It’s a good thing this was a meaningless game for the Green Bay Packers, given their inactive and injury lists.
Or maybe the Packers shut down so many key players before things started Saturday night against the Minnesota Vikings because it was meaningless.
Either way, what looked like a marquee Week 16 game in prime time when the NFL released its 2017 schedule in April turned into a glorified exhibition game, with players looking to make an impression for next season and coaches perhaps trying to justify their employment.
Yet very few did.
Other than Kenny Clark, the second-year defensive tackle who had a couple of sacks — giving him 4.5 for the season, all of which have come in the month of December — and first-year outside linebacker Reggie Gilbert, who was promoted this week from the practice squad and hit Vikings quarterback Case Keenum more than once, there wasn’t much anyone could claim as progress in the Packers’ 16-0 loss at Lambeau Field.
The Packers were shut out at home for a second time this season. Before this year, no team had been shut out at home twice in a season since 2006, when both the Packers and Raiders were.
“I never felt more defeated, more embarrassed by a performance,” said Packers receiver Randall Cobb, who had four catches for 22 yards. “Yeah, we had opportunities, and we didn’t connect when we did.”
Quarterback Brett Hundley, making his eighth start of the season, did nothing to change the narrative that he isn’t capable of taking over a game. He threw two interceptions, which means his home season ended with zero touchdowns and seven interceptions at Lambeau.
Dropping to 3-5 as a starter, Hundley failed to throw a touchdown pass at Lambeau Field once again. He set the record for pass attempts at home without a touchdown (162) in a single season, according to Elias. Along the way, he threw his third red zone interception this season, tied with Dak Prescott for the second-most in the NFL. Only (six) has thrown more red zone picks, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
In Hundley’s defense, the Packers dropped six of his passes, their most since Week 15 of 2014 at Buffalo, another game in which they dropped six, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
When it comes to the roster, general manager Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy likely wanted to use this game — and the regular-season finale next Sunday at Detroit — to evaluate who stays and who goes in the offseason.
But after missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 2009, McCarthy might have already made up his mind about changes to his coaching staff, even though Dom Capers’ defense looked respectable for a change. Still, the most likely change this offseason would be at defensive coordinator, unless, of course, team president Mark Murphy decides it’s time for Thompson to go.
Yes, the game was surprisingly still in play into the fourth quarter, as ugly as it was for the Packers’ offense, with five starters on the inactive list: receiver Davante Adams (concussion), linebackers Nick Perry (ankle/shoulder) and Clay Matthews (hamstring), cornerback Damarious Randall (knee) and guard Jahri Evans (knee). That did not include Aaron Rodgers, who went on injured reserve earlier in the week after the Packers decided to shut him down the week after he returned from his broken collarbone.
Who knows how many, if any, of those players could have played if the Packers were still in the playoff race? Then it didn’t get any better when receiver Jordy Nelson (shoulder), tight end Richard Rodgers (shoulder), running back Aaron Jones (knee) and right tackle Jason Spriggs (knee) were lost during the game.
“I mean, it’s really hard,” Hundley said. “When you’ve got two big studs [Adams and Nelson] out there and then you lose them. Your right tackle goes down on the first play, then your running back goes out. I mean, it becomes really hard, but at the same time, a lot of people got reps and experience, and you’ve got find a way to win. That’s the name of the game.
“Defense played their butts off. Offense, we didn’t capitalize on the plays we needed to, and that starts with me. I’ve got to be able to lead this team no matter who’s on the field and get us in better opportunities to put some points on the board.”
As bad as Saturday night’s game looked with all those players out, the finale in Detroit might be even tougher to watch.
“We’ve got to play better,” Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “We have to find ways to win ballgames. We won’t take credit for anything. We’ve just got to continue to stay together, man, find ways to win ballgames, I guess. There’s a lot of things going on down here in this locker room, a lot of guys banged up, a lot of guys not playing, a lot of guys not putting their best foot forward. We’ve just got to hold guys accountable. The ones that step on the field with us, let’s go to work. The ones that don’t want to play, just turn your pads in and wait for next year.”