Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy developed a team with dynasty potential. History could have been very different, but as we all know there was only one Super Bowl win/appearance in their tenure. What happened? What went wrong? There is a debate of when the downfall started. The two obvious choices are the 2014 NFC Championship game against the Seahawks and the 2015 overtime Divisional game against the Cardinals. I disagree. The downfall of this team started in 2011. I do not want to travel down this painful path any more than you do, but we need to acknowledge it and why change is needed.
In 2010, The Green Bay Packers became World Champions again for the 13th time, and the only team to beat the Steelers in a Super Bowl. This team was beyond dangerous on both sides of the ball. Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy installed a draft and develop philosophy.
Let’s fathom what they actually put together on this roster. The main contributors who were not drafted or signed as an undrafted free agent were Charles Woodson, Ryan Pickett, Tramon Williams, Ryan Grant, and John Kuhn. Tramon Williams had a very short stint in camp with the Texans as a UDFA before being released and picked up by the Packers. Ryan Grant and John Kuhn were also both let go by their former teams and then signed by the Packers. Charles Woodson was a troubled free agent who rejuvenated his career in Green Bay, and you can argue that he played his best football with the Packers. Ryan Pickett was a big signing for the team in the off-season. The fact that only a handful of guys were not originally drafted or signed by the Packers is incredible.
There were a few other guys as well like Charlie Peprah, Erik Walden, Jarrett Bush, and Donald Lee but you get the point. What they managed to put together and began to accomplish was unheard of and they were on top of the world. Not to mention, they had a young quarterback in Aaron Rodgers.
As we fast forward to the 2011 season, the Packers looked unstoppable. They had a chance to go undefeated, but they finished the season 15-1 with their only loss coming week 15 to the Chiefs. Coming fresh off of a Super Bowl victory to a 15-1 season, the dynasty could begin with back to back Super Bowl wins. The Packers laid an egg to a wild card team in the Giants in the Divisional round of the playoffs at home in the freezing cold. This moment can be a make or break moment for a team like this.
Thompson and McCarthy (the leaders) created a team and a culture in which some of these guys know nothing else except this. There are players who are leaders as well, but they reflect the culture in which the head coach and organization create. This is a main reason of the draft and develop style. You create a roster mainly composed of “your guys”, and then they know nothing but your culture, your style, and your ways of doing things. So this pivotal 2011 season ended in a way in which they could use as motivation or it could create a very bad habit.
The 2012 season was the second straight NFC North title for the Packers with an 11-5 record. Again in the Divisional round of the playoffs, they traveled to San Francisco to face Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers. The Packers could not stop Kaepernick and had another bad loss with a score of 45-31. In 2013, the Packers won a third straight NFC North title on the Rodgers to Cobb pass in the fourth quarter against the Bears. They finished with an 8-7-1 record, but remember they did lose the rematch against the 49ers to open the season. Ironically, the Packers hosted the 49ers in one of the coldest games in NFL history in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, and for a third time lost to Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers 23-20 on a last second field goal.
With their fourth consecutive NFC North title, the Packers finished the 2014 season 12-4. We all know how that season ended. In 2015, their Division title run came to an end with a 10-6 record. Again like a broken record, we know how the season ended. With one bad trip down memory lane, let’s go back to 2009. They did not win the division, but finished with an 11-5 record. They had a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Cardinals in the Wild Card round which was a shootout. The final score was 51-45.
Did the Packers have a team with dynasty potential and talent? Absolutely! So what happened? The answer is simple, it was the culture. Year after year, the story was the same. The Packers had good records, they won a lot of division titles, and the season usually ended in a heartbreaking losses in the playoffs. The one outlier was the Super Bowl. The roster year after year was basically the same which was the point of draft and develop and their culture. This resulted in the same guys, the same message, and the same results. This downfall came to an ultimate low when each and every member of the 2015 draft class was no longer on the team three years later. From 2015 forward, this was simply a giant truck in the mud spinning its wheels.
Change was more than inevitable, it was needed in the worst way. Most organizations would die for what Thompson and McCarthy created. But, for the 13 time world champion Green Bay Packers it was underachieving. The Packers are held to a much higher standard than other teams, and I would not want it any other way. I believe Brian Gutekunst and Mark Murphy are dedicated to get them back to where they should be. The evidence is in front of us with the recent draft and free agency, the Mike Pettine signing, the McCarthy firing mid-season, and the expected signing of Milt Hendrickson in the front office. More change is coming and most importantly the culture is changing.