After Green Bay’s 21-14 victory at Chicago, here are three (mostly) indisputable facts I feel relatively sure about:
There were plenty of defensive highlights, from the interceptions by Charles Woodson and Nick Collins to the seamless transition from Ryan Pickett to B.J. Raji at nose tackle. But let’s take this opportunity to note that linebacker Clay Matthews’ second-quarter sack gave him eight for the season. As of Monday morning, that was the 13th-highest total in the NFL and the second-most among rookies. (Washington defensive end Brian Orakpo has 11 sacks.) Matthews made this run after serving as a backup in September. As we approach the playoffs, Matthews is giving the Packers exactly what they need from a 3-4 outside linebacker. Along with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and receiver Greg Jennings, Matthews is among general manger Ted Thompson’s best draft picks.
I suppose there will be some people who look at tailback Ryan Grant’s 137-yard performance and have a “yeah, but.” As in, 62 of those yards came on the first play, which means Grant totaled a pedestrian 75 yards on his other 19 carries. I don’t see it that way, at least not this time. When Grant was at his best in 2007, he was routinely breaking big gainers. Although not a speedster, Grant was a playmaker that season. What a boon it would be for the Packers if he can, with some routine, start breaking off long runs as the playoffs approach.
The Packers are in a spot every playoff-caliber team dreads: Dealing with an inconsistent field goal kicker. The fourth quarter would have been much more comfortable Sunday had placekicker Mason Crosby converted a 42-yard field goal with 6:05 to play. Crosby has now missed eight field goals this season, giving him a 75-percent conversion rate. That ranks No. 29 among NFL kickers. It’s one thing to miss from beyond 50, but failing from 42 yards doesn’t inspire much confidence in the likelihood he would convert a playoff-pressure kick. But swapping out kickers at this late date, especially with someone who hasn’t been kicking in cold weather, is probably more risky than maintaining the status quo.
And here is one question I’m still asking:
In all likelihood, the Packers need one victory in their final three games to clinch a playoff spot. But here’s my question: Shouldn’t they win more than one? Based on recent events, their Dec. 27 matchup against Seattle at Lambeau Field should be a blowout. Considering they’ll be on the road in the playoffs, I’m interested to see how the Packers fare in Pittsburgh this weekend and in the season finale at Arizona. Those venues will give us a good sense of the Packers’ aptitude for playoff football.