Wednesday, November 18, 1998

Packers Roll in NY on Way to Minnesota

OK, I promise not to overreact to this victory. It was just the Giants, who aren't very good anymore. And once you get ahead and on a roll, sometimes you just keep rolling, as the Packers did Sunday, on their way to a 37-3 win over the G-Men.

Still, it was only the second Packer win on outdoor Astroturf in the entire Holmgren - Favre era. That made it a bit more satisfying. And for once, an opposing quarterback didn't come off looking like a future hall-of-famer against the Packer defensive backs. (See Cunningham, R., Batch, C., and Stewart, K., not to mention Garrett, J. from a few years ago.)

Darick Holmes finally gets his chance to run against the Giants, and he not only scores a touchdown, but gains over 100 yards AND did a pretty nice job of picking up some blitzes (which was what the coaches were concerned he might not be ready for).

As a matter of fact, if they had a definition of "Total Domination" in the dictionary, they would probably have a shot from this game.

But I promise not to overreact. The reason is simple. Out here in the San Francisco area, we see this sort of thing all the time. The 49ers roll over some second-division team (funny how they always seem to be from the 49ers OWN division), and the 49er "Faithful" (as they call themselves) celebrate the victory as if they just beat the defending world champions. But the Packers, and the Bills, and now even the Falcons, have demonstrated that seven 49er victories over mostly crummy teams does not turn the 49ers into world-beaters. And a crushing win over the Giants will not do the trick for the Packers, either.

So how do the Packers match up with the Vikings? Not real well, at least on paper. Everyone knows that the Vikings were built for artificial turf, while the Packers were built for grass. As a result, in the dome, the Vikings' speed has traditionally caused a lot of problems for the Packers. Cunningham is having a better year than Favre, and the Vikings' receivers as a group are having a better year than the Packers' receivers. The Vikings' running game is much better than the Packers', unless last week is a good indication of what Darick Holmes can do (let's hope so). The Packers' defensive line is better than the Vikings' defensive line, but for some reason they were not able to bother Cunningham at all in the first game (I read somewhere that his uniform was clean after the game, despite the weather). So it makes sense to see that the Vikings are favored to win the game. None of us can or should be shocked if the Vikings win.

Still, somehow I feel that the Packers have a good chance in this game. Call it the "revenge" factor, call it the embarrassment factor, call it the aging champions summoning up the will to defeat the rising challengers. I am looking (and hoping) for big games from Favre, Holmes, Butler, White and Brooks. It seems like Brooks has been coming on in the past few weeks, and this would be a heck of a game for him to shine.


It's time to look down the road a bit. If the Vikings win this game, they pretty obviously have the division locked up. The reverse is not necessarily true, but if the Packers win, I think they will win the division, probably on a tie-breaker with the Vikes. Here is a peek at the games ahead for each NFC Contender.

Green Bay. Road games at Minnesota, Tampa and Chicago. Home games against Philadelphia, Chicago and Tennessee. I think they will go 4-2 or 5-1, ending up at 11-5 or 12-4.

Minnesota. Home games against Green Bay, Chicago and Jacksonville. Road games at Dallas, Baltimore and Tennessee. I think they will go 3-3 or 4-2, ending up with a 12-4 or 13-3 record.

Atlanta. The Falcons play at home against Chicago, Indianapolis and Miami. Road games at St. Louis, New Orleans and Detroit. ALL DOME GAMES! These guys look like they are going to go 5-1 on the way to a 13-3 record and possible home field advantage.

San Francisco. Home games against New Orleans, NY Giants, Detroit and St. Louis. Road games against Carolina and New England. They could win all of these games, but I think 4-2 is more like it, leading to an 11-5 record.

Dallas. Home games against Seattle, Minnesota, Philadelphia and Washington. Road games at New Orleans and Kansas City. That looks like about a 3-3 to me, giving them a 10-6 record.

Somebody has to win the last wild card, but I am not sure who. My best guess is the Cardinals, mainly because the Saints have too many good teams left to play.

Tuesday, November 3, 1998

49er Game/Mid-Year Review

The Packers ended the first half of the season on Sunday with a big bang, beating the 49ers by the score of 36-22. Ironically, I was not home in the SF area for the game. I had to travel to the Eastern Time Zone for a Monday meeting. Normally I would have flown Sunday afternoon, but that would have required me to miss the entire game. So I flew on an early Sunday morning flight, which was scheduled to arrive 22 minutes before kickoff. To make a long story short, I ended up missing most of the first quarter, but got to watch the rest of the game.

As we all know, things got pretty hairy in the third quarter, as the 49ers erased an initial 16-0 deficit and ultimately went ahead, 22-19. Meantime, Favre started throwing interceptions and incompletions all over the place. I was really concerned that this game was going the wrong way. Unlike most of the Packer-49er games, this time the 49ers had recovered from the hole the Packers had put them in.

And then, if you will excuse the Maddenism, BOOM! The game was over in what seemed like 5 minutes. Another beautiful bomb of a TD pass to my very distant cousin Antonio ;-), and best of all, the defense swarming over Steve Young like a pack of starving dogs. And just like that, the game was over.

Because I was out of town, I of course missed all of the immediate post-game flavor from the local news and sports talk shows. But now that I am back, I am devouring the Monday and Tuesday newspapers, and catching as much sports radio as I can. There seems to be an air of acceptance now, that the 49ers just can NOT seem to beat the Packers. Yes, there is some spin doctoring going on. Steve [I-hope-he-is-not-our-coach-next-year] Mariucci now says that both Marquez Pope and Merton Hanks were hurting, and that he hopes they will be healthy if the 49ers meet the Packers again. And there are a lot of fingers being pointed at J.J. Stokes for dropping what could have been a touchdown pass, and then for pushing around a couple of reporters in the locker room after the game. But basically, this time I think they finally get it.

As a final note on the 49ers, they are clearly every bit as obsessed with the Packers now as the Packers used to be with the Cowboys. Mariucci has reportedly instructed that no one on the team is to speak about, or even think about, the Packer game after midnight last night (Monday).

So where do the Packers stand at mid-year? Their record is 6-2, which is not too bad considering that I thought they would be 5-3, on their way to an 11-5 record, before the season started. The Packers have played better than I had feared they might, after how they performed during the pre-season. But they have some major holes and question marks:

  • The absence of a running game is a big problem, although there have been some signs of life in the last two games.
  • The defensive backs have gotten burned badly in a couple of games, but have played effectively in other games.
  • This Favre 2-3 interceptions per game stuff has got to stop. The Packers cannot continue to dodge that bullet from game to game.

    The 49er victory, coupled with the Vikings' loss, certainly improves the prospects for a favorable playoff spot. Has the Vikings' traditional second half collapse started a little early this year? It will be interesting to see. The problem, I am afraid to say, is probably STILL the 49ers. Even if the Packers do catch the Vikings for the division, I don't know that they will be able to stay even with the 49ers. The Packers will lose a couple more games, but the 49ers, in their division, may not. This could lead to another NFC Championship game in San Francisco.

    The Packers are about to start a 3 game road trip, with each of the 3 games on the dreaded artificial turf. The Packers only play two more games against teams with a current winning record, and they play them both in the next 3 weeks (Pittsburgh and Minnesota). Two out of three on the road trip would be a great result, three out of three almost too much to dream about. Travis Jervey's skills (speed) are ideally suited to astroturf, and he even prefers the stuff. This would be an excellent time for Jervey to have a few good games.

    The Packers are now 6-2. They should be able to win their last 4 games (although the game at Tampa is far from a "gimme"). I'd say they are on their way to a 12-4 or maybe even a 13-3 season.