The top 10 Packers storylines of 2012
The NFL carries on this week without the Green Bay Packers, as "championship weekend" kicks off with the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons hosting the second-seeded San Francisco 49ers.
It was a bitter end to an up-and-down season for the Packers, but it was a heck of a rollercoaster.
We'll list what we felt were the Top 10 stories from the Packers season here. Did we miss any? Should some be rated higher, or lower? And what will you remember most about the 2012 Packers season?
1. "Fail Mary"
Now, the 49ers beat the Packers twice this season rather soundly, but there has to be a feeling that things might have played out differently in the playoffs if the 49ers had to host the Minnesota Vikings and then fly halfway across the country to play at Lambeau Field.
Some will say the Packers blew that opportunity all by themselves the final week of the regular season, and those that do wouldn't be wrong.
Yet, in the end, the "Fail Mary" game against Seattle way back in Week 3 did wind up costing the Packers quite a bit this postseason. The 14-12 loss on Monday Night Football where M.D. Jennings intercepted Russell Wilson's last gasp throw ... only to see the replacement officials rule it a touchdown, twice (on the field, and in replay) ... will go down in NFL infamy.
There were two fallouts to this. One was immediate, as Packers players took to Twitter to vent their frustrations.
The second came much later. Had the Packers had won that game, they would have been 12-3 overall and 9-2 in the NFC going into the final week of the season. A victory over the Vikings would have given the Packers the No. 1 overall seed and homefield throughout in the NFC for the second straight season. And a loss? No matter – they would've had the second spot locked up thanks to the 49ers' tie against St. Louis.
It's true the 49ers may have beaten the Packers anyway this past weekend, but Lambeau still counts for something.
2. The emergence of Randall Cobb
Seems hard to believe now, but no one knew what to expect out of the second year pro out of Kentucky. He had shown some flashes in the offensive system last year, and everyone knew he was a threat on kick returns – but his emergence as a go-to player was one of the year's best stories.
3. The injuries
This could easily be No. 1 on this list. Right from the beginning the Packers were decimated with injuries, compromising both sides of the ball. Greg Jennings missed substantial time and never really re-established a rhythm with Aaron Rodgers. The offensive line also took a hit. The defense, especially the linebackers, seemed have new faces every week. But, since the team did finish 11-5 and won the NFC North, it's hard to say this was the top story of the year.
4. James Jones catches on
It seemed like the Packers had been waiting ages for Jones to realize the potential they saw in him six years ago when he was drafted in the third round out of San Jose State. With Jennings missing eight full game and parts of several more, Jones shed his "bad hands" label and established himself as a go-to player for Rodgers.
5. The defense
Fans will remember how poorly this unit performed in the games that mattered the most this season (regular season finale in Minnesota, last week against San Francisco) but there were bright spots – namely all of the young impact players. Fourteen of them were 24 years old or younger this season and only look to get better.
6. Aaron Rodgers the leader
Coming off an MVP season and two years removed from a Super Bowl title, one would think this issue would've been put to bed. But, beginning in training camp, tight end Jermichael Finley began chirping about his lack of chemistry with his QB. Then, Finley's agent questioned his leadership on Twitter. That same week, the national media put his visible on-field disagreement with Jones under a microscope.
Then, Rodgers publicly admonished 60 Minutes for the program's editing of his interview, which led to questions about his "sensitivity." That was followed up by Jennings' sister Valyncia Jennings ripping him on Twitter as well for poor play. Despite putting together another MVP-type season, the guy never seemed to catch a break off the field all season long.
7. The running game
At times, this part of the Packers offense looked like it was coming together. Cedric Benson showed he had some gas left in the tank, then he was lost for the season with injury. Alex Green and James Starks both had their moments, as did the surprising Harris. Yet the Packers continued to de-emphasize this part of the offense – either by design, or due to lack of talent – and it cost them all season long as the team couldn't sustain drives.
At the end of the regular season the Packers finished 16th in the league in attempts (433), 20th in yards (1,702), 22nd in yards per attempt (3.9) and 26th in touchdowns (9).
8. Donald Driver
What a year for the Packer great. First, it looked like the team would cut him with a year remaining on his deal, then he wins "Dancing With the Stars," which may or may not have led to the restructuring of his deal and another go-round with the Packers. Then, after catching just eight passes in 13 games, he was inactive for the Packers' first-round win over the Vikings. That led to the "Activate Donald Driver" movement on Facebook, which drew over 45,000 "likes."
Once again the Packers bowed to the public, and the McDonald's pitch man was active for what was likely his final game as a Packer. Who would've thought a soon-to-be 38-year-old receiver could create that much public support to sway the hearts and minds of stone-cold NFL coaches?
Coming off a Pro Bowl 2011 campaign in which he caught 67 passes for 959 yards and 9 touchdowns, Jennings was poised for a monumental season. He was in his contract year, and looked to make a statement. Except he injured his groin in Week 1, re-injured himself three weeks later, and then he had surgery in late October. He ended the year with just 36 catches and four touchdowns in in eight games.
10. Undrafted gems
A result of all the injures was the emergence of players you had never heard of, and they contributed mightily to the Packers' division-winning season. Rookie linebacker Dezman Moses and running back DuJuan Harris are two of the notable names general manager Ted Thompson unearthed this season.
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