J-Mike is back. Or, at least, we saw that tight end Jermichael Finley hasn't lost any of the skills that appeared set to make him one of the NFL's most dynamic tight ends. Finley hasn't appeared to have the confidence of quarterback Aaron Rodgers in recent weeks, and those watching games on site saw him routinely protesting downfield when balls weren't thrown his way. Sunday, however, Rodgers found him wide open on a play that was designed to be a screen in the second quarter, leading to a 20-yard touchdown. And Finley's 40-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter helped set up the game-winning score. The best part of the Sunday's developments was that Rodgers revealed he has been "spending time" with Finley and that "his head has really been in it the last couple weeks." That's unquestionably good news for one of the Packers' most mercurial players. Finley was fired up after the game, predicting that Rodgers will start "looking at me" more often and acknowledging: "It's big for the team to get me and [Rodgers] on the same page for this last stretch to the playoffs. I'm excited. I feel like a rookie right now." He even suggested that he and receiver Randall Cobb could form an indefensible playmaking duo. I'm not sure about that, but it's great for the Packers to have Finley thinking big thoughts -- and following up on them on the field -- once again.
It's always dangerous to make a full judgment on an offensive lineman based only on the plays you noticed him on. Typically, that offensive lineman does his job on the plays you didn't notice. So we'll just say this: Left guard Evan Dietrich-Smith was overwhelmed enough in the early going to make him a target of future Packers opponents. There is no doubt that the Lions have one of the NFL's most aggressive defensive lines, and that defensive tackle Nick Fairley in particular has been a beast of late. But while this was Dietrich-Smith's first start of the season, it wasn't the first of his career. You would have hoped for a more even performance before the Packers made some protection adjustments in the second half. The sight of Fairley pushing Dietrich-Smith into the backfield early on is one that will linger.
Given the circumstances, I thought Sunday marked one of the Packers' most impressive defensive games since we started this blog in 2008. With cornerback Charles Woodson and linebacker Clay Matthews sidelined, they sacked Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford five times and forced four total turnovers, one of which they converted into a touchdown. It probably should have been five turnovers, but safety Morgan Burnett allowed an interception to slip through his hands on Calvin Johnson's 25-yard touchdown reception. Still, the Packers have to be encouraged to see second-year safety M.D. Jennings return an interception 72 yards for a score, while also seeing linebacker Erik Walden with two sacks and rookie Dezman Moses with one, along with a forced fumble. Meanwhile, rookie cornerback Casey Hayward's tight coverage led to an interception and a total of five passes defensed. I don't think the Packers know whether they'll get Woodson or Matthews back for Sunday night against the New York Giants, but for one game at least, their replacements stepped up.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
Based on Twitter, it appears that some of you are mad that coach Mike McCarthy hasn't already cut place-kicker Mason Crosby, who has missed seven of his past 13 attempts, including two in Sunday's game. But Crosby has put McCarthy in a tough spot, considering the risk involved in replacing a kicker on a playoff-bound team this late in the season. Quite frankly, there are no obvious solutions available. McCarthy's best bet is to hold tight and hope Crosby will straighten himself out, much as he did in 2009 -- when he had a stretch of four misses in 10 attempts. What's impossible to know is how long McCarthy will let this go. Would Crosby have to blow a game before he would be replaced? Kicking is as mental as any task on a football field, and a kicker can "find it" as quickly as he "loses it." But other than positive thinking, I'm not sure anyone in the organization knows how this will play out.