Sunday, November 11, 2001

Mid-Season Review

On a Veteran's Day that seemed a lot more important than other Veteran's Days in my life, the Green Bay Packers renewed their acquaintance for the 162nd time with their oldest rivals, the Chicago Bears. Coming into this game, the Bears led the historical series 84 to 71, with 6 ties (including the Bears' victory in the only playoff game between the two ancient enemies). The miracles ran out for the Bears today, and the Packers prevailed, 20-12. In so doing, they moved back into first place in the NFC Central, with a 6-2 record, equaling the record of the Bears. The Packers also advanced their Division record to 3-2, with a road game remaining at Detroit on Thanksgiving, and home games against Minnesota and Chicago in December.

This game was arguably the most significant game between the Packers and the Bears since the early 1960's, because it was a battle for first place in the Division and because it gave the winner the opportunity to open a 2 or 3 game lead over the Buccaneers and Vikings. The Buccaneers ended up beating the Lions in Detroit to improve their record to 4-4, but the Vikings continued their fall by being blown out for the second game in a row, this time by Philadelphia, dropping their record to 3-5.

The Packers did get off to a slow start, though, including the obligatory stupid throw by Brett Favre for an interception in the first quarter, and another extra-effort fumble by Ahman Green. But the Bears only scored field goals all day long, and so the score was only 6-0 after these mistakes. I attribute the Bears' lack of success both to their conservative play-calling, and to a strong Packer defense, even though the defense did not have a lot of high profile plays (no interceptions and no sacks, for example). The defense basically just played it straight this game, and was able to pretty much control the game without taking any big risks.

On the offensive side, boy, what a difference Bill Schroeder's return made, as the offense looked sharp after its early struggles. Favre ended up throwing two touchdown passes, a 41-yarder to Schroeder in the first half, and a 9-yarder to Antonio Freeman in the third quarter. And what a pleasure it is to see Ahman Green just grind out the yards, and chew up the clock, late in the game.

But still, the Bears won the last two weeks on miraculous, end-of-game comebacks to tie the game in the 4th quarter, followed by wins in overtime. Amazingly, this game almost seemed set up for the same kind of finish. The Bears trailed by 8 points for much of the 4th quarter, and so a touchdown and 2 point conversion could have sent the game to overtime. But after driving most of the length of the field, the Bears' drive stalled at the 15 yard line of the Packers, and the victory was preserved.

Halfway through the season, the Packers find themselves in great shape. They are tied for first place in the division, and only the Rams have a better record in the NFL. I, frankly, expected the Packers to be no better than 5-3 at this point of the season, so they are ahead of my personal projection. They look like they are on the way to something like an 11-5 season, and if they can avoid mistakes and key injuries, they could have a really sensational season.

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