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.

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