SAN FRANCISCO — It is indeed a happy bye week for the Packers. After their disappointing Sunday night loss to the Bears, they had one more game before the bye, against the Washington Redskins. The Redskins, according to some analysts in the days before the game, actually had the best defense of all the teams the Packers had played this season. Thus, it would be important to win that game, to avoid going into the week off with a two-game losing streak.
Before getting to the Redskins game, a word or two on the loss to the Bears. After an impressive first half, in which the Packers staked themselves to a halftime lead of 17-7, it seemed as if the Packers were in position to win again. But in the second half, the Packers scored only 3 points, while the Bears scored 20 and won the game. During the second half, John Madden made comments about the Packers playing very conservatively on offense, and watching the game, it certainly seemed that way to me, too. At the time, it seemed like the Packers were so convinced that they had the game in hand, that they thought they could, in effect, just run out the clock on the second half. It was painful to watch the game slip away that way. I always admire teams that keep on pounding with whatever is working until the game is out of reach. The Patriots, for example, seem to do this, continuing to play aggressively, without mercy, until the game is almost over. The best single example of what I am talking about was the NFC Championship Game after the 2000 season, during which the Giants attacked the Vikings with the long ball from the very beginning of the game. After building the lead, they did not let up, or start to use up time with the running game. They just kept hammering the Vikings until it was over, 41-0. So it was very disappointing to see the Packers seem to think that they could just play it safe and protect their 10 point lead for 30 minutes of football. It was also disappointing to hear Mike McCarthy deny that the Packers had played conservatively. How refreshing it would have been to hear him say that, in hindsight, maybe we did play too conservatively, and that is a mistake we will not make again. But I guess coaches just don't say things like that.
As for the Redskins game, it was a terrible day on offense for the Packers, during which Favre set the all-time interception record, and did not throw a touchdown pass. While there have been hints of an improving running game in a couple of the earlier games (ironically, especially in the loss to Chicago), the running game was totally ineffective against Washington. After three games in a row where Favre threw for more than 300 yards per game, these figures were almost cut in half, as Favre threw for only 169 net passing yards.
It seemed clear early on in the Redskins game that only the defense could put the Packers in position to win this game. And that is exactly what they did, scoring the go-ahead and winning points on a fumble return for a touchdown by Charles Woodson. Not the most impressive way to win a game, but at least it leaves the Packers at 5-1. Now, I would argue that they are the worst 5-1 (or 4-1, or 4-2) team in the league. But then, in the past, haven't Packer fans said pretty much the opposite? Last year, weren't the Packers the best 8-8 team in the league? Or the best non-playoff team in the league? At least as a mediocre 5-1 team, they have the chance to get their act together, get their running backs healthy and hopefully more effective, get all their receivers healthy and keep Favre in one piece, and win a bunch of games.