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ESPN Wisconsin Blogs - Jason Wilde

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Rodgers won over Thomas while playing hurt

Jan 31, 2015 -- 11:31am
Photo/Getty Images 
Earl Thomas writes that he gained respect for Aaron Rodgers during the NFC title game.

GREEN BAY – Entering the NFC Championship Game, Earl Thomas wasn’t so sure that Aaron Rodgers’ calf injury was legit. In fact, the Seattle Seahawks All-Pro safety publicly questioned if the Green Bay Packers quarterback was engaging in some gamesmanship in hopes of lulling the Seahawks defense into thinking he wouldn’t be himself.

Thomas told reporters in Seattle a few days before the Seahawks’ 28-22 overtime victory over the Packers on Jan. 18 that based on what he saw on film of Rodgers against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Playoffs the previous week, he thought Rodgers’ torn calf muscle wasn’t as significant as it was being made out to be.

“I'm not buying into this leg issue,” Thomas said then. “I saw him scramble close to the goal line on the Cowboys, so he's not fooling me with that. I'm not falling into that.”

Now, as Thomas prepares to play in Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIX with a dislocated shoulder he suffered against the Packers, he’s changed his tune.

Writing on his personal website, the Seahawks safety said he came around on believing Rodgers’ calf injury was indeed serious as he went through the game.

“I have to give Rodgers a lot of credit,” Thomas wrote. “Going into the game, after watching the tape of their game against Dallas, I honestly didn't think he was that injured. I was preparing for the real Aaron Rodgers, not the hurt Aaron Rodgers.

“But that guy was really hurt out there. Going against him in the game, I could tell immediately that he was really in pain. And it sounds funny, but that actually caught me off-guard. Now that I'm dealing with an injury of my own, I have even more respect for him and what he did. A tremendous amount of respect."

He used a lot of quick-strike plays against us, and he attacked certain spots on the football field. It played to his advantage that they were playing an aggressive team like us. We were flying all around, but he was moving so slow and smooth. His focus was on point. I think that gave him an edge in the game.

“He also used his cadence to disrupt our rhythm. He was double counting, triple counting and the ball wasn’t getting snapped until two seconds were left on the play clock. They did a great job of controlling the game in that aspect. When you talk about a football game, the game is always won up front. We have a great secondary, but our front allows us to have a lot of leeway, and all of us were just off rhythm early on.”

Favre banquet for Packers Hall of Fame induction sold out

Jan 31, 2015 -- 10:41am
Photo/Associated Press via 
Brett Favre came back to Green Bay in 2008 for friend Frank Winters’ induction into the Packers Hall of Fame.

GREEN BAY – From the very start, Bob Harlan wanted to ensure a Brett Favre-friendly audience for the prodigal quarterback’s return to the Green Bay Packers fold. That’s why the retired Packers president believed the Packers Hall of Fame banquet would be the perfect venue.

On Saturday, the Hall of Fame announced that all 1,600 tickets for the July 18 event had been snapped up by sponsors, supporters and fellow Hall of Fame inductees, meaning no tickets will be sold to the general public.

While that certainly will disappoint Favre fans who’d hoped to attend the event, it also guarantees that Favre won’t face any hostility from folks who still harbor ill will after his 2008 unretirement and decision to join the Minnesota Vikings in 2009.

“I told him, and I told [his wife] Deanna that,” Harlan said on Aug. 4, when the Hall of Fame and the Packers announced the plan for Favre’s reconciliation. “I said, ‘Deanna, the Hall of Fame banquet is a love fest. You’re going to get everybody there that just cannot wait to see you and Brett walk into that room. And that’s Step 1. And then Step 2 is you go out on that field.’ And I said, ‘The two of you deserve this.’”

In announcing that the event is sold out, Packers Hall of Fame president Perry Kidder explained why tickets went so quickly.

“Each year, no matter who is inducted, we first go to the people and companies who have supported us throughout the years to determine their interest in the banquet,” Kidder said in a press release sent from the Packers public-relations department on behalf of the Hall of Fame. “We were delighted with the positive response this year and how quickly the sponsorships, tickets and tables sold out. In addition to our longtime supporters, we will host a record number of returning Hall of Famers and their guests, plus expected NFL dignitaries.”

Kidder said the event would be broadcast on television on July 19.

“We know some fans will be disappointed that they won’t be able to purchase tickets to the banquet but, the good news is that, for the first time ever, the event will be recorded and broadcast the next day,” Kidder said. “It’s a great way for Packers fans to share in the experience.”

Cherry Starr: 'It hurts me to see him this way'

Jan 31, 2015 -- 10:21am
Photo/Jonathan Butnick 
Aaron Rodgers accepted the Bart Starr award from his ‘role model’ last year.

GREEN BAY – A year ago, Aaron Rodgers was presented the Bart Starr Award by its namesake. For Rodgers, it was as meaningful as any award he’d ever received, because it came from a man who had become his mentor and close friend – someone whose path he hoped to follow.

“It means a lot, mostly because I get to stand with my personal role model,” Rodgers, who first met Starr at the Packers’ 2006 Fan Fest event, said after winning the award. “(Starr is known) not only by his play, but more importantly by his work off the field. I think as a football player, you realize you want to be eventually known for more than just playing football.”

On Friday, Starr’s son, Bart Jr., presented Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning with the award, as his father continues to recover from two strokes and a heart attack suffered in September. It marked the first time since the award was created in 1989 that Starr was unable to present it.

Starr, who turned 81 on Jan. 9, suffered an ischemic stroke on Sept. 2, then suffered a hemorrhagic stroke and mild heart attack five days later. He was supposed to return to Green Bay last fall to accompany another of the franchise’s legendary quarterbacks, Brett Favre, for his return to Lambeau Field. But Favre’s November return was canceled when it became clear that Starr’s health would not allow him to attend.

The Green Bay Press-Gazette’s Pete Dougherty spoke with Starr for a fantastic long-form piece about the Packers legend shortly before Starr’s health problems struck.

As part of a story by the Arizona Republic’s Jeff Metcalfe about how close the Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback was to leading an NFL expansion franchise in Phoenix, Starr’s wife, Cherry, paints a sobering picture of her husband’s recovery.

“It's really a very, very slow recovery," Cherry Starr said of her husband of 60 years. “When we left the hospital (after 2½ months), he could not walk or sit up unassisted. Now he's walking on a walker and standing very erect. He lost 20 pounds and gained back 10 and is getting stronger. I don't know how much recovery he can make with his cognitive ability.

"He's been such a kind, generous, loving man all his life. It's not a good quality of life for him, and it hurts me to see him this way. I wish so much this had never happened.”

McCarthy fires Slocum as special-teams coordinator

Jan 30, 2015 -- 4:35pm
Photo/Getty Images 
Brandon Bostick’s inability to recover a late onside kick against Seattle was one of two special teams gaffes that ultimately contributed to Shawn Slocum’s firing Friday.

GREEN BAY – After their special teams units followed up a poor regular season with two catastrophic mistakes with the Super Bowl on the line, the Green Bay Packers are in the market for a new special-teams coordinator.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy fired special-teams coordinator Shawn Slocum Friday afternoon, after watching Slocum’s units finish dead last in the 32-team NFL in Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin’s annual rankings and commit two crucial mistakes in the team’s NFC Championship Game loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

“I would like to thank Shawn for all of his contributions over the past nine years,” McCarthy said in a statement released by the club's public relations department. “He was a positive contributor to our success, including helping us win Super Bowl XLV. We wish Shawn, Michelle and their family the best moving forward.”

Slocum had been the Packers’ special-teams coordinator since 2009 and was one of only five remaining members of McCarthy’s original coaching staff from 2006. McCarthy and Slocum had coached together since their days at the University of Pittsburgh in the early 1990s.’

In his first nine seasons as Packers coach, McCarthy had only fired one previous coordinator: Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders, following the 2008 season.

“We have a format that we follow,” McCarthy replied Wednesday when asked during his season wrap-up news conference about the process of evaluating assistants. “Obviously [we start by] gathering information, documentation things like that. Then you have start having your exit interviews with the coordinators and you go through all the assistants. It usually takes about a good week or so to do that.”

Assistant coaches were supposed to be off all week, after their postseason meetings with McCarthy were postponed in the wake of McCarthy’s younger brother Joe’s death from a heart attack last week. 

The Packers could promote Ron Zook, whom McCarthy hired last year after the ex-Florida and Illinois head coach had been out of football since 2011. Zook coached the Pittsburgh Steelers’ special-teams units from 1996 through 1998.

Then again, Zook was part of a staff that was in charge of a special teams group that finished last in the NFL in Gosselin’s annual special-teams rankings, in which teams are ranked in 22 separate categories. The Packers had an NFL-high seven kicks blocked (two punts, three field goals, two extra points), their kickoff return unit was among the worst in the league, punter Tim Masthay struggled during the second half of the season, and both the kickoff and punt coverage units allowed touchdown returns.

Then came the loss in Seattle, where the field-goal block unit was burned for a 19-yard touchdown on a fake field goal and tight end Brandon Bostick failed to secure an onside kick with just over 2 minutes to play. Had Bostick, who was supposed to serve only as a blocker on the play, recovered the ball or allowed wide receiver Jordy Nelson to do so, the Packers would presumably be playing in Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday

Slocum’s replacement will be the Packers’ third special-teams coordinator of the McCarthy era. Veteran special teams coach Mike Stock held the job from 2006 through 2008 but retired at McCarthy’s urging after the 2008 season.

Schneider was prepping concession speech before Seahawks' comeback

Jan 30, 2015 -- 8:00am
Photo/Getty Images 
Seahawks GM John Schneider thought, as did many back in his hometown, that the Packers were headed to Super Bowl XLIX.

GREEN BAY – Green Bay Packers fans weren’t the only ones who figured their team was going to be hoisting the George Halas Trophy at the end of the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 18.

Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider, who grew up in the Green Bay area and got his NFL scouting start with the Packers under Ron Wolf, thought so, too.

In fact, Schneider was thinking about what he’d say to his team with the Packers up by 12 points and safety Morgan Burnett having just intercepted Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson with just over 5 minutes to go in the game.

“I was thinking to myself how I was going to address each player after the game, what I was going to say to the coaching staff,” Schneider said during the pre-Super Bowl festivities this week in Arizona, where his Seahawks will go for back-to-back Super Bowl titles against the New England Patriots on Sunday. “I was going to be like, ‘Hey, we had a great season. We’ll get them next year. Let’s have a great offseason.’ All those things are running through my mind, and then at the five-minute mark, things just started snowballing there.”

Indeed they did, and in the end, the Seahawks advanced with a 28-22 overtime victory made possible by running back Marshawn Lynch’s go-ahead touchdown late in regulation, Wilson’s miraculous 2-point conversion to tight end Luke Willson after the TD, and Wilson’s game-winning touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse in overtime.

“The quarterback and the running back basically just willed their way,” Schneider said. “The 2-point conversion was unbelievable. Wilson and Luke made a heck of a play. When you go back and watch the game, it’s amazing how it went down. I’m not quite as positive as (coach) Pete (Carroll) is all the time.”

“Anxiety, depression, you can throw it all in there. It was nuts.”

McCarthy agrees with Burnett's post-INT intent

Jan 30, 2015 -- 7:15am
Photo/Getty Images 
Morgan Burnett is mobbed by his teammates after his interception with just over 5 minutes left in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 18.

GREEN BAY – Of all the plays that defy explanation and cost the Green Bay Packers a berth in Super Bowl XLIX – and Lord knows there were a lot of them – perhaps the most confounding was safety Morgan Burnett’s interception and decision to give himself up thereafter.

Well, to most folks, anyway. Apparently not to Packers coach Mike McCarthy.

McCarthy said Wednesday in his season wrap-up press conference that he had no problem with outside linebacker Julius Peppers’ decision to advise Burnett to go down and Burnett doing so – even after seeing on film that Burnett might have scored a game-clinching touchdown on the interception return had he not given himself up.

The Packers led, 19-7, at the time, and the Green Bay offense took over at its own 43-yard line after the pick, with 5 minutes 4 seconds left in regulation. After back-to-back-to-back handoffs to Eddie Lacy resulted in a net loss of 4 yards, the Packers punted – and the Seahawks rallied for a 28-22 overtime victory that has them playing for their second straight NFL title on Sunday in Super Bowl XLIX against New England.

“Those are decisions that are made in the heat of the battle. I agree with the intent of the decision,” McCarthy said. “I clearly expected to move the ball and at least change the field position. The fact that Morgan went down, and then we give them the ball back on [the 43-yard-line]? That’s not Morgan’s fault, and I don’t think you go back and question that decision.

“Why he did it, I understand. The way we were playing at that point. Defensively we were in command of the game.”

That said, while defensive backs routinely give themselves up after interceptions when they occur at the end of games, one could argue that there was too much time left on the clock not to complete the play. The coaches film camera angle showed that had Peppers blocked instead of giving Burnett what the Packers call the “No mas” signal, Burnett would have had a big return up the left sideline and may even have scored to put the game away.

Nevertheless, McCarthy stood by Burnett’s decision.

“You’re playing in a game, it’s raining a little bit on and off, you’re on turf,” McCarthy said. “So he played the high side of caution there.”

Matthews' role could still include inside job in 2015

Jan 30, 2015 -- 6:45am
Photo/Getty Images 
Clay Matthews is likely to see more action at inside linebacker in 2015, even if the team adds someone at the position.

GREEN BAY – Clay Matthews’ move inside apparently wasn’t a one-year thing.

Although the Green Bay Packers star linebacker’s primary position remains outside, coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday in his season wrap-up press conference that Matthews was too good inside not to consider continuing to use him there.

That said, McCarthy made it clear where he thinks Matthews should spend most of his time.

“I mean, Clay’s an outside linebacker. I think we all recognize that. But he was very productive in his role when he went inside. I think as we build our roster and go through the player acquisition phase [during the offseason], there will be more answers, hopefully more options and we’ll see how it goes.”

Matthews finished the season with 69 tackles, 11 sacks, one interception, six pass breakups and one forced fumble. The Packers’ 32 nd-ranked run defense improved significantly after Matthews started splitting his time inside and outside after the Week 9 bye.

“I think not only what we accomplished with Clay specifically [was positive], but I think the fact of the matter [is] that we were able to be more flexible in how we utilize Clay,” McCarthy said. “I thought all those changes were very positive for our defense and the way the play time was distributed, the stress that you’re able to apply to the opponent with different matchups [was also positive].”

Wolf hopes for Hall call

Jan 29, 2015 -- 10:55pm
Photo/Associated Press via 
Retired Packers general manager Ron Wolf could be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday.

Editor's note: Watch for a more in-depth story on Wolf and his impact on the Packers following Saturday night's Hall of Fame announcement.

GREEN BAY – Ron Wolf wasn’t entirely sure how to pack Thursday afternoon.

The retired Green Bay Packers general manager and his wife, Edie, were getting set for a Friday flight to Arizona, where the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 46-member selection panel will decide if the man who rebuilt Titletown merits enshrinement.

If Wolf gets the requisite 80 percent of the vote, he’ll be a member of the 2015 class, be introduced at the league’s annual NFL Honors event on the eve of Super Bowl XLIX and be on hand for Sunday’s game between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots.

If not …

“If you don’t make it, you’re on the plane Sunday morning heading back,” Wolf said with a laugh from his winter home in Florida. “We’ll see what happens.”

Wolf and Bill Polian, who served as the GM for the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts, are the inaugural contributor candidates chosen for consideration by the Hall of Fame’s new contributor committee, which is made up of nine members of the 46-person selection committee. The Hall of Fame defines a contributor as “an individual who made outstanding contributions to professional football in capacities other than playing or coaching.”

Wolf, Polian and Seniors Committee nominee Mick Tingelhoff are up for selection, along with an impressive list of 15 modern-era finalists that includes Kurt Warner, Junior Seau, Terrell Davis,  

Contributors had previously been part of the modern era nomination list that included coaches and players. Since 1963, when the Hall of Fame first opened, only 19 contributors have been elected, and 10 of those were elected in the first five Hall of Fame classes, including six as charter members. By putting them in a separate category, the Hall is hoping deserving contributors have a better chance at enshrinement.

Wolf isn’t sure if he’ll get in or not, and he’s trying not to worry about it.

“I’d like to say that I’m not nervous or edgy or antsy, but I’m probably a little bit of all those things as we get closer to it,” Wolf said. “However, what I try to tell myself is, I have no control over the outcome of this. I think I’m winning there. I really believe I’m winning there.”

Wolf did a lot of winning in his career, too. He began as a scout for the Raiders in 1963 and he spent 25 seasons in the team’s front office during three separate tenures. In 1976, he was hired as the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager, and while the Bucs went 2-26 in his two-year tenure – including 0-14 his first year – the 1979 team reached the NFC championship game two years after he was fired and did so with 16 starters Wolf had acquired.

Wolf was working for the New York Jets when the Packers hired him late in the 1991 season – and the downtrodden franchise’s fortunes were changed forever. Not only did Wolf hire coach Mike Holmgren, trade for quarterback Brett Favre and sign free-agent defensive end Reggie White, but his drafts yielded 16 Pro Bowl players, and the Packers went an astonishing 101-57 (including 9-5 in the postseason) on his watch. The 1996 team went on to win Super Bowl XXXI, while the 1997 team reached Super Bowl XXXII, losing to the Denver Broncos.

Wolf retired following the 2001 season, but the tradition he started in Green Bay has carried on while his protégés have found success themselves. Five current NFL GMs got their start in the NFL under Wolf in Green Bay: Packers GM Ted Thompson, Seattle Seahawks GM John Schneider, Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie, Kansas City Chiefs GM John Dorsey and new Washington Redskins GM Scot McCloughan.

“You think about what [the Hall of Fame] means and what a tremendous honor that is for one individual, [but] none of that would have happened if I didn’t have a heck of a cast around me,” Wolf said. “The people that we were able to hire there when I was there, they dedicated themselves to the belief that we could breathe some life back into this franchise, which we were able to do. Plus, the guys were very talented people. Five of the guys are general managers – when you stop to think about that, it’s incredible.”

Tags: Ron Wolf

McCarthy wondered about Matthews after collision

Jan 28, 2015 -- 4:35pm
Photo/Getty Images 
Clay Matthews left the game after a hit on Seahawks tight end Luke Willson early in the fourth quarter and spent the final two series of regulation on the bench.

GREEN BAY – We know Clay Matthews was not on the field for the Green Bay Packers’ last two defensive series during their Jan. 18 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. We also know that the Packers’ star linebacker returned for the defense’s final series, the Seahawks’ game-winning touchdown drive in overtime.

And while we still don’t know exactly why Matthews missed those two series, coach Mike McCarthy didn’t exactly dispel the notion Wednesday that Matthews may have been experiencing concussion-like symptoms after the collision with Willson with 10 minutes 41 seconds left in regulation.

Asked during his season wrap-up news conference Wednesday whether Matthews was ever examined for a possible concussion, McCarthy said the only exam he knew the medical staff administered was for a knee injury.

But McCarthy also acknowledged that he saw Matthews on the sideline and was wondering if something was wrong with him.

“I don’t know about a concussion. I know he was being looked at there at the end [for] his knee,” McCarthy said. “But he did have a couple collisions, and we may be talking about the same play. I saw it and I actually walked towards him, because Jordy Nelson waved to me. I talked to Clay and he just said he needed a minute. Looking him in the eye and everything, I didn’t see any reason for concern there.”

After leading with his head to hit Willson on the incomplete pass, Matthews can be seen on FOX Sports’ replay putting his hands to his head while lying on the CenturyLink Field turf. He then jogs off to the Packers sideline, where he did not immediately interact with trainers.

Matthews returns for several plays later in the drive, which ended in Seattle punting. He was not on the field for Morgan Burnett’s interception on the ensuing series, then wasn’t on the field for the last two Seattle possessions of regulation, as the Seahawks turned a 19-7 deficit into a 22-19 lead.

After the Packers tied the game with a field goal in the closing seconds of regulation, Matthews was back on the field in overtime, when the Seahawks won the game on a 35-yard touchdown on the sixth play of extra time.

Asked after the game if his leg was bothering him, Matthews replied, "It was a medley of things just catching up to me. Fortunately, I worked with the trainers a little bit during that last drive and was able to get back out there for overtime. But you know I have enough time to rest now, so don’t feel sorry for me."

After the game, McCarthy said he wasn’t aware that Matthews was out of the game late in regulation. On Wednesday, McCarthy said because of his duties as the offensive play-caller, the medical staff may have checked Matthews out without his knowledge.

“As far as, the doctors, especially being a play-caller, I don’t get every play by play of what every guy was looked at [for] during the course of the game,” McCarthy said. “I really don’t even get that until after a home game until I go back through the training room and we have a list that we go through each guy he has seen. Just the way we’re structured, unless it impacts the game as far as a player injury, I’m not really notified.”

Here's a look at two screen captures from FOX Sports' broadcast of the play in question:


Rodgers visits kids from Camp Hometown Heroes for latest episode

Jan 28, 2015 -- 11:22am
Screen capture/ 
The final installment of this year’s It’s Aaron series highlights children of fallen U.S. military personnel.

GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers has spoken often of his respect for those who serve in the U.S. military, tracing that appreciation to being the grandson of a World War II veteran.

In his latest video, the Green Bay Packers quarterback spends time with four children who lost their fathers in military engagements.

Rodgers visited kids from Camp Hometown Heroes, which puts on a weeklong camp for kids who’ve lost a loved one.

Rodgers is one of three finalists for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year award, which will be presented Saturday in Arizona on the eve of Super Bowl XLIX. He was nominated for his work with the MACC Fund,, Raise Hope for Congo and his other charitable efforts 

Here’s the video:

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