Playoff loss still haunts Packers
GREEN BAY Players haven’t completely erased 2011 from their memories. That’s not realistic. The Green Bay Packers were a 15-1 team with a second straight Super Bowl in clear sight when the New York Giants stunned them at Lambeau Field.
But this week—with the team’s off-season conditioning program under way—they agree it’s time to move on.
“You have to let that go,” cornerback Jarrett Bush said. “You have to move on. As a football player, you have to have a short-term memory. If someone catches a ball, you can’t think about that catch. The next play is the most important play. Same thing with the game. This off-season conditioning is the next step to build that foundation.”
As part of the new collective bargaining agreement, Green Bay’s off-season program lasts nine weeks—down from 14. Strength and conditioning is emphasized initially with the program eventually easing into organized team activities (OTAs). For the Packers, it’s a chance to move forward while still undergoing important self-diagnosis.
With coaches, they’re looking at what went wrong last year while also getting back into shape. Tight end Tom Crabtree says players and coaches are harping on the details.
“Before you even get to OTAs, it’s great to ease back into it as far as getting back into shape physically,” he said. “And mentally, you’re refreshing your mind. You’re getting football back in your mind.”
The obvious gains must be made on defense.
The Packers had 31 interceptions, first in NFL. But a mixture of reliable starters regressing, the absence of Cullen Jenkins and Nick Collins, and the lack of a pass-rushing threat opposite Clay Matthews plagued the unit all season. Green Bay allowed 412 yards per game (32nd) and had only 29 sacks (27th).
“We want to be in the top five of certain categories,” Bush said. “Our pass defense wasn’t in those categories. We were 32nd so we definitely need to improve on that. We need to be a smart, tough football team. We’ll come after the quarterback and be physical and make sure we dot our i’s and cross our t’s. I felt like we left some things open. But we’ll be OK.”
Bush is one player thrilled to be back in Green Bay. A free agent this off-season, he visited with the Arizona Cardinals and New York Jets and also turned down an interview with the Dallas Cowboys. With money virtually equal across the board, the veteran corner decided to return to the Packers on a three-year, $5.25 million contract.
“I just felt it was a great opportunity to come back and win a Super Bowl and get another ring and also for some playing time,” Bush said. “I feel I’m still young, I still feel like a little kid running around there.”
Green and gold. This is in my heart.
“I definitely see myself in a bigger role and starting how I finished. Starting in the playoff game was a huge confidence boost coming from the depths I came from. I’m ready to hit the ground running.”
And overall, players are eager to forget their miserable 37-20 loss to the Giants at Lambeau Field—from the sputtering offense to the backbreaking Hail Mary on defense.
Individually, Crabtree believes that game still bothers some players. But back as a team, in Green Bay, they’re not talking about it.
“As a unit, as a team, we’re not going to openly sit around and cry and be upset about it,” Crabtree said. “I think it’s still in the back of our mind. It’s definitely still going to hurt. That’s human nature. Just with the memories of how last season ended but we’re all pumped to have this opportunity to move forward and start something new.”