Thursday, November 07, 2013

Bad Quarterback Blues

I realize this sounds like the douchiest, most entitled, most #firstworldproblems thing a football fan could say, especially one who realizes just how rare and lucky I've been as a Packers fan to enjoy basically 21 unbroken years of elite-to-very good quarterback play in the form of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers…

….but man, how can you fans of teams with bad quarterbacks stand it?

As Joni Mitchell sang in her time-traveling cover of that Counting Crows song, you really don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.  I never knew quite how much I've appreciated the Aaron Rodgers experience until his horrifying, terrifying* fractured collarbone injury on the VERY FIRST FUCKING OFFENSIVE DRIVE of Monday's game against the Bears.  Suddenly, here came Seneca Wallace, and god help me, I had actually forgotten who the Pack's backup quarterback was until that moment.  Wallace had a thoroughly mediocre game the rest of the way and Green Bay ate what would end up being a critical loss to the Bears.

* = not in a Joe Theismann-broken-leg kind of way, just gruesome in its impact on Green Bay's season.

I happened to be watching the game with my pal Malcolm, a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan, who could only grimly nod in recognition at seeing Wallace stink it up.  I've actually brought up the Bill Simmons ground rules for switching your sports allegiances to poor Malc in the past out of sheer pity for seeing him throw his support behind such a lost cause.  After this game, I can understand why he's taken such joy in EJ Manuel for showing even a hint of promise as the Bills' (latest) quarterback of the future.

A good QB makes everything else seem better, and a bad QB simply makes everything worse.  Buffalo has a pretty solid unit this season and could easily be better than 3-6 had they simply not had such wretched injury luck with their quarterbacks.  Ditto the Browns losing a lot of winnable games since they stubbornly had to go with Brandon Weeden for so long despite Weeden being arguably the worst player in football.  On the flip side, look at the Chiefs, who are 9-0 after going 2-14 last season with largely the same roster except for upgrading to the C-minus Alex Smith at quarterback from the F-minus-minus slugs they behind center last year (Andy Reid coaching instead of Romeo Crennel obviously also helped).

Or, look at the Packers.  Rodgers' brilliance has helped them overcome a swath of injuries over the last four seasons.  No matter how banged up the team gets, Rodgers keeps them above water, even carrying a very undermanned Green Bay squad to a Super Bowl title.  Without Rodgers, god, I shudder to think.  I'm hoping Wallace was simply caught off-guard on Monday and will be better with a full week of preparation but yeah, there's literally nothing in his career history that makes me think this work out.

Going into Monday, the Packers were 5-2 and had a very winnable matchup against the Bears (themselves missing their starting QB in Jay Cutler).  A win would've left Green Bay sitting pretty in the NFC and more or less wrapped up their division  Now, at 5-3, the Packers are tied with both Chicago and Detroit and god knows what will happen.  With Rodgers, the Packers were a few breaks away from getting back to the Super Bowl, provided that they could've avoided the 49ers in the playoffs and gotten the Saints and/or Seahawks at Lambeau Field.  Without Rodgers, the Packers might not even make the postseason altogether.

With Rodgers set to miss roughly 4-6 weeks, let's see the schedule breakdown...

Week 10, hosting the Eagles.  With Rodgers it's an easy win given how Philly hasn't beaten a good team all yet.  Nick Foles makes them a good offensive team but obviously they won't put up the points against Green Bay's defence that they did against Oakland last week.  It's a very borderline win for Green Bay this point.

Week 11, at the Giants.  I'm chalking it up as a loss.  As bad as the Giants are this year, they've owned the Packers for the last several seasons and even with Rodgers, I would've been scared of this game.  I blame it on Favre for laying down for Michael Strahan's record-breaking sack years ago, thus giving the Giants loads of karmic edge over Green Bay for all eternity.  Dammit, Brett.

Week 12, hosting the Vikings.  Still thinking of this one as a win given that the Vikings are a tire fire right now.  Oh god, wait….a good team hindered by a huge hole at QB?  Oh lord, the Packers have become the Vikings.  Shoot me now.

Week 13, at the Lions.  This could've been the earliest possible return date for Rodgers, except it's a damn short week for the Thanksgiving game.  This is the first time I've ever been mad about seeing my team get the usually easy national game against Detroit on Thanksgiving.  Now I've got to call this a loss.

Week 14, hosting the Falcons.  Still likely a win given how inexplicably poorly Atlanta has done this year.  No running game, old defence, Roddy White is washed up, Julio Jones got hurt….yeah, maybe we should've/could've seen this coming.  Speaking of national games, this is supposed to be the Sunday Nighter but without Rodgers, I'm guessing the Packers get flexed out.  Perusing the schedule for Week 14, Carolina/New Orleans, Seattle/San Francisco, Indianapolis/Cincinnati and even Tennessee/Denver stand out as games that could be slotted into primetime instead.  I suspect FOX will protect Seahawks/Niners, Denver may have used up its allotment of primetime games already and thus we'll get the Panthers and Saints on Sunday night as long as Carolina keeps up their surprising good form.

Week 15, at the Cowboys.  Here we go.  This is the sixth week, and while collarbone injuries are tricky, I'm hoping and praying that Rodgers is back to lay the smack down on the hated Cowboys.  Of course the game is in Dallas since if I'm not mistaken, there's an NFL bylaw that states the Packers can never, ever host the Cowboys.  Seriously, it's terrible that….er, well, actually, the Packers have hosted four of the last five matchups between the two teams.  Huh.  Pays to look things up!  I may still be influenced by my childhood when the Packers played SEVEN STRAIGHT GAMES against the Cowboys at Texas Stadium from 1993-96 and lost every single one.  Damn you, NFL scheduling matrix.

So that's only two of the six games that I'm comfortable saying will still be wins, with two seeming losses and two tossups (this week, plus the Cowboys game -- they win with Rodgers, lose without him).  Ughhhhh.  The worst part is, this isn't a tough schedule.  With Rodgers in the fold, I wouldn't have been shocked to see Green Bay beat the Bears on Monday and then sweep the rest of the way.  The last two games were hosting the Steelers and then the reverse fixture in Chicago, so those would've/could've been wins too.  That's right, a damn 13-3 record was on the table.  If Rodgers misses the full six weeks, the best-case scenario is only 8-6.  Even with wins in the last two games, I doubt 10-6 would be enough to win the division and it might not even be enough to make the playoffs.  9-7 seems like it'd have no shot at anything.

The only, ONLY bright side to Rodgers being out is that it has happened in the first season in a long time when the Packers haven't been totally reliant on the passing game.  Eddie Lacy has been a revelation but you wonder if the rookie has been able to find so much room because teams are focused on stopping the pass.  Opponents might just stick eight men in the box and dare Lacy to run on them since they won't be as worried about Wallace picking them apart downfield.

I'm really, really hoping that the Packers can again overcome a major injury and keep on being a quality team, but Rodgers is so far and away the key piece of the roster that I don't see it happening.  Seneca Wallace, if you want to pick this month to have the best four weeks of your football life, that would be awesome.  Until I see that, though, I'll have to slum it like 90% of other football fans and be worried about my team's quarterbacking situation.  I feel so…so dirty.  Oh my god, the dirt's not coming off!

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