Old football coach’s words still ring true

In my first year of a long career as a daily newspaper sports journalist spanning more than four decades, a College Hall of Fame football coach told me something I have always remembered.
“Bob, the last 2 minutes of the first half and the first 2 minutes of the second half often determine the outcome.”
I stored those 22 words in my memory bank back then and discovered quickly that he was right. Through years of covering football games at all levels, it has proved true many times.
That simple sentence spoke loud and clear into what is now my old pea-sized brain again while watching the Green Bay Packers-LA Rams NFC semifinal playoff game on Saturday.
The Rams had just cut the Packers lead to 16-10 on a 4-yard TD pass to Van Jefferson with only 29 seconds left to play in the first half. Rather than taking a knee for the final 29 ticks, future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers marched his Packers from their own 25-yard line close enough for a 39-yard Mason Crosby field goal and a 19-10 breather entering the locker room at halftime. Green Bay’s aggressiveness obviously caught the Rams defense by surprise and knocked the wind from their sails.
Green Bay maintained its momentum on the opening series of the second half when running back Aaron Jones exploded up the middle on the first play from scrimmage for a 60-yard gain. Jones eventually scored on a 1-yard TD run for a 25-10 cushion with 12:10 still remaining in the third quarter.
Oh sure, the Rams fought back and eventually made it a one-possession game, 25-18, with a touchdown and two-point conversion in the third period. But the Packer “D” shut them out in the fourth quarter, and wide receiver Allen Lazard sealed the 32-18 victory with a 58-yard touchdown reception from Rodgers.
Next up, it’s the top-seeded Packers, now 14-3 overall, entertaining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-5) at Lambeau Field on Sunday for the NFC Championship and a berth in Super Bowl LV.
Packer fans remember all too well the first time the two teams met this season. The Bucs dealt the Pack its first loss of the season in Week 6 of regular play. It was Green Bay's first loss of the season after a 4-0 start and one of only three losses on the year. The 38-10 setback was also the only time the Packers, who own the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL, were held under 22 points.
Kickoff is 2:05 p.m. CT., on Fox-TV.
Meanwhile, I’ll be interested to see how that 4-minute window plays out.

Green Bay ‘D’ making a bold statement

The much-maligned Green Bay Packers defense certainly appears to be moving in the right direction after struggling against opposing rushers through at least the first half of the season.
Simply look at a few stats from their last five games - all victories.
The defense didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher, including NFL rushing champion Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans. The Packers ranked 9th in the NFL in yards allowed, 8th in sack percentage, 8th in red zone defense, tied for 10th in third down conversions allowed and were 4th in goal to go. They also allowed only 3 passing TDs and gave up 16 or fewer points in four of their last five games.
Who would have ever imagined Mike Pettine’s defense would finish the season as the 12th best total defense out of 32 NFL teams?
The No. 1 seed, home field advantage throughout the playoffs and the coveted bye week allows Packer players and coaches to rest, recharge and return to what is hoped to be electric practices leading to a strong Super Bowl run.
While Green Bay is only 1-2 coming off bye weeks under second-year head coach Matt LaFleur, it’s still an enviable position to be in, considering it’s now the postseason.
While the Green Bay offense remains the headline grabber, it takes a solid, but not great defense and special teams to win the Lombardi Trophy. The Packers ‘D’ has proved it’s ready. Now, if the special teams can pick it up, the Packers could indeed win it all. Agree or disagree?

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It was great day to be a sports fan in Wisconsin

It was a trifecta day for Badgers and Packers fans on Saturday.
It all began late in the morning when the 12th ranked University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team blew out No. 23 Louisville, 85-48, at the Kohl Center.
Oh sure, the Cardinals were short-handed because of injuries and COVID-19, but Wisconsin, now 6-1 on the season, dealt previously unbeaten Louisville, now 4-1, its worst loss in more than 60 years.  
Even more eye-popping was the performance of Johnny Davis, a former La Crosse Central High School star and now a freshman small forward/shooting guard at Wisconsin. Davis played 21 minutes, scored 7 points on 3-for-4 shooting, had 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 blocked shot. He deservedly is seeing more playing time each game and is proving beyond a doubt why he was named the state’s 2020 Mr. Basketball Award winner by the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association.
Saturday afternoon, the Badgers football team defeated rival Minnesota, 20-17, at Camp Randall Stadium to keep Paul Bunyan’s Axe. However, it took overtime to do it.
Without question, a poor play call prevented the Badgers from winning it in regulation. Here's why.
The Badgers were driving the ball down the field behind senior fullback Garrett Groshek late in the game. Wisconsin was less than 20 yards away from reasonable field goal range. Rather than keeping the ball on the ground or trying a safe, short pass, backup quarterback Chase Wolf's 40-yard bomb into the end zone was under thrown and intercepted with just over a minute to play, leading to the overtime period.
Finally, Saturday night ended with the Packers holding off the hapless Carolina Panthers, 24-16, at Lambeau Field.
Green Bay scored touchdowns on its first three possessions and had what appeared to be a comfortable 21-3 halftime lead. But Green Bay’s offense could muster only a field goal late in the fourth quarter, while the defense allowed 13 second-half points.
Green Bay’s defense has taken a lot of heat most of the season for missed tackles and lack of effort, but it played fairly well, particularly in the red zone. Entering their matchup against Carolina ranked 28th in red-zone defense (allowing the opposition TDs on 67.5% of its appearances), the Packers limited Carolina to just one touchdown in five red-zone trips.
Considering the whole day, three victories was what we wanted. That’s what we got. Maybe only one victory was pretty, but a win is a win is a win nevertheless.

Packers put it all together against Titans

It took more than three months, but the Green Bay Packers finally played a “complete game” by overwhelming the Tennessee Titans, 40-14, on a snowy Lambeau Field on Sunday night.
Green Bay’s offense, defense and special teams all contributed to the lopsided victory.
As has been the rule most of the season, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams displayed their magic show. Rodgers completed 21-of-25 passes for 231 yards, 4 touchdowns and 1 interception for a 128.1 passer rating. Adams snared 11 of Rodgers passes for 142 yards and three touchdowns.
Rookie running back AJ Dillon, the “next man up” in the backfield, had a huge “coming out party,” after coming off the COVID-19 list. Filling in for injured Jamaal Williams, Dillon managed 124 yards on 21 carries and the first two touchdowns of his NFL career.
A highly energized Green Bay defense turned in its best game of the season, allowing the Titans only 260 total yards. Derrick Henry, the NFL’s leading rusher, was held to 98 yards on 23 carries.  
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was the biggest surprise for the Titans, scoring on a 45-yard TD run. Otherwise, his stat line was unimpressive. Tannehill completed 11-of-24 passes for 121 yards, 1 TD, 2 interceptions and an extremely poor 40.5 passer rating.
Packers’ safety Darnell Savage picked off one Tannehill pass with linebacker Christian Kirksey intercepting another.
The Packers improved to 12-3 and head to Chicago late Sunday afternoon to take on “Da Bears.” The Packers must win or tie the Bears (7-8) or have the Seattle Seahawks (10-4) lose or tie against the San Francisco 49ers (6-9) to be assured of the NFC's No. 1 seed and a critical bye to begin the playoffs.
It should be an interesting week.

Giannis staying with Bucks!!!!!!!!!

What is it about Wisconsin that’s so appealing to sports superstars?
Major League Baseball MVP outfielder Christian Yelich could have left the Milwaukee Brewers for more money, glitter and glory in a larger market. He stayed.
Ditto future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers... thank God!
Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo obviously enjoys living in Wisconsin, too. He’s staying with the Milwaukee Bucks, having signed his name to a five-year supermax contract extension worth $228 million on Tuesday.
While Bucks’ fans are dancing in the streets, Giannis simply wants to continue working on helping his team win an NBA championship, its first since 1971.
"This is my home, this is my city," the NBA’s two-time MVP said in a Tweet after news of the agreement hit the airwaves. "I'm blessed to be part of the Milwaukee Bucks for the next (five) years. Let's make these years count. The show goes on, let's get at it."
Is this a testament to the good, hard-working, honest, outgoing, welcoming residents of Wisconsin?
I think so.
What do you think?

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