If the NFL did power rankings for honesty, Charles Woodson would have to rank near the top. The Green Bay Packers tell-it-like-it-is veteran cornerback-turned-safety has a proven track record of being truthful when things aren’t going well – sometimes to the chagrin of his coaches – and has never been afraid to speak his mind on any topic, in football or in life.
So the fact that Woodson stood at his locker Sunday evening, in the wake of the Packers’ 30-22 season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field, and said the following should not be taken lightly:
“We’re going to be OK,” he said.
Certainly, for a team that at one point had won 19 consecutive games – six to finish the 2010 season en route to their Super Bowl XLV championship, and another 13 to start the 2011 season – the fact that the Packers have now lost three of the last five games they’ve played (at Kansas City last Dec. 18, to the New York Giants in the NFC Divisional Playoffs to end last season and Sunday) is hardly good news.
But unlike last year, when it appeared the Packers might’ve peaked too early, and their troublesome defense never improved, there was hope in the home locker room Sunday that, despite the outcome, things might actually be looking up.
“It’s still a new season. Last season has no bearing on this one, two years ago has no bearing on this one. This is all about 2012 – and this team will continue to get better,” Woodson said emphatically. “I’m going to continue to say it: Today I felt good about what we did as a team. Yeah, we came away on the losing end of it, but I just think we played a good game overall.
“We’re not about losing. Don’t think that’s the case. This was a tough game. This was a team that went to the NFC Championship Game last year, and they have just about everybody back and they’ve added some pieces. So they’re a good team, make no mistake about it.
“(But) we’re jelling together as a team. This is really, especially defensively, a new team (with) a lot of new players. We’re going to get where we need to be. I promise you that.”
That may be true, but on both sides of the ball, the Packers weren’t where they needed to be on Sunday.
Offensively, six of their first seven possessions ended in punts, and the eighth ended in an uncharacteristic Aaron Rodgers interception. Defensively, they couldn’t stop the run (186 total rushing yards allowed, including 112 on 16 carries by Frank Gore) and allowed Alex Smith (20 of 26, 211 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, 125.6 rating) to put his new passing-game weaponry to good use.
So let’s not make it sound like everything was hunky-dory.
“All of them suck. No losses are good,” inside linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “(But) we’ll learn from this. We’re not going to hang our head, but we definitely not going to sweep this under the rug, either. Any loss is terrible.”
To be fair, the Packers weren’t terrible Sunday. The defense got some critical stops (the 49ers were 2 for 9 on third down) and the long-lost pass rush returned to the tune of four sacks, with outside linebacker Clay Matthews registering 2.5 of them. On offense, the no-huddle wasn’t always effective, but Randall Cobb was a revelation while lining up in the backfield for much of the game (team-leading nine receptions for 77 yards, plus a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown). And in the end, they did have a chance to forge a tie, with the ball in the NFL MVP’s hand throwing to his go-to guy (Jordy Nelson) on a fourth-down pass that could’ve gone either way.
At the same time, the defense never seemed to be in an advantageous personnel grouping against the 49ers, especially in the first half, when by unofficial count the same defense that played its sub package on more than 70 percent of its 2011 snaps was in the base for 21 of 36 snaps. On offense, whether it was the result of penalties or simply uneven play, the group never seemed to find a rhythm.
“It was a tough start to our regular season. We lost to a very good football team today,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, whose team finds itself in last place in the NFC North after Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota all won on Sunday. “I thought there was a lot of adversity throughout the game, things that we can build on and push forward.”
And they’ll have to push forward quickly. It was clear in the locker room afterward – based on the number of players who parroted the phrase 96 hours – that McCarthy’s message to the team was to turn the page ASAP in advance of Thursday night’s game against the Bears.
“It’s one game,” said Rodgers, who finished the night having completed 30 of 44 passes for 303 yards with two touchdowns and one interception (93.3 rating). “This is a team that was in the NFC Championship last year. It’s a good team. Hopefully we see them down the road in the playoffs.”
The Packers will have to get to the playoffs for that to happen, of course, and just like the odds were against them going 16-0 last season, they’re not going 0-16 this year. But they did lose their season opener for only the second time under McCarthy. They lost his first game as coach in 2006, then reeled off five straight opening-day wins.
“We're 0-1,” McCarthy said. “We have some work to do. We're up in 96 hours."