Ran into Lions PR man Bill Keenist leaving Dallas Monday, and he made this point: If not for the late-game ridiculousness in games of Dec. 19 in New Jersey and Tampa, the Packers would not be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy today.
Keenist is right. Green Bay finished 10-6, the last Wild Card team and sixth seed in the NFC, by virtue of winning tiebreakers with the 10-6 Giants and 10-6 Bucs. We all know the Giants story: Up 31-10 over Philly at home with eight minutes left in the game, the Giants gave up 28 points in the last half of the fourth quarter and lost 38-31. The killer was punter Matt Dodge blowing the game and keeping a punt to DeSean Jackson inbounds with 14 seconds left in a 31-all game. Jackson returned it 65 yards for a touchdown. Who knows what would have happened if that game went to overtime, but that'll stay a mystery.
The Detroit game, in many ways, was more painful because of who the Lions are. They hadn't won a road game in three years. They were in Tampa, trailing by a field goal with two minutes left, playing third-string quarterback Drew Stanton. He led a field-goal drive to tie it. The Lions won the toss in overtime. Stanton led another long drive to win it in overtime.
Dave Rayner kicked the tying and winning field goals that afternoon in Tampa Bay. He was Green Bay's kicker in 2006, the one fired to make way for new Super Bowl champion Mason Crosby.
Without the ex-Packer to help the current Packers, Green Bay's players would be in the fifth week of their offseason today, not getting confetti and love and cheers showed on them in Lambeau Field. Football is a funny game sometimes.
And now on to your e-mail:
INTERESTING CONCEPT. "In order to ease the backlog for worthy NFL Hall of Fame candidates, why doesn't the HOF have a 50th anniversary class in 2013 of 11 players (in honor of number of players on the field) or 17 (in honor of the size of the first HOF class)?"-- Travis, Toledo, Iowa
Hmmm. Very interesting. Bob Papa, my Sirius Radio partner, has suggested something similar, and it's not a bad idea. The reason I wouldn't like it is because I think we need to keep the Hall exclusively the Hall of Fame, and not the Hall of Very Good. We'll catch up, I think, and put those who deserve to be in, in.
I PROBABLY SHOULD HAVE SAID "CANDIDATE." "Bill Cowher a "strong candidate" for the HOF? He coached 15 seasons and won one NFL championship and only two AFC championships. His overall record was good at 149-90-1 with a winning percentage of . 623, but Marty Schottenheimer won 200 games with a .613 percentage ... and no one thinks he is HOF material. I'm not taking anything away from Cowher, but he is a long way down the list when it comes to HOF. What makes a coach a HOF candidate? Certainly not a single championship."-- Robert Smith, Columbus, Ohio
Point made. Thank you.
I TRY TO CALL IT THE WAY I SEE IT."I enjoy reading your MMQB every week. But what's up with your animosity toward Rashard Mendenhall? You were very critical of him throughout the year. It's almost like you were looking for anything to validate your assessment of him not being a 'big time' RB. He ran with authority and decisiveness during the Super Bowl, hitting holes or taking it around the corner. Then he fumbled when he was sandwiched by two D-lineman right after receiving a handoff. It was one of Doug Legursky's few mistakes all night. Not much you can do when a defender's helmet hits the ball at the right moment/location. It just happened to happen at a very critical part of the game. But I don't fault Mendenhall for the fumble. He's one of the reasons the Steelers were in that position to begin with."-- Neil, Pittsburgh
I guess my definition of "big-time running back" is one of the best backs in the game. Say, one of the best 10 or so. I can name 10 I'd rather have than Mendenhall. He's a good back. He's not great. And as far as naming him the goat of the game Sunday instead of Ben Roethlisberger, it's simple. He made what I considered the biggest single mistake of the game for Pittsburgh, a fumble in the fourth quarter with the Steelers having overcome a 21-3 deficit and driving to take the lead. Don't tell me there's "not much you can do" when you get hit by a defender to avoid a fumble. A back's job, a very big part of it anyway, is to not fumble, and he fumbled twice in three playoff games at bad times.
YES."Would the Packers have been successful replacing injured players this season if there had been a salary cap?"-- Tom Cotter, Mundelein, Ill.:
I believe so, because none of the guys they signed to replaced injured players was expensive. Guys like Erik Walden came as low-cost guys in midseason after being cut elsewhere (by Miami, in Walden's case). So I don't think a cap would have had much to do with it.
LET'S SEE HOW HE PLAYS THIS SUMMER. BUT I DON'T THINK THIS IS A POINT TO SIMPLY DISMISS. "Peter, some of us in Pittsburgh believe that Troy Polamalu might never again be the force in the NFL that he has been. Never that big to begin with, he's suffered a number of injuries over the last several seasons. And, he has, of course, been in the league awhile. He virtually disappeared in the postseason this year. Would be interested in your thoughts on this."-- Matt Burk, of Pittsburgh
Look, it's obvious Polamalu has broken down each of the past two offseasons. I have the same gut feeling as you do -- that we may be seeing a great player in decline. But the operative word there is "may." If I were Mike Tomlin, I might consider cutting 20 snaps a game for Polamalu. I know it's a different position, but Mike Smith in Atlanta has done that with John Abraham and gotten much better production out of him.
MIKE WANTS A SECOND BYE. "I don't understand why the league won't consider expanding the season through the addition of a second bye week (e.g. 1993). The owners would still make money off the extra weeks of TV rights, and teams would be given a much-needed breather (especially before or after a Monday/Thursday night game). Longer season, more weeks, more money, healthier players ... How is this not in the league's best interest?"-- Mike Kochan, Toronto
A second bye is possible, but the league seems determined to begin the season the weekend after Labor Day. Do the math. An 18-game schedule with two byes starting the second weekend of September would push the season's end to late February. Then you run into the potential problem of northern cities playing four home games, potentially, after Dec. 15. Not ideal.
JERRYWORLD'S FIELD DIDN'T LOOK GOOD SUNDAY NIGHT. "When does the playing surface at Jerry World come into some serious questioning? It seems there are a lot of major shoulder/collarbone injuries on that field ... Sam Bradford, Tony Romo and now Charles Woodson ... in 2 years of play."-- From M.R. Kidwell, Yuma, Ariz.
I don't know enough about those other injuries, but the Woodson injury seemed like it could have happened anywhere. Look at the violent way he landed on the perfect spot to wrench the collarbone and break it. So I'm not sure there's enough data to say the field is causing injury. But it sure seemed slippery the other night.