern playoff game
The first time the Lions returned to the playoffs after the Bobby Layne era was 1970. This ended a 13 year drought! 13 is not a good number especially when you already are cursed so who could have been shocked when the Lions lost to the Cowboys 5-0 in what is still the lowest scoring playoff game of all time.

Draft Fiasco
Is it possible to trade your number 1 draft pick and not know it? The Lions did just that in 1974 when they traded Dave Thompson to the Saints for the Saint number one draft pick. They did not realize the deal was for Dave Thompson and their number one pick till they went to draft 13th overall and found out New Orleans had that position. It does not get much more embarrassing than this.

Bit the Dust
The “Roar was Restored” for the first few games in 1980 when running back Billy Simms joined the club. After winning their first four games the Lions Jimmy “Spiderman” Allen did a musical version of the Queen song “Another one bites the Dust”. As the season progressed, the curse kicked in so strongly that the Lions did not even make the playoffs after their great start. Fans began singing their own lyrics to the song, “Another one beats our Butts” and once again the “Snore was Restored” for the Lions. …

Short Overtime
First the Lions let the Bears score late to send the game into overtime, then they lose the toss and allow a 95 yard kick off return on the first play to end what was then the shortest overtime game ever – 21 seconds (now the record is 14 seconds, Jets over Buffalo in 2002) . Naturally the Lions performed this feat in front of their home crowd, something to tell the grandkids about for all who attended.

25 Year Drought
Thanks to a strike shortened season, the Lions made the playoffs with a 4-5 record. They then lost to Washington 31-7 in the first round of the playoffs which marked the first time in a quarter century the Lions scored a point in a playoff game.

The Prayer
Only a few years back the 49ers and Lions had been battling for the first pick in the draft, now several years later these two teams meet in San Francisco in the first round of the playoffs. With the 49ers holding a 1 point lead, the Lions lined up on the last play to kick a field goal that would win the game. Along the sidelines was the Lion coach Monte Clark praying that he succeed. The usually reliable Murray missed the field goal which would send the Lions and 49ers in different directions for the next 20 years.

Fontes Arraigned
Defensive Coordinator Wayne Fontes is arrested and eventually arraigned in a Rochester Hills Courtroom on cocaine possession and two drunk driving charges. Wayne pleads not guilty and eventually is promoted to Head Coach.

Seeing Red
I am guessing on this date, Coach Demers of the Red Wings was riding high in Detroit and his team was doing well. He did a commercial where a fan asked him for tickets, and he proceeds to give him some, but they are not to the event that fan wanted (such as theatre or ballet tickets). The point of the commercial was you don’t always get what you want or expect (I do not even remember the product he was peddling). Well one of the commercial showed the fan looking at his tickets with a real sour look on his face, exclaiming disappointedly, “The Lions”. After a couple weeks the commercial was pulled at the request of the Lions.

May Day
Chuck Long only quarterbacked here for 23 games but perhaps the funniest example of futility in history happened during his reign as quarterback. Lions were leading 14- 12 with the ball on Detroits 12 yard line and 4th down coming up, the punting team came onto the field. However right before the ball was snapped, one of the Saints defensive players yelled “MayDay” which was the Lions receivers code word that the defense was not covering them and to fake the punt and do a pass play. Needless to say the punter (Jim Arnold) did not punt, but instead threw the ball to his receiver (rookie Carl Painter ) who had no idea it was coming and hit him on the back as he ran down field. The Lions lost the game 22- 14 but created one of the all time funniest moments in history.

Redskins Bitch
The lions best post Bobby Layne era season had to be 1992 when they went 12 – 4 and made it to the NFC Championship game. However the season would end as all other seasons during the cursed years, poorly. Washington (who beat them 45-0 in the opening game of the season) defeated the Lions 41-10 in one of their worst playoff performances ever!

Lomas Guarantee
Lomas Brown guarantee of victory turned ugly in Philadelphia when the Eagles scored 38 points in the first half (second most points scored in one half during a playoff game) and cruised to a 58-37 victory over the Lions in what many call the worst game of all time. Also, just to rub salt in the wound, discarded Lions quarterback Rodney Peete was the Philly QB that day!

Shared MVP
In 1997 Barry Sanders rushed for an all time second best 2,053 yards. He carried the Lions on his back to get them into the playoffs and had 14 straight 100 yard rushing games. However he had to share the MVP with Brett Favre thanks to Curt Sylvester, a sports writer for the Detroit Free Press who decided to vote for Favre then had the nerve to write a column about it. I have not had a Free Press in the house since!

Barry Quits
On the brink of eclipsing Walter Payton’s all-time NFL rushing record (currently held by E. Smith), Barry Sanders retired. His representative, David Ware, stated that Barry would sign a check returning his bonus money immediately of the Lions were to trade him. Sources close to Sanders stated several reasons for the retirement including the teams awful 5-11 performance the previous year. Sanders also did not believe the organization was committed to winning and allowed too many key veteran players (such as offensive linemen Lomas Brown, Kevin Glover and Zefross Moss) to depart as free agents. He also grew weary of Coach Bobby Ross and his “tempermental personality” which was in much contrast to Wayne Fontes, his earlier coach. Imagine how proud Lion fans must have been when one of the greatest talent in history is willing to pay millions not to play for you and would rather retire just 1,457 yards shy of Payton’s rushing mark than play another season as a Lion.

Fontes Sues
The Lions have a history of coaches who never coach again in the NFL after leaving Detroit, however only one, Wayne Fontes actually sued for damages. Wayne set out to prove that due to injuries sustained while he was coaching the Lions that he has been unable to coach anymore. Magistrate John Hurbis was not impressed with Waynes evidence and put forth this statement “Fontes has failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he has a disability, which arose out of, and in the course of, his employment with the Detroit Lions”.

Moeller Contract
A couple games after taking over for a “dejected” Bobby Ross, Coach Moeller was given a 3 year contract, then fired at the end of the season. Moeller had to be laughing all the way to the bank as he got paid for the next two years while his replacement, Mornhinweg, would only win 5 games and lose 27 during this same stretch. Despite the poor performance of the team during those two years, Mornhinweg was given a guarantee that his job was safe after the season. A month after getting his job guarantee, Mornhinweg was fired. Screwed up coaching deals like these would be the norm rather than the exception as Millen’s hiring practice of only interviewing one person would result in league fines and condemnation by minority leaders such as Jesse Jackson.

Belly flop
The Lions were down by 3 and had the ball with 2:12 to play in the game when the Lions 370lb Aaron Gibson decided to do an ugly late hit by belly flopping on a Bengal player. The late hit created a 3rd and 28 situation in which Quarterback Charlie Batch threw an interception and the game was over. Gibson was pulled from the game immediately after the incident then released later on in the week. People to this day discuss which was the biggest flop for the first round draft pick, his career with the Lions or his belly flop on the field.

Kissing Ass
The Lions 0-10 start caught the attention of Jay Leno making for some memorable monologues and skits. Each Monday my wife and I would snuggle by the TV and listen for the joke that we knew was certain to come. Sometimes the Lion fans would get in on the fun, displaying banners such as “This Isn’t Funny” on Thanksgiving to a national audience. Finally the Lions beat the Vikings and while leaving the field, Johnnie Morton exclaimed “Jay Leno can kiss my ass”. That Monday Jay brought in a live donkey and kissed the donkey while Johnnie Morton watched on a split screen in Detroit (He also said the Vikings were on suicide watch after losing to Detroit, the last jab at Detroit at least for that season).

Overtime Toss
Everyone knows the value of winning the toss in a sudden death overtime game. On this November day, Lion coach Marty Mornhinweg won the overtime toss and elected to kick off. Needless to say the Lions never even got a chance to go on offense as the Bears scored on their first possession.

Road Losses
The Lions went 3 entire seasons without winning a road game, shattering the old record and adding another prized piece of tin to their collection. The streak ended at 24 when the Lions beat Chicago at Soldiers Field in 2004. With salary caps creating parity in the league it is very doubtful that another team will ever break this record.

Millen Mouth
Matt Millen released Johnny Morton after the 2001 season (Morton caught 77 passes for 1,154 yards that year). 2 years later (2003), the two reunited when Morton’s new team, the Kansas City Chiefs, beat the Lions in a “close” 45-17 blowout. After the game Morton told Millen to “kiss his ass” to which Millen replied “You faggot, yeah you heard me, you faggot!” Millen later apologized for his outburst. One year earlier (2002), Millen had insulted his own players by referring to one of them as a “devout coward” during a radio interview.

Turkey Days
Thanksgiving day is a tradition in Detroit as the Lions take center stage around the Nation and perform for all to see. The combined scores of the 2004 and 2005 Thanksgiving Day losses by Detroit are 16 -68 (52 point spread) which beats the 1966/67 previous Thanksgiving record also held by the Lions (51 point spread).

A Proud Moment
Lion fans had to be proud of their team when television camera’s captured Lion security chasing an individual with a “fire Millen” sign throughout the stadium. Each time the fan eluded security the crowd would cheer. Occasionally the fan would pass the sign to other fans in a make shift form of keep away that must have really irked Ford Field security. Once the Fan was apprehended, the crowd began chanting “Fire Millen” to the obvious dismay of security. The incident would cause an uproar in the Detroit area and garnish National attention as the chant “Fire Millen” became the fans battle cry. “Fire Millen” chants were heard at Michigan State Basketball Games, Detroit Pistons Games, Detroit Red Wings Games and “Fire Millen Signs” have shown up on ESPN broadcast and Gil Thorp comic strips. Meanwhile “Keep Millen” signs would pop up wherever the Lions played on the road.

Millen Man March
A local radio station organized an “Angry Fan March” at the last Lion home game of the 2005 season. The protesters were well organized and equiped with protest signs and orange shirts (the colors of the opposing team) and peacefully demonstrated and marched outside of Ford Field. One sign read “There are a Millen reasons why the Lions can’t win” and another sign read 20-57 (Millens record with the Lions at that time, in 2007 his record improved to 31 – 81, 50 games under 500).

Phantom Safety
With the score tied mid fourth quarter, Green Bay was backed up at their 1 foot line. On the first play the ref’s called two penalties in the endzone on Green Bay and awarded Detroit a safety. Despite the fact that penalties are not reviewable, Green Bay threw a review flag. The Ref’s never even looked at the film and reversed their call giving Green Bay back the ball at the 1 foot line. The Lions would lose in overtime marking the 15th consecutive lost at Lambeau Field for them.

A local radio station (WDFN) held a contest where their listeners could send in their design that would be used on a public billboard. The winning entry was “Not This Millenium” with the words “Rebuilding since 1957” below it. The sign was up in time for Super Bowl 40 and became another proud monument to the curse.

Super Bowl XL
Anyone who doubts the validity of the Curse would become a believer when the only Superbowl ever hosted by the city of Detroit was won by the team who Bobby Layne was traded to. Many might write this off to coincidence but those who know the truth of the curse know better. Many claimed they could hear ghostly laughter from the rafters as the Steelers were handed the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Thanks to Steve who reminded us in the Guestbook of this fact.

Americas Most Wanted
Does it get any worse than when one of your past quarterbacks shows up on Americas Most Wanted? Jeff Komlo, ex Lion quarterback, was featured on the popular television show. Apparently the cops have been chasing him since May of 2005. Komlo tells a reporter that he can’t believe he is being lumped in with the criminals but still refuses to turn himself in at this time. Perhaps he feels his time with the Lions is punishment enough.

World Series
The Tigers should have known better! After defeating the Yankees and sweeping the Athletics, they were heavy favorites to win the 2006 series against whoever came out of the NL. During a week layoff before the series, the Tigers practiced at the Lions Ford Field where the curse was waiting. The heavily favored Tigers would lose in 5 games to a less than stellar Cardinal team. Can an entire magical season be ended because a team practiced on the Lions home field for a couple days? Many say coincidence but anyone watching that series and all the pitcher thowing errors have to admit that something about the Tigers just wasn’t right.

Naked Coach
Which is worse, a Lions assistant coach driving drunk? Or a Lions assistant coach driving naked? How about both! Believe it or not, Coach Joe Cullen pulled into a Wendy’s drive thru naked and ordered a meal. A week later the assistant coach was busted for drunk driving. The last time an active defensive coach got into this much trouble the Lions promoted him to head coach (Wayne Fontes, Cocaine and DUI charges)! Will history repeat?

Joey’s Revenge
Just when we thought the Thanksgiving Day humiliations could not get any worse, Joey Harrington returns to Detroit and leads his new team (Miami Dolphins) to a brilliant 27-10 victory over the hapless Lions. After the game Joey was voted MVP of the game and told interviewers it was the most satisfying win in his career. The Lions traded Joey for a conditional draft pick, most likely a fifth rounder. Believe it or not, the Lions actually led in this game 10-0 in the first quarter, but would be shut out and completely bore the holiday audience for the last 3 quarters.

Kitna Prediction


Before the start of the season John Kitna predicted the Lions would win 10 games. Kitna looked like a genius and many thought the curse was ending early as the Lions jumped out to a 6 win and 2 loss start! However the curse would kick in with a fury in the second half of the season where the Lions would win only 1 more game and not only miss the playoffs but end up under 500 and joined another infamous list (teams who started 6-2 and missed the playoffs). Lion Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz, hailed as an offensive genius, was fired as a result of the collapse, another victim of the curse.

Draft Pick Drafted
Lions draft pick Caleb Campbell’s dream was to play for an NFL team. Unfortunately the curse likes nothing better than to shatter dreams so on the eve of Lion training camp, with helmet in hand and everything, the Army came a calling for this Lion draftpick who will have to serve 2 years in the military before being allowed to play pro sports. …

Lions First 08 Lead
It looked like the curse was ending a couple weeks early as the Lions came roaring back from an early 21 – 0 deficit in their home opener and actually took their first lead of the season (25-24) with only 7:41 left to play. As the Detroit stadium erupted with applause, the curse kicked in so brutally that before the 2 minute warning would sound, the Lions would be down 48 to 25 thanks to 3 consecutive interceptions thrown by Detroit QB John Kitna.

Mike Martz Revenge
After being fired as a scapegoat by the Detroit Lions, Mike Martz and ex Lion backup QB JT O’Sullivan soundly defeated the Lions 31-13 giving the Lions an 0-3 start after going undefeated in the pre-season. Detroits defense started each game going down 21-0, 21-0, and 21-3 respectively to 3 quarterbacks who had never started a game prior to this season. The awful start would lead to the firing of Matt Millen leaving him with an NFL record of 31-84 (10 more losses than any other NFL team over the same time frame). To fully appreciate the humiliation of this moment one has to remember that JT O’Sullivan was Lion QB John Kitna’s backup the prior year.

0 – 16
The steady decline of the Lions over the past 50 years would result in the un-thinkable. In the final year of the curse, the Lions would go winless at 0-16, putting them in a category of their own and officially ending the reign of the Curse of Bobby Layne. It was at this time the Lions attempted their own quirk of fate to stop the curse, by drafting with the first pick of the first round a player from Bobby Laynes own High School-Matthew Stafford. Coincidence?

6 Straight Turkeys
The curse seems to be continuing as the Lions continue to break and create new records. The latest is the longest losing streak during the Thanksgiving Day game. The Lions are currently 0-6 in the last six games, being outscored by double digits each time giving the Lions a total of 213-74 point spread. That means the average score on National TV for the last 6 Thanksgiving Day games has been 36-12. Can their be anything more humiliating than being the turkey on Thanksgiving each year?

The worst sports transaction in world history

The headline may be hyperbole (Babe Ruth from the Red Sox to the Yankees? The Saints’ trading their entire draft pick collection to get Ricky Williams? The Vikings sending their future to Dallas for Herschel Walker?)

But if you’re making a list of bad pro sports player transactions, you must include the Packers’ infamous “Lawrence Welk” trade, made today in 1974, for quarterback John Hadl. The trade is known as the “Lawrence Welk” trade because, the joke goes, it took “a-one and-a-two and-a-three” in draft picks. The truth, however, is far worse — two first-round draft picks, two second-round picks and a third-round pick to the Rams.

Hadl was a good quarterback in the American Football League for the high-flying San Diego Chargers …

… before being traded to the Los Angeles Rams:

Packer fans who don’t remember this hideous decision (because the unconscious mind often blots out trauma) might well wonder what would possess someone to make that kind of trade. The answer is explained by Pete Jackel:

There was little time left on the morning of Oct. 22, 1974. The heat in Dan Devine’s Lambeau Field office had reached tropical levels and this had nothing to do with where his thermostat was set.

He had to do something before it was too late.

In his mind, he had no choice but to place that long-distance call to Los Angeles.

For more than three years as the Green Bay Packers’ coach, Devine had struggled to find a quarterback of the future. And on that Tuesday morning nearly 30 years ago, Devine’s own future in Green Bay was never more imperiled as this quarterback subplot intensified to new heights.

Devine’s Packers, who had followed up a miraculous 10-4 record in 1972 with a 5-7-2 disappointment in ’73, were in serious trouble. The night before, a Watergate-weary nation had witnessed the listless Packers slump to 3-3 following a 10-9 loss to the Chicago Bears in a Monday night game at Soldier Field.

More distressingly, it had become obvious that Jerry Tagge, Devine’s hand-picked quarterback of the future for the Packers – Tagge was drafted in the first round in 1972 -Ê was never going to succeed. The kid who had led Nebraska to back-to-back national championships in 1970 and ’71 simply could not translate his limited passing skills to the NFL level.

And Devine, who doubled as general manager, no longer could afford to stay with a quarterback who had led the Packers to just three touchdowns in the previous 17 quarters. Not with a 19-22-4 record in Devine’s three-plus seasons in Green Bay.

The heat was on.

“I can’t say I saw him being panicky, but I feel he probably was about that time,” said Packers historian Lee Remmel, who was in his first year as public relations director for the team in 1974. “Things were going badly and they got worse.”

Had circumstances played out differently, the immensely talented Archie Manning, the No. 2 overall selection in the 1971 draft who had fallen out of favor with the pathetic New Orleans Saints, might have been Devine’s savior. Devine had apparently agreed to a tentative trade the previous week to bring the then 25-year-old Manning to Green Bay, but fate intervened.

On the afternoon of Oct. 20, Bobby Scott -Manning’s projected successor with the Saints – had gone down with a knee injury in a game against the Falcons at Atlanta and was lost indefinitely. The Saints had no choice but to go back to Manning, killing the deal with Green Bay and drastically altering history.

“We were playing in Atlanta and Scotty got hurt and that kind of nixed it,” Manning said. “I was in the middle of all that trade stuff. I had heard it was Green Bay. I was being shopped and I remember there were several things going on with the Giants, 49ers, Packers, Saints and Rams.”

Devine also had held discussions with Gil Brandt, then the player personnel director of the Dallas Cowboys, about 31-year-old Craig Morton. But Morton had mostly been a backup to first Don Meredith and then Roger Staubach since entering the league in 1965 and Devine desperately wanted an established starter.

This lingering issue just had to be resolved once and for all.

Scott Hunter hadn’t worked out as the Packers’ quarterback. Neither had Jim Del Gaizo, for whom Devine had been panicked into squandering two No. 2 draft picks to the Miami Dolphins in 1973. And Tagge, who finished 1974 with one touchdown pass and 10 interceptions, was a bust, too.

Enough was enough.

So on the morning of Oct. 22, 1974, a desperate Devine placed that call to Los Angeles.

And then he mortgaged a franchise’s future, paying the staggering price of two No. 1 draft choices, two No. 2 picks and a No. 3 to the Rams for John Hadl.

As great as Hadl had been, he was 34 years old. And regardless of Hadl’s credentials, there’s no way anyone other than Devine could justify paying that price for a quarterback who was clearly in the twilight of his career.

It was a panic-inspired trade that stirred a buzz through the National Football League that persisted for weeks.

“It was one of those things where you couldn’t believe anybody would do that,” said Ron Wolf, then general manager of the Oakland Raiders.

“It was a hard trade for me to understand,” Brandt said. “It was not a good trade for them (the Packers).

“What happens is, people make a trade because they feel that trade can maybe get them into the playoffs or win a championship for them. But I remember there were a lot of people who said, `I can’t believe that Green Bay gave up that much for a 35-year-old quarterback.’ ”

And to this day, the lop-sided nature of that trade lingers in Green Bay.

“It was the worst trade in Packers history, without a doubt, and one of the worst in pro football history,” Remmel said. “That trade deprived us of two No. 1 picks, two No. 2s and a No. 3. It was pretty hard for his successor, Bart Starr, to rebuild the football team without those premium draft choices.”

The trade was made with the Rams, and Jackel provides an interesting detail:

Playing mostly during an era when rules made life so much more difficult for quarterbacks, Hadl passed for 33,503 yards and 244 touchdowns in a career that lasted from 1962-77. His primary receiver during his years with the San Diego Chargers was Lance Alworth, who was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1978.

While with the Chargers from 1962-72, Hadl developed into one of the great quarterbacks of the old American Football League. Five times he played in the Pro Bowl as a member of the Chargers. And a man who was one of the last NFL quarterbacks to wear a number higher than 19 (Hadl wore No. 21) passed for more than 3,000 yards in a season three times and threw for 20 or more touchdowns in a season six times while with San Diego.

Furthermore, the guy was indestructible, never missing a game during his 16-year career because of an injury. …

By 1973, though, Hadl was in need of a change of scenery. At least in part because of his difficult relationship with Chargers offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker – who went on to hold the same position with the Packers under Starr -ÊHadl was traded to the Rams for defensive end Coy Bacon and journeyman running back Bob Thomas prior to the 1973 season.

Bacon and Hadl were both coming off Pro Bowl seasons at the time. It would be the last time a trade involving players who had appeared in the Pro Bowl the previous season was consummated in the NFL until this year, when the Washington Redskins traded cornerback Champ Bailey to the Denver Broncos for running back Clinton Portis.

In what proved to be his only full season with the Rams, Hadl was clearly revitalized. Surrounded by talent that included wide receiver Harold Jackson and running backs Lawrence McCutcheon and Jim Bertelsen, Hadl earned NFC Most Valuable Player honors after passing for 2,008 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Behind Hadl, the Rams improved from 6-7-1 in 1972 to 12-2 in ’73. It appeared the Rams, under first-year coach Chuck Knox, were entering a prosperous new era with Hadl at the controls.

“He meant everything to us that year,” Knox said. “He was the Most Valuable Player offensively in the National Football League that year. The Rams had won very few games the year before and then we went 12-2. We lost two games that year with John Hadl at quarterback. We got beat by Minnesota 10-9 and we lost a tough game in Atlanta 15-13 when (Nick) Mike-Mayer kicked five field goals on us and we had a touchdown for an interception called back.

“John Hadl was an inspiration. He was a great player and he was just everything you could want in a quarterback and a person.”

But the magic didn’t last. Hadl seemed to be missing something in 1974, when the Rams lost two of their first five games. When he completed just six of 16 passes for 59 yards during a 17-6 loss to the Packers on a rain-swept day at Milwaukee County Stadium Oct. 13, Hadl was benched in favor of James Harris.

Nine days later, Hadl would become a Packer.

I remember the trade, though I do not remember Hadl’s playing against the Packers just before he played for the Packers.

The trade gave the Rams three first-round draft picks, which they used to draft three players who were Rams for a long time — defensive tackle Mike Fanning, offensive guard Dennis Harrah and offensive tackle Doug France.

Meanwhile, the late Don Klosterman, the Rams’ general manager, was giddy over his windfall from a desperate coach.

“Green Bay came to us with an offer you can’t refuse,” Klosterman said. “As Carroll Rosenbloom (the Rams owner at the time) has always said, we strive for continuity. The draft choices leave us in excellent shape.”

While Klosterman and Rosenbloom are no longer around to speak of the trade from a historical context, Knox remembers it as one that the Rams simply couldn’t pass up.

“They had a football coach there (Devine) who also had control of personnel,” Knox said. “He could make trades or whatever and he didn’t have to go through a lot of people. So he wanted a quarterback very badly and Carroll Rosenbloom and Don Klosterman decided that we would be able to get along – we had a very good football team. We had James Harris and (Ron) Jaworski and quarterbacks like that.

“So we decided that two ones, two twos and a three, that’s probably one of the greatest trades made in the history of the National Football League. We got some good football players out of that mix and, in five years there, we won 54, lost 15, tied one and won a divisional title five straight years.”

As for the 1974 Packers, well …

With Jack Concannon serving as stopgap quarterback as Hadl learned a new offense with the greatest of urgency, the Packers lost two more games to drop to 3-5, three games behind the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Central Division. When Hadl finally made his first start for the Packers Nov. 10 against the Bears at Milwaukee County Stadium, the division race was all but over.

Under Hadl’s guidance, the Packers surged to three straight victories, but then lost their last three to finish 6-8. There was only so much Hadl could do with pedestrian receivers the likes of Barry Smith and Jon Staggers, with a rapidly fading John Brockington (who averaged just 3.3 yards per carry that season) lining up behind him.

During his abbreviated season with the Packers, Hadl completed 89 of 184 passes for 1,072 yards, with just three touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Devine’s mistake was this: He greatly overestimated the talent that would surround Hadl when he pulled the trigger on the trade. That reality was underscored by the fact the Packers would have just two winning seasons (1978 and ’82) between the time Devine left Green Bay in 1974 and Mike Holmgren arrived in 1992.

As for Hadl and Devine, well …

Devine’s desperation move had failed. This partnership between Devine and Hadl had lasted just 54 days. …

“Let me tell you this one,” Hadl said. “He was getting blown out in Green Bay and we were down in Atlanta for the last game and it was raining about a foot a second. Anyway, the game is over, we go in and I say, `Coach, I’m sorry this thing didn’t work out.’

“He said, `John, don’t worry about me. They’re going to announce me as the head Notre Dame coach tomorrow.’ I couldn’t believe that. He knew that before that game was over!’ “

Then came Bart Starr to replace Devine as coach and general manager:

Going into the 1975 season, there was reason to believe the old Hadl might re-emerge. Starr had been hired to replace Devine and it was a reasonable assumption that two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history would combine to comprise an ultimate braintrust. …

Nothing, though, not the arrival of Starr and not the return of No. 21, could salvage this season. The reality was, the 1975 Packers almost had expansion-team talent with players on offense the likes Pat Matson, Keith Wortman and the over-the-hill Ernie McMillan, Bruce Van Dyke and Brockington.

Gale Gillingham, one of the greatest guards in NFL history, was so disgusted with the team’s offensive direction that he sat out the 1975 season after Starr refused to trade demand. And Hadl, playing behind a makeshift line, was left to run for his life most of the season as he tried to pass to his new receivers, Ken Payne and Steve Odom.

“They were nice guys, but they just weren’t NFL caliber, most of them,” Hadl said. “We had Kenny Payne, who was a real tough kid. He was pretty good. Odom was fast. But there was the time factor throwing the ball. We didn’t have a lot of time, so we had to adjust our routes a little bit and get rid of it a little bit quicker.”

It was an unmitigated disaster. The Packers, losing eight of their first nine games, finished 4-10. And Hadl, playing his only full season in Green Bay, completed 191 of 353 passes for 2,095 yards, but with just six touchdowns and 21 interceptions.

Meanwhile, there was no help on the way. They had not drafted until the 47th pick in 1975. And if Starr had not traded future Hall-of-Fame linebacker Ted Hendricks to the Oakland Raiders for a first-round choice, the Packers wouldn’t have made their first selection in 1976 until the 72nd pick.

Had Devine not panicked into overpaying for Hadl, the Packers would have been in position to draft such quality players as Dennis Harrah, Russ Francis, Louie Wright, Tom “Hollywood” Henderson, Fred Dean and Doug English.

Instead, what Devine left behind was utter chaos.

Ironically, during a time when Starr was trying to build something out of so little, Devine, who never could find a quarterback in Green Bay, found one at Notre Dame.

Maybe you heard of him. His name was Joe Montana.

Starr had to clean up Devine’s mess by trading Hadl, former All-Pro cornerback Ken Ellis and two draft picks to Houston to get quarterback Lynn Dickey, which meant that Hadl cost five draft picks to acquire and a player and two more draft picks to get rid of him. One wonders how often Starr must have asked himself why he agreed to take the job without an available first-round draft pick for his first two seasons, though as with Devine and other Packer GM/coaches, Starr’s draft record wasn’t the greatest.

Dickey joined the Packers in 1976, then missed part of the 1977, all of the 1978, and part of the 1979 seasons after suffering a broken leg. Dickey didn’t play a complete season until 1980, though he was one o the NFL’s better quarterbacks of the early 1980s, once he had some actual talent around him.

If new quarterback Brett Hundley doesn’t play well today, there will be great clamor to pick up a quarterback this week, since the Packers have a bye week. Be careful what you wish for.


After Rodgers

One week ago, Packer fans were flying high after the dramatic 35–31 win over Dallas that showed how great a quarterback Aaron Rodgers is.

That point was proven again, inadvertently, by the Packers 23–10 loss to Minnesota Sunday. The far bigger loss was Rodgers’ season-ending injury, the second broken collarbone in his career. This one is far worse, though, because while Rodgers was able to come back before the end of the 2013 season after his left collarbone injury …

… this injury will undoubtedly end Rodgers’ season, and, given that Tony Romo’s collarbone break moved him to the broadcast booth, could end Rodgers’ career.

Readers will be happy to know I stoked the speculation about who would replace Rodgers, such as …

  1. Romo. (He grew up a Packer fan in East Troy.)
  2. Colin Kaepernick. (He also is from Wisconsin, though suing your employer for collusion when no team wants to sign a subpar quarterback who also is more trouble than he’s worth off the field makes him unlikely to wear the green and gold. Besides that, the Dolphins lost their starting quarterback for the season, Ryan Tannehill, and signed Jay Cutler instead of Kaepernick.
  3. Brett Favre. (He’s 48, and while George Blanda played until he was 48, Blanda was a kicker the last few seasons of his career.)
  4. Other former Packer quarterbacks, who are either far too old (Lynn Dickey) or were Quarterbacks in Name Only (Green Bay native Jerry Tagge, Scott Hunter, Jim Del Gaizo, and others from the Gory Years), plus former UW quarterback Joel Stave, who is not currently employed by the NFL.

The only suggestion that had any chance of occurring, at least as of now, was, or is, possibly acquiring Tayvon Hill from the Saints. Hill looked good in training camp, but the Packers weren’t able to cut Hill and then sign him to the practice squad because the Saints (perhaps ironically, Sunday’s opponent) signed him away.

One of this blog’s political maxims is that doing nothing, policy-wise, is better than doing the wrong thing. That is true more often than not with acquiring quarterbacks. The number of pickups that work out (Y.A Tittle to the Giants, Ron Jaworski to Philadelphia, Jim Plunkett to the Raiders, Doug Williams to Washington, Trent Dilfer to the Ravens, Brad Johnson to Tampa Bay, Carson Palmer to Arizona, Peyton Manning to Denver) are dwarfed by those that do not (Bobby Layne to Pittsburgh, Fran Tarkenton to the Giants, Joe Namath to the Rams, Bert Jones to the Rams, Jim McMahon to the Eagles and Vikings, Jay Cutler to Da Bears, Carson Palmer to Oakland, Jeff George to anywhere, and one particularly bad acquisition whose anniversary is Sunday). And every single listed acquisition that worked took place in the offseason, not in the middle of the season.

Backup Brett Hundley, who didn’t look good at all after Rodgers’ injury, will start against New Orleans Sunday. The Saints rank 20th in pass yards given up, but eighth in run yards given up, which is bad news for a team that probably would like to run the ball and take some pressure off their new starter. The Saints are 21st in scoring defense, but given that they appear to be better on run defense than pass defense, the Packers are probably going to have to beat them through the air with their new quarterback.

The upside is that it’s much, much harder for quarterbacks to come into a game and play well. Well, everyone except for …

I could watch this 100 times and still be entertained by (1) Favre’s pass to Sterling Sharpe, which occurred despite Sharpe’s rib injury; (2) Favre’s perfect touchdown pass to Kittrick Taylor, Sharpe’s replacement who the announcers didn’t know; and (3) Chris Jacke’s extra point that occurred despite his holder, Favre, not holding on to the football.

That clip doesn’t show how Favre’s day began, with five quarterback sacks and three lost fumbles. The Packers had more fumbles (seven) than points (three) in the first three quarters, and a comeback seemed so unlikely that radio announcer Jim Irwin was laughing when he pointed out before the Packers’ final drive that the Packers could win with a touchdown and an extra point.

Though this doesn’t help …

… it’s easier to prepare for a game when you have all week to prepare for a game, instead of a minute or so.

So what will the Packers do Sunday? Former Packers defensive back Matt Bowen:

Gone is the security blanket of the league’s best player. I’m talking about that comfort level for not only the Green Bay offense, but also those guys who play defense and cover kicks for a living. And they will also question how, or if, their roles will be impacted moving forward.

Remember, Rodgers could create instant magic. That’s something you can’t replace. And in those first 24 hours after the injury, the emotions of the team ride all over the place. Up, down, sideways. Once the squad gets through that period, however, the coaching staff can start to revive hope. …

The job of McCarthy now is to develop a custom call sheet that fits Hundley, one that will maximize his ability within the core offense and also hide his weaknesses. The staff can’t ask him to play like Rodgers. And it starts by sitting down with the quarterback to identify the concepts that make him comfortable.

What does Hundley like, and what does he want thrown in the trash? And break it down by field position and game situation. Ask him for his favorite red zone routes, the deep ball shots he loves or play-action concepts he can execute. And don’t forget about the quick game. Throw slant-flat, curl-flat. And get the ball out.

From there, it’s about packaging those concepts with the complete game plan. McCarthy doesn’t want his young quarterback to throw the ball 40 times a game, so we should expect a more balanced call sheet. Run the rock with Ty Montgomery and Aaron Jones. And commit to it.

But also show more spread looks, sprinkle in the run-pass options to create open windows and call for some QB-designed runs. He brings another dimension to the offense with his athleticism that can generate some stress for opposing defenses. And that includes movement passes.

The Packers can widen the field and get away from those static formations by using shift/motions. Force the defense to declare coverage (zone or man) and give Hundley the exact matchup he wants. With the arm strength to push the ball outside of the numbers and attack the deep middle of the field, Green Bay can mix alignments to create some big-play opportunities.

In a way, the Packers can expand a bit from a play-calling perspective. And they can do that without limiting Hundley. Forget about reducing the call sheet or being conservative with the No. 2 under center. This is an opportunity for McCarthy to be aggressive while massaging that game plan to fit Hundley.

Hundley is the guy for at least the next 10 games and into January, if the Packers extend the season into the playoffs. Yes, McCarthy promoted Joe Callahan from the practice squad, but he is adamant that he’s rolling with Hundley. The former UCLA star is his new No. 1.

Now, the Packers have to help Hundley succeed. Again, he’s not going to be Rodgers. No one is. But with a loaded group of Jordy NelsonDavante Adamsand Randall Cobb at wide receiver, the big body of Martellus Bennett in the middle of the field and a run game that can provide real balance, Hundley is in a pretty good spot. And even with the slight transition period, Hundley can give the Packers a chance to compete in a wide-open division.

Remember: Matthew Stafford is banged up in Detroit. Sam Bradford has taken only 89 total snaps for the Vikings. And the Bears are playing rookie Mitchell Trubisky. Hundley and the Packers are a threat in the NFC North.

I am pretty sure Sunday is going to be Hundley’s audition. If he doesn’t play well, with the bye week coming up next week, there will be intense pressure on the Packers to get another quarterback, or fans will rightly conclude that the Packers are throwing in the towel on the season, despite their already having won more games than I had figured to this point. (I had them losing to Seattle and Dallas on the way to a 11–5 season.)


Postgame schadenfreude, hog-calling How ’bout Them Cowboys? edition

I went into this weekend thinking that, as was the case throughout too much of the ’70s and ’80s, the Badgers and Packers could go 0 for the weekend.

To quote Howard Cosell while narrating NFL highlights during ABC’s Monday Night Football, “But no!”

The weekend began with Saturday night’s 38–17 steamrolling of Nebraska. (Well before Nebraska joined the Big Ten, UW Band members would sing, for reasons unknown, “When It’s Hog-Calling Time in Nebraska.”)

The Lincoln Journal Star’s Steven M. Sipple harkens back to the days of the Big Eight Conference’s Nebraska–Oklahoma rivalry:

You surely remember that thing folks used to call “Sooner Magic.”

It used to ruin Nebraska football seasons.

Well, how about that “Wiscy magic?”

Wisconsin pulled off quite a trick Saturday night before 89,860 spectators at Memorial Stadium.

With a 38-17 triumph, the UW program continues to pull away from Nebraska’s. The Badgers are 6-1 against the Huskers since 2011, the year NU started playing in the Big Ten.

Paul Chryst’s crew eked out wins against Nebraska each of the previous two seasons. But it brought the hammer in this game, showing in a forceful manner why folks regard Wisconsin (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) as the clear-cut favorite in the West Division.

Nebraska (3-3, 2-1) looks destined to go a fifth straight season without a division championship, and 18th without a conference title.

Yes, Wisconsin’s program continues to pull away from Nebraska’s.

So, what’s the trick here?

The Badgers pull away while simultaneously pounding away like a battering ram. At least that was the case on this night. Yeah, wonderful timing. Just wonderful. Nebraska honored its 1997 national championship team in a rousing pregame ceremony. That would be the Husker team that averaged 392.7 rushing yards to lead the nation. That would be the team that would dare you to stop the run because it knew you couldn’t do it.

That was Wisconsin on this gorgeous Saturday night.

The ninth-ranked Badgers rushed for 353 yards, their most in a road game since 2012.

Wisconsin simply did what Wisconsin does. It patiently imposed its will with its ground attack and hit an occasional big play through the air. Nebraska hung tough through most of three quarters, but soon the effects of UW’s body blows began to show.

In the fourth quarter, the Badgers rushed 22 times for 125 yards — and never attempted a pass.

The whole stadium knew a run play was coming, and it didn’t much matter.

The Nebraska run defense that held down Northern Illinois, Rutgers and Illinois was overmatched.

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, a former Husker linebacker, had to be sitting back with a wide grin. This is his blueprint. It’s recruit big and ornery linemen from Wisconsin or regions nearby and go to work. You can imagine the rugged nature of the Badgers’ practices. Facing a downhill running game every day will make a defense leather-tough.

Wisconsin’s ground attack is persistent and powerful, said Nebraska coach Mike Riley, whose record at NU dropped to 18-14.

He had his team ready for the game. Give him that. At times, Nebraska looked ready to win, particularly when junior safety Aaron Williams’ pick-six tied it at 17 with 10:43 remaining in the third quarter. The stadium was up for grabs. What a scene.

“(The Badgers’) response to that was pretty interesting,” Riley said. “And it was very physical.”

Wisconsin responded like a championship program — except for one thing. The Badgers were sloppy most of the night. On the kickoff following Williams’ touchdown, UW was flagged for two penalties, and thus began the possession at its 7-yard line.

No problem. Wisconsin bulldozed a 10-play, 93-yard touchdown drive, using eight runs, including six by true freshman Jonathan Taylor. On the night, the 5-foot-11, 215-pounder carried 25 times for a season-high 249 yards and two touchdowns.

Forgive Nebraska fans if they were a tad envious.

And forgive them if they’re frustrated with the direction of Riley’s program.

He realizes what he’s going to hear in the days ahead. It will go something like this: Look at Wisconsin, winning big the way Nebraska used to win big.

Come to think of it, there’s nothing magic about a big offensive line pulverizing you. …

Nebraska always talks about recruiting. Nebraska wins the offseason with a formidable hype machine, with media playing a leading role.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin just keeps winning the West.

Consider this: Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas, replaced by Gary Andersen, who left after two seasons for Oregon State to replace Mike Riley, who left for Nebraska. The results:

  • Bielema, who left UW to have a better chance of winning national championships, seems likely to be fired.
  • A Badger fan flew into the Portland, Ore., airport, where he was asked if he was from Wisconsin. When he said he was, he was asked, “Would you like your coach back?”
  • Riley was hired by athletic director Shawn Eichorst, who was fired last week. Don Mor(t)on can tell you that when the guy who hired you gets fired, you should probably update your résumé.

Meanwhile, the Badgers are undefeated and ranked seventh.

The following afternoon, the Packers inexplicably missed two extra points and thus trailed Dallas 21–12 at the half.

The Dallas Morning News’ Jon Machota skips ahead to the finish:

You’ve already seen it, but Aaron Rodgers did it again. He ripped the Cowboys’ hearts out in the final seconds Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium.
Here are my thoughts on the Cowboys blowing another halftime lead, this time falling to the Packers 35-31:
1. Well, that was exactly what the Cowboys didn’t need heading into the bye week, another blown impressive start. These are the types of games the Cowboys were winning at this time last year. The defense had some success getting pressure on Rodgers early, but then he just toyed with them in the second half. …
2. The third quarter was another disaster for the Cowboys. After going into halftime with a 21-12 lead, Dallas was held scoreless in the third quarter for the fourth time in five games. Not sure what’s going on at halftime, but the Cowboys continue to need at least 15 minutes to get things going again. Maybe just keep the guys on the sideline at halftime. Mix it up. The Cowboys only had the ball one time in the third quarter. Dak Prescott completed a short third-down pass to Dez Bryant, but that drive quickly stalled. Green Bay dominated the time of possession [11:20 to 3:32] and scored early in the fourth quarter to take its first lead, 22-21.

Machota’s colleague Kate Hairopoulos adds:

Dak Prescott faked the handoff to running back Ezekiel Elliott, found himself with a clear path to the end zone, and took it. The Cowboys quarterback charged 11 yards for the touchdown and celebrated with a scream and a spike of the ball.
But the elation in AT&T Stadium belied the unease on the Dallas sideline.
1:13 remained.
For Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, that’s an eternity.
And it was ultimately too much time, as Green Bay marched down the field, down three, and scored the winning touchdown. The Packers even had 11 seconds to spare when they went up 35-31.
“The minute that we got it, I immediately went to ‘Oh hell, he’s got a minute, 10 seconds,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of Prescott’s touchdown and the ball going back to Rodgers. “On the other hand, – Dak Prescott faked the handoff to running back Ezekiel Elliott, found himself with a clear path to the end zone, and took it. The Cowboys quarterback charged 11 yards for the touchdown and celebrated with a scream and a spike of the ball.
But the elation in AT&T Stadium belied the unease on the Dallas sideline.
1:13 remained.
For Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, that’s an eternity.
And it was ultimately too much time, as Green Bay marched down the field, down three, and scored the winning touchdown. The Packers even had 11 seconds to spare when they went up 35-31.
“The minute that we got it, I immediately went to ‘Oh hell, he’s got a minute, 10 seconds,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said of Prescott’s touchdown and the ball going back to Rodgers. “On the other hand, before [Prescott] got it, I thought, ‘Just go ahead and get this score. OK!
“…You can second guess every little aspect of it, and certainly we’d have liked to give him the ball back with 10 seconds on the clock, no timeouts. But the only way to have really gotten that done is to know for sure we were going to get that touchdown. That’s the height of revisiting.”
And it’s impossible not to do, considering Rodgers is making a habit of crushing Cowboys’ souls when given any opening.
The Cowboys and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan milked the clock on the scoring drive, well aware of what Rodgers is capable of. He needed only 35 seconds left to lead the Packers to the winning field goal in January’s playoff game on this field last season.

The Cowboys ticked through 17 plays to go 79 yards, taking up 8:43, culminating in Prescott’s touchdown run.
But Linehan and head coach Jason Garrett will be fairly criticized for not consuming more clock.
Elliott and the offensive line had, finally, started to roll on the ground, yet:
On 1st and 10 from the Green Bay 29, Prescott threw a pass intended for running back Alfred Morris, but it was incomplete, stopping the clock.
Later, after a dramatic fourth-and-1 conversion by Elliott, Elliott ran for eight yards on first down to set up a second and 2 from the Packers 11. Prescott passed incomplete, unable to connect with receiver Dez Bryant in the back of the end zone, stopping the clock again.
Prescott scored on the next play. Should he have considered sliding at the 1 to take up more time?
“In theory, he could do that yes,” Garrett said. “I just think you have to be careful about trying to be perfect. It’s hard to score points in this league. It’s hard to score touchdowns. It’s a four-point game at that time. There’s no guarantee you’re going to score a touchdown there, so I think, in that particular case, he did the right thing.”
Said Prescott: “You’re playing with fire doing that. Those guys get paid on defense too. If you’re running down and you’re trying to get to third down, you’re wasting the time. It’s a slippery slope. For us, it’s important to get in the end zone and put the pressure on them. I’m going to trust my defense.”
But Jones did allow that the discussion it’s impossible not to have is whether the Cowboys should’ve bet on their strength — their offense — instead of ultimately put the game back in the hands of the defense that couldn’t stop Rodgers and Co. most of the day.
Jones said he believed Rodgers could lead the Packers to a field goal to tie the score, but thought the defense would keep them from a winning touchdown.
“We are all going to second guess on what happened at the end of the game and keeping the ball away from them a little bit more,” Jones said. “Everything speaks for itself here. You give Rodgers a minute, and you’re more than likely going to get a score in a critical moment.
“…All we wanted to do was keep the ball away from [Rodgers] but we needed to score a touchdown. We’ll be second guessing those last two calls for a long time.”

The News’ Samantha Pell describes the last play:

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was going to call another play.

Instead of the game-winning back-shoulder touchdown throw to receiver Davante Adams with 16 seconds left in the game, he was going to look another way.

If he did, the outcome of the game — a 35-31 Packers win over the Cowboys — could have been a lot different. But Adams, who had had the ball knocked away on the exact same call on the previous play, wasn’t going to let that happen.

“I came back and let him know,” said Adams, who scored two touchdowns Sunday afternoon after getting knocked out of the Packers’ game last week against Chicago. “I said, ‘Do it again. Let’s go back to it.’ He gave me a look. I said, ‘Let’s do it again.'”

And as Rodgers tossed a “perfect ball” into the outstretched arms of Adams in the end zone, the Cowboys faithful saw flashbacks to the team’s 34-31 playoff loss to Green Bay in January — when Packers kicker Mason Crosby nailed a 51-yard field goal as time expired.

“We’ve been through that before,” Adams said. “We’ve been through that before in this building. When you’ve got ’12’ (Rodgers) back there, it allowed you to be a little more calm.”

Trailing 31-28 with 1:13 to play, Rodgers needed a field goal to tie, not win the game as he did last season. But regardless, Rodgers said afterward he was thinking of a touchdown the entire time.

“We had time,” a nonchalant Rodgers said of driving his offense 75 yards down the field in just over a minute.

Cowboys rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who was defending Adams on the game-winning touchdown catch, praised Rodgers’ play.

“He’s a great quarterback, has great weapons around,” Lewis said. “We have to stop him. I didn’t.”

In Rodgers’ execution of the offense downfield in the waning minute, he also had a crucial third-down scramble — in classic Rodgers fashion.

Facing third and 8 on the Dallas 30-yard line with 29 seconds to go, Rodgers said he had a good play called for the situation, but bad leverage on the backside forced him to scramble.

He found daylight on the left side of the field, running for 18 yards before stepping out of bounds at the 12-yard line. The next play was the incomplete pass to Adams in the end zone. The one after? The game-winner.

“Once I was able to get loose, it was about getting the first down and getting out of bounds,” Rodgers said. “My eyes got kind of big there for a second, as I tried to get back inside, but going out of bounds was a smart play, and it gave us a chance to get a shot in the end zone.”

Of course, postgame social media was almost as entertaining as the game:

Shannon Sharpe tweeted:

Can someone check on @RealSkipBayless for me? Want to make sure he’s ok

Postgame schadenfreude, Da (dirty) Bears Still Suck edition

Once again, it is time following a Packers win to observe the reaction from the opposing camp.

Last night’s 35–14 Packers lightning-delayed win over Da Bears generated 10 thoughts from the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs, including …

1. The undoing of Mike Glennon is going to be the turnovers. When you heard coach John Fox talk about the quarterback position and reference the kind of play the organization got from the three-headed monster it had at the position a year ago, he was talking about the interceptions that put the Bears in a tough spot. Well, at 1-3 right now and chasing in the NFC North, the Bears are in a jam as Glennon has turned the ball over eight times (five interceptions, three fumbles). It’s not about throwing the ball downfield and stretching the defense and check-down passes and all of the other topics that have been raised. It’s about protecting the football. Passing yardage isn’t a very useful statistical tool when it comes to determining the outcome of a game. Turnover margin is one of the best statistical tools and once again the Bears are getting hammered in that category. The Bears and Packers are the only teams to complete four games and we’ll see what the chart looks like at the end of the weekend but right now the Bears are, you guessed it, 32nd in the NFL in turnover margin at minus-7. The Bengals and Browns, who do battle Sunday in the Battle of Ohio, are each minus-5. Maybe one of them will have a particularly unsightly game and that will move the Bears out of 32nd. The point is the turnovers can’t happen for a team with slim margin for error. …

Glennon needed to get the ball out of his hand quicker on the first turnover, the sack by Clay Matthews. Glennon executed a play fake and was looking to take a deep shot downfield on the first snap of the game. The Bears asked tight end Dion Sims to solo block Clay Matthews. That seems like an unnecessarily risky maneuver right off the bat and it didn’t work. The fumble that resulted when a shotgun snap went off Glennon’s shin was the result of poor communication between him and center Cody Whitehair. When I talked to Whitehair, he told me the snap was on two and he was at fault for snapping it too soon. Glennon said they were both at fault. It was hard to see what went wrong on the first interception intended for Markus Wheaton but the ball wasn’t close. It appeared like Deonte Thompson ran a particularly poor route on the second interception.

This is precisely what the Bears hoped to avoid this season.

2. I would have concern that the wide receiver position is so undermanned that Trubisky has little chance to be successful if the Bears do make a change at quarterback. Unless he’s the next coming of Aaron Rodgers, who sat for the first three seasons of his career, Trubisky will have a difficult time making a go of it with the wide receivers on the roster. He’s not a magic fix for what ails the passing game. After giving this some consideration, and four games into the season is enough consideration, I think it’s fair to say this is the worst crop of receivers the Bears have had in an awful long time. For a couple weeks I’ve been weighing the 2011 group, which wasn’t good. Now that we’re at the quarter point of the season, I think it’s a fair call. That group had Johnny Knoxaverage 19.6 yards per reception even though he caught only 37 balls. The rest of the group included Roy Williams, Dan Sanzenbacher, Devin HesterEarl Bennettand of course, Sam Hurd.

The Bears knew when training camp opened that they did not have an optimal group of wide receivers and that it would be a challenge. Cameron Meredith and Kevin White were injured and now they’re looking at a real problem such that I think it’s going to be difficult for Trubisky to perform. They’re not going to suddenly run better routes because a different quarterback is in the game. The absolute worst thing that can happen to the Bears is they send Glennon to the bench because of the turnovers and insert Trubisky and then he struggles badly because, in part, the skill position talent around him is deficient. That would be disastrous. You just have doubts about what this group can accomplish and Wheaton now had two games under his belt but 0 catches. Everyone calling for Trubisky to play needs to realize this group is a very significant part of the issues plaguing the passing game and the offense as a whole.

So do you push Trubisky into action because Glennon has been a major problem? Is the one extra practice the Bears will have with the “mini-bye” as coach Fox alluded to going to make much of a difference? It’s not just dropped passes through four games that are on the wide receivers. It’s interceptions too.

3. If the Bears are extremely lucky, the NFL will only fine linebacker Danny Trevathan for the brutal head shot on Packers wide receiver Davante Adams. The fear has to be Trevathan will be suspended by the NFL for an egregious shot that sent Adams to the hospital. It used to be that suspensions were reserved for repeat offenders, a category that does not include Trevathan. However, the NFL passed a rule change this year that illegal hits to the head can be considered for suspension. Considering the NFL has an image issue with player safety and considering this game was nationally broadcast and considering that hit was just plain awful, I think Trevathan could be suspended by the league here. Safety Adrian Amos had stopped Adams’ forward progress when Trevathan arrived at full speed, driving his helmet into Adams’ facemask.

“I regret just the level I hit him at,” Trevathan said. “I could have been a little better. But you have to understand I was (gathering) momentum and I was just trying to make a play. Nothing intentional. It happens in this game.

“I don’t think it should be a suspension. But you never know. I’m going to send a prayer out. My main concern is that he’s OK. It was bad. I never wish that on anybody. Especially after being hurt (myself) a few times, I know how that is. And especially with the head and the neck, you never wish that on anybody. You never want to see that.”

The good news is the Packers had positive reports on Adams late Thursday night. Trevathan doesn’t have a reputation for being a dirty player but this hit crossed the line and it would not be surprising to see the league suspend him.

4. The Bears really had a shot to win this game. Consider Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari and right tackle Bryan Bulaga were both sidelined. Green Bay’s top two reserve tackles were already on injured reserve so they effectively started center Corey Linsley and four guards. Add in the fact that defensive tackle Mike Daniels, their best player on that side of the ball was out, and you have another advantage for the Bears. Then consider that running back Ty Montgomery was knocked out of the game on the opening series with what has been reported to be broken ribs and the Packers were very shorthanded. The Bears should have created more problems for their offense but Green Bay came out and ran the ball right at the Bears. I think that set the tone for the entire game. Five of the first six plays were runs by Montgomery to gain 28 yards and then Rodgers opened things up a little bit. The Bears’ pressure amounted to two sacks, one for Leonard Floyd and one for Pernell McPhee. It was good for Floyd to break through for his first one of the season but this was a complete rag-tag assembly on the offensive line and the Bears did nothing to take advantage of it.

“We got outcoached, we got outplayed in every area,” Fox said.

I asked McPhee if the Bears expected to cause more havoc for the Packers.

“Yeah, we did,” McPhee said. “But we know Aaron Rodgers. He wasn’t going to let us do that. If you watch it, two seconds, he was catching it, slinging it. He’s a great quarterback. He made adjustments. He did sprint outs, all types of stuff to slow us down.”

5. Week 4 is the first time the Bears got the offensive line set as Josh Sittonreturned after missing a week with a broken rib. Sitton lined up at left guard and Kyle Long played right guard, where he was last week against the Steelers. You will recall the plan hatched early in the offseason was to have the guards swap positions. Clearly, the Bears have shelved that for right now and for good reason. …

8. Roberto Aguayo isn’t the answer, I think the Bears learned that. But Connor Barth isn’t going to be able to miss many more kicks before the team explores some options there. Barth was wide right from 47 yards and that’s the same distance he missed wide right last week against the Steelers. Barth is 2 for 4 on the season and he coaches are comfortable with him but they’re not going to put up with many more misses. Who knows? Maybe they take a look at a few legs in the next week or so.

9. Talk about a white flag possession. That’s one what former Bears assistant coach said — that the Bears are waving the white flag — after a 15-play, 75-yard drive that took 8 minutes, 59 seconds off the clock in the fourth quarter. Jordan Howard scored on a 3-yard run, but it was an extra methodical drive that started after the Bears fell behind 35-7. I chalk that up to Fox knowing his turnover-prone offense wasn’t going to strike for four touchdown in the fourth quarter. But there was some reaction on Twitter about it and one former coach was wondering the exact same thing. That’s the pitfall of playing poorly in prime time. The other 31 teams see you. …

10c. Too many Packers uncovered too often in this one. How is Jordy Nelson uncovered in the end zone? That’s got to be cleaned up on defense. Imagine if that happened in a close game.

Quarterback play (or lack thereof)

On Sept. 20, 1992, Brett Favre, for whom the Packers had traded one of their two first-round picks in that year’s NFL draft, replaced injured starting quarterback Don Majkowski.

You know what happened thereafter.

Favre, now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was replaced at quarterback by Aaron Rodgers, who someday will join Favre in the Hall of Fame.

Except for games where Rodgers was kept out due to injury in 2010 and 2013 (six starts by Matt Flynn — one of which was a coach’s decision in 2011 — plus two starts by Scott Tolzien and one start by Seneca Wallace), Favre or Rodgers have been the starting Packer quarterbacks for 25 years.

In contrast, here is the list of other NFC North teams’ starting quarterbacks since 1992:

Da Bears (one Super Bowl appearance since 1992): Jim Harbaugh, Peter Tom Willis, Will Furrer, Steve Walsh, Erik Kramer, Dave Krieg, Rick Mirer, Steve Stenstrom, Moses Moreno, Shane Matthews, Cade McNown, Jim Miller, Chris Chandler, Henry Burris, Kordell Stewart, Rex Grossman, Craig Krenzel, Chad Hutchinson, Jonathan Quinn, Kyle Orton, Brian Griese, Jay Cutler, Todd Collins, Caleb Hanie, Josh McCown, Jason Campbell, Jimmy Clausen, Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley.

Detroit (zero Super Bowl appearances): Rodney Peete, Erik Kramer, Andre Ware, Scott Mitchell, Dave Krieg, Don Majkowski, Charlie Batch, Frank Reich, Gus Frerotte, Stoney Case, Ty Detmer, Mike McMahon, Joey Harrington, Jeff Garcia, Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovsky, Daunte Culpepper, Matthew Stafford, Drew Stanton, Shaun Hill.

Minnesota (zero Super Bowl appearances since 1976): Rich Gannon, Wade Wilson, Sean Salisbury, Jim McMahon, Warren Moon, Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham, Jeff George, Daunte Culpepper, Todd Bouman, Spergon Wynn, Gus Frerotte, Tarvaris Jackson, Kelly Holcomb, Brooks Bollinger, Brett Favre (who?), Joe Webb, Christian Ponder, Donovan McNabb, Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, Shaun Hill.

Fans of NFC North teams think Da Bears have the historically worst quarterback situation. Back in 2007, when Grossman was about to be replaced, Keith Olbermann called Da Bears’ “Quarterblackhole” (as I saw on social media last week) “one of the NFL’s great unrecognized traditions. With brief interruptions of stability from the likes of Jim McMahon and Billy Wade, this job has been unsettled since Sid Luckman retired. There has always been a Rex Grossman, he has always underperformed, and they have always been about to replace him.” About six interceptions from now Bears fans will be screaming to get Glennon out, and six interceptions later they’ll be screaming to get Trubisky out.

But it’s not been much better in Minnesota or Detroit during the Favre/Rodgers era either. Stafford is now the NFL’s highest paid player. His career record as a starting quarterback is 51–58. After Bridgewater got hurt the Vikings used a first-round draft pick to get Bradford, and ended up missing the playoffs last year. Da Bears spent big money to get Mike Glennon from Tampa Bay, then used a number-one draft choice to draft Mitch Trubisky. As is the case with teams with bad quarterback situations, the most popular Bear or Viking is probably whoever is their backup quarterback.

It’s  amusing to note how many quarterbacks played for more than one Packer divisional opponent (Kramer, Krieg, Frerotte, McMahon, Culpepper and Hill) with non-positive results, as well as the number of ex-Packer quarterbacks (Burris, Majkowski and Favre) twice-yearly opponents tried out and failed with.

Packer fans should remember this wasn’t the way things used to be. Between Super Bowl II and Favre’s first Packer season, the Packers used Bart Starr, Zeke Bratkowski, Don Horn, Scott Hunter, Jerry Tagge, Jim Del Gaizo, Jack Concannon, John Hadl, Don Milan, Lynn Dickey, Carlos Brown (who later became actor Alan Autry), Randy Johnson, David Whitehurst, Randy Wright, Jim Zorn, Alan Risher (the 1987 NFL strike replacement QB), Anthony Dilweg, Blair Kiel and Mike Tomczak.

Hadl was procured in the infamous “Lawrence Welk” trade, where the Packers traded “a-one and-a-two and-a-three” (actually, five draft picks to get Hadl and a player and two more draft picks to get rid of Hadl). That fits in every list of the worst trades in NFL history.

I’m predicting a 10–6 season for the Packers, whose schedule starts out pretty tough. I hope the free-agent acquisitions shore up last season’s leaky defense. Regardless of their record, though, as with Badger fans, Packer fans need to realize they have it much better here than elsewhere in the NFC North.


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