The Green Bay Packers endured an eventful campaign, blighted by injuries to key players. Despite this, they pipped the Chicago Bears on the final day of the regular season to make the post-season, before losing out to the San Francisco 49ers at the first hurdle.
Sports Mole looks back at their 2013 campaign.
The Packers were a strongly fancied tip to win the NFC North during the off-season, with many believing that Aaron Rodgers would once again lead his team to at least the divisional weekend of the playoffs. With Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and rookie rusher Eddie Lacy as the key weapons on offense, added to a relatively favourable schedule, Mike McCarthy's side were an outside bet for some to go all the way and win the Super Bowl.
Highlight of the season
With the Packers at 7–7–1 and the Bears at 8–7, a week 17 finale would decide the champions of the NFC North, and dismiss the losers from the playoff picture. Three days prior to the game, McCarthy announced that Rodgers would make his long-awaited return from injury, with Cobb also coming back after a nine-week layoff.
A point behind and with just 43 seconds left on the clock, the Packers had a 4th down & eight, just inside Bears territory. Side-stepping a Bears blitz, Rodgers preceded to throw a 48-yard touchdown to a wide open Cobb to win them the game. Although Chicago attempted to make one more comeback, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was intercepted by Sam Shields on the final play, meaning that the Packers reached the post-season in the most dramatic of circumstances.
For McCarthy, having to deal with so many major injuries to key players was surely the most frustrating aspect of the 2013 season. Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone in November which threatened to derail their season, and by that point injuries to Cobb and Jermichael Finley had already made their task difficult enough.
With Rodgers and Cobb not making their comebacks until that final regular-season epic against Chicago, you have to wonder if that had an impact the following week against the 49ers. Had the pair of them been fit and in their rhythm, the Packers could well have edged San Francisco that night, and who knows what might have been?
Player of the season:
Out of Alabama, rookie running back Eddie Lacy had an exceptional first season in green and gold. After overcoming a concussion he suffered in week two, Lacy stepped up to lead the offense in the absence of so many key figures. With four 100+ yard games, including a 22 carry, 150-yard performance against the Bears, Lacy endeared himself to the Packers faithful. He ended the campaign with 1,178 yards, 11 touchdowns and 257 receiving yards, setting franchise rookie records for rushing yards and touchdowns. He was named 2013 Offensive Rookie of The Year and selected for the Pro Bowl.
Cornerback Sam Shields deserves a mention here, after a strong season in which he led his team in interceptions (four) and passes defended (16). Shields also recorded 61 total tackles, and celebrated his form by signing a new deal with the franchise shortly after the season ended.
With Shields one of many free agents, the Packers moved quickly to also tie down James Starks, BJ Raji and Andrew Quarless to new contracts. However, the futures of Finley, Kuhn and Johnny Jolly remain up in the air, and James Jones has already moved on to the Oakland Raiders. One big name into the franchise is outside linebacker Julius Peppers, arriving from fierce rivals the Chicago Bears. It's a move that has had the football world talking, and it's one which is sure to add an extra spice to the side's contests next season. On the coaching staff, Ron Zook has been added as assistant special teams coach and Sam Gash has been acquired to coach the running backs.
It's strange to say that 2013 was a blip for the Packers, as they still won their division. However, they were far from their strongest and will hope to have a much improved season next time around. Having Rodgers stay injury-free will be a huge plus for McCarthy, and it will be interesting to see if Lacy can have the same impact as he did in his rookie year. If they perform to the level that they're capable of, and Peppers rouses the defense, the Packers could have an excellent campaign indeed.