NFL Winners and Losers: Oh, those poor Green Bay Packers fans (Shutdown Corner)

Green Bay Packers fans won’t get any sympathy from Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills or Detroit Lions fans, or any fan base that hasn’t won a Super Bowl this decade like Green Bay has. But unless you’re from Illinois or Minnesota, you have to at least feel a little bad for the brutal nature of the Packers’ playoff losses lately. A year after losing in one of the biggest chokes in NFL history at Seattle with a Super Bowl trip on the line, the Packers were kicked in the gut again on Sunday at the Arizona Cardinals. After getting their hopes up with an unbelievable Hail Mary to end regulation, the Packers had their hearts torn out on the first play of overtime, watching Larry Fitzgerald scamper through the defense for 75 yards and basically end the game. We’re now dealing with a long list of horrible, painful playoff losses for the Packers. How about this for a list over the last 18 seasons (all years indicate the season in which these playoff games happened) … • In 1998, we all remember “Owens! Owens! Owens!” as the San Francisco 49ers got their own Hail Mary to Terrell Owens in the final seconds to beat Green Bay. • The Philadelphia Eagles beat Green Bay in 2003 by converting a fourth-and-26 late in regulation, and then they intercepted a bad Brett Favre heave in overtime. • The New York Giants picked off Favre in overtime of the 2007 NFC championship game at Lambeau Field and won on a field goal. • In overtime of an absolute classic in 2009, Aaron Rodgers inadvertently kicked a loose ball up in the air on a sack, it was picked off by the Cardinals and returned for a touchdown to finish the game in overtime. • In 2011, the 15-1 Packers went one-and-done, losing a stunner to the Giants at Lambeau Field. The pivotal play of that game might have been a Hail Mary to Hakeem Nicks to end the first half. • In 2013 the Packers lost at home on the final play of the game, a 49ers field goal. • In 2014, the Packers seemed to have the NFC championship game wrapped up. Safety Morgan Burnett, for some reason, gave himself up and slid down after an interception with about five minutes left. The Seahawks ended up scoring and getting an onside kick when Brandon Bostick muffed it. Seattle drove to take the lead after recovering that onside kick. The Packers tied it at the end of regulation, but eventually lost in overtime on a deep touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse. •   On Saturday, the Packers lost again in overtime after extending the game with another Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary. So in 18 years that’s eight absolutely brutal postseason losses, with seven in the last 13 seasons. Six of those losses came on the last play of the game, and Owens’ touchdown came with four seconds left. The Packers also won a Super Bowl in 2010, so if you don’t feel all that bad for Packers fans, that’s OK. But that’s a lot of football heartache for such a short time. Rough. Winter is no fun in Wisconsin anyway, and getting your soul crushed by the Packers in the playoffs won’t help it move along any quicker. Here are the other winners and losers from the NFL’s divisional round: WINNERS New England Patriots: The Cardinals looked shaky and needed overtime to beat a Packers team that was down its top three receivers from the preseason. The Carolina Panthers had to hang on for dear life in the second half against the Seattle Seahawks after squandering most of a 31-point lead. The Denver Broncos’ offense isn’t scaring anyone. Many people won’t like to hear this, but the Patriots came out of the weekend looking the best of the four remaining teams. I can buy an argument that the Panthers’ first half is who they really are, and they should be Super Bowl favorites. And any of the four teams can finish the season holding the Lombardi Trophy, obviously. But if you had to pick one to win, you’d pick the team with the combination of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. If you’re a Patriots hater there is a bright side: Everyone could find some chuckles at the sight of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell awkwardly awarding the Patriots the Lombardi Trophy. Overtime rules: I don’t want to hear about how the Packers-Cardinals game was tainted in even the slightest way because of the overtime rules. It’s simple: If the Packers didn’t give up an 80-yard touchdown drive to start overtime, they would have had a chance to score themselves. The defense didn’t do its job. The game ended. That’s the way it goes. The NFL changed the rules to make things fair, moving away from the absolute sudden death way of doing things. If a team scores a touchdown on the first possession, game over. If the defense holds to at least a field goal, it gets a possession. And that’s fine. There shouldn’t be much problem with that at all. The overtime rules worked as they were intended on Saturday. The Packers defense just didn’t do its job. Seattle Seahawks: Their season is over before the Super Bowl for the first time in three years, but let’s take a moment to appreciate what they’ve done. Seattle is 48-16 the past four regular seasons. Their 2012 playoff run ended on a great last-minute drive and clutch kick by the Atlanta Falcons. Then they won a Super Bowl. They almost won two titles in a row but Malcolm Butler made the biggest defensive play in NFL history with Seattle 1 yard away. This year, Seattle didn’t go quietly. The Panthers, a fantastic 15-1 team, were on the ropes at the end of Sunday’s win. The Panthers deserve credit for a stunning 31-0 start, but the Seahawks cut it all the way to 31-24 by the time Thomas Davis made a great catch on an onside kick in the final two minutes. There will be some tough decisions in the offseason and there will be some big challenges to continue on as one of the NFL’s elite teams. But we were reminded in the second half on Sunday how much heart this great championship team has. Don’t be surprised if they’re back in this spot again next season.  LOSERS People who still believe you have to run the football to win championships: I know, things were cooler way back when, when steak was a nickel and all music was on vinyl. And back in the day it was probably true that you had to run the ball to win championships. Things change. The NFL has. You can still win championships by running the ball, but it’s not necessary anymore. The Patriots were crowned champs last year. In their divisional round game against the Ravens, they did not hand off once to a running back in the second half. They passed 27 times, Tom Brady ran once and took a knee three times. So the notion that a running game is the No. 1 key to a championship should have died that day (or when the Patriots handed off 19 times and passed it 50 times in their Super Bowl win last season). But if you were still holding onto that old “run to win” nonsense, you hated Saturday’s Patriots win. The Patriots’ first 15 plays were passes. They ran once in the first quarter, in the final minute. At one point the Patriots had four rushing attempts by Brady and receiver Julian Edelman and four by their running backs. When the Patriots got the ball back with 7:28 left, leading by 14, instead of running some clock they passed three times. Then in the final two minutes, leading by a touchdown, they passed on second-and-12, got a first down and that basically ended the game. The Patriots will do whatever it takes to win Sometimes, it’s a heavy dose of the running game, and some of thier pass-heavy approach against the Chiefs likely came from being very thin at running back.. But a running game is not necessary to win championships anymore. Ask New England. Any offense figuring out how to avoid Luke Kuechly: I have no idea how an offensive coordinator can take Kuechly, the Panthers’ amazing middle linebacker, out of a game. He seems to be everywhere. Which linebacker over the last 30 years had better range than Kuechly over the last 30 years? Maybe Brian Urlacher or Derrick Brooks, but even that is debatable. Kuechly turned the first half in the Panthers’ favor with a huge early pick-six of Russell Wilson. He had a pass breakup late in the fourth quarter that was breathtaking, because no linebacker should have been able to cover that much ground. The Panthers are one win away from the Super Bowl. Most true football fans know Kuechly very well. But playing on the biggest stage could create an entirely new appreciation for Kuechly. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers let a great chance slip away this season, though they have good excuses.  Fitzgerald Toussaint was on the Steelers’ practice squad this past Thanksgiving. He had to play a big role at running back Sunday because of injuries to Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams, and he had an enormous fourth-quarter fumble that completely turned around a game the Steelers ended up losing. Antonio Brown didn’t play either, and he might be the best non-quarterback in the NFL. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looked fine, and said after the game that his shoulder injury wasn’t a factor, but you have to wonder if he was less than 100 percent. If the Steelers were just a little more healthy, there’s a good chance they’d have beaten a Broncos team that didn’t move the ball much until a late fourth-quarter drive. And it would be the Steelers moving on to face the Patriots. With full health, they’d have probably felt good about their chances of giving New England a game. But it wasn’t to be. The Steelers took Sunday’s 23-16 loss hard. There weren’t excuses about injuries afterward, just disappointment. That’s because they likely know what might have been with a little more injury luck. – – – – – – – Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

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