Season grade: Below average -– The standard in Green Bay, at the very least, is the playoffs, if not a Super Bowl. So when you’re eliminated from postseason consideration with two games to play, it’s viewed as a disaster. The 2017 season was much like some of those in recent years with injuries and shoddy defensive play. But without Aaron Rodgers to cover up the deficiencies, the result was the predictable and inevitable end to the run of consecutive playoff appearances (which reached a team-record eight). The key now is whether missing the playoffs finally sparks much-needed changes or if the organization just chalks it up to Rodgers’ broken collarbone and tries again with virtually the same plan next season.
Biggest play of season: A week after it looked like Rodgers’ game-winning touchdown pass to Davante Adams with 11 seconds to play in Dallas might be a defining moment — given that it was the Packers’ second come-from-behind victory in the first five weeks — it all unraveled with one Anthony Barr hit. Although the Vikings linebacker wasn’t penalized or fined, the Packers didn’t like how Barr drove Rodgers into the ground in the Week 6 game at Minnesota. When Rodgers landed on his right shoulder and broke the clavicle on his throwing side, a season was essentially lost.
He said it: “We have to be honest about the patterns of negativity and positivity. What comes from that, how do you learn from that, how do you improve? To win championships, you have to go through adverse moments. We’ve had plenty this year. Not hitting our goal, not playing to the standard of the Green Bay Packers is definitely an adverse situation we need to learn from.” — Packers coach Mike McCarthy.
Key offseason questions
Biggest draft need: Pass-rusher, pass-rusher and maybe another pass-rusher. Last offseason, the Packers tried to fix a 31st-ranked pass defense by using their first two draft picks on defensive backs — cornerback Kevin King and safety Josh Jones. But general manager Ted Thompson ignored edge-rusher, passing on T.J. Watt in the first round, until the fourth round when he selected Watt’s Wisconsin teammate Vince Biegel, whose broken foot in May all but ruined his rookie year. If Clay Matthews and Nick Perry weren’t on the field together — and at times they weren’t because of injuries — then the Packers didn’t have much production there.
Free-agency targets: Another Ahmad Brooks signing isn’t going to cut it this year. After the Packers let Julius Peppers leave in free agency, they signed Brooks, who hasn’t come close to what Peppers did last year with the Packers or this year with the Carolina Panthers. But how many top-end pass-rushers will hit free agency? Probably not many. If they do, Thompson’s history suggests he wouldn’t make a move anyway. Even last offseason, when it looked like he went free-agent crazy, his moves did little more than try to make up for what they had already lost in free agency.
Dom Capers’ future: McCarthy didn’t fire Capers after Colin Kaepernick ran for 181 yards against his defense in the 2012 playoffs. Or after the 2014 NFC title game meltdown. Or after Larry Fitzgerald practically beat the Packers by himself in overtime of the 2015 divisional playoff game. Or after ranking 31st in passing defense in 2016. So why would McCarthy make a change now, especially considering he’s going into the last year of his head coaching contract? Perhaps the Packers will give McCarthy a new deal so he can rebuild the defense rather than just try to hold it together for another year. ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported that Capers is not expected to return.
Thompson’s future: Everything in the football operation could be open to dissection if Thompson isn’t back as general manager. The 64-year-old has another year-plus left on his contract, and there’s no indication that he has plans to step down, so a change would have to come from team president Mark Murphy. And it was Murphy who last summer essentially said the job is Thompson’s for as long as he wants it — and is doing a good job. It will be up to Murphy to decide if the Packers’ sudden fall from the playoffs was Thompson’s fault.