Surprising is probably the word that would best sum up the Packers 2007 season. Even though I shouldn’t be surprised because I picked them to be 10-6 this year, I am surprised anyway (which may be an indication that when I made my 10-6 prediction before the season I actually didn’t have much faith that it would happen and I was just being a homer).
I’ve learned that I like the staff that McCarthy has put together. Despite our doubts re Bob Sanders, he has proven this year, that once the players adapted to his system, it can be quite effective. There is still room for improvement, but this defense has kept the Packers in several games this year. And, if you think about the last time Favre was at his best, it wasn’t when his offensive line made the offense a machine (during the Sherman years), but it was when his defense could help keep the team in games (1995-1998). I also think Mike Stock deserves credit for bringing excitement back to our return game and ensuring solid coverage – as well as bringing along 2 young kickers. And, though we can’t be sure exactly how he’s contributing, I suspect Joe Philbin has been a solid assistant for McCarthy, if for no other reason than that he and McCarthy are on the same page when it comes to calling things as they are.
And then, of course, we have Mike McCarthy, possible Coach of the Year. TT took a chance on McCarthy and now it’s obvious to the rest of us why he did. McCarthy has a lively offensive mind, a refreshingly aggressive approach and he’s not afraid to say what he’s thinking. One of the best characteristics Mike McCarthy has is his honesty. He doesn’t play the Belichick game of dodging questions and being evasive. When asked before the Dallas/GB game last month why the game was important, he didn’t launch into the “one game at a time, we’re not looking beyond this game” crap most coaches and players bore us with daily. He said that the game was important because it had possible implications for home-field advantage in the playoffs, something most coaches would never say when there are still 4 games left on the schedule. He was being honest, but he was also being confident. And, McCarthy’s confidence in his team is one of the biggest factors behind the Packers’ success this year. Going for it on 4th down, trying onside kicks, throwing 70 yard bombs on the first play of overtime, etc – aggressive coaches necessarily have more confidence in their teams and this is a welcome contrast to the previous Packer regime.
I continue to be impressed by the team that Ted Thompson (mostly) has put on the field. There are many high quality players who are young, hungry and talented. Packer fans have reason to be excited not just about this year, but for years to come. That said, the time is now to win a Super Bowl. We’re not sure how much longer Favre will be playing and given his experience in the playoffs, we are in the best position we’ve been in for a long time to win the whole thing. After the Dallas game, some speculated that the Packers tried lots of long passes and trick plays because they felt they were an inferior team going into the game. I disagree, I think this coach and this team are just confident and they had good reason to believe that any play they tried could work out. I expect to see more of this exciting brand of football in the playoffs too, as McCarthy just isn’t the kind of guy who will fall back on conventional, boring football to be safe.
While it would be easier to be pessimistic about the playoffs so that I can head off some of my own potential disappointment if things don’t go well, I’m having a hard time being genuinely pessimistic right now. I have bought into McCarthy’s plan and I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised if the Packers get to the Super Bowl. The biggest hurdle in the playoffs will be the first game, but if the Packers handle that, then the pressure will largely be off them and I think there is a good chance they’d get to the Super Bowl. If they get there and win, I’d be a bit surprised, but not shocked because if I’ve learned one thing about the team this year, it’s to expect the unexpected.