Thursday, October 17, 2002

The Brad Hoover Syndrome

Those who saw the game Sunday against the Patriots probably saw the sign in the stands saying "You've Just Been Favre'd." And that is certainly true of the Patriots game, the Bears game before it, and various other games so far this year. Of course it is not a one-man show, and there are plenty of supporting characters who deserve credit for the Packers' 5-1 record so far this year.

Ahman Green is frequently a big factor, and he certainly was on Sunday by bringing balance to the offense (something the Patriots did not have, seemingly by design), and by chewing up the clock and yards in the 4th quarter. The new receiving corps is frequently a factor, too, although not so much in the Patriots' game given the weather conditions and the game plan. But in the Bears' game, the receivers came through in a big way, starting with the 85-yard bomb to Driver. That play was a thing of beauty, in so many different ways. First, Favre had all day to survey the field after rolling left. Then he threw the ball about 60 yards in the air. Driver got separation from the defensive back by a couple of steps. Then Favre hit him perfectly in stride. And finally, Driver actually caught the ball and was never in danger of being caught from behind. At least five things happened on that play, all of them perfectly, and as a result it was a great play to open the scoring against the Bears. Not only did it put 7 points on the board, but it had to have an effect on the Bears' coverage schemes for the rest of the game, which had the effect of opening up the short passing game and running game.

Still, a lot of it comes back to Favre, who just turned 33 last week and is in some ways having the best year of his career.

But the big surprise in week 6 was the defense. So many players were out of the game, including Holliday, Johnson, Sharper and McKenzie. The Packers started a defensive back they just signed a few days before the game (Westbrook). My attitude, going into the game, was that there was very little chance that the Packers would win this game. They were playing the world champions, on the road, with numerous injuries to starters on defense. Sure, the Patriots had not been playing well in the last couple of weeks, but still, they would surely eat the Packers' makeshift defense alive. Frankly, the first drive played right into my worst fears, as the Patriots marched relentlessly from their 20 yard line into Packer territory, until Brady launched a pass downfield, and that brand-new defensive back, Westbrook, intercepted it at the 8 yard line. Starting with that play, the Packers' defense really stepped up, playing far better than I would have hoped or expected.

One of the pivotal plays, of course, was the Tom Brady lateral in the last couple of minutes of the half, right after the Packers had scored to make the score 7-3. Brady looked right, spun around to the left, and lofted a too-high pass toward Kevin Faulk. The ball went off his hands and rolled around on the ground while Faulk, KGB, Hardy Nickerson and many others looked on. Watching the game on TV, I found myself yelling "PICK UP THE BALL!" Not that I was certain that the ball was a lateral pass (and therefore technically a fumble), but it sure was in the realm of possibility. Especially as the official just stood there, rather than picking up the ball, giving the alert observer a hint that maybe the ball was considered to be a LIVE BALL. Finally, as the seconds ticked by, rookie Marques Anderson showed that his head was in the game, as he came racing from many yards away to try to fall on the ball (it was eventually recovered by KGB). A heads-up play by another substitute starter.

The Packers, for once, found themselves on the positive end of what I think of as the Brad Hoover syndrome. Many times, over the years, the Packers have gone into a game knowing that the other team is missing a critical starter. Troy Aikman can't play, and so somebody noone ever heard of named Jason Garrett is the starting quarterback. Packer fans are licking their chops, but Jason Garrett (or Brad Hoover, or whoever) plays like a hall-of-famer and the Packers lose. It has almost gotten to the point where I wince if the other team has starters on the injury list. Finally, the Brad Hoover syndrome worked in the Packers' favor, with a bunch of backups playing way over their heads to bring home a victory for the Packers.

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