Sunday, December 17, 2000

Too Little, Too Late

What a fabulous victory today by the Packers, in the Dome, against the Vikings. The Packers played with heart and intensity, and except for theone long TD to Moss, the game would not have been close at the end.

Some interesting facts about the game:

1. The Vikings were the last team in the NFL this year to lose a game in their home stadium. They finish with a 7-1 home record.

2. They are 11-2 against the rest of the league, 0-2 against the Packers.

3. Mike Holmgren's record against the Vikings was something like 8-8, 1-7 at the Dome. Mike Sherman's record is 2-0, 1-0 at the Dome.

4. The only win by the Packers in the Dome during the Holmgren years was in 1997, one of Mike Sherman's two years with the Packers as an assistant coach, and, I believe, the year that Holmgren asked Sherman to figure out why the Packers could never seem to win in the Dome. Maybe Mike Sherman is on to something.

5. Darren Sharper continues to lead the league in interceptions, and is the only Packer in the Pro Bowl. The turn-around this guy has had this year is nothing short of amazing. Congratulations to Sharper!

6. After starting out 2-4, the Packers have gone 6-3 the last 9 weeks, and have their first 3-game winning streak in quite a while. I think this puts to rest the question whether Mike Sherman will be back next year.

Unfortunately, all of this good stuff is still probably too little, too late, thanks to the fact that the Lions beat the Jets in the rain in New Jersey. Unless the Lions manage to lose to Chicago next week in the Silverdome (ain't gonna happen), the Packers will end their season next week against Tampa Bay.

Today's column is dedicated to 10-year-old Rocky Sonkowsky, of New Prague, Minnesota, a young man with the courage of his convictions, who is learning a lot about the meaning of free speech in our society. My kids are growing up in 49er/Raider country, and as a result I know a little about how brave Rocky must be. Way to go, Rocky! (If you don't know who Rocky is, take a
look at this article:
[Ed. note - original article in Journal-Sentinel online is no longer available. This article tells the same basic story:]

Sunday, December 10, 2000

Finding a Way to Win

So the Packers even their record again, at 7-7. [Ed. note - vs. the Lions, 26-13.] They even managed to do it on a day when Brett Favre was not particularly effective. That was a good sign. Will they end up the season with an 8-8 record? That would be my prediction. After all of the horror stories over the years at the Metrodome, I just don't think the Packers are up to it next week. And I am not sure that the Vikings' loss today to the Rams helps matters. A victory today would have locked up the Home Field Advantage for the Vikings, and created the hope that they would come out flat for next week's game. Now the game will mean something to the Vikings. I do think the Packers have an excellent shot at beating the Buccaneers in the last game of the season. The weather factor should do the Buccaneers in.

My favorite moment in today's game was the last touchdown run by Ahman Green. I can't even count the number of times over the years that the Packer fans have had their hearts broken in comparable (but reversed) situations. The Packers would be trailing by less than a TD, in the waning minutes of the game, and all they need to get another shot at a score is to hold the other team and force a punt. First down, gain of three. Second down, gain of three. One more play and we get the ball back. On third down, (choose your nemesis: Robert Smith, Mike Alstott, Emmitt Smith, Terrell Davis, Neal Anderson or whoever) busts a run up the middle for a long touchdown, squashing any chance for a comeback. But Ahman Green's touchdown today turned the tables on all of those heartbreaking endings. Just like that, the Lions were dead and the game was over. Beautiful.

As I understand it, the Packers' ever-so-slim playoff hopes remain alive, although losses today by St. Louis, Tampa Bay and New Orleans would have helped the cause. I believe that the Packers moved up 1 slot from the 9th slot to the 8th for one of the 6 playoff berths. Today's results caused the Packers to move past the sinking Redskins, also at 7-7, based on a better conference record. Parenthetically, although I have nothing against the new interim coach, I do take some small pleasure in seeing bad things continue to happen to the Redskins' obnoxious new owner.

Monday, November 20, 2000

Still Alive?

My last column was written after the discouraging loss to Detroit, when the Packers were 2-4 and going nowhere. Five weeks later, they are 5-6, and most likely still going nowhere. But there are some signs of life in the last few weeks. They barely beat San Francisco, but then they should have beaten Miami but let the game get away in the second half. Then they beat Minnesota on the "improbable bobble" play in overtime. Then they lost at Tampa Bay, although they certainly had their chances, even with Favre gone for most of the second half. And this week they hung on to beat the Colts in the snow flurries.

Considering that the Dolphins, the Vikings, the Colts, and probably the Buccaneers are playoff teams, to go 3-2 the last 5 weeks is not bad. If I had guessed the results after the Lions game, in the mood I was in at the time, I would have predicted 1-4 over that stretch. What do the next five weeks hold for the Packers? Only two home games (Detroit and Tampa Bay), with a third road game in "Packer weather" at Chicago, and two other games at Carolina and at Minnesota. It will take another three wins to get to 8-8, and it will take 4-1 or 5-0 to make the playoffs.

The Packers could win this coming Monday at Carolina, they could win at Chicago, they might beat Detroit at Lambeau Field, and history tells us that they probably will beat the Buccaneers in the cold on December 24. It will take something just as improbable as the bobble for the Packers to win at Minnesota, however, and my guess is that they will also lose another game somewhere along the way. That would put them at 8-8, same as last year, and home for the playoffs for the second year in a row. Then we will be able to debate about whether the 8-8 this year is more encouraging than last year's 8-8, and whether Mike Sherman should meet the same fate as Ray Rhodes.

But all of that is a few weeks away. For now, they are still alive. We should take some encouragement from the fact that the Packers have beaten two of the best teams in the league in the last 3 weeks, and hope that they can continue to improve as the season winds down.

Sunday, October 8, 2000


The mystique of the Green Bay Packers is gone - long gone. They have already lost twice at home this year, to the Jets and, horror of horrors, to the Bears. They are 2-4 after six games, with a game left against the no-longer-pushover San Francisco 49ers before the bye. They have had horrible problems with injuries, inconsistent play on both offense, defense and special teams, poor individual decision-making on some plays (zigging instead of zagging) and questionable calls by the coaching staff on others. It looks like it is going to be a long season. Right now I would be surprised if the Packers end up better than 7-9 by the end of the year.

Take today's game. Even when the Packers have been playing much better than they are this year, the Silverdome has been a house of horrors. So no Packer fan in his right mind would go into this game "expecting" the Packers to win. Hoping, sure. Praying, maybe. But none of us would "expect" the Packers to win this game. But the way this game was lost was discouraging. As I started to write this during halftime, the Packers were behind, 24-6. The Lions scored 24 points on total yardage of 99 yards and two first downs in the first half. You would not think it was possible to score that many points with only 99 yards of offense, unless of course all of the points were set up by turnovers and miscues (interception, fumbles, screwed up or blocked punt). To have a turnover on first and goal is just a killer, reminds me of the bad old Brent Fullwood days.

How come our offense doesn't make the defense pay for a blitz by going up top for a touchdown? How come our blitzer does not quite make it to the quarterback, whereas the other team's blitzer manages to knock the ball out of Favre's hand? Right now it seems like all of the breaks go against the Packers, although it is certainly true that they are not making a lot of breaks for themselves, either. Being out here in the San Francisco area during all of those years when the 49ers were good, even when they played poorly it seemed like the other team would do something stupid at precisely the wrong time, with the result that the 49ers would pull out a game they should have lost. That kind of magic lasted even into the early part of the 1999 season for the 49ers, before they dropped off the map after the injury to Steve Young. The Packers don't have that magic now, they didn't have it last year (except for the last second wins at the beginning of the season), and it does not look like they will have it for the rest of the year, either.

The sad part is how close this game was to going the Packers' way. Looking back on it, I suppose that you could call any of the turnovers "the" pivotal play of the game, but to me it was the ball knocked out of Favre's hand on first and goal. Without that turnover, the Packers probably would have scored, and the Packers would then have been tied near the end of the game, instead of still trying for another desperation touchdown. It is going to be a long year.

Monday, September 18, 2000

Baby Steps, Giant Leap

It's hard to wax rhapsodic about a victory by a score of 6-3. [Ed. note - over the Eagles.] Was this an epic battle between suffocating defensive powerhouses? Hardly. More like a match of two struggling teams, whose defenses played pretty well, but whose offenses were out of sync. One team tried and succeeded in avoiding the dreaded 0-3 record, and the other fell to a disappointing 1-2 after settling back to earth in the wake of the season opening crushing of their traditional rival, the hated Cowboys.

The Packers' defense is proving to be a bit of a pleasant surprise, playing better than most of us probably expected based on their showing in the pre-season. This week's defensive story was the play of third-stringer Tod McBride, pressed into action by injuries to Antuan Edwards and Mike McKenzie. He did just about everything one could hope for from a third string defensive back. My only little gripe about the defense is their tendency to give up first down yardage on third down plays, seemingly without regard to how many yards the opponent needs.

The offense was not impressive. Dorsey Levens' return was welcome, and he looked good in spots, but had almost no luck going up the middle, and his speed is not great enough to consistently gain big yardage around the corner. Many more near-misses on passing plays Sunday, with passes not quite where they should be, and with other passes bouncing off the hands of the receivers. Turnovers killed several promising drives.

Special teams were OK, but just slightly off. The punting game was good, but Longwell missed a makeable field goal in the first half before coming back with what I believe was his first game-winning kick in any game at any level (that's what they said, but it still seems hard to believe). Rossum had a punt return go for a touchdown before it was called back for an illegal block, but that block had a lot to do with springing him for the TD.

So this is not a big victory, just some baby steps in the right direction. The Packers' next two games are winnable (at Arizona, and a home game against the Bears). While there is no reason to think that the Packers are good enough to be predictable, if they can improve a bit each game, they could be 3-2 two weeks from today. That is a realistic goal.

So if the game victory was the "baby steps" in the title of this article, what is the "giant leap?" That's easy. The Packers' victory at the polls this past Tuesday in getting the Lambeau renovation project tax approved. It is easy for a guy like me, 2000 miles away, to say that the residents of Brown County should increase their taxes to pay for a stadium renovation. "Sure, go ahead and spend as much money as you want, so long as it is not my money." But the Green Bay community has a long history of coming to the rescue of this team when times are tough, and they have done it again. And as a non-resident, I feel like I have done my part, too, by buying shares of Packer stock three years ago for myself, my wife and two kids. Way to go, Brown County residents!

Monday, September 4, 2000

Inauspicious Opener

Well, the best I can say about yesterday's game is that it could have been worse. The defense looked better than I expected, except at the end of the game after Mike McKenzie's injury. I read in one of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's articles the comment of an NFL Scout who said "If No. 34 doesn't get hurt, Green Bay wins the game." He is probably right about that. I hope McKenzie is able to come back next week, as it certainly is obvious that we need his help.

The special teams looked better than I expected. This kid Rossum promises to bring back some excitement to the return game.

And the offense? I guess the offense looked like I expected it, but not nearly as good as I had hoped. The rust on Favre's arm was obvious, but expected. I would not want to catch some of those Favre balls either, after not having him zip them to me for most of the pre-season. But these guys are professionals, and it is their job to catch them. The running game actually showed some signs of life, but not enough to make us forget about Dorsey Levens. The comment of the TV guy after Ahman Green's fumble, that it is fumbling that is the reason that Green is not a Seattle Seahawk right now, was exactly right.

Speaking of the Seahawks, I watched parts of that game, too, and they looked absolutely pathetic. I have Kitna as my backup fantasy football quarterback, and Seattle as my starting defense. I will be looking for replacements this week, and Holmgren's comments in the paper this morning suggest he may be doing the same thing.

The Packer game was one of those games where both teams looked bad, but one of the teams gets to go away saying "it wasn't pretty but at least we won the game." It was looking as if that might be the Packers, until the interception killed the last threat. I give the defensive back credit for going high and actually holding on to the ball, after I watched defenders dropping easy interceptions all day long in a number of the games on the tube.

My sense is that the early part of the season is going to be just like this. Favre will probably not practice much during the weeks, Levens may not be back for another couple of weeks, and as a result every game is going to be an adventure until Favre is fully healthy (if he ever gets fully healthy). I just hope they can pull a few of these games out, so that we still have something to shoot for later in the season.

This week, the dreaded Astroturf curse, Packers at Bills. I did not see much of the Bills' game Sunday night, but from what I saw they did not bowl me over. Plus I gather that their Q.B. was knocked out of the game. I'll go a little bit out on a limb and predict a Packer win, 23-17.

Tuesday, August 22, 2000

Ugly, Ugly, Ugly

Monday night's game against the Dolphins was an ugly affair all around. The Packers' defense looked terrible again, the Packers' offense looked sick, and the special teams gave up the game winning punt return at the end. That makes three ugly units.

Oh, and there was a fourth one, too. This was my first exposure to the new Monday night crew, and I thought they were awful, too.

Back in the mid-1980's, if memory serves me right, the Packers played the Buccaneers on a Monday night game. Neither team could kick a field goal to win the game. The game went into overtime, and the Packers finally kicked a field goal to rack up a totally unsatisfying victory by a score of, I think, 9-6. [Ed. note - the game was December 12, 1983, and the actual score was 12-9.] Tonight's game was one Herbert Goodman TD run and one Donald Driver TD catch away from being as unsatisfying as that game. And we can probably take a break from speculating about how much Matt Hasselbeck's trade value is, too.

It's just the pre-season. Lots of starters took the game off. The defense is still getting used to a new defense. It was hot and humid. It doesn't make any difference who won or lost. Still, it's not a good way to get ready for the season. It's not time to panic yet, since their record is still 0-0 in games that count. I'm starting to get really concerned about this year's edition of the Green Bay Packers.

Monday, July 31, 2000

A Clean Slate

I have just finished six months of almost total withdrawal from football. It reminded me of the days before the internet when exiled Packer fans like myself had a hard time finding much information about our team even during the season, much less during those awful months between January and July when there is no football to watch.

This year, my withdrawal was self-imposed. In the first place, I found myself discouraged by the Packers' 1999 season, and did not know enough about the new coaches to have a sense whether things would turn around in the new millennium. I also found myself swamped beyond reason with things going on at work and at home, so that I really did not have the time to spend keeping up on the Packers. I rarely checked the familiar web sites for information, and I even unsubscribed from the Packer e-mail list.

I have now returned both from my football withdrawal and from a vacation,and think of this season from the perspective of a clean slate, personally. I have been out of touch, I know almost nothing about the coaches, and I really don't have a preconception as to how the Packers will do this year.

What little I have heard suggests that they are on the right track. Looking back at 1999, I was very unhappy with the hiring of Ray Rhodes. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for awhile, but as time went on I became more and more discouraged with the way the team was playing. By the end of the season, I really thought that the best move would be for the Packers to fire him, but I also thought they would never actually do it. I was pleasantly surprised when they did. Mike Sherman seems to have his head screwed on right, and with any luck the team will, too.