The team’s newcomers create some optimism amid a typically deflating season. (Illustration by Rachal Duggan.)
The Green Bay Packers became a centenarian of sorts in 2018—although technically founded in 1919, the team began celebrating its 100 year anniversary this year. And it’s good that we had something to celebrate, because 2018 has been at best a frustrating and befuddling season, AKA your standard-issue Packers season. M.V.P. quarterback Aaron Rodgers endured an early-season knee-injury scare, both offense and defense performed inconsistently, the team suffered other injuries in key skill positions such as receiver and cornerback, and Mike McCarthy gave us all sorts of reasons to question his ability to adapt and adjust.
Compounding all this, a rules change implemented this year (ironically due to Rodgers suffering a broken clavicle on a questionable sack last year that’s been directly affecting outcomes of Packer games), designed to protect quarterbacks, hampered the Packers’ defense and cost them a pivotal win. (You may have seen the memes of oncoming linebackers gently hugging the quarterbacks to the turf). And then there’s the treasure trove of insight that is Packers Twitter’s open revolt against Mike McCarthy, which is one step removed from a YouTube comment section and probably twice as drunk. It takes tenacity to root for this team, and a willingness to ride out highs and lows that equate to everything from drinking high-end craft beer to slamming shots of Malort with Bud chasers. As the NFL pushes past the midway mark of the season into a binary of frigid cold and fucking freezing cold, we can begin to reflect more candidly on the positives and negatives of this season and what it means going forward.
1. Rookies! The Packers’ draft class in 2018 has managed to outshine the team’s usual cast of reliable heroes. When the team drafted cornerback Jaire Alexander (out of Louisville), his potential seemed uncertain, in part because, at 5′ 10″ he’s slightly undersized for the position. But Alexander has proven he’s a full-effort player who flies to assignments and is an effective pass defender. In a prime time game against the league-leading Los Angeles Rams, he had multiple pass breakups, including an impressive deflection off of one of the league’s best wide receivers in Brandin Cooks. Confidence and swagger are typically scorned in Green Bay, so in some ways, it’s a breath of fresh air to gain a player who isn’t afraid to back up his attitude with effort.
2. More rookies. Receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, drafted in the 5th round out of South Florida, might well have been the steal of the draft. At 6′ 4″, the potential is all there in plain sight, but the question was whether Valdes-Scantling would have a chance to get meaningful playing time during the regular season. Making the most of his opportunities, he filled in for an injured Geronimo Allison and Randall Cobb. He has already amassed 402 yards with 2 touchdowns and become a favorite weapon for Rodgers and a pillar of the offense, in addition to having two 100-yard receiving games against the Patriots and 49ers. His contributions and longer reception against the 49ers helped the Packers gain a much-needed victory. And yes, his name somehow does fit on the back of his jersey.
3. The other Aaron. Second-year running back Aaron Jones is quietly becoming a dominant force in the NFL. Initially suspended two games for a minor marijuana violation, he’s quickly become the focal point of what was normally the Aaron Rodgers show and given the Packers’ need for balance on offense, scooping up 494 yards thus far to supplement a 6.77 average yards per carry (!), and 4 touchdowns.
1. Aaron Rodgers. In February, Rodgers and NASCAR superstar Danica Patrick became a sports power couple, giving fans another person to try and blame for their team sucking, but his tabloid relationship has been the least of his worries. Coming off a broken clavicle in 2017 only to end up with a lingering knee sprain after week 1 against the Bears has made life hard for the NFL’s top-flight QB. While he’s limited his interceptions and generally found ways to keep the team in most games, his accuracy has been noticeably off this year, and his tendency to hold onto the ball too long has created opportunities for opposing defenses to sack him 34 times as of this writing—four of them in Sunday night’s loss to the Vikings. In a pivotal Thursday night showdown with the Seattle Seahawks, facing a 3rd and 2 and one last chance to reclaim the lead with 4 minutes remaining, Rodgers threw a horrible low pass that skidded to the ground, ultimately costing the Packers the game. Normally the cause of eternal optimism and the primary reason the Packers can compete with anyone, his play this year his been topsy-turvy and the cause of people yelling at inanimate objects across the state.
2. Surprise, the Packers are injured. Infirm and very beat-up, the Packers lost marquee free agent signing Muhammed Wilkerson in week 3 against the Washington football team to a season-ending ankle injury. That’s on top of many short-term injuries on the team, including Cobb, Allison, Kentrell Brice, Kevin King, Nick Perry, Lucas Patrick, Bashaud Breeland, Jimmy Graham, David Bakhtiari, and Bryan Bulaga. Losing so much star power on the team has made a dent in the team’s traction and cohesiveness, and led to some personnel shakeups that have produced lackluster results thus far.
3. Rule changes and the fans. Well, to be fair, the new rule changes have seemed to taper off a bit since they were put into place in week one. Tackle the quarterback like you’re sternly putting him to sleep, got it. The fans, on the other hand, yeesh. Mike McCarthy’s tenure as coach seems to be at the end of the line, and fans couldn’t be happier to send him off burning on a pyre down the Fox River. The rift between McCarthy and Rodgers seems monolithic and icy at the moment, with no signs of improving.
“Lament what could’ve been and tell everyone in the bar what you would’ve done differently” does seem to the be evergreen mantra of the Sconnie cheesehead, and so it goes. At the time of this writing, the Packers sit at 4-6-1 and middling towards an unknown destination. With that said, there’s a bunch of bright spots on the team, and reason for optimism for the next few years, even as fans settle into an all-too-familiar sense of resignation about this season. At the very worst, we can take solace as Packer fans after we finish 7-8-1 when the Bears somehow blow it.