What a long, strange trip it was, that 2016 Packers season.
Picked by some before the campaign began to make it to the Super Bowl, Green Bay was ravaged by a disproportionately depleting rash of injuries and endured a midseason swoon that saw it lose four straight games and disappear from just about everyone’s championship-contender radar. Then the club turned its year around, recovering to "run the table," as Aaron Rodgers said, and winning its last six games to clinch the division and secure a postseason berth.
At one point in November, the 4-6 Packers were better than only two teams in the NFC. By last week, they were one of only two squads still in contention for that same conference's title, having finished the regular season 10-6 and prevailing in two playoff games. It felt almost like they might be, to quote Clay Matthews, a "team of destiny."
Then they got routed by the Falcons in Atlanta, ending the dream abruptly and unceremoniously. Perhaps, having gone as surprisingly far as they did, they were just playing with house money in the playoffs. Were you happy that they simply got to the NFC Championship Game? It's hard to know how to feel yet, with the wound so fresh.
This was a year when injuries robbed the Packers of their top two running backs and their top three cornerbacks for multiple games. Eventually, no one in their backfield had started the season as a Green Bay running back, except for fullback Aaron Ripkowski. And there was 2015 undrafted free agent LaDarius Gunter – who was at best the team’s No. 4 cornerback in the preseason – out there as the top starter, responsible for covering Odell Beckham, Dez Bryant and Julio Jones in the playoffs.
It was a year in which Rodgers’ ability was questioned and his leadership doubted repeatedly; that is, until the two-time MVP flipped the superpower switch, instilling confidence in his teammates with the "run the table" pronouncement and then putting forth one of the greatest stretches of quarterback play in football history.
It was a year in which the typically low-key and hyper-humble head coach, Mike McCarthy, frustratingly felt the need to defend himself by saying "I'm a highly successful NFL coach." He then demonstrated his credentials by guiding the Packers to eight straight wins and the organization’s eighth consecutive playoff appearance.
It was a year in which the defense was … well, reminiscent of too many bend-don’t-break-but-then-ultimately-break defenses Green Bay has had over the past half-decade.
And now it's an offseason with some big questions. Among them, will Ted Thompson return as general manager? If team president Mark Murphy decides to bring him back, does Thompson need to alter his draft-and-develop approach to methodical team-building and, as Rodgers suggested in a postseason press conference, "reload" the roster to "make sure we're going all-in every year to win"?
Will the coaching staff remain intact, or has defensive coordinator Dom Capers worn out his welcome? What will the inconsistent running game look like in 2017, with wide receiver-turned-running back Ty Montgomery and a lot of uncertainty? Can the secondary, so depleted and deficient in 2016, be improved with new talent, or simply the return to health of current players, or can it not improve? What will the Packers do with several of their own important free agents? What do they need in the NFL Draft?
All questions to be answered, hopefully, in the coming weeks and months. Until then, we're left to try and make sense of and get over this recently ended season. You can see how we graded Green Bay’s position groups for 2016 and named the award-winners.
Make sure to check out our free-agent rundown, including predictions on which ones will return. You can also listen to this week’s episode of OnMilwaukee’s podcast, The Postgame Tailgate, on which we do a full Packers autopsy. And then read about 12 fun things to do in Milwaukee over the next couple weeks to distract you from the fact that Green Bay isn’t playing in the Super Bowl.
Yes, it was a strange season indeed. How will you remember it? What did you think were the major themes, storylines and defining moments? Let us know in the comments!
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.