The opponent’s talent, the game’s location, the team’s injury status, the play calling, Aaron Rodgers’ love life – these are all significant factors as to how well the Green Bay Packers will perform on a given game day. Of all the performance factors, however, motivation seems to be the strongest.
From the first set of downs on Monday evening, the Packers demonstrated a strong desire to beat the Philadelphia Eagles. The team came out with the juice that coach Mike McCarthy promised three weeks ago after the home loss to the Colts, but failed to materialize in the following blowout losses to the Titans and Redskins.
The team was energized on Monday in a way that was lacking for the past four games. The solid win is a reminder that motivation – or if you prefer, commitment, determination, resolve, energy, or juice – is an essential ingredient for any very good team.
No Talent Shortage
The game also made evident that the 2016 version of the Packers is not a team of mediocre talent. While injuries have been rampant, this was a deep roster and, other than at running back and inside linebacker, the team had replacements capable of filling in adequately.
In the Packers’ hallmark skill, the passing attack, the wide receivers, quarterback, and offensive line positions are all manned by talented, experienced, and proven players. The only injury (or player release) issue has been with the linemen, and Lane Taylor, Jason Spriggs, and Don Barclay have filled in when called upon and afforded great protection to Rodgers all year long.
Broadcaster Jon Gruden had it right when he noted on Monday that the Packers sent out four first-round draft choices to harass quarterback Carson Wentz: Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, and Datone Jones. This veteran group has plenty of talent and on Monday came up with the necessary motivation to keep the game from becoming a shootout. The foursome needs to keep playing with this level of commitment if the team’s tenuous playoff hopes are to stay alive.
As to the defensive backfield, it’s simply too easy and lazy to write this group off as untalented. Young and undrafted players need time to develop – LaDarius Gunter, Quinten Rollins, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix showed progress against the Eagles. Kentrell Brice, Marwin Evans, and Josh Hawkins need more time – it helped that all three were confined to special teams snaps on Monday. Damarious Randall has nowhere to go but up and Micah Hyde also needs to contribute more.
Even without a competent running back, this roster has the talent and experience needed to make the playoffs, but do they have the necessary motivation?
Has Motivation Come Too late?
Over the past several years, the Packers have performed best (in the regular season) when faced with must-win situations. This, unfortunately, is not the mark of a team that is going deep into the playoffs.
Last year, the Packers had secured a playoff berth by the time they faced Minnesota at home in the regular season finale. The motivation of winning the division and getting a home game should have been enough for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. It wasn’t and Green Bay lost 20-13 to the less-talented Vikings.
The Packers’ last four opponents have been run-of-the-mill teams. A loss to one or the other is not surprising, but I don’t see any way to explain consecutive blowout losses to the Titans and Redskins, except that the Packers didn’t show up ready to play or win. They simply had a giant midseason motivational slump.
The comfortable and ball-control-style win against the Eagles has rejuvenated the best fans in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers is fully back to his old form. Monday was the first time in close to a year that he had none of those inexplicable way-off-target throws. He’s back to throwing quickly, crisply, accurately, and with purpose.
Perhaps as importantly, Rodgers’ “we-can-run-the-table” pronouncement last Wednesday appeared to make believers out of his teammates. It was a vast improvement on his “I’m-not-a-rah-rah-guy” comments made after the loss to the Colts.
With Rodgers providing leadership in the clubhouse and on the field, this team is neither down, nor out, of the running.