Thursday, October 29, 1998

The Mood in San Francisco

Packer-49er week. Remember when Packer-Bear week was all we really cared about? Seems like a long time ago. When the Packers and the 49ers play, these days it is a really big deal, not just for me, living here in the San Francisco area, but for all Packer fans everywhere.

The mood here in San Francisco is more hopeful about this game than they have been the last couple of times around. I remember very well the mood in January of 1996, when the Packers beat the 49ers in the playoffs for the first time. The mood was arrogant indifference. The Packers were nothing but a speed bump on the road to the 49er-Cowboy NFC Championship game. Or so they thought.

The three games after that involved, to an objective observer (unlike me), superior Packer teams playing really good 49er teams. So the locals were apprehensive, even if they talked a good game on the outside. They still have not abandoned all of their arrogance, though. There was an article in one of the papers Wednesday mentioning that the 49ers have excuses for the previous 4 games, some more legitimate than others. The January 1996 playoff game was a fluke. The 1996 Monday nighter had the bad call on Beebe's touchdown. The January 1997 playoff game had an injured Steve Young. The January 1998 playoff game had more bad calls, on a 49er catch ruled out of bounds in the end zone, and on William Henderson's non-fumble. Don't you just love these guys?

This time, the 49er fans see that the 49ers have a much better shot at it than the last few games. The Packers have very little running game, while the 49ers' running game has been much better. Steve Young has not been making many mistakes this year, while Brett Favre has been making them in bunches. Both sets of defensive backs have been giving up a lot of touchdowns, but the 49er fans think they may have fixed that problem by benching their high-priced free agent, Antonio Langham. (I remain unconvinced about that, but we shall see.) The 49ers have done a better job than the Packers have of pulling out games they easily could have lost. The Packers have even shown that they are not invincible at Lambeau Field. All of this translates into a much better chance for the 49ers.

The truth is, I can't argue with them, which is why I am very uncomfortable about this game.

What will it take to win? A lot depends on Brett Favre. If he has another off day, this game is over early. But if he is "on," and if the defensive backs have a good game, I think the Packers can pull it out. Oh, and it wouldn't hurt if Travis Jervey could pop a long gainer here and there. I've got my fingers crossed.

Thursday, October 22, 1998

Not Panic Time Yet

These past two weeks have certainly been discouraging to Packer fans. The Packers end their home winning streak by losing to the Vikings on Monday Night Football, in a game where they were thoroughly outplayed on both sides of the ball. The game, as they are fond of saying, was not as close as the score. Well, OK, but surely they would feast on the lowly Lions on a Thursday Night Game. After all, they were starting a rookie QB, which was widely interpreted as Bobby Ross having thrown in the towel on the season. Outplayed again. The rookie QB, just like Randall Cunningham the week before, ends up looking like a Hall of Famer playing against the Green Bay defense. The improved (?) Packer run defense gave up two 70 + yard touchdown runs to Barry Sanders, one of which was called back on a penalty. The Packers made it close in garbage time, and even had a shot to tie the game on a hail Mary pass at the end, but again, the game was not as close as the score. This game was even more discouraging for me because I missed the beginning of it due to a late-running (West Coast) meeting at a firm retreat. When I got back to my hotel room, and my wife Judy told me it was 10-0 Packers, I assumed all was right with the football world again.

So we have a two game losing streak. The Lambeau streak has been broken. And both losses have been to NFC Central teams. (At least the 49ers had the good sense to lose to an AFC team.) The Vikings lead the Packers by 2 games in the division, and both the 49ers and Falcons (did I type that right?) are a game ahead of the Packers for any potential wild card or home field advantage.

I am thoroughly discouraged. But I am not hitting the panic button yet. Looking back at my pre-season predictions, I expected the Packers to be 4-2 at this point. I thought they would lose a home game, probably to Tampa Bay, and I thought they would lose at Detroit (they almost always have trouble there). So really, the Packers are exactly where I thought they would be. The only difference is that, after the 4-0 start, I had adjusted my expectations and started to think about running the streak to 8-0, and after that, who knew how far they could go? This is just another way of saying that serious fans overreact to wins the same way we overreact to losses.

It may hearten some of you to remember that the 49ers are having some of the same problems. They lost several weeks ago to what everyone assumed (maybe incorrectly) was a bad team, the Bills. They barely beat the Jets in week one, and they barely beat the Colts this past week. So they could very easily have been at 3-3 by this point in the year. Unfortunately, they have done a pretty good job of coming away with the victory when it was close, and so they are 5-1 instead. Given their schedule, every chance for a loss is important, and it is a shame that they have pulled these games out.

As for this week's game, I imagine that Eric Zeier will end up looking better than he deserves to look, but not quite as good as those "Hall of Famers" Cunningham and Batch. The Packers will win this game if they can just avoid the sort of disastrous mistakes they have been making recently. I'd like to see more emphasis on the running game (Jervey has looked a lot better than Harris to me), and I'd like to see better use of such simple devices as play-action passes and pump fakes. Something like 38-17 sounds about right to me.

Next week's game? I can't even guess right now. I want to see how the Packers look after their two-game losing streak. I also want to see how the 49ers look now that they have benched the defensive back (Antonio Langham) who has been causing them so many problems. I am very concerned about the 49er game, but if the Packers can get some of their problems worked out this week, they should have a good chance.