Packers' Aaron Rodgers loses his helmet after being sacked
during the first half of an NFL football game against the
Detroit Lions Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Green Bay, Wis.
GREEN BAY – Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was healthy. That was a big reason the Green Bay Packers thought a return to the playoffs with a division title and possibly a trip to the Super Bowl was attainable in 2018.
That would've been a great a way to celebrate the franchise's 100th season.
But on Sunday, the 100th season ended in horrific fashion with a 31-0 blowout loss handed to the Packers by the Detroit Lions, sending Green Bay into an offseason full of uncertainty and concern over the franchise's future.
“Obviously today we didn't look very good at all,” Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said. “Going into the offseason, we've got some pieces in place.”
Packers' interim coach Joe Philbin also promised one thing.
“They'll rebound. They'll get back,” he said. “I told them there's a great future here. There's a lot of great players in that locker room.”
If it will be Philbin leading that group or if it'll be someone else, Philbin nor Williams wanted to speculate or make any predictions. Philbin and Williams don't believe Sunday's 31-point loss will have an influence on the front office's decision on the full-time coaching position.
“I've been a member of the organization for 10 years,” Philbin said. “They know who I am, what I believe in, who I stand for.”
If he's not the choice, Philbin said he won't take that personally.
“I want what's best for the Green Bay Packers,” he said. He also said, “I have faith they'll make a great decision.”
Green Bay Packers head
coach Joe Philbin watches as players warm up before an NFL
football game against the Detroit Lions Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018,
in Green Bay, Wis.
Williams said the team liked playing for Philbin.
“I feel the team responded well to coach Philbin,” Williams said. “I think the guys really liked what he brought to the table. He did some good things.”
Williams, a 12-year veteran, acknowledged the disappointment he and his teammates have, but also that of the fans'. He also said a loss like Sunday's can work as a strong motivator in preparation for 2019.
“If that don't motivate you, nothing will,” he said. He also, unfortunately, seasons like the one the Packers had in 2018 will happen from time to time. He'd know. He played on the Packers' Super Bowl winning team in 2010 and played for the 1-15 Browns in 2016.
The Lions, who finished 6-10 in Matt Patricia's first season as head coach, raced out to a 21-0 halftime lead. Detroit played with more energy, more efficiency and more fight. The Packers (6-9-1) never matched that, which surprised Philbin.
“I thought we had a very good week of preparation,” Philbin said. “I thought Wednesday we were a little bit tired from Christmas and the overtime game (against the New York Jets on Dec. 23). We had a really good practice Thursday; we had another good one yesterday.
“I'm very surprised. But, again, that's football. They certainly deserved to win.”
For the Lions, they won their fourth straight game in the series – the first time they've done that since 1982-83. It was the first time the Lions won consecutive games at Lambeau since 1990-91.
It is the Packers' worst home loss since losing 35-7 on Dec. 23, 2007, to the Chicago Bears. They haven't been shut out at home by more than 30 points since 2006 to the New England Patriots (35-0).
“I obviously have to give a lot of credit to the Lions, coach Patricia and his staff and his players,” Philbin said. “Certainly they were the better coached team today, prepared team. They played better; they coached better, which is why I think the scoreboard reads like it did.”
In a way, Packers fans probably should've seen this coming.
Wide receiver Davante Adams, who was within reach of two franchise receiving records going into Sunday's contest, was inactive with a knee injury. Adams, who was selected to the Pro Bowl, finished with 111 receptions for 1,386 yards. The franchise records were 112 and 1,519, respectively. Fellow receiver Equanimeous St. Brown was also inactive because of a concussion.
Then, with 10:36 left in the second quarter, Rodgers slowly walked to the Packers' locker room and was evaluated for a concussion. It was later determined he had a concussion and didn't return to the game.
It was unclear after the game which play he suffered the concussing hit. However, Rodgers was sacked on the Packers' first offensive series and his helmet came off when he hit the ground.
Simon McPhail takes a
selfie with Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers before the game.
DeShone Kizer stepped in for his most significant playing time since Week 1 and fared OK. He finished 16 of 35 passing for 132 yards and one interception. He also had four rushes for 40 yards, some of which drew some cheers from the crowd at Lambeau from those who stuck around as fans filtered out the exits throughout the second half.
“I thought he did some good things, had some good throws,” Philbin said. “He had a real good presence about what was happening.”
As the team prepped for the offseason, Philbin spoke of accountability for not only the the way the players and the coaches performed Sunday, but throughout the season,
“I think it's good for them to reassess and see where they can improve, get better at,” Philbin said.
Going into the offseason, the Packers seemingly have a million questions to answer to figure out how to get back to a championship-level team. The biggest question is who will take over the full-time head coaching duties. Does Philbin assume the full-time role after the team went 2-2 in his four games as interim? Do the Packers hire someone from outside the organization? Several media reports Sunday tabbed Northwestern University coach Pat Fitzgerald as a potential candidate.
Making the right coaching decision could send the Packers back to championship-level play, or it could send the franchise back, especially with Rodgers in the latter years of his career.
The notable free agents for the Packers are WR Randall Cobb and LB Clay Matthews. Both have shown dramatic dips in production over the last several seasons.
From there, the questions continue: Biggest need in free agency? Do the Packers tap into free agency? What are the draft needs? The list goes on and on and on.
What a difference five months made for the Packers. When the 2018 season started, it was supposed to be a special season. Even after four games, the Packers stood with a respectable 2-1-1 record. From there, it all came apart, the Packers lost six of the next eight to fall to 4-7-1, costing coach Mike McCarthy his job after the Week 13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
The Packers lost five games by eight points or less and there was the tie in Week 2 against Minnesota. However, most of those games never seemed that close.
Regardless, what's next for the Packers?
Rodgers was slowed early this season with a knee injury, but the quarterback who turned 35 on Dec. 2, played through it. He and the offense never looked in sync this season and the defense was consistently burned with big play after big play.
With the uncertainty, Williams was asked how a player can prepare himself for the next season.
“We can't control that,” he said.
“That's something you have to ask other people. The only thing we can do
is do what we've been doing for years, get into the offseason and train
and control what you can control and that's you.”