Wednesday, December 10, 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.

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