Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Annual Ron Wolf rumor alert. Miami is reportedly interested in talking to Ron Wolf about becoming Miami's General Manager or as a consultant. He is finishing up a 3 year consulting contract with the Packers, but I'm not sure what he did. With Mike Sherman, Mark Hatley, and Reggie McKenzie in the front office, I wouldn't imagine Wolf had much input on player personnel decisions over the last 3 years. I read interviews with Wolf over the last 3 years about how he dislikes all the travel a GM is required to do, because airports are more crowded and busier places with too many delays. I wouldn't expect Wolf to come back for another GM position, but maybe he sign on as a who-knows-what-he-is-doing consultant. He lives in Maryland, maybe Dan Snyder would ask him to rebuild Washington's team? I wouldn't mind seeing Ron Wolf back in the NFL as a GM, although I don't think Snyder deserves any favors.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Arizona 18, Minnesota 17. Yes, the Packers played Denver and won 31 to 3, but Arizona needed to win for the Packers to make it due to the NFL's bizarre rules if 3 teams tie for a playoff spot. If Minnesota would have won, then 1 of 4 teams (Dallas, Minnesota, Seattle or the Packers) would have been robbed of a playoff spot, and all three teams were deserving, until Minnesota blew it in Arizona. Ironically, Minnesota, Seattle and the Packers are all very similar teams (great offenses with weak defenses). In the end, defense decided the outcome of the playoff spots because Seattle's defense contained Jeff Garcia on Saturday after San Francisco's offense had looked unstoppable in the previous 2 games and Minnesota's defense couldn't stop Arizona's offense with the game on the line. The Packers defense didn't have much to do with this outcome because Denver played their last regular season game like it was a preseason game.

At this point, no team should be favored to win the NFC playoffs. St. Louis has a championship defense, but Marc Bulger is injured, he commits too many turnovers, and Marshall Faulk is not running the ball well right now. Philadelphia has a good run offense, but Donovan McNabb has not played the best football of his career in the playoffs of the past two seasons and their run defense is very weak. If Philadelphia ends up playing Dallas or St. Louis, they have a good chance, but they would be in trouble vs. Carolina, the Packers, or Seattle. Dallas's offense has really struggled as teams have shut down Terry Glenn and Troy Hambrick. Carolina really reminds me of Atlanta in 1998 (great run offense and solid but not great defense) but their pass offense isn't as good. Carolina's special teams and clock consuming run offense will have to carry them. Seattle looked very bad in Green Bay on October 5th and they were playing better football at that time, while the Packers were really struggling. The 2003 Packers didn't collapse at the end of the season like the 2002 Packers, so I wouldn't expect the same result as last year's playoff game vs. Atlanta. Seattle and the Packers are very similar teams, both well matched to exploit each other's weaknesses although both teams weaknesses, notably their pass defenses, have played much better in recent weaks. Seattle's formerly weak run defense did a great job at San Francisco vs. a quality run offense. This will be a very close game.

First Quarter: Perfect first drive: Brett Favre was 6 for 6 and completed passes to 6 different receivers, although Denver should have intercepted the ball in the end zone. Denver was able to run the ball a little early on, but Jarious Jackson was far too inconsistant. Jackson's early struggles reminded me of the mid-90s Favre who was usually inaccurate in the first quarter because he was so excited. Ed McCaffrey had a horrible first half for Denver as Darren Sharper and Al Harris got in two big hits on him. Packers 7, Denver 0.

Second Quarter: Typical game for the Packers defense: early in the game the defensive line is shoved around, but as the game goes on it gets stronger. This defies most convential thinking, usually the offensive line wears down a defensive line. It is probably due to the quality depth the Packers have at defensive line and a good rotation scheme by the Packers coaches. Extra bonus: Kenny Peterson returned for the first time in a few weeks, and this only improves the line. Jackson is getting better as he calms down, but his horrible pass intercepted by Al Harris on a busted play got him benched. Danny Kanell came in and he isn't horrible, but he doesn't make any big plays either. The only bad plays by Favre in recent weeks is his insistence to get Wesley Walls involved in the offense. Walls has made some big catches, but teams know Favre wants to throw deep to Walls. Favre's first pass after the Jackson interception was a long pass to Walls that was intercepted. After the great first drive, Favre only completed 6 more passes the entire game and the Packers found the rest of their success with the run offense. It was very surprising to see Ryan Longwell miss a field goal within 45 yards, but it happened today. Packers 10, Denver 0.

Third Quarter: Without Jake Plummer at quarterback, Denver's offense is just bad. Kanell didn't commit many turnovers, his only interception was an end of the half hail mary pass in the end zone, but they just can't keep any drive going. With Favre's post first drive struggles in this game, the offense only got going once Denver's defensive line got worn out. Denver gets on the board, but Ahman Green's big 47 yard run sets up an easy touchdown run as the Packers offensive line did a great job setting up a huge running lane over the left tackle. After the long kick return, Denver has a chance to answer right back but...Packers 17, Denver 3.

Fourth Quarter: Denver turns the ball over on downs when the Packers run defense made a great goal line stand, and Kanell couldn't throw it in either. Then Green's huge 98 yard run: the run blocking, especially by Kevin Barry who sealed off the right side for a huge hole was great, solid blocking by the receivers because the Denver pursuit by the secondary was slow to react, and speed by Green to run past the 2 Denver defensive backs who had a shot near the end zone. Adrian Madise had a great kickoff return for Denver in the 3rd quarter but botched catching the ball on the 4th quarter kickoff and the Packers got their first special teams touchdown of the year. The game was on fumes after that point as both teams backups (and backups of backups) entered the game. Packers 31, Denver 3.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Packers 41, Oakland 7. Did Oakland go to the Super Bowl last year? The Packers added an exclaimation point to an awful and disappointing season for Oakland by embarrasing them on national TV. When the Packers don't turnover the ball on offense and their receivers are able to get a step or two on their defenders in coverage, the Packers will destroy lesser teams like Oakland. Brett Favre statistically had the best game of his career, and good luck to him on what is sure to be a difficult week for him after the sudden death of his father Irvin on Sunday night.

The NFL has continued to make the tiebreaker formula a complete screwup. If Seattle wins, Dallas loses, and the Packers win, the Packers could miss the playoffs depending on the outcome of the Baltimore/Pittsburgh game. Huh? I read ESPN's website and the first tiebreaker is head to head and the Packers beat Seattle earlier in the season, so how can Seattle be tied with the Packers under any circumstances and make the playoffs while the Packers sit at home? I am not asking for an interpretation of the rules, but asking under whose twisted logic does that make any sense. How can Seattle overcome the #1 tiebreaker, head-to-head, by beating the Packers or Dallas on the #6 tiebreaker, strength of schedule? Why?

I'd expect the Packers are focused on winning next Sunday, and that job got a little easier with Denver clinching a wild card spot. Denver can't win the division and Clinton Portis is still hurting, so their should be no incentive to play him next weekend.

First Quarter: Oakland was amazingly consistent (bad) the entire game. Rick Mirer proved he can't throw the ball accuarately over 10 yards. Oakland passed on 4 of their first 5 plays, although their run offense is their strength, and after a Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila sack they punted. Favre started off the game by immediately abusing Oakland's secondary, who was the worst secondary I have seen this season. Oakland was blitzing, keeping their linebackers and strong safety close to the line of scrimmage to stop the run, and Favre picked their secondary apart. Oakland's secondary was only credited for 2 pass defenses the entire game. Favre completes a long pass to Robert Ferguson who just ran by Philip Buchanon who gave a five yard cushion to any receiver he faced all game. Buchanon is having a terrible season, and his confidence must be shot by this point. Wesley Walls made a great touchdown grab, but I have no idea how Oakland's strong safety Derrick Gibson missed intercepting or knocking the ball down. Oakland 3 and out; the Packers defensive line got a great push on the line of scrimmage all game long and Grady Jackson was great in the first quarter. Antonio Chapman had a nifty return, spinning out of a tackle and gaining some yardage. Chapman had a promising game, he even had a punt return for a touchdown although it was called back because of two illegal blocks that sprung him on the return. The Packers had a lot of penalties on offense in the first quarter, but none of them mattered including a holding penalty that set up a 3rd and 12. Tony Fisher and the offensive line ran a perfectly executed screen pass to convert on it, and the next play was Javon Walker's first touchdown pass as he ran by Buchanon (again) for the catch. Oakland answers with a touchdown drive by running on 5 of their next 6 plays including the long touchdown run by Charlie Garner. John Madden started talking in general about the poor tackling in the NFL after watching Garner's run, and Madden was right, the Packers tackling was awful on the play because Darren Sharper, Al Harris and Marques Anderson all missed tackles. It was one of the few bad plays by the defense all game. Packers 14, Oakland 7.

Second Quarter: The Packers move the ball easily over 50 yards on their next drive, but it stalls on a 3rd and 4 on a rare Favre incompletion and leads to an easy Ryan Longwell field goal. Oakland 3 and out. Mirer isn't accurate enough to sustain drives by passing, so without an effective running game or big plays on offense, Oakland can't go anywhere. Oakland had some success running the ball in previous games, with a league average 17th ranked run offense, but they were so far behind they had no opportunity after the 1st quarter to exploit it. Oakland doesn't have much speed at receiver, and except for all the passes Jerry Rice caught in garbage time in the 4th quarter, the Packers secondary did a great job keeping with Oakland's receivers. Ferguson makes a great catch on 3rd and 9 while he was falling out of bounds. Then the long underthrown bomb to Walker, where the two Oakland defenders (including Buchanon again) ran past the play while Walker had great ball awareness. Oakland 3 and out. Ho-hum, another long pass to Walker sets up David Martin's first touchdown catch since September. Oakland gets the home crowd excited by making their first 1st down of the quarter on a long pass to Rice, but Mirer is sacked twice in the next 4 plays for a turnover on downs. A hail mary to the end zone is actually defended by Oakland (probably one of their two pass defenses in the game) to deny Favre his 5th touchdown pass of the half. Packers 31, Oakland 7.

Half time: Shaq! Oh that ABC synergy!

Third Quarter: Any hope Oakland had for a better second half was immediately crushed on a long kickoff return by Najeh Davenport. Great burst of speed by Davenport, but a great job for the kick blocking with a huge hole for him to run through. Favre throws 3 of his 8 incompletions on the drive and Longwell kicks another easy field goal. After Rice's long catch and fumble, I missed most of this quarter, but Mirer's interception to Michael Hawthorne (who has been a fantastic early season pickup) ended his game as he was replaced by Rob Johnson. By this point, the Packers are handing the ball off a lot with an occasional Favre pass to keep Oakland honest. Packers 34, Oakland 7.

Fourth Quarter: I watched all their was to watch in this quarter, which was a lot of passes by Johnson, eventually replaced by Tee Martin, and a lot of Packers runs. Johnson looked awful, and it is appropriate that Johnson is sacked (he is the NFL all time leader in sacks/attempts) on the first successful cornerback blitz I can remember the Packers executing in weeks. Apparently the cornerback blitz is only successful against sack magnets like Johnson. Favre throws a 40 yard bomb to Donald Driver, who I can't imagine was the first option on a pass play in a blowout. Antonio Freeman gets a catch on 3rd down to convert, and on the next play Ahman Green has his easiest run of the game on an untouched touchdown run. Finally Oakland gets sick of watching Johnson after he throws one of the worst interceptions I have seen all year. Johnson is trying to throw to Jerry Rice on a quick slant, but he double clutches as he sees Hawthorne standing 5 yards deep right in the path of the pass, then Johnson throws it anyway right to Hawthorne! Johnson should not have been cut after the game, but immediately after he threw that pass. Martin has some success for Oakland at quarterback, like it matters, but Aaron Kampman gets a highlight reel moment when he sacks Martin, forces a fumble, and recovers it himself. Packers 41, Oakland 7.

Friday, December 19, 2003

I am not a big fan of the Pro Bowl. It is an afterthought to the NFL season and it seems even more irrelevant than the other professional sports league's All Star games if that is possible. I'm sure the league makes money off of it, but its sure to cost good teams money too when it comes time for a team's Pro Bowl players to negotiate their next contract. Nonetheless, its a good way for the league to give some congrads to the players who had excellent seasons, and to some deserving Packers.

Ahman Green was an easy selection. The top 3 NFC rushing leaders to this point were selected and Green is #2. Maybe Brett Favre was a surprise selection for some, but I think it was obvious. Favre is having a great season and he is playing as well as he ever has ever played. Marco Rivera might have gotten the nod because once an offensive lineman gets selected, it seems like he is selected ever year, but it also is a selection to respect a great offensive line.

The choice of Pro Bowl alternates was a little strange. Mike Flanagan was selected, but the NFL could have just as easily selected all the non-Rivera starting offensive lineman as alternates. Nick Barnett was a surprise, but he has played great and deserves it. Bubba Franks has been a forgotten man the last few weeks, and has not made an impact this season, but he was selected. William Henderson has been great and could have been named starter, although I don't have any objection to naming Fred Beasley as the starting fullback. Ryan Longwell has been automatic all year within 45 yards and deserves the selection. Mike McKenzie and Darren Sharper have been the two best players in the Packers secondary, but it is unusual to see two members of a secondary ranked #26 in the NFL be selected as alternates. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is a surprise since he hasn't been very good against the run, he was so much better last year at consistently speed rushing on passing plays, and he is tied for 8th among NFC defensive ends with 7 sacks.

I read on packersnews.com that Mike Wahle was upset that he didn't get select, even as an alternate. All starting five (Chad Clifton, Wahle, Flanagan, Rivera, and Mark Tauscher) offensive lineman have been excellent this year, all of them deserve recognition, but I do agree that Wahle has stood out among the starting five. Primarily on running plays where he pulls to lead block, because he always makes a great block and it is intimidating for a linebacker/cornerback/safety to see a giant 6'6" 307 lbs. lineman bearing down on you. If you wanted to single out a game for Wahle (although it was a group effort along with Flanagan and Rivera) it would be the Tampa Bay game, when he was dominated Tampa Bay's high paid defensive tackles (Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland) and opened huge running lanes.

Overall it was great to see so many Packers get recognition. Now I just want to see them win their last two games.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Packers 38, San Diego 21. This was the biggest win for the Packers all season, because it came the same day as a Seattle loss and a Minnesota loss. For the first time since early in the season the Packers control their own playoff chances because if they win out they have the wild card at least, and are tied for the NFC Central lead. Its a mixed blessing, because the Packers run offense is regressing and it hasn't looked dominant the last three weeks. The first 4 games after the bye week, the run offense looked like the best in the NFL, but defenses appear committed to stopping the run and they are hoping for a Brett Favre interception or two (or three...). The Packers offense seems to stall, and turn the ball over, anytime it calls too many pass plays in a row. San Diego is a bad team, they appear to have several players on their lines and their defensive secondary who shouldn't be starting in the NFL, but LaDainian Tomlinson is the most impressive and dangerous player I have seen in the NFL this season.

First Quarter: I missed the first touchdown drive, but Donald Driver caught 2 passes on the way to his best game of the season and Ahman Green had his 2nd longest run of the game (9 yards) on his way to the touchdown run. Green broke Jim Taylor's single season rushing record, but it took him many rushes to get the 40 or so yards he needed for it. San Diego had a great opening drive thanks mostly to Packers' penalties. This was the second game in three weeks, the Detroit game on Thanksgiving is the other one, where the refs made questionable calls for big yardage for the Packers opponents. The pass interference call against Mike McKenzie was especially weak because both players were going for the ball. But the defense held near the goal line and started the bend but don't break theme it played with most of the game. Penalties were a big part of the quarter, keeping the first San Diego drive alive and killing a subsequent Packer drive. Packers 7, San Diego 3.

Second Quarter: The penalties continued into the 2nd quarter as the refs were working on a quota or something. Someone named Antonio Gates started catching a bunch of passes. Gates caught passes in each quarter and probably had his first 100 yard receiving game of his career. The good news is that Gates and Tomlinson were the only productive offensive players in the game for San Diego. San Diego's big and expensive wide receiver, David Boston, had an unimpressive game and made his biggest contribution in the game on a fumble off his knee that Marques Anderson recovered. Anderson always seems around the ball. San Diego pins the Packers down at their 3 yard line, but Green runs them out of the tight spot and a San Diego penalty helps on a 3rd down play. Wesley Walls catches a pass on 3rd down that is just short of the 1st down marker and forces a punt. Walls has seemed to have a catch in each of the last couple of weeks that is just short of a 1st down. San Diego should have scored on their next drive, but Darren Sharper has a great leaping interception while on a blitz that stops it. With only 1:25 left in the quarter, Favre runs a great 2 minute drill and throws a perfect touchdown pass to Driver, diving towards the front end zone marker, and it is thrown to a place that only Driver could catch it. Packers 17, San Diego 3.

Third Quarter: The defense couldn't get off the field, and Favre didn't help matters by going 0 for 5 with 1 interception for the quarter. The run offense wasn't much better with 1 carry by Green for -2 yards. Although with all this time, San Diego only scores once in the quarter with a field goal. San Diego, however, has the ball for 3 drives in the 3rd quarter and 2 of the drives end by the Packers goal line (including a touchdown scored just after the start of the 4th quarter) and 1 drive ended when Chukie Nwokorie forces a fumble on a sack. Nwokorie did a great speed rush move around the left tackle and it was the only play that stopped San Diego in the quarter. The secret to San Diego's offense is to make sure Tomlinson has the ball a lot. Its a pretty good strategy. If Tomlinson got better blocking and wasn't hit so much at the line of scrimmage, he would be lethal with his speed and strength in the open field. Packers 17, San Diego 6.

Fourth Quarter: In the first 3 minutes of the 4th quarter, San Diego scores 2 touchdowns and takes the lead. Tomlinson scores both touchdowns. San Diego runs a great play with Tomlinson motioning out of the backfield, he moves into the slot, and forces some poor linebacker to try and keep up with him. On the 2nd touchdown of the quarter, Tomlinson is in the slot, gets about 3 yards of cushion (you can't give him any cushion but if you don't he'll blow by you so its a lose or lose situation), and runs right through and by the entire Packers secondary. The Packers are quick to respond with a great kickoff return by Najeh Davenport, running past and through a couple of players, and Favre throws a great deep pass down the field to Robert Ferguson. Unfortunately, by this point the Packers defense has spent most of the 2nd half on the field, but it doesn't hurt their play. I have been critical of blitzing by the Packers, but it worked perfectly on the next fumble by Drew Brees. LB Hannibal Navies blitzed, while NT Grady Jackson busted up the middle right by the offensive guard and forced the fumble. Then Navies, who was in the backfield because he blitzed, fell on the ball at the 1 yard line of San Diego. Green caught a pass in the flat for a touchdown on the next play. This was the best blitz play of the season, and the blitzer didn't even force the pressure (directly) or got a sack. San Diego scores 2 touchdowns in 3 minutes, and the Packers answer back with 2 touchdowns in 3 minutes. San Diego's next drive is killed by a holding penalty on 1st down. Then Green has his longest run of the game, 33 yards, and Favre finds Ferguson for his 2nd touchdown and Favre's 4th. San Diego drives down to the Packers goal line again, but they can't punch it in. For the game, San Diego was at the Packers 15 yard line or closer on 5 drives and only scored 13 points. Packers 38, San Diego 21.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

It is ironic that Brett Favre isn't getting any MVP press this year like he did last year, although I think he is having the best season of his career this year. He is tied for the lead in touchdown passes and has the best completion percentage of his career, although he is without a Pro Bowl caliber receiver and he has played much of the season with a broken thumb on his passing hand. He just broke Cecil Isbell's record set in 1942 with his 23rd consecutive game with a touchdown pass (thanks Jeff Sanford for pointing that out to me). He is running the offense as well as he has ever done, and is spreading the ball out to every eligible receiver, except backup tackle Kevin Barry, in the passing game.

This year is different from 2002 because the Packers aren't running away with their division and Favre has thrown a bunch of interceptions. Quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning and Steve McNair are more deserving of the actual award, but Favre deserves to be part of the discussion. He isn't going to pile up the big touchdown number he had in his MVP seasons, but the Packers running game is so much better this year then it was in 1995-1997 that Mike Sherman isn't calling all those short touchdown passes to the tight ends this season like Mike Holmgren used to call, and Sherman is letting Ahman Green run the ball in. His total passing yards are down (for his standards) but that too is a consequence of the great run offense. Here is to hoping Favre hears a lot of praise in the off season for his outstanding performances in 2003.
Packers 34, Chicago 21. This was not a game I was ever worried about. The Packers record against Chicago over the last 10 years is heavily in the Packers favor. Even when Chicago went 13-3 in 2001, 2 of their 3 losses were against the Packers. The Packers offense never got on track, especially the running game, but the Packers defense forced multiple big turnovers that killed Chicago.

The bigger news was the resurrection of Minnesota, with an impressive victory over Seattle. Minnesota dominated Seattle, Minnesota had no turnovers while forcing 3 Seattle turnovers, and Minnesota looked like the team that started the year 6-0. Minnesota is a streaky team, and I wouldn't be surprised if they won out despite one of their remaining games is against Kansas City. With Seattle's loss, however, Seattle has proven they can't win on the road, 1-5 so far, with two away games at St. Louis and at San Francisco, that I can't imagine them winning. With a probable win at home against Arizona, Seattle would finish 9-7, and the Packers won their game against them this season. So I think the division title is out of reach, and the goal is taking the wild card from Seattle or slumping Dallas. Dallas failed to complete a single pass to any wide receiver the entire game last Sunday, which is unbelievable. Dallas's remaining schedule isn't a killer (at Washington, home against the Giants, and at New Orleans), but they have lost 3 of their last 4 and have lost ugly the last 2 weeks. With both projected NFC wild card teams slumping, the wild card should be the Packers goal.

First Quarter: Najeh Davenport has become my favorite kick returner. He is strong and can't be taken down by an arm tackle, but he has enough speed to break a long return if he can get past the initial wave of coverage. The first possessions of the game for both teams were anemic, with 5 rushes and 1 incomplete pass between them, no first downs, and 2 punts. The next Packer possession was a typical scoring drive for them this year; a couple of runs, Brett Favre completing passes to multiple receivers (4 different receivers on this drive alone), but Wesley Walls came up just short on a 3rd down pass. I was hoping Mike Sherman would go for it, because I was expecting a Josh Bidwell touchback punt and only a 25 yard net advantage, but Sherman elected for the touchback. This is the second game in a row where the offensive line didn't dominate and the Packers had trouble running the ball. I don't know if teams are doing a better job of scheming against the Packers run offense or this is a drop off in play, but this isn't the same team running the football. The pass completion to David Terrell on 3rd and 9 was disappointing, but its unusual for Chicago to throw passes downfield. The 61 yard touchdown pass to Marty Booker on the next play was very unusual. Mike McKenzie personally took responsiblity for the play, but he was in a really tight spot; he was trying to cover a receiver known for catching passes short and he had no deep help. Unfortunately, Favre answered Chicago's long touchdown by handing them another long touchdown on a pass interception returned for a touchdown. It looked like Favre was trying to throw the ball away out of bounds, but he should have known he was still between the tackles and it would have been grounding even if his pass had made it there. He was probably frustrated by the lack of success the offense had in the quarter. Speaking of Monday Morning Quarterbacks, Favre's commercial where he walks around and second guesses everyone on the street for Mastercard is hilarious. Packers 0, Chicago 14.

Second Quarter: The Packers do get on track during their next drive. Ahman Green finally has some success (5 carries for 22 yards on the drive) and Favre completes passes to 3 different receivers. The drive stalls at Chicago's 6 yard line, but the field goal is the start of 34 unanswered points by the Packers. After a 1st quarter where Chicago didn't play like Chicago (forcing turnovers, pushing the ball down the field with long passes), Chicago reverts to form with a fumble on the kick return. The Packers' drive stalls immediately but now its 14 to 6. Actually, Chicago doesn't stop throwing long passes, Booker catches a long pass and later in the quarter Justin Gage should have had two long receptions, but one was called back on a gift offensive pass interference call against Gage and Gage dropped one in the end zone. If Gage had caught a long touchdown pass at the end of the 1st half, who knows how this game might have turned out. After Booker's last long catch of the game, however, Chicago stalls on 3rd down as Cletidus Hunt gets a sack. Hunt has been great the last few games, providing the interior pass rush that the Packers had expected from him all year long. Right now, teams cannot single team Hunt on passing downs and expect to contain him. Robert Ferguson caught 7 passes in the game, but his first catch wasn't until the middle of the 2nd quarter. Ferguson caught a 20 yard pass on a 1st and 15 for the Packers on their 22 yard line, which must have been a soul crusher for Chicago's defense. Javon Walker got his first catch on the drive too, with a touchdown catch that was very similar to Booker's touchdown catch because Walker ran by the cornerback, Charles Tillman, down the side line and Tillman's deep help was late. It was great that this catch came against Tillman, because Moose Johnson had been doing the commentating and he had been talking about how soft the Packers were playing and how tough Chicago was hitting. He had been especially fond of Tillman up to this point, and I don't remember Moose mentioning Tillman's name the rest of the game. Darren Sharper says thanks to Chicago for a hail mary interception at the end of the half, and he returned it to the 50 yard line, and he was probably only one or two players away from breaking it for a touchdown. Packers 13, Chicago 14.

Third Quarter: Another bad kickoff coverage by the Packers. Jerry Azumah, although unable to make a tackle on defense and fumbled an earlier kickoff, returns it to the Chicago 43 yard line. After one 1st down conversion, Chicago is already in Packer territory. Its like the special teams is missing that one great special team tackler who seems to be in on every play. Ferguson and Torrence Marshall have had good individual games on special teams, but not consistently. Luckily, McKenzie gets his first interception of the game to end the drive. The Packers have had so much success on offense this season because they can move down the field consistently by running or passing the ball. In this game, and last week in Detroit, the Packers have been unable to move the ball by running. This next drive stalls because the running game doesn't provide anything (3 carries for 5 yards), but the Ryan Longwell field goal gives the Packers their first lead. Chicago does nothing on their next drive, and the Packers next drive does little but the stupid late hit by Michael Haynes on Favre is the big play and sets up a 45 yard Longwell field goal. Longwell has been very valuable this season, because any kick by him within 45 yards of the goal posts has been automatic. He is one of the most accurate kicker in the NFL, although his leg isn't very strong. Packers 19, Chicago 14.

Fourth Quarter: It really surprised me that Chicago never dedicated themselves to running the football. The Packers have had problems stopping the run early in games and have not been a great run defense in general. Chicago's only success vs. the Packers in Chicago earlier this season was when Anthony Thomas ran the ball, but he only got 9 carries in this game and Chicago threw twice as much they ran (40 to 20). Unless Thomas has a fumbling problem, Chicago is just asking for trouble because it is inevitable that Stewart will make a bad play throwing the ball and they should want to keep those mistakes down to a minimum. Although Chicago is only down by 5 points, their first drive of the 4th quarter is primarily passes by Stewart. Chicago has success on this drive passing, Stewart is 5 of 7 for 63 yards with a 3rd and 8 at the Packers 16 yard line, but on his 8th attempt McKenzie jumps the short route on the sideline and intercepts the ball for a 90 yard touchdown return. This effectively ends the game, and Favre throws a 2 point conversion to Bubba Franks for an exclaimation point to the turn of events. After this play, Chicago doesn't call another running play the rest of the game, although over 9 minutes remain. I don't know why, but Chicago drives into Packer territory on the next drive but decide to punt instead of going for it on 4th and long. Maybe they are hoping the Packers turn it back over quickly and fortunately for Chicago this happens after two runs and an incompletion followed by a weak punt by Bidwell. Desmond Clark had a couple of nice catches in this game for Chicago, however, his fumble on the second play of their next drive kills it. The Packers just continue to run the ball and the clock, Green hasn't fumbled the ball since his disaster a few weeks ago vs. Philadelphia, so this is a pretty safe strategy. Bidwell has a nice punt to pin Chicago down to their 10 yard line, which leads to a three incompletions by Stewart, and a 4th down attempt that ends in a Stewart sack on his 1 yard line for a turnover on downs. Grady Jackson got the sack, and he has been a great pick up for the Packers. He isn't dominanting, but he gets some pressure up the middle and has held the middle of the line well against the run. With all the defensive line injuries, if they didn't have Jackson for the defensive line rotation, the run defense might be a lot worse at this point. Green easily runs the ball in on his second attempt and the game is a blowout. Azumah has a little redemption for his earlier fumble and poor tackling in the game with a long kickoff return for a touchdown, to cap off a poor game for the Packers special teams, but its too little too late for Chicago. With under 2 minutes left, the Packers go for it on 4th down to try and run out the clock but fail to convert it. Two weeks ago, this would have been a gimme but it isn't today. Chicago's last drive is a turnover on downs again, as Stewart fails again to get anything going. Chicago should turn to Rex Grossman next week to see what he can do. Packers 34, Chicago 21.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Packers 14, Detroit 22. Ugh. 3rd down conversions and turnovers. In the first half, the Packers defense couldn't get off the filed and Detroit was 4 for 7 on third down. In the second half, especially in the 4th quarter when the Packers had 2 fumbles and 2 interceptions, the Packers offense couldn't stop turning the ball over. The only good news was that Minnesota got crushed in St. Louis and their remaining schedule is tough; home against playoff bound Seattle (although Seattle can't win on the road), at Chicago (winners of their last two games), home against 11-1 Kansas City, at Arizona (Arizona sucks, but they are 3-2 at home and almost beat St. Louis in Arizona). All of those games will be tough for Minnesota, so an 8-8 record for them to end the season is very possible. The Packers would have to win 3 of their last 4 to finish 9-7 and win the division, and considering they had won 3 of 4 prior to the Detroit loss, it is very possible too.

First Quarter: The first (and only) touchdown drive by Detroit was very discouraging, Detroit was able to run and complete several short passes to move down the field, but the Packers defense only got better as the game went on. Najeh Davenport has become my favorite kickoff returner; he has speed in the open field and he has size to run through arm tackles that smaller returners, like Antonio Chapman, might get stopped by. The Packers drive to the Detroit 40 yard line, but they are forced to punt. The next Detroit drive looks stalled until Mike McKenzie gets an personal foul for shoving the Detroit receiver after the play out of bounds. It was a weak call, but McKenzie did slightly shove the receiver in the back. The Packers had 3 personal fouls (one on Aaron Kampman was offset by one on the same play by Stockar McDougle, although Kampman did nothing to deserve it while McDougle did) and this one made a big difference. Detroit was able to end the quarter with a nice field goal drive. Packers 0, Detroit 10.

Second Quarter: The rushing stats for the Packers look feeble in this game (16 carries for 52 yards) but the Packers did have some success running the ball in the first half, before abandoning it in the second half. A nice Ahman Green run, along with a rare downfield pass to Wesley Walls, led to a great grab by a Bubba Franks for the touchdown. After Franks had a bad game vs. San Francisco, it was good to see him have a solid game against Detroit. Unfortunately, Detroit answers with a long 8 minute drive. Joey Harrington had a very good first half, completing 11 of 12 passes (many on this drive). The ball is not bouncing the Packers way this season, and it is a big reason the Packers are 6-6. All the teams with winning records this season can probably point to a couple plays this year when the ball bounced just right and won them a game here or there. In this game, the Packers had 2 huge 4th quarter fumbles that Detroit recovered, while Detroit had 3 fumbles (including 2 on this drive alone) that easily could have been recovered had a Packer been in the right place at the right time, but the ball just didn't bounce their way. This drive also had another stupid personal foul (plus the phantom foul on Kampman) and led to a field goal. This was the last drive of the game where Detroit looked competant on offense, and had it led to zero points and the Packers could have recovered either fumble and turned it into any points, the entire game would have been different. The Packers try to answer but the first drive with 2:30 left in the half leads to a rare Brett Favre sack when he looked confused and ran into a sack, and a second drive that just ran out of time. Packers 7, Detroit 13.

Third Quarter: My mistake, Detroit had another competant drive in the game, this one to start the 2nd half, but a holding penalty killed it in Packer territory, and Detroit punted. Now the Packers start to go pass happy. Detroit's defensive line was tough on the day, and the Packers offensive line probably had its worst game of the season, but after several great rushing games in a row, the Packers only ran 2 times for 5 yards in the quarter. Favre completes 4 out of 5 passes before Dre Bly intercepts the ball at Detroit's 32. This was the second week in a row where a defensive back just muscles a receiver out of his way for an interception. The receivers can't be this passive and have to fight for the ball. This was the 1st of 5 turnovers in the half, and 4 of the turnovers were in Detroit territory. The Packers had several opportunities but the constant turnovers killed them. Fortunately, Detroit's offense begins to struggle and on the next drive Favre connects with Javon Walker for Walker's second big touchdown catch in 2 weeks. The Packers are leading for the first and last time in the game. The next three drives are 3 and outs followed by punts, including another lucky fumble for Detroit when Harrington has the ball slapped out of his hand but Detroit recovers it. Packers 14, Detroit 13.

Fourth Quarter: If the Packers never turned the ball over in the 4th quarter, Detroit would have never scored again, as 3 turnovers led to 3 Detroit field goals, and the Packers would have won a field position battle. Also the running game went MIA as they only rushed 3 times for minus 3 yards in the quarter. The quarter starts with a Walker fumble and Detroit recovery, which leads to a long field goal after a Detroit 3 and out possession. After a Packer punt, McKenzie intercepts Harrington for Detroit's only turnover of the game, but on the very next play Favre fumbles the ball and Detroit recovers. Detroit gets a nice Shawn Bryson run to get in field goal range for another long made field goal. Davenport has another great kickoff return, but then for the 3rd time in 4 drives, the Packers turn the ball over when Bly makes a great jump on an out route. Bly went for the interception, he would have been burned badly on an out and up, but he gambled and won on the play. Detroit has some success on the next drive, enough to get into field goal range, but everything Harrington throws is short, there is no chance at a big play, and as soon as Harrington throws a couple of incompletions (which is inevitable) the drive is dead. Harrington slumped badly in the second half, and if he can't complete over 60% of his passes he will never be successful in Steve Marucci's offense. But the drive leads to another Detroit field goal. After all these turnovers, and 3 Detroit scores in the 4th quarter, the Packers are still only down by one score (touchdown and 2 point conversion). The Packers get another drive going and they are in Detroit territory with over a minute left in the game, but a defensive player rushes untouched to Favre on a blitz, Favre throws up a prayer, and Robert Ferguson misplays the jump ball and Detroit's Doug Evans turns around at the last second for a gift interception. Evans was beat but Ferguson completely missed the jump ball. There was no reason Ferguson shouldn't catch that ball. The Packers are able to get the ball back because they used all 3 of their timeouts on Detroit's last possession, but there just isn't enough time, although on the hail mary, the ball was slapped down in the end zone, and it almost bounced right into Tony Fisher's hands at Detroit's 5 yard line (he was just a step too late), where he could have walked in for an easy touchdown. But nothing bounced the Packers way in this game. Packers 14, Detroit 22.