Sunday, September 26, 1999

Bye Week Comes Just in Time

When I saw the schedule this spring, the thing that I was most unhappy about was the early bye. Who needs a bye in week 4? Certainly it would be a lot better to have a bye week in the middle of the season, or maybe around 2/3 of the way through the year.

I'll tell you who needs a bye week. I do. And so do a lot of other Packer fans. Not since the 1989 "Majik Man" year have the Packers managed to make every game come down to the final two minutes. It is exhausting just to watch Packer games this year, and all of us fans need some time to rest up for the next game.

I have a feeling that the Packers could use the rest, too. Favre's thumb did not seem to bother him today (in the Vikings game), but I am sure that some time without getting sacked or abused would be welcome. And this business of bringing back the team at the end on your shoulders is obviously wearing on Favre emotionally and physically as well, as evidenced by his reactions after the Raider and Vikings games.

So the Packers are 2-1 at the bye, and tied for first place in the NFC Central. But for Brett Favre, they would probably be 0-3 and starting to think about next year. There is some good and some bad in this, very clearly. The good part is that we are witnessing the play of one of the all time great quarterbacks. There is no doubt about it. He is a very special player, who wants to win as much as we want him to win, and who has the talent to be able to make that happen even in situations where they probably ought to lose the games.

The bad part is that it looks like this team is going to have us on an emotional roller coaster all year long. Or are they? The defense is still adjusting to a lot of new starters, and to a new defensive coordinator, and other assistant coaches. Yet they are playing, already, much better than last year, and it is obvious that this year's "Anti-Moss" draft was a success. The new players held Moss to 2 catches, less than 20 yards, and what could have been the game-winning TD. I think that there is reason to hope that the defense is just going to get better and better as the year goes on.

What about the offense? Other than the 4th quarter comebacks, they have not really been that sharp. But they have some things to get used to as well. A new play-caller in Sherman Lewis. The absence of Robert Brooks. And now, sadly, the absence of Mark Chmura for the year and, I'm afraid, probably for his career. If the offense can continue to improve, this whole team might just be a juggernaut by late in the season. At the very least, they ought to be one of the contenders in the NFC. The Vikings are not what they were last year, and the Falcons are all but eliminated from playoff contention given their injury problems. The 49ers are, after an incredible run, done in my view. Despite the Cowboys' 2-0 record, there is no team in the NFC East that seems like a really good team, and in the NFC Central, I refuse to believe that the Lions are for real. So the Packers will be there in the end. With improvement and some good breaks, they ought to be in contention for home field advantage in the playoffs.

Have a great week off!

Wednesday, September 8, 1999

Opening Week

My family and I just returned from our annual trip to Wisconsin, before the kids started school this week. We were able to go to the last pre-season game last Thursday night against the Dolphins. After watching the first string defense struggle in the first three games, we were treated to a pathetic showing by the first string offense on Thursday. But the good news is, the backups bailed us out again! In all seriousness, I don't know if there is a team in the NFL this year that has the depth of the Packers. And if the first stringers can play to a reasonable facsimile of their level of talent, this team could be hard to stop.

An unexpected bonus of the trip was to meet the esteemed owner of the South End Zone web site. We were sitting in our car, getting ready to go into the stadium, when I saw a guy wearing California license plate LAMBEAU around his neck walking toward the stadium. Being the owner of the California license plate PACK FAN, I dashed across the street to compare notes with the guy. On my way it dawned on me that the owner of the license plate must be none other than Scott Crevier, since I have seen his LAMBEAU license plate on this web site many times. Indeed it was, and we met Scott and his wife, as well as the famous Packalope whose web site is linked to the South End Zone.

Lots of Packer news out here in the San Francisco Bay Area this week. The Packers traded Craig Newsome to the 49ers, and the 49ers cut pigeon-dancing Merton Hanks to make salary cap room for Newsome. There is some speculation that maybe the Packers will pick Hanks up (I sure hope not). The Raiders are heading to Green Bay to open the season on Sunday.

I was saddened by the trade of Craig Newsome. I'll never forget his return of the fumble for a TD in the playoff game here in SF back in January of 1996. He was a tough cornerback, and seemingly a good guy. I wanted nothing but success for him.

But the truth is that he has never been the same after the devastating injury on opening day of the 1997 season. He was one of the victims of Randy Moss and others last year, but everyone kept saying that it takes two years to come back from that sort of injury. Well, it has now been two years, and yet he continues to struggle. I saw all but two quarters of the pre-season games this year, and Newsome does not have it back yet. Fortunately, the rookie DBs drafted by Ron Wolf look like they are up to the challenge of replacing Newsome and containing Randy Moss. So while I don't think Newsome's loss will be significant to the Packers, I am sorry to see him go.

The fact that the 49ers would be prepared to give up a pick, maybe as high as the 5th round, for Newsome, says something about the quality of the 49er defensive backs. Merton Hanks was a pro-bowler only a couple of years ago, but he has declined rapidly since then. Remember him chasing Antonio Freeman in the game at Lambeau last year if you have any doubt about it.
But Newsome, in his current state, is not a significant upgrade for the 49ers, as they will find out as soon as they start to play him. Look for more long TDs against the 49ers this year.

On the Raider side, a two game road trip to Green Bay and Minnesota does not seem like a real great way to get off to a fast start. I, of course, would not mind a split for the Raiders so long as they lose the first game. But the consensus on sports talk radio around here seems to be that the Raiders have a better chance of "stealing" a win at Green Bay than at Minnesota. I think it is the other way around. True, the Packers' first stringers had their problems in the pre-season, but the problems the Vikings had seemed much worse to me. The Vikings are the consensus pick to go the Super Bowl this year from the NFC, and maybe they will, but I think there is a 50-50 chance that they will drop off badly. What are the chances that Randall Cunningham has two career years in a row? And what are the chances that Randy Moss is going to sneak up on anyone? We saw the return (temporarily, at least), of the old Randall in the NFC Championship game last year. Here's hoping he is back to stay.