By Vic Ketchman, Packers.com
~A season of disappointment for the Packers defense was punctuated by Hakeem Nicks’ Hail-Mary touchdown catch on the final play of the first half of Sunday’s playoff game, and almost certainly sends the Packers into an offseason dedicated to rebuilding a defense that fell to No. 32 in the league this past season.
“We’re very disappointed in the way we played,” Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday, less than 24 hours after the Packers’ season ended with a 37-20 loss to the New York Giants.
Capers was referring to his unit’s performance on Sunday, but his words would also apply to the season in general. Following two seasons of defensive dominance, the Packers sunk to a level to which Capers’ defenses are not accustomed.
Reconstruction, it would seem, will begin with repairing a pass-rush that fell from third in the league in 2010 to last in the league this season. In the age of high-powered, pass-happy offense, not rushing the passer is not a formula for victory.
“It’s going to be one of the main issues. That area fell off. We’ve got to get those sack numbers and pressures back up,” Capers said.
The Packers’ pass-defense numbers also need to improve. Yeah, the Packers led the league in interceptions, but they also led the league in yards passing allowed, as in the most yards passing allowed.
Do the Packers need more speed on defense, Capers was asked?
“With where our game is, it probably jumps out at you this year. You look at all of those offenses that can spread you out, it becomes more of a basketball game on grass and you have to be able to match up. Speed is more important than it ever has been,” Capers said.
An improved pass-rush and more speed in coverage would help reduce the number of big plays the Packers allowed in the 2011 season. Sunday’s loss to the Giants produced two more game-changers, the Hail Mary, of course, which was preceded by Nicks’ 66-yard, catch-and-run touchdown in the first quarter.
“When you give up big plays, it’s going to end up on the scoreboard and that’s been the case too much this year,” Capers said. “When we come back here in a couple of weeks, we’re going to evaluate everything top to bottom to get back to where we were the previous two seasons.”
One decision that’ll be made during the offseason involves the career of safety Nick Collins, who was lost for the season to a neck injury in Week 2. Collins underwent fusion surgery and will decide during the offseason whether or not to continue his career.
“We’ll have to wait and see what Nick’s status is. Right now, I don’t have any idea,” Capers said.
The Packers will scout new talent at next week’s Senior Bowl practices and game, likely with change on defense in mind.
Full story here
By Vic Ketchman, Packers.com
~Packer “nation” is mourning a playoff loss to the New York Giants that Packers players and their head coach struggled to comprehend and explain. Was it rust, Head Coach Mike McCarthy was asked following the Packers’ 37-20 loss in a division-round playoff game at Lambeau Field on Sunday night?
“No excuses,” McCarthy said. “We practiced well. I thought Wednesday’s practice was as good a practice as we’ve had. There was nothing in preparation that led me to believe this would occur.”
What occurred was an avalanche of fumbles and dropped passes that doomed the Packers’ defense of their Super Bowl championship, before it really began. In a game in which the Packers never held the lead, a last-play-of-the-half, Hail-Mary pass from Giants quarterback Eli Manning to wide receiver Hakeem Nicks was the one from which the Packers couldn’t recover.
“The third quarter was a turning point. We had the ball the whole quarter and only had three points to show for it,” McCarthy said.
Trailing 20-13 early in the fourth quarter, McCarthy put the game on the line on a fourth-and-five play at the Giants’ 39-yard line. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked and the Giants marched 38 yards in 10 plays to take a two-score lead on Lawrence Tynes’ 35-yard field goal.
“The fourth-down call; I don’t have a problem with the call,” said McCarthy, who was trying to give his team a spark against a Giants defense that was gaining in confidence as the game wore on.
Having moved the ball seemingly at will in a 38-35 win in New York on Dec. 4, the Packers offense struggled in this game. Rodgers threw for 264 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 78.5 passer rating that is, by far, his lowest rating of the season.
Winning the passer rating battle had become a telling stat for the Packers over the last two seasons. For only the second time since a game late in the 2009 season, Rodgers was outpointed by the opposing quarterback; Manning threw for 330 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a 114.5 passer rating.
Rodgers, of course, was victimized by several dropped passes, but he was quick to point out a couple of off-target throws; he missed a wide-open Greg Jennings early in the game and a wide-open Jermichael Finley on the play immediately preceding the failed fourth-down conversion attempt.
“We all didn’t play our best game. Personally, I didn’t … I missed a couple of throws,” Rodgers said.
The Giants, of course, are a red-hot team, just as they were in the 2007 season, when they roared out of the regular season to go on a playoff run that carried them to an NFC title-game win in Green Bay and to a Super Bowl victory over then-undefeated New England. The Giants and Patriots would meet again in this season’s Super Bowl, should the Giants win in San Francisco and the Patriots defeat the Ravens in New England next weekend.
“We did not play well. I think that’s stating the obvious,” McCarthy said. “We did not do a very good job of covering the football.”
The Giants scored 10 points off turnovers, but seven of those points were after the issue was decided. The Packers were winners on two challenges involving potential fumbles.
Nicks’ Hail-Mary catch sent the Giants to the halftime locker room brimming with confidence. They appeared to be satisfied with running out the clock, but that changed when running back Ahmad Bradshaw broke loose on a 23-yard run that left the Giants in range of the end zone with six seconds left in the half.
“The defensive call was the right call. It’s about making plays. That was a big play for the Giants. It was a big momentum play for them but we were not deflated,” McCarthy said.
Rodgers was his usual, resourceful self, scrambling seven times for 66 yards, but the Giants’ pass-rush started to get to him in the second half. It caused a fumble on a first-down play on the Packers’ first drive of the second half, after the Packers had reached the Giants’ 30-yard line. Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora knocked the ball out of Rodgers’ right hand as Rodgers attempted to throw to Jennings.
“I had Greg probably for a touchdown and get the ball knocked out of my hand,” Rodgers said.
“It doesn’t feel good. It’s not how I expected to feel standing here. It’s a locker room that expected a lot more. In Green Bay, it’s about winning championships. Just going to the playoffs is not enough,” McCarthy said. “I have to look at myself and go back and figure out why I didn’t have the team in that mode.”
Packer fans with tickets to Lambeau Field or not, in Green Bay or somewhere else in the USA, with Jersey on or not…. it’s another run to the Super Bowl right now. Cherish this as we fans are lucky to be on this road again!
By Kareem Copeland, Green Bay Press-Gazette
~The 1997 Heisman Trophy.
A national championship at the University of Michigan.
Eight Pro Bowls.
The 2009 NFL defensive player of the year.
Super Bowl champion.
With that kind of résumé, what others think should be the least of Charles Woodson’s concerns — but it is. Constantly.
The Green Bay Packers start their run for a second consecutive Super Bowl title on Sunday against the New York Giants. Their all-world cornerback desperately wants another ring. But it’s also a chance to affirm a rarified legacy.
“That’s why I play like I play,” Woodson said. “Because when people watch me play, I want them to say, ‘Now that’s how you play football.’ Every time I step on the field, every time I strap ’em up, I’m going out there to make an impression on people about how I play football and my passion for it. And how much I love the game and how much I’m willing to sacrifice out there for my teammates and our coaches and this team.
“I think about it all the time.”
The NFL has crowned back-to-back Super Bowl champions just eight times since the 1966 regular season. The Packers have the opportunity to become the first since the Patriots in 2003-04 and only the second franchise, along with the Steelers, to accomplish the feat twice. Woodson is very aware of the historical significance for the team and himself.
“If you win two, now you’re on another level,” Woodson said. “Now you’ve done something that only few have done.
“Every year, somebody’s going to win one. To go back and win again just puts you in a whole other stratosphere.”
The journey has made Woodson especially appreciative. There are scores of veterans in the league with a bag full of individual awards that toil away on subpar teams. Woodson could have been one of them. He was drafted No. 4 overall in 1998 by the Raiders, was named NFL defensive rookie of the year and was a first-team All-Pro three times. The team went 40-28 in the first four seasons — then 26-41 over the next four. A slew of injuries, including a broken shoulder, broken legs, turf toe and rib issues, dulled the white-hot start. His skills were questioned.
Woodson became a free agent in 2006 and teams weren’t exactly scrapping for his services. He wasn’t initially thrilled to land in Green Bay. He called those last years in Oakland the most frustrating of his career.
“When you’re on a good team and part of a good organization and you are continuously in positions to play for what you play the game for — and that’s the Super Bowl — I mean, it’s kind of like a rejuvenation,” Woodson said. “When you’re winning, it’s just fun. All the bad things don’t matter. You play through everything because you know you have an opportunity to win.
“We know every time we step on the field we have a really good chance to win.”
The obsession with winning is nearly compulsive. Everything comes back to that. But all those individual trophies aren’t sitting on the curb. Woodson ranks No. 2 in NFL history with 11 interceptions returned for a touchdown and openly wants to surpass Rod Woodson’s record of 12.
“They mean more now because I won the Super Bowl,” Woodson said. “To win those individual awards and things are good. But to me they’re nothing without the hardware, the Lombardi, the ring.
“Now that I’ve won that ring, all those things are great. I love ’em. I can go back and say that I did this, did this, did that because I was on a great team that went on and won a Super Bowl.”
The Lombardi Trophy has allowed Woodson to go from a great player with Hall of Fame credentials to a virtual shoo-in. He’s the unquestioned defensive leader of the Super Bowl champs with all the intricacies that takes a man’s legacy and turns him into a legend.
Woodson has his “Remember the Titans” moment — an adrenaline-pumping postgame speech after winning the NFC championship, telling teammates in the locker room, “If the president doesn’t want to come watch us in the Super Bowl, guess what? Guess what? We’ll go see him!” Months later he stood next to the leader of the free world as President Barack Obama admitted, “I’ve learned something that every NFL quarterback knows: Don’t mess with Charles Woodson.”
He has the humanitarian efforts. Woodson has been heavily involved in the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, including a $2 million donation in 2009.
He’s one of those athletes that stops a room with his presence.
“As a leader, he’s the epitome of leading by example,” Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop said. “He’s not really going to say too much.
“I want to be like him when I grow up. I always make that joke.”
Woodson hasn’t said too much about his defense that ranks last in the NFL in yardage allowed. The Packers, to a man, are quick to point out points allowed and wins are the only thing that matters — and they are 15-1. But believe that’s not how Woodson chooses to go about business.
“As a guy who has been part of this defense when we played great then not to have that … that hurts,” Woodson said. “Because I feel like we’re better than the times we’ve gone out and given up the yards we’ve given up. Nobody’s happy about it.
“We’re all trying to play better because we know if we hold up our end, then our guys on the offense are going to do their thing.”
And because he needs that ring.
The saying goes, Father Time is undefeated and chases down every athlete at some point. Packers receiver Donald Driver has 13 seasons on that body and has said he wants to play until he’s 40. He and Father Time are fighting every day.
Woodson said he’ll be back for the 2012 season, but hasn’t put an expiration date on his career. He doesn’t even want to talk about a move to safety, which can add years to a cornerback’s career.
“I think I ……
Full story here
By Jason Wilde, ESPN Wisconsin
~GREEN BAY – If you want to know just how much it’s meant to the Green Bay Packers to have rookie Randall Cobb returning punts and kickoffs for them this season, just think about what happened when they didn’t have him.
With Cobb sitting out the Jan. 1 regular-season finale against Detroit with a groin injury, Pat Lee replaced him and promptly turned the first kickoff return opportunity into a comedy of errors. He bobbled the ball after catching it in the end zone, watched it bounce across the goal line, pulled it back into the end zone and took a knee in hopes of a touchback. Instead, of course, it was a safety, putting the Packers in a 9-0 hole.
“I feel bad because it’s my responsibility. That’s my job back there,” Cobb said. “Not being able to be on the field definitely hurt the team. Pat Lee did the best he could. It’s always hard to step in and try to take over something like that.”
Luckily, the Packers won’t have to have someone else take over for Cobb in Sunday’s NFC Divisional Playoff game against the New York Giants at Lambeau Field. While Cobb was limited in practice for the second consecutive day Thursday, coach Mike McCarthy expects him to be fine by Sunday.
“(I) had a chance to talk to Randall on the field. Returning punts, he said he feels a lot better today than he did yesterday. I’m not concerned about his availability Sunday,” McCarthy said after Thursday’s practice. “He’s getting better through the week, and once he gets off the field tomorrow, he’ll have 50-plus hours to get ready. I think he’ll be fine.”
As a result, so will the Packers’ return game. While the Packers won Super Bowl XLV last season, they did so with the 25th-ranked kickoff return unit (20.4 yards per return) and 22nd-ranked punt return unit (7.9 yards per return). In addition, the Packers exposed two of their brightest young star players – Tramon Williams, who became a Pro Bowl cornerback last season, and Jordy Nelson, who developed into one of the league’s top receivers this season – to potential injury on returns.
Enter Cobb, a second-round pick from Kentucky who made an instant impact with a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in his NFL debut, the Packers’ 42-34 victory over the New Orleans Saints. The return tied the record for longest kickoff return in NFL history and was a preview of what was to come. It also was the Packers’ first kickoff return for a touchdown since Allen Rossum on Nov. 19, 2000.
“Randall’s a playmaker,” said McCarthy, now in his sixth season in Green Bay. “He’s brought productivity to our return game that we really haven’t had at that level in my time here.”
In fact, Cobb finished the regular season ranked second in the NFL in kickoff return average (27.7 yards) and seventh in the NFL in punt return average (11.3 yards). With an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown against Minnesota on Nov. 14, he joined Chicago’s Devin Hester and San Francisco’s Ted Ginn as the only players this season to return both a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown.
He also joined Travis Williams and Robert Brooks as the only players in franchise history to register a receiving touchdown, a punt return touchdown and a kickoff return touchdown in the same season.
“I think it’s pretty evident. Randall’s done a good job,” special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. “He’s had a couple turnovers this year but, outside of that, I think he’s done an excellent job in terms of ball security and making decisions.”
Indeed, if there was one knock on Cobb during his rookie season, it had to be the three fumbles he lost on returns. He muffed a punt against the Vikings on Nov. 14 at Lambeau Field, muffed another on Oct. 23 against the Vikings in Minneapolis, and also lost a fumble on a kickoff at Carolina on Sept. 18. But he’s been perfect with ball security since.
“I’m still a rookie and I still have a lot to prove and a lot of things to do,” Cobb said.
Now, he could be a difference-maker in the playoffs, where a dynamic returner can give a team a much-needed edge. Cobb, who became the first player born in the 1990s to play in an NFL game when he suited up against the Saints, was only 6 years old when returner Desmond Howard won the Super Bowl XXXI MVP award after lifting the Packers to their first NFL title in 29 years.
“I probably was running around with a football somewhere trying to watch the game but really wasn’t, so I don’t really know the full history of that game or anything,” Cobb said. “But I have seen some highlights of it.”
He’ll get a chance to deliver his own postseason highlights beginning Sunday.
“There’s going to be some urgency. This is win or go home now,” Cobb said. “This is definitely a little bit different than the regular season. We’re just trying to prepare ourselves and have a mind-set ready to go in.
“We’ve had some pretty big returns this year to set us up with some good field position and some pretty good opportunities. Right now, we’re just making sure we can get back and get to that point.
“I’m not going to change who I’ve been. I’m going to continue to try to be the player I’ve been and stay disciplined and stay in tune with what we’re trying to accomplish with this team.”
Full story here
By Gary Mihoces, USA Today
~In early December, the Green Bay Packers were perfect and the New York Giants were anything but. Green Bay’s 38-35 victory against New York boosted the Packers to 12-0 and dropped the Giants to 6-6 with four consecutive defeats.
Wipe the slate clean for Sunday’s rematch in Green Bay in the NFC divisional playoffs. But that game told quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers of the Packers and Eli Manning of the Giants that big plays were there for the taking. Now Rodgers and Manning meet for the first time in the postseason.
“I think you have to expect (Manning) and their offense to make some plays, so you have to go in knowing that you are going to have to put up some points of your own,” Rodgers says. “You understand that Eli has played in big games before and played well, so you expect them to play their best.”
En route to a Super Bowl victory in the 2007 season, Manning led the wild-card Giants to a 23-20 overtime win against Brett Favre and the Packers in the NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field.
Rodgers now leads the 15-1 Packers, coming off a first-round playoff bye.
“He had a great season,” Manning says. “They have a good offense. That means our offense has to do our job. … We have to stay on the field as long as we can and not give them a short field to work with.”
In the Dec. 4 meeting on the Giants’ home field, Rodgers threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns with one interception that set up a New York touchdown. Manning threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns with an interception that was returned 38 yards for a touchdown by Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews III.
Rodgers drove the Packers 68 yards in the final 58 seconds for the winning field goal as time expired.
Sacked twice in that game and hurried often, Rodgers again will face a New York pass rush that racked up 48 sacks in the regular season, 16½ by end Jason Pierre-Paul— who also said this week that the Giants would win in Green Bay. That rush has been bolstered by the return from injury of end Osi Umenyiora, who missed the first meeting.
“We had a lot of respect for their defensive line when we went in there six weeks ago, and we still do,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy says.
McCarthy says his team has stuck to its preparation this week despite coping with the death of the son of Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. The body of Michael Philbin, 21, was found Monday in a Wisconsin river. In Joe Philbin’s indefinite absence, McCarthy and his assistants have divvied up his duties.
“Everybody is dealing with it very well,” McCarthy says. “Personally, I really don’t have the words for you to express emotionally how you would feel for Jim and what his family is going through.
“He would want us more than anybody to pour our hearts into this preparation.”
In the first meeting, the Packers were without inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop because of injuries. They’re back.
“They have lost players from time to time … and have been able to overcome that as well,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin says. “They are averaging 35 points a game, so that’s a pretty good start.”
Full story here
By Jason Wilde, ESPN Wisconsin
~GREEN BAY – Say any of the following words to Aaron Rodgers these days – blueprint, recipe, formula – and you are in immediate danger of the Green Bay Packers quarterback giving you what has come to be known as The Offseason Workout Treatment.
After the Packers beat the New Orleans Saints in the Sept. 8 regular-season opener after Rodgers had been criticized in some precincts for not getting his teammates together during the lockout for player-organized workouts, Rodgers let it be known – through repeated snarky references to the difference the team’s non-existent offseason get-togethers had had on the outcome that night – that he didn’t agree with the premise.
So too is the case whenever it’s suggested to Rodgers that what the Kansas City Chiefs defense did in the Packers’ lone loss this season – generating pressure with its front four, dropping seven or eight defenders into coverage – showed other teams the way to slow down the NFL’s highest-scoring offense.
So while no one was telling Rodgers Tuesday that the New York Giants will win Sunday’s NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Lambeau Field because of what they learned from the Chiefs’ 19-14 victory on Dec. 18, it’s hard to deny that if the Giants can generate pressure on Rodgers with their front four, they give themselves a much better chance to win than if they blitz Rodgers.
“They’re a good front four. They’re really good. As a whole, they’re probably as good as you’re going to see in the league, as far as getting after the passer well,” Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on ESPN Milwaukee and ESPN Madison on Tuesday. “They’re long-armed guys that if they’re not getting to the passer, they’re going to try and jump up and tip the ball. Very athletic guys. It’s going to be very important for us to pass-protect well.”
According to STATS, Rodgers ranked No. 1 in the NFL in 2011 against the blitz with a 131.4 passer rating (85 of 125, 1,500 yards, 11 touchdowns, two interceptions). He also led the NFL in passer rating against the blitz last season and was second in the NFL in the category in 2009. Over the past three seasons, Rodgers has been the NFL’s best quarterback against the blitz with a 114.7 passer rating.
“Defensively, I think it really starts with their group up front,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s a four-man line scheme and to run the scheme, you have to have the horses up front to run that type of scheme. … They’re healthy, and they’re going to put it on their down linemen to generate the pressure. They played a lot of two-shell, aggressive man under (coverage) in our first contest. Their secondary has a lot of experience in it. They have playmakers in their secondary. It’s a very veteran, experienced football team (with) a lot of veterans on defense. This will be an excellent challenge for us.”
It’ll be up to the Packers’ reassembled starting offensive line to negate that advantage. The starting fivesome – left tackle Chad Clifton, left guard T.J. Lang, center Scott Wells, right guard Josh Sitton and right tackle Bryan Bulaga – is set to start its first game together since Bulaga went down with a knee injury in Week 3 in Chicago.
After that, sixth man Marshall Newhouse started at right tackle until Clifton’s Oct. 9 hamstring injury forced him to shift to left tackle. Bulaga returned the following week, but when Clifton returned to action for the regular-season finale against Detroit on Jan. 1, Bulaga was sidelined with a knee injury he’d suffered Dec. 18 in Kansas City.
“I love the way we’ve played the last couple weeks, doing the O-Line Shuffle out there,” Sitton said. “It’s awesome to see we can go play with a number of different guys at different positions.”
That said, the group is looking forward to getting the band back together. Clifton, who played 25 snaps against the Lions in the finale, figures to draw the most challenging assignment in Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who ranked fourth in the NFL in the regular season with 16.5 sacks and earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro recognition.
“With Chad, I think it’s just a matter of getting out there, getting comfortable again, getting the mechanics down again,” offensive coordinator Joe Philibin said during the open week. “I don’t want to make it as simple as riding a bike, that you don’t forget – there’s a little more to it, just the timing of those things. And maybe working some twists with the guy next to you. Hopefully we can advance that. It kind of is what it is. There’s nothing much we can do. But I think we’re in good shape.”
Beyond Pierre-Paul, the Giants rotate a cadre of talented defensive linemen, including ends Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Dave Tollefson and tackles Linval Joseph, Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard. Of the Giants’ 48 sacks, 41.5 have come from defensive linemen.
Umenyiora missed the Packers’ 38-35 victory over the Giants on Dec. 4 at MetLife Stadium with an ankle injury, while Tollefson, a 2006 Packers seventh-round draft pick, and Tuck accounted for the Giants’ two sacks in that game. While Pierre-Paul didn’t have any sacks – his lone takedown was wiped out by a penalty – he was credited with three quarterback hits and six pressures while working primarily against Newhouse, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
The Packers can ill-afford to have Rodgers under duress all game long. If the line gives him time, the Giants are susceptible in the back end. New York ranked 29th in the 32-team league in passing yards allowed – only the New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots and the league-worst Packers gave up more yardage through the air – and allowed Rodgers to complete 28 of 46 passes for 369 yards with four touchdowns and one interception (106.2 rating).
“Regardless of who we’re playing, that’s what we start with. Protection is important to our success,” Rodgers said. “Having the offensive line together that started the season for the first time in a long time, that’s going to be important. Having ‘Cliffy’ back and Bryan back, and the way the interior three are playing … I mean, T.J., Scott, and Josh have played excellent for us.
“Scotty’s probably been our most consistent lineman for the last three or four years and Josh, the last two or three has been right there with him. It’s been great having those guys. T.J.’s had an excellent season for us. So those three guys need to have a good game and stymie that rush up the middle and then the two guys off the edge need to slow up Pierre-Paul, and Tuck, and Osi and Dave down. Those guys flip-flop sides and move around a little bit so they’re going to face all of them, and they need to have success for us to be able to do what we want passing the ball.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.
Defensive lineman leads on field, at home and in a ministry
~By Lori Nickel, Journal-Sentinel
~Green Bay – How many 32-year-old, 340-pound defensive linemen have their best season in their 11th year?
And then how many of them spend their off-days teaching third-grade math at the kitchen table?
Ryan Pickett feels a little more comfortable locking horns with centers and guards, but he enjoys both roles proudly. He leads the Green Bay Packers defensive linemen in tackles, but perhaps what’s so remarkable is not that coach Mike McCarthy proclaimed that Pickett is having his finest year as a Packer.
It’s that Pickett finds a way to balance practice, film study, games and travel with his huge – and growing – family.
Meet the Picketts.
Abigail, 6, is a little actress. She does not take after her quiet and reserved father. She’s more like her mom. “She will talk all day,” Pickett said.
Ryan Jr., 4, isn’t hooked on “Blues Clues” or “Sesame Street” – but he watches his superhero, No. 79, every day.
“We have to take the remote from him. He watches the Super Bowl over and over,” Pickett said. “He will watch it 100 times. I can’t take it anymore. I’m like, ‘Listen, we got to watch something else.’ ”
Lydia, 3, is an animal lover. She holds onto the dog and does not let it go. Turn your head for a second while she’s in the backyard and she’ll come back with night crawlers wiggling in her little hands.
Caleb is 6 months old and the spitting image of Pickett, whose apple cheeks and easy smile can’t be contained under a football helmet.
Esther, 7, is like a little mom to all of them.
“She tries to take care of all of them,” Pickett said. “She tries to feed them, get them dressed – she really looks after her other siblings.”
That’s five kids under the age of 7, and Pickett’s wife, Jennifer, just found out they’re expecting again, he thinks sometime in September.
Pickett loves to come home to a doorway packed with kids begging him to play. He takes the three oldest with him when he goes golfing in the San Diego area, where he makes his off-season home (not far from quarterback Aaron Rodgers). They all clamor for the steering wheel. “It’s an. . . adventure,” Pickett said.
And although he hates it, he’s also the disciplinarian.
“It’s hard, but I have to,” Pickett said. “We make sure they listen the first time you say something. You have to because we have so many! To have the house out of control, it wouldn’t be good.”
But when Jennifer decided to home-school all of the kids in Green Bay, it also meant a commitment from her husband; she couldn’t do this alone.
“On my off-days, I have to teach,” Pickett said.
So Pickett shows the little ones how to hold a pencil and the middle ones how to spell and his oldest where to put the decimal point.
“Right now my oldest is in second grade, but she’s doing third-grade math – and I’m like, this is what third-graders do in math?” Pickett said. “Oh my goodness, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to help her.”
Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett carries his son Ryan Jr. after the Packers’ win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV last year. Ryan Jr., 4, “watches the Super Bowl over and over,” Pickett said. “He will watch it 100 times. I can’t take it anymore.” Photo by Mark Hoffman
It would be understandable if Pickett lost his focus sometimes, but his family appears to give him a balance.
The lockout after Super Bowl XLV gave him a break he really needed, he said, to get away. So he spent time with his family. He also got healthy and rested and worked with a personal trainer – something he doesn’t do normally.
When he came back to Green Bay and fully participated in training camp – rare for a veteran, rarer for a veteran lineman – that greatly impressed his position coach, Mike Trgovac.
“I’ve seen so many guys eat themselves out of this league,” Trgovac said.
“I’ve seen so many big guys, when they get around that ninth, 10th, 11th year, they keep adding weight, and it takes a toll so much on their body. They get hurt. You see a lot of older guys at the end of their career that they can’t make a 16-game season.
“That didn’t happen to him because he took the advice that the weight staff gave to him that the older you get, the harder it is going to get to lose it. And the harder it is going to be to play like that.
“I think Pick has done a fantastic job of managing his weight.”
Pickett leads the defensive line with 51 tackles (23 solo) this season, but tackles never tell the complete story of how well a guy is playing. With Pickett it starts with remarkable durability.
He has played in 161 of a possible 175 regular-season games during his career, missing just nine contests due to injury.
“Man, I don’t know what it is. Well, I know, it’s God,” Pickett said. “I just feel blessed to be able to play this long, really. The thing is, I feel great. It’s weird.
“I’m waiting to hit this wall: ‘OK, I’m over 30, my body is going to start feeling awful.’ But I’m in shape this year and my body feels excellent.”
Pickett has played hurt, through ankle and shoulder issues, but this year he’s enjoyed a full season without those problems.
“Pick is a pretty limber guy. That helps. He’s not stiff,” Trgovac said. “In the front, you get yourself in some bad positions. Knees get bent and stuff. He’s naturally a limber guy; if you have a stiffer guy, as you get older, obviously you get stiffer. That hasn’t happened yet.”
Coaches also say Pickett had a great command of the 3-4 defense now that he’s had three years in it. But they helped him out a little, too.
“We moved him a little closer to the ball,” Trgovac said. “The year before, there were times where he was out there on the end. Pick did that not being a selfish guy. Now in most of our defenses he’s at least a three-technique. That means on the outside he’s at least a shade on the guard. And he’s more comfortable on the inside. That’s really what he is.”
Pickett’s experience overall is paying off this season, both for him and for his teammates.
“He’s mastered the nose tackle, the shade front,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. “I’m man enough to admit it – the Chicago game, I had a little trouble with some of the things. I haven’t had the experience. Pick has had over 1,000 snaps at that position. There’s little nuances that he can pick up, like pre-snap, that I’m still trying to get him to help me with. Ultimately you can count on him. He’s a great asset to the team.”
Added Trgovac: “Pick’s about the finest human being I’ve ever been around. He really cares about being a Packer, he really cares about this defense.”
Pickett was on the phone last week checking in on former teammate Johnny Jolly, who was suspended from the National Football League after multiple drug arrests and then sentenced to six years in prison. It wasn’t long ago – just 2009 – when Jolly, Pickett and Cullen Jenkins led the Packers to a No. 1 ranking in rushing defense with a franchise-low 83.3 yards allowed per game. It was the first time Green Bay led the league in that category.
“I was telling him like, ‘Man, I’m the last one. . . here,’ ” Pickett said.
Who would have ever imagined that? Pickett and Charles Woodson are still general manager Ted Thompson’s two greatest free-agent signings – from all the way back in 2006. Pickett has had a great run the past six years, and he’s here partly because his wife was taken with Green Bay almost instantly.
The couple is a team of its own. Through Acts 1:8 Ministry, they’ve built 50 water towers for Uganda. Though he’s never been there, Pickett knows about the struggles of that country and decided he wanted to help, somehow. At Jennifer’s suggestion, he donated money to build the towers so that villages can collect their own rainwater, treat it and store it in towers, saving people from walking for miles to collect water that ends up being dirty and unhealthy.
Pickett also joined quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck and Jon Kitna in an anti-pornography video message that was broadcast to 300 churches last Super Bowl Sunday. That’s not exactly a cause you see a lot of professional athletes take up, but Pickett, who is considered a great locker room guy and never uses his interviews or his own beliefs to push any agenda, decided it was a good message.
“It’s not me being judgmental – I’m just giving another point of view, another perspective,” Pickett said. “It was just pro-family. ‘OK, here’s another alternative: How about spending time with your family? Or only having eyes for your wife.’ That was the message.”
Rest of story here
By Chris Burke, SI.com
~There have been times, this season and throughout his career, when Brandon Jacobs has seemed a little more nonchalant about his on-field performance than Giants fans would like. Sunday against Atlanta was not one of those times.
Jacobs ran over, around and through the Falcons defense en route to 92 yards in New York’s 24-2 playoff victory. Coupled with Ahmad Bradshaw’s effort on the ground, Bradshaw helped the Giants to a 172-yard rushing day — improving the team’s record to a staggering 8-1 this season when it rushes for 100 yards or more.
That mark alone could make Jacobs the X-factor when the Giants head on the road in the divisional round to meet Green Bay, the only team that’s beaten them when their ground game has hit century mark.
The Packers, as a matter of fact, have not shown the slightest regard for stopping opposing teams from piling up yards on the ground. Ten times this regular season, Packers opponents hit the 100-yard plateau (with one team, the Vikings, getting up over 200). Green Bay lost just one of those games, its lone defeat of the season in Week 15 at Kansas City.
So, it’s not as if Green Bay will be altering its defensive game plan to stop the run. Not with Eli Manning slinging the ball around to Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks and the rest of his weapons.
But for as much as New York might be able to find success through the air — Manning had 347 yards passing in the Giants’ near-upset of the Packers in the regular season — any team with hopes of knocking off Green Bay, especially at Lambeau, needs to do what it can to control the clock and play physical.
That’s where Jacobs comes into play.
Maybe it was being in front of his home crowd in the playoffs. Maybe it was the knowledge that, due to a roster bonus owed him in March, he might have been playing his last game as a Giant. Whatever the reasoning, Jacobs was a man amongst boys Sunday afternoon.
“Brandon Jacobs set the tone physically,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after his team’s win.
“This time of year, that’s what we’re going to have to do to stay in games,” said Jacobs, who had 92 yards on 14 carries. “We can throw it to win as well, but why not use all your weapons?”
When it comes right down to it next weekend, Manning’s probably going to have to play a near-flawless game with his offense putting up a ton of points for the Giants to win. As Jacobs said, though, why not use everyone?
Ahmad Bradshaw’s return to health has given New York its thunder-and-lightning duo back in the backfield.
The mere presence of both Bradshaw and Jacobs hasn’t always been enough, mind you. Jacobs, in fact, has just one game over 100 yards on his own this season, and he was booed during a home loss to Philadelphia, when he filled in for an injured Bradshaw by producing a whole 21 yards on 12 carries.
So, there’s no guarantee that Jacobs will bring his “A” game to Green Bay Sunday, and it is definitely not a certainty that Jacobs running well will lead to a Giants upset win.
What a big game from Jacobs would do, however, is balance out the Giants’ offense — and not just the run-to-pass ratio. Jacobs’ between-the-tackles power, when he’s going well, lets New York utilize Bradshaw as a more-explosive option, be it as a receiver out of the backfield or against a defense stretched out to stop the pass. Jacobs also can provide a major boost for New York in the red zone, meaning seven points instead of three, a difference that will be huge Sunday.
We’ve seen enough of the lethargic Brandon Jacobs to know that his performance against Atlanta might not be more than a blip on the radar. But if nothing else, he’s reminded everyone — the Packers and his own team included — what he can do when he’s feeling motivated.
Full story here
by Gregg Rosenthal on January 11, 2012, 1:30 PM EST
Every Packers player was accounted for and fully practicing at Wednesday’s practice as the team prepared for the Divisional Round against the Giants.
That includes running back James Starks, tackle Chad Clifton, wide receiver Greg Jennings, and, well, everyone else. Starks was the only Packer whose status was truly up in the air this week.
Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel notes that offensive coordinator Joe Philbin was not present following the death of his son. Mike McCarthy appears to be running the offense.
The Giants lost a number of players for the year, but they are also as healthy as they have been all year. We may just have an entertaining football game on Sunday afternoon.
Original story here
By Richard Rothschild, Sports Illustrated
~ Story Highlights
- Members of ’61 Packers think today’s team could be the best Packers team ever
- The ’60s dynasty is the only team to win five championships in seven years
- Statistically, the ’60s Packers compare favorably to other NFL dynasties
There has been no greater National Football League dynasty than the Green Bay Packers of the 1960s.
Fifty years ago this postseason, the Pack won the first of their five championships in seven years, an achievement unmatched in NFL history. Only the Chicago Bears of the 1940s and the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s have even won four championships over a similar time period.
Yet in talking with yesteryear’s Packers, a group that established the gold standard for NFL excellence, they say the current Green Bay team, which begins defense of its Super Bowl championship Sunday against the New York Giants, has the potential to write its own history.
“This could be the best Packers team ever,” said Hall of Fame running back Paul Hornung, the MVP of both the 1961 regular season and the ’61 NFL Championship Game. “Aaron Rodgers is sensational. They’re going to be contenders as long as he’s playing quarterback. He has a great group of receivers, the best the Packers have ever had.”
Hall of Fame defensive end Willie Davis, one of the Packers’ captains during the championship run, had the opportunity to sit next to Rodgers during a November seminar in Green Bay on the keys to building a winning franchise. Davis, 77, the owner of five radio stations, came away impressed with the man nearly a half-century younger.
“This guy is the real thing,” Davis said. “His attitude, his desire, his feeling about doing things the right way, his balance in controlling his emotions are a lot like Bart [Starr],” the quarterback who led Green Bay to its five championships in the ’60s.
(Rodgers and Starr rank 1-2 in the NFL’s all-time postseason passer ratings.)
Jerry Kramer, the All-Pro guard who chronicled the Packers’ 1967 championship season in his groundbreaking book Instant Replay, applauds the approach of the entire team. “They don’t seem to be affected with that arrogance that infects so many Super Bowl teams,” Kramer said. “Against Minnesota [a 33-27 victory], Aaron had completions to nine different receivers yet he said, ‘it was a good solid game but we need to be better.’ Charles Woodson had two interceptions but said, ‘We had some mistakes out there. We can be better.’
“I love the way they’re talking. There’s no arrogance, no cockiness. This will serve them well over time.”
No Super Bowl champion performed better during the next regular season than the 2011 Packers. In addition to being only the sixth defending champion to register a better regular-season record, their 15-1 mark represents the largest improvement in wins (five) by an NFL champ following a non-strike year. They may be on the threshold of becoming the NFL’s team of the decade.
Still, one needs to tread very carefully when comparing these Packers to their distinguished forebears, a team with 10 Hall of Famers who jelled under the unparalleled leadership of coach Vince Lombardi. In addition to Hornung, Starr and Davis, the future Canton inductees included running back Jim Taylor, offensive lineman Forrest Gregg, center Jim Ringo, defensive tackle Henry Jordan, middle linebacker Ray Nitschke, cornerback Herb Adderley and safety Willie Wood.
The Packers had fallen short in 1960, losing the NFL Championship Game 17-13 to the Philadelphia Eagles. Yet in the dejected visitors’ locker room at Franklin Field, the genesis of a dynasty began to form.
“We didn’t know if we were a championship-caliber team; it was all so new to us,” Kramer said. “We finished the game on the Eagles’ 9-yard line. There’s a frustration, a feeling that something had been stolen from us and that we should have won the game.
“Lombardi told us in the locker room, ‘This year we played in a championship game and next year we will win it.’ At that point I bought into his philosophy. I also was motivated by the people in Green Bay. For the next five or six months it was ‘what happened in Philadelphia?”’
Having reached the ’60 title game with a so-so 8-4 record, the ’61 Packers shifted gears. After losing the season opener to the Detroit Lions, they won 11 of the next 13 games, seven by 18 or more points. They then blasted the Giants 37-0 at Lambeau Field for their first NFL championship in 17 years. Green Bay’s nickname, “Titletown,” was born.
“We came together as team,” Hornung said. “We were starting to hit our stride. Bart Starr, Jimmy Taylor and I all were developing at the same time. We started scoring a lot of points [27.9 per game, first in the NFL]. The defense was aggressive [second in points allowed].”
And the Packers weren’t even at full strength. Kramer missed nearly half the ’61 season with an ankle injury and Hornung missed two games because of Army duty, but still led the NFL in scoring with 146 points.
Hornung’s military schedule called for him to be on duty the second half of December, meaning he would miss the NFL title game on Dec. 31. To change Hornung’s schedule, Lombardi called a high-ranking government official, a very high-ranking official: President John F. Kennedy. JFK persuaded Hornung’s commanding officer to alter the duty schedule so that the Golden Boy could suit up against the Giants.
Hornung responded with one of his finest efforts, scoring an NFL championship record 19 points on a touchdown, four extra points and three field goals as the Packers secured the title with a 24-point second quarter. When the score reached 37-0 early in the fourth quarter, Lombardi emptied his bench.
“I told Lombardi to put the starters back in because I wanted to beat the Bears’  record of 73 points against the Redskins,” Hornung said. “Lombardi told me to take a seat.”
Davis says each of the following four championships represented a different challenge and a new level of achievement for the Packers.
1962: Perhaps the greatest of all Packers team, Green Bay went 13-1 and outscored its opposition 415-148, an average of 19 points a game. Only the 16-0 Patriots of 2007 have registered a greater point differential since 1950. The Pack then defeated the Giants 16-7 for the NFL title in a bitterly cold and windy Yankee Stadium. Kramer, taking over the place-kicking duties from Hornung, kicked three field goals and an extra point.
During the regular season Green Bay celebrated its first trip back to Philadelphia since the ’60 title game in style, blasting the Eagles, 49-0.
1965: After two second-place finishes, the Packers rebounded. Hornung scored a career-best five touchdowns in a key late-season victory over the Baltimore Colts. Two weeks later, with Starr sidelined with a rib injury, Green Bay rallied from a 10-point deficit to beat the Colts again, 13-10 in overtime for the Western Conference championship. The Pack then topped Cleveland 23-12 at muddy Lambeau Field for the NFL crown. Hornung rushed for 110 yards and scored the clinching touchdown in the final game of Cleveland running back Jim Brown’s Hall of Fame career.
1966: The 12-2 Packers missed a perfect season by four points before holding off the up-and-coming Dallas Cowboys 34-27 in the NFL title game. Green Bay then crunched the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in the first Super Bowl.
The ’66 season also represented the full maturation of Starr, who won the NFL MVP award and led the league in passing. His yards-per-attempt was a spectacular 9.0 and his passer rating was a near-record 105.0. Not until Dan Marino’s record-breaking 1984 season would an NFL quarterback register a higher rating.
“In those later [championship] years we really needed Bart,” Kramer said. “He was ready and he was prepared. Bart had had the time to grow up and hone his game. He really took care of the ball [only three postseason interceptions in 213 attempts].”
Davis added, “Starr was absolutely sensational in operating the game plan. We could beat a team running or passing.”
Starr tossed four TD passes in the win over Dallas and two more in the Super Bowl to Max McGee, who faced a tougher challenge overcoming a late night on the town in Los Angeles than the Chiefs secondary.
1967: Lombardi had always talked of becoming the first NFL team to win three straight championships in the playoff era (starting in 1933). His final Packers team delivered, although it was a struggle. Hornung had retired, and injuries and age were starting to take their toll as Green Bay finished 9-4-1, its worst record of the five title teams. The Pack regrouped, routing the Los Angeles Rams 28-7 in the first round of the playoffs.
One week later in the NFL Championship Game, however, Green Bay trailed Dallas by three points with 4 1/2 minutes to play and 68 yards of frozen Lambeau Field turf to cover in minus-13 degree weather. It was called the Ice Bowl.
After barely moving the ball for most of the second half, the Packers drove downfield. With 13 seconds left, Starr followed the blocks of Kramer and center Ken Bowman into the end zone for a 21-17 win.
“That drive was pure Lombardi,” Kramer said. “Coach Lombardi’s basic philosophy of hard work, discipline, character, all those things that he stood for were personified in that final drive.”
Green Bay defeated the Oakland Raiders 33-14 in Super Bowl II in Miami behind another MVP performance from Starr (202 yards passing). Those ’67 Packers remain Kramer’s favorite.
“Our ’62 team had the [best] record but the ’67 team had the grit and character, the pride and the experience, all the things to get the job done,” Kramer said. “The Cowboys were a helluva team. So were the Rams. Both probably had better personnel at that point. But we won with [intangibles], those things you can’t measure.”
Lombardi retired from coaching the Packers after Super Bowl II, but his legacy was secure. As the events of the 1960s transformed the United States from a peaceful, prosperous and positive nation to a land riven by war, racial tensions, assassinations and urban violence, the Green Bay Packers were one of the decade’s few constants.
“Coach Lombardi was very basic but I think he understood strategy extremely well,” Kramer said. “He liked to defeat a team at its strongest point. Then they would be concerned and it would destroy their confidence.
“We played for his approval. His approval meant more than anything else outside the locker room.”
How do the ’60s Packers stack up with other NFL powerhouses over their seven best consecutive regular seasons?
The Colts won only one championship and played in the weak AFC South. The 49ers, too, were helped by a lack of consistent competition in the NFC West as only the Rams provided much of a fight. During the Packers’ title run, the Bears, Colts, Lions and later the Rams were all championship-caliber teams in the NFL’s Western Conference. Indianapolis’ playoff record during their best seven-season stretch was 9-6 and San Francisco’s was 10-4. Green Bay’s postseason mark was 9-0.
|Losses by more than 10 points|
This statistic best highlights the competitive consistency of the Lombardi Packers. Over seven seasons and 98 games only four times was Green Bay not in position to win.
|Average margin of defeat|
|Point differential per game|
No matter the metrics, the Packers stand equal with or above the other NFL dynasties. It’s a defining inheritance for today’s Packers as they try to win the franchise’s 14th world championship.