The party’s over, folks.
For the first time in one day shy of a full calendar year, the Green Bay Packers lost a game. The whole team was flat in a 19-14 loss to the 5-8 Kansas City Chiefs. The Packers’ dream of an undefeated season en route to a second consecutive world championship came to a screeching halt at Arrowhead Stadium.
After having a chance to come to terms with the defeat, it interested me to see what the fan reaction was to the Packers falling to 13-1 on the season. The responses were about what I expected.
Some were sad, some were sad yet relieved that the Packers wouldn’t have the pressure of a perfect season on them entering the postseason and others were on the ledge and ready to jump so to speak. Being a fan is an emotional investment in a team and an emotional like this is expected to draw a wide range of reactions.
In particular, the reaction to one particular player’s performance caught my eye: tight end Jermichael Finley. Finley had another rough game as his habit of dropping passes continued. A few of his catches may (may) have cost the Packers some points. We will never know for sure.
What was more alarming was fans’ reaction to his play. Some were saying he is just going through a rough patch while others went way beyond that and were calling for Finley to actually be released.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. This loss made a lot of people upset. Finley happened to be a convenient scapegoat for fans to take their anger out on. It’s been a long time since the Packers last lost a game, so maybe the fans (as well as the players) forgot how much losing stinks.
Still, they have a valid point. Something is clearly wrong with Jermichael Finley. Is it mental? Could his physical skills possibly have been overrated by everyone?
I don’t have the perfect answer. Only Finley himself knows that. What I can do, however, is try to diagnose what may be the problem and what solutions could possibly right his play and return him to his former Pro Bowl-caliber self.
Now, I’m not a football coach nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. But after watching the game via DVR late last night, I will tell you what I am seeing from Finley.
Like a doctor, first we must discover the problem and what is causing it. The question to start with is it a physical or mental problem? I think it is definitely a mental problem with Finley. We all have seen what he can do with his skills. He is still the same matchup nightmare for opposing coaches. He still is in the right place to reel in the pass from Aaron Rodgers so he isn’t blowing it on his route running.
Since it is a mental error, the next step is determining what is causing these lapses. Has Finley spent too much time firing his mouth off? This is a point of much debate amongst the Packers faithful but Finley is indeed the Packer whom has the most potentially damaging stuff coming out of his mouth. In Finley’s defense, he is only responding to reporters’ questions. He still needs to think before he speaks, however.
The Twitter excuse would have been another potential problem except that not too long ago both and he and his wife Courtney announced they were done with Twitter until after Christmas. We all had hoped this would help lift his play but the results just haven’t been there.
Is he too preoccupied with his contract status? This is another possibility. It’s not exactly a secret that Finley wants to be paid like one of the game’s best tight ends. Problem is, he hasn’t been playing like it. Finley has gone on record saying he wants to remain in Green Bay, but his pending free agency could be a distraction to the young tight end.
We really have no way of determining what is going on inside Finley’s head. Only Jermichael knows the answer. All we as fans can do is hope he gets it straightened out because the tight end needs to step it up in the absence of Greg Jennings.
So how do the Packers go about fixing these problems with Finley? There are several ways.
First, tight ends coach Ben McAdoo should spend some extra time with Finley and take him back to basics. Catching the football is one of the fundamentals of the game and if you can’t do that, then all the fancy stuff like evasion and footwork don’t do a whole lot of good. This will require Finley to make some kind of commitment and if his head is in a worse place than we all think, that could wind up being a challenge.
Some time with Rodgers wouldn’t hurt Finley either. The Super Bowl XLV MVP went on record multiple times during the offseason saying how excited he was to have #88 back in the mix and how much more potent the Packers offense would be with him in the lineup.
Well, the Packers offense has definitely been explosive but we haven’t really seen that big breakout game from Finley yet that we were all expecting. If Finley gets his act together, imagine the possibilities in the playoffs when Jennings returns following his injury.
Finally, in hindsight, I think Mike McCarthy could have pulled Finley from the game in Kansas City. It’s normally a cardinal sin in coaching to voluntarily remove a playmaker from a tight game like that but a (temporary) benching would possibly have provided Finley the mental jump start he needs. Tom Crabtree has been showing improved catching ability this season so the Packers would still have had an option at tight end in the passing game.
Basically Finley needs to get back to basics. Forget the contracts and the celebrity and get back to what made you a star in the first place: catching the ball and making plays for your team. If Finley can do that, then everyone will be happy—his coaches, his teammates, his fans, everyone.
Not to mention Finley still made some plays during the game. The drops are the ultimate drive killer though, so that whether it is fair of unfair is where the focus remains until Finley cures his case of the dropsies.
So for those of you calling for the Packers to jettison Finley, please relax and come back to reality. Someone like #88 doesn’t come around that often and letting him walk and still being on the hook for his salary would be one of the dumbest thing the Packers could do.
Let’s see what Finley does the remainder of 2011. There is still time for YOTTO to go back from being the Year of the Total Oops to the Year of the Take Over.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke