As has been the case all year for the Packers, the dreaded injury bug showed no mercy in Super Bowl XLV. Down went WR Donald Driver with a first-half ankle injury. Down went CBs Charles Woodson (broken collarbone) and Sam Shields (shoulder) on back-to-back plays late in the second quarter. On most teams, personnel losses like those would have been a sure sign of imminent disaster. But for a team that had overcome the loss of 15 players on injured reserve, including six starters, it was just another series of manageable setbacks, as the Packers prevailed over the Steelers 31-25 for their fourth Super Bowl victory and league-high 13th NFL championship.
QB Aaron Rodgers came up with another brilliant postseason performance, threading the needle on three exquisite TD passes, and the defense pitched in with three key turnovers, including a 37-yard interception return for a TD by Pro Bowl FS Nick Collins. That helped the Packers hold on against a gritty Pittsburgh team that won the stats-sheet battle but lost the war where it counts the most: on the scoreboard — which on this particular occasion in Cowboys Stadium, indeed seemed larger than life.
But the Packers know all too well that they will not be allowed to sit back and savor their latest success for long, as daily league observers immediately begin to ponder whether they have what it takes to become the first repeat Super Bowl champions since the Patriots in 2003-04.
The PFW spin
In one sense, when you look at the special brand of resiliency that this team showed time and again this season, the odds seem pretty good that the Packers can remain on top of the NFL mountain for an extended period of time.
But the numbers don’t lie. Not only has it been seven years since an NFL team hoisted back-to-back Lombardi Trophies but 10 different NFC teams have won the past 10 conference titles — a double digit very much worth noting in a league where fame has become increasingly fleeting.
Just look at the Saints. One year removed from the same showers of confetti that fell upon the Packers Sunday, New Orleans is considered a good-but-not-great team by any means, with significant flaws on both sides of the ball.
Even though there were many, including yours truly, who predicted before the season that the Packers were the team to beat, their expectations steadily plummeted, as one key player after another went down for the count. In one fell swoop, though, the expectations couldn’t be greater, as critics far and wide quickly begin to wonder just how good this team can be once players like TE Jermichael Finley, RB Ryan Grant. ILB Nick Barnett and SS Morgan Burnett return to full health after going down for the count this season. It’s a different ballgame when you’re the favorite, as it almost certainly appears the Packers will be, with everybody and anybody champing at the bit to bring them down to size.
That said, not only do the Packers have what looks like a tremendous nucleus, with Rodgers, who has earned elite status at his position, and Clay Matthews, who more than justified his status as the Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football Writers of America Defensive Player of the Year with a strong Super Bowl performance, leading the way. In GM Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy they have a power-packed parlay from a personnel selection and coaching standpoint, respectively, that can’t be beat.
Which brings us to what would be the team’s first order of business if this commentator had any say: extending the contracts of McCarthy and Thompson, who each have two years remaining on their current deals, as quickly as possible. Clearly, they both have shown emphatically that they know what they’re doing.
What are the biggest issues facing McCarthy and Thompson? For one thing, there appear to be a couple of really tough decisions to make on free agents, most notably DRE Cullen Jenkins, whose durability is a valid concern, and WR James Jones, who continued his disturbing knack of alternating dropped passes with excellent catches in the Super Bowl.
But what would worry me more at the moment is the status of McCarthy’s outstanding coaching staff. One has to think that, to the extent there are still teams looking for top-caliber coaching talent, the Packers’ assistant coaches must be considered the pick of the litter.
That must concern the Packers more than a little.