I am neither a Packers fan nor a Giants fan. But, with the Pack beating the Steelers last year in the Super Bowl my thought was if the Steelers can’t rematch them in the Super Bowl this year than they shouldn’t go either – Go Giants. Plus there’s a little soft spot for the G-men since they broke up the Patriots undefeated season by beating them in the Super Bowl back in ’07. So I think many in Steelers Nation like myself were happy to see the game against the Giants and Packers play out the way it did.
There was one thing, particularly about Aaron Rodgers that got me thinking.
Rodgers pretty much stunk up the joint last night along with his receivers. Sure the receivers dropped easy passes and difficult ones too – amazing the media here in Milwaukee and how much they are dogging guys who dropped passes that were really hard to catch. Rodgers had his fair share of missing open receivers, and there were times of clear miscommunication between he and his receiving core. Last night was the playoffs right? Not Week 2?
By the time the 4th quarter came and RB James Starks dropped an easy dump down that would have resulted in a first down due to how wide open he was, I started to think about how sometimes a bye week can be dangerous before your playoff game. And for Rodgers, he was out for two weeks straight when you figure in the Matt Flynn Bowl during Week 17. Could it be that time off was enough to rattle the timing and chemistry between Rodgers and he teammates? You would usually think, no, but man that’s what it sure looked like last night against the Giants.
Most of Steelers Nation went after the Steelers FO and Tomlin after the Steelers fell to the Niners mainly due to Ben Roethlisberger’s sprained ankle. Could Charlie Batch have won that game because he was healthy? Those questions became even more of an uproar when Batch started against the Rams and looked like #7 in disguise. And, those questions turned into straight up criticisms and shouts of protest when Big Ben took the field in Cleveland and barely squeaked by a win… a meaningless win to most of us. But was that win and playing time meaningless to Ben and his receivers? There was talk during the week up to and after Cleveland that the main goal of playing Ben was to keep Ben ‘fresh.’ And it would seem that the theory holds true about constantly playing and practicing to keep sharp. That was very evident for most teams coming back from the bye week this year. The new rule in place this year was no practice during the bye week, and it showed with sloppy play and many loses.
If the Steelers were to keep Ben sidelined for that week in Cleveland, then he would have been out for Weeks 16 and 17. A total of 19 days (if you were to count days off from practice leading up to the playoff game in Denver). That’s a long time. Were the Steelers to bench Ben in San Fran then it would have been even longer – 26+. Almost a whole month. However, Ben practiced and played in San Fran and in Cleveland with a week off in between. Even though he didn’t have a productive week in Cleveland, the game kept him mentally sharp and practicing in ‘game time’ routes with his receivers. He struggled early in Denver, but perhaps the game in Cleveland paid off in the sense that he was connecting with receivers enough to bring the Steelers down from 17 to tie the game late.
I’m not saying that the Cleveland game is directly responsible. But, I have to admit that I need to pull back some of that criticism of Tomlin and Co. about starting Ben in Week 17. The Denver game could have been a complete disaster and completely one sided with NO comeback. Seems like the coaching staff had a decent strategy in place – if Ben couldn’t be 100% by the playoffs, then we can at least keep him sharp by allowing him to play the final game. It’s smart and it’s stupid – but it came close to paying off.
I wonder if Packer fans, after having a Flynn’gasm on Week 17, wish that Rodgers would have played instead. I wonder if anyone is connecting the dots a bit and can really blame the game in Kansas City for their defeat against the Giants. The Chiefs ruined the ‘perfect season,’ thus putting the Packers into the position of ‘resting starters’ for the playoffs for the next couple of weeks. They had nothing to strive for save for last nights game, which was 2 weeks away prior to Week 17. The Packers lost their edge and faced a hot team who had been playing as if their lives depended on it for the past month…. kind of like the ’08 Steelers. Look out Niners and look out AFC Champs, you’ve got your hands full if that is the case. Brother Eli may be winning a Lombardi in the house that Peyton built.