SAN FRANCISCO — A quarter of the new season has gone by, and the Packers, to my amazement, are 4-0. Ignoring the pre-season, the Packers have won 8 games in a row. And they are playing (this year) without Ahman Green. In fact, you could go farther and say that they have no running game at all. Plus, they have had a rookie (James Jones) starting at wide receiver opposite Donald Driver most of the year, and they are still the youngest team in the league.
Would any of us have given the Packers a chance to be 4-0 before the season started, with a 3-0 record in the conference? Particularly if you consider that they have played 3 playoff teams from last year, with a 4th coming up on Sunday night? I certainly would not have done so. A record of 2-2 at this point would have been considered a moral victory. I would have expected this to be a rebuilding year of sorts, with the best case scenario being that they get the offense together fast enough to win a bunch of games late in the year and maybe sneak into the playoffs.
A few observations about specific players. At the end of last season, one of the articles I intended to write, but never got around to, was an analysis of how the kicking game may have cost the Packers a slot in the playoffs. All year long, my wife complained about Dave Rayner, and as time went on, I had to agree with her. He certainly played a significant role in losing several games, and if those games had gone the other way, the Packers would have made the playoffs with a team that was on the roll at the end of the year. Not in the sense of missing a game-winning field goal at the end of the game - that did not happen. But missed field goals at key points in games helped to put or keep the Packers behind in games they might have won if they had picked up extra field goals here and there. So how delightful it was to see this kid Mason Crosby start out the year strong, including not only a game-winning kick in the first game, but consistently deep kickoffs. And while we are discussing the kicking game, it is only fair to give a tip of the hat to the holder, Jon Ryan, who made that first game-winning kick possible by grabbing a high snap out of the air and getting it down in time for Crosby's kick.
Rookie receiver James Jones has impressed me. One of the TV announcers compared him to Sterling Sharpe, and as soon as he said it, I realized that he was right. Jones has a style reminiscent of Sterling Sharpe, and we all know how valuable a Sharpe-like receiver can be in a Favre-led offense. Now that Jennings has started to play again, it is not clear exactly how much playing time Jones will get. But the way he has played, he certainly deserves to get some chances.
The grizzled veteran, Brett Favre, seems to be playing better than he has in years. He continues to make throws and take chances, as he always has. But he seems to be using better judgment as to which chances are worth taking. Perhaps he realizes how precarious the offense is right now, without a running game, and realizes that even though the passing game (and the defense) will have to carry the team for now, it is Favre's responsibility to not make the kind of mistakes that can kill a game. It was great to see him break a number of all-time records in the first quarter of the season, and get that behind him, so he can concentrate on winning games. Did anyone else notice that Favre's last TD pass, on Sunday, to James Jones, looked eerily similar to that very first Favre TD pass in 1992 to the trivia-question answer, Kitrick Taylor? I did not realize until I looked it up that that pass was the ONLY TD pass Favre ever threw to Kitrick Taylor, but indeed it was. He may not have had a great career in the NFL, but he was there at the beginning of the legend.
Meanwhile, the defense has been doing more than its share of the hard work. Nick Barnett leads the team in tackles, while KGB leads the team in sacks. Both are near the top of the stat charts in these categories for the entire league. As Favre continues to break records almost every week, KGB will soon set the record for sacks as a Green Bay Packer, by passing Reggie White's record. (Obviously, most of Reggie's career sacks were registered while he was an Eagle, and KGB has a long way to go to approach Reggie's 198 sacks, or Bruce Smith's 200.)
And now the Bears come to town. Sure, the Bears went to the Super Bowl last year. But they were exposed as pretenders in that game. And they certainly have not improved since then. The Packers could find themselves guilty of over-confidence this week. And the Bears could rise to the occasion in an attempt to resurrect their season. But I doubt it. Mike McCarthy will have the team ready, and the Packers will roll.