It's the time of year when we reflect on what we have to be thankful for and gather with our families and friends for a wonderful meal, family traditions and football. So considering solely the latter, here is what The Head Cheese--and I expect, many of you--are thankful for this football season:
T. The state of the team heading into Thanksgiving weekend. Ted Thompson has built a strong, young foundation brimming with talent that has withstood the loss of 11 players to injured reserve, including six starters. He had the nerve to hand the team to Aaron Rodgers and to trade up for Clay Matthews. There are hits and misses in between, but they don't eclipse those two moves.
H. The amazing Aaron Rodgers. Football fans will now mention Montana & Young and Favre & Rodgers when considering teams that have moved from Pro Bowl QBs (dare I say Hall of Fame QBs?) to Pro Bowl QBs with no down time in-between. It's a rarity, but the Pack has achieved it. Rodgers' first three starting seasons have been historic, numbers-wise. A couple of playoff wins will elevate him to elite status.
A. The talent, passion, personality and total package that is Clay Matthews. He plays the key position in Dom Capers' 3-4 defense and his rare ability has allowed Capers to find new wrinkles to his scheme and keep opposing offenses on their heels. As long as he can stay healthy, Matthews is on a path toward greatness. You can't take your eyes off him when you watch him in person--because so few players play at the speed and level he does.
N. The classy exits of Al Harris and Aaron Kampman. Both Packer greats were unceremoniously dumped after great careers. Both tore up their knees and are trying to find their former greatness in new places. Their full-page ads saluting the Packers and their fans is precisely why we love this game. For some of these great athletes, the team and its community really is important to them. It's more than playing for ridiculous sums of money. Both Kampman and Harris will find their place in the Packer Hall of Fame someday. They will forever be Packers.
K. The offensive line. About 13 months ago, Rodgers was on his back more often than Andrew Bogut. But when Tauscher was re-signed and Clifton got healthy, the line solidified as the Pack made it's second-half run in 2009. This season it has reached a new level and is playing as one of the top 5 units in the league. Clifton seems reborn and worth every penny the Pack paid him to keep him away from Daniel Snyder. Josh Sitton should be a Pro Bowler this year and Bryan Bulaga has earned the right tackle spot and is run blocking better than his predecessor. The cohesion is there and the penalties aren't: a winning combination.
Y. B.J. Raji has figured it out. He plays, perhaps, the second most important position in Capers' defense. After a late start and early injury in '09, it was almost a lost rookie season. This year, he looks like a guy who's a year way from the Pro Bowl. His combination of size, feet and nasty have turned him into the rock of this defense. With revolving injured ends around him, he has held down the line and helped the big names behind him flourish.
O. Our corners. Woodson, Williams and Shields are all worthy of praise. Woodson continues to be the leader of the #1 scoring defense in the league. He's not making the same number of plays as last year, but he's still a top 10 corner and gamebreaking threat on any play. Williams has earned a jackpot contract. I'll be even more thankful once I know a deal has been signed. He has become a rare shut down corner. Shields has taken a page from Tramon's book: undrafted free agent is given a shot--though much sooner than Williams did. His speed covers up some mistakes, but he has held up well, especially when teams try to pick on him.
U. There are so many more things: the fantastic job by McCarthy and the coaching staff, mixing and matching and fixing early season problems like penalties and special teams. The recent play of punter Tim Masthay. Brandon Jackson stepping up and providing a solid running game to keep opposing defenses honest.
The Packers will face their stiffest test of the season on Sunday. At 8-2, the Falcons are the top seed in the NFC right now and are 18-1 at home with Matt Ryan leading the way. This game could have home field advantage implications. We'll preview this big game in a couple of days.
So as we dive into our Thanksgiving meal, let's be thankful for our family, our friends and the fact that our favorite team is poised for a chance to reach its ultimate goal.
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