Chances are most of you will read this sometime on Tuesday, but if you’re up early enough and look to the East at approximately 6:46 a.m., you’ll notice the sun has indeed risen in the state of Wisconsin. True, if the Packers were a centipede they would have shot themselves in every foot Monday night in a loss to the Bears, but don’t think for a second isn’t one of the premier teams in the NFL.
18 penalties, pitiful special teams play and costly mistakes down the stretch will get you eight wins and a comfy seat in your home for the playoffs, but the Packers are undoubtedly better than what they showed tonight, and the optimism for this team’s potential should be as high as it was when they took the field Monday night.
First things first, the Packers went on the road into a divisional game against their biggest rival, a surprisingly efficient 2-0 Chicago team, and were in serious position to put the game away in the final two minutes. Aaron Rodgers, who continues to prove why he one of the top four quarterbacks in the NFL, was surgical in the second half and had the look in his eye that he was going to lead the Packers into field goal range.
For as talented as anyone thought the Bears could be, few expected them to begin the season 2-0. Jay Cutler has looked pinpoint perfect, Matt Forte looks focused, and the defense has shown shades of 2006 through the first two weeks. They’ll face their toughest task to date Monday night when they head home to take on the Green Bay Packers, also 2-0.
The Packers have looked equally as good, beating their own NFC East opponent on the road in Philadelphia and thrashing the Bills in their home opener, 34-7. Aaron Rodgers and the offense look on track and Clay Matthews has led the Packers to a quick start on defense.
There will be mismatches to be taken advantage of when both teams take the field, and there will also be important matchups. Here’s what to watch for Monday night that could determine the winner of these two NFC North rivals.
Jay Cutler vs. Clay Matthews
For at least a half, many wondered if Aaron Rodgers’ pre-season surgeon-like performance might have been a bit of a fluke, and then the second half happened. With the Packers leading 13-7 at halftime, Rodgers came out firing on all cylinders to finish 11-for-13 with two passing touchdowns and another rushing touchdown. Overall, he finished with a QB rating of 116 and looked like a quarterback ready to dominate going forward.
Clay Matthews followed up his three-sack performance in Philadelphia with three more sacks, this time at the expense of Trent Edwards, and was the key to the Packers holding the Bills to just 186 total yards. Matthews, who leads the league in sacks two weeks in, has to be an early favorite for defensive player of the year, and at the very least has the Packers’ defense picking up right where it left off in 2009 (minus the Arizona playoff game).
The Green Bay Packers announced Tuesday that running back Ryan Grant will be placed on IR, ending his season after he suffered ligament damage in his ankle in Sunday’s win over the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s a staggering blow to one of the best offenses in the NFC, and to make things worse the Packers only had two running backs on their roster to begin the season. However, the show must go on and the Packers will move forward without No. 25 in the backfield.
The first matter of business was replacing Grant on the roster, and the Packers did so by signing undrafted rookie Dimitri Nance from the Falcons’ practice squad. As a senior at Arizona State, Nance rushed for 795 yards and tallied six touchdowns. He will spell new starter Brandon Jackson and is, for the time being, a short-term resolution in the backfield.
Everyone in Green Bay knew it was probably coming, but that didn’t make the sting any less painful when it was announced that cornerback Al Harris and safety Atari Bigby would be put on the Physically Unable to Perform list (PUP), keeping them out of the team’s first six games. It’s a huge blow the last year’s second ranked defense, and it leaves the young secondary in question with less than two weeks before the regular season opener.
Harris has been working hard to return from a torn ACL kept him out of the final nine games of the season, but it was a long shot to think the 35-year-old defensive back would be ready for the start of the season. ACL injuries can be career-threatening, and if you’re not named Wes Welker, the recovery time is close to a full calendary year.
With the Saints looking to repeat as Super Bowl champs, the Vikings brining back Brett Favre for another season, and the quarterback swap in the NFC East, it’s been easy to overlook one of the quietest teams this offseason, but make no mistake: the Green Bay Packers are going to make serious noise in 2010.
Aaron Rodgers proved in 2009 that his first year starting was no fluke, passing for over 4,000 yards and throwing 30 touchdowns. Green Bay’s signal caller has solidified his spot as a top five quarterback in the league, and will run the show for one of the most potent offenses in the NFL.
It’s finally time to be truly excited about football.
As fun as it was to watch undrafted rookies come out of nowhere to make the team (the Packers kept three of them) and training camp battles be won and lost (James Jones over Jordy Nelson, Daryn Colledge over Bryan Bulaga), nothing can compare to the start of the regular season, when everything counts.
The Packers open up their 2010 campaign in Philadelpahia, where they haven’t won since 1962, when Vince Lombardi was calling the shots. They have lost nine straight in the City of Brotherly Love, but there’s reason to believe that trend will break when the two teams take the field Sunday.
A main reason lies in the arm of Aaron Rodgers, who will look to win his third straight opening day game and get a season with high expectations started off on the right foot. If the preseason is any indication, both will occur Sunday. Rodgers completed 77 percent of his passes for 470 yards and six touchdowns and, even more importantly, was not sacked in the three games he played in.
Few, if any, Packers’ fans drew up Sunday’s game in Philadelphia the way it turned out, but the result was what all wanted in the end. The Packers held off a late rally from Michael Vick and the Eagles to take the season opener 27-20. In a game that featured quite a few injuries, costly penalties, and sloppy execution, the Packers should feel lucky to have escaped the way they did.
To begin with the positives, Clay Matthews proved the “sophomore slump” doesn’t apply to every second year player, as he recorded seven tackles, two sacks, and forced a fumble that took Kevin Kolb out of the remainder of the game. Just as he had showed in his rookie campaign, Matthews and his never-ending motor sprinted around the field and caused both Kolb and Michael Vick out of the pocket.