Wednesday, December 28, 2005

End Of The Season and Sherman's Future

I’m very excited for Sunday. For two reasons.

One is a good reason: I am going to my first (and only) Packer game of the 2005 season, to see the final game against the Seahawks. I don’t get to many games in a season, so when I walk around the Atrium and the concourse, I really do cherish the time.

The other reason, however, is probably less exciting than it is a sense of foreboding, because I’m waiting for a press conference from Ted Thompson that may come as early as Sunday night, making an announcement that will set the Packers’ future in motion.

That decision, of course, will start with Mike Sherman’s job, which one has the feeling has had a decision made on it already, win or lose against Seattle. I’m sure a crushing loss against Mike Holmgren’s backups at home could speed up that announcement, though.

I have a strong feeling we are looking at Mike Sherman’s last couple of days as Packer head coach. Some will celebrate, some will wail. Some will quickly change their “Bad News” to “Good News” and pop open some champagne. Some will wave goodbye to a Packer era, and look forward to whatever changes are coming on the horizon, with foreboding or hopefulness.

Chris Havel had a scathing article about Mike Sherman in Wednesday’s Green Bay Press-Gazette, calling for Sherman to be fired by Ted Thompson. This was surprising and very bold by Havel, a reporter I’ve followed very closely since he first began writing for the Packers.

You can read his article and get all of his opinions about Sherman, but the fact he’s written the article at all gives us some interesting conclusions that we can jump to, none of which seem too improbable.

First of all, it is very rare, especially in a small market like Green Bay, for the local writer to call for the head coach’s dismissal in such a grandiose way. While I would expect this from the Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal writers, the usual Pollyanna editorials of the Press-Gazette normally wouldn’t tread into this territory.

So, why would Havel break the ice? Using a little deduction, one can definitely assume that, if Mike Sherman is definitely staying on as head coach, or even has a solid chance at staying, a primary local reporter would never burn his bridges with the head coach for the next season (and possibly beyond). Havel is either very brave, very foolish, or knows something we don’t.

Havel is fairly outspoken, but tends to thrive in finding ways to cleverly craft words together to put people in a light he chooses (usually negative), not blatantly rip someone else’s livelihood. This is abnormal for Havel.

Havel is also fairly well respected not only in the community, but by the team. He’s a bit negative, and definitely chums with Favre, but no fool.

That leaves one option, which is he knows something we don’t. I don’t think Havel would make these statements without knowing he has a new coach to appeal to next season.

To me, this means one thing: Sherman is a goner, and Havel knows it. This isn’t just an opinion piece. It’s a eulogy.

If you’ve also listened to Havel on his radio show, you’ve heard that he’s been very less than appreciative of Sherman’s coaching style as of late, and been quite vocal in his disgust with him. What makes a man so angry? Losing? No, Havel has covered losing teams before, and never been this focused.

If you want to make a man mad, hit him where it hurts. Where does Havel hurt? Easy. Brett Favre.

Chris Havel has written two books with Brett, and has openly admitted it’s foolish for him to bite the hand that feeds him. If there is any such thing as a “Favre Acolyte”, Chris Havel would be the presiding cardinal of the church.

Some of this may simply stem from the fact that Favre has had such a terrible season, throwing 28 interceptions and looking to add to that total on Sunday. Havel may see the same things many of us have seen: a coach who has not only mishandled the needs Favre has as a player, but an increasing amount of reliance on Favre to pull games out single-handedly, and allowed him to take the lion’s share of blame when he can’t do it.

Sherman doesn’t hold Favre accountable for his mistakes on the field, and keeps allowing him to make the throws that hurt the team, without making it clear that he needs to adjust. Sherman and his staff are a bit intimidated of Brett Favre, and Favre doesn’t thrive under those circumstances. He needs a father figure who is going to put him on the wall if he needs it. Mike Holmgren did that. So did his own father, Irv, even when Brett was a professional player.

Using some inference, though, the possibility also exists that Havel’s cash cow has come to an end, and that it is all over but the crying for Brett Favre’s career in Green Bay. That would make a man pretty upset; knowing that book #3 isn’t coming. Havel may also know that Favre will indeed call it quits, whether based on tangible information, or just a feeling after working with him for so long.

That’d make me pretty angry at the person I hold responsible for coaching. And Havel is.

My deductions on Favre’s retirement are more observation and guesswork based on this article.

But, when it comes to Mike Sherman and his future with the Green Bay Packers, I think Havel has sent the public more than just another anti-Sherman rant.

He sent notice that Sunday night will be much more eventful than Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Let's Make A Deal!!

Anyone else remember the game show “Let’s Make a Deal”?

Monty Hall was the host, and it ran seemingly forever in the 1970’s. Like “The Price is Right”, this show constantly gave contestants a shot at winning great products of the time, except, instead of having to guess prices, they just had to guess at the unknown.

For example, a young woman dressed as Gumby would be brought up as a contestant, and be shown a prize under a box. It was something worthwhile, like a year’s supply of Rice-a-Roni and a new blender. However, then Monty would ask that Gumby Girl if she wanted to take the sure thing (the blender) or take a chance on what was behind Curtain Number Two. No hints. No lifelines. No immunity necklace. Just blind luck in guessing right, either risking it all or standing pat.

Perhaps she chose to keep the known item, and missed out on a new washer and dryer behind the curtain, and the crowd would groan agonizingly for Gumby. Or, perhaps she would risk it all, and there would be a beautiful model feeding a carrot to a goat in exchange. She only got to keep the goat, though.

Either way, the contestant was at a crossroads. Move on and hope for the best, or take what you have and run.

In many ways, the 2005 Green Bay Packers, and particularly rookie General Manager Ted Thompson, are now that gal from the 70’s dressed up as Gumby, faced with the critical decision of standing pat, or taking a risk for something better. Like the game show, he could end up with a shiny new Dodge Aspen station wagon, or he could end up with a goat.

Or, if he chooses wrong, he’ll end up being the goat. Either decision has a chance for failure and a chance for success.

With the Packers now struggling at 3-11, playoffs out of the realm of possibilities, and seemingly, the wheels coming off last week in Baltimore, there is a strong public outcry for taking what is behind Curtain Number Two. Now.

Let’s see what is the known quantity, what was presented to Ted under the box that he can choose to keep and put off the curtain for a while.

He has a coach and quarterback under fire. Mike Sherman is finally showing signs of losing his team on the field, though most other losing teams lost it long before the Packers did. He’s demonstrated enough to win, though not much more once the regular season ends. And now, he has guided his team to a probable top-five pick in the draft.

Brett Favre is a past MVP and future hall of famer. But what we care about right now is the present. Favre is a tremendous leader, caught in a chicken-or-egg conundrum as to whether his struggles are a sign of decline, or merely the result of the injuries, execution, and motivation around him. With him, you have a name player with the potential to come back next season and resume his 4000+ yard/30 TD/17 or less INT performances, as well as wily know-how. Without him, you start a young player who only weeks ago was so unconvincing to so many fans (and possibly Thompson) that they were actively pondering Matt Lienart, as a first round quarterback for two years in a row.

Along with these two huge decisions come many other seemingly minor decisions. Do you keep an aging yet productive player like William Henderson? Do you roll the dice and trade away our primary but injured and disgruntled wide receiver Javon Walker for more draft picks. Do you do away with above average but struggling vets like Grady Jackson, Mike Flanagan, Robert Ferguson, and Ryan Longwell, trusting the draft and reserves will provide quality replacements? Do you max out the salary cap, or spend a year letting dead space disappear so you can make a strong run in 2007?

There, obviously, is no easy answer to these questions, but there are endless opinions on them. In one camp are the traditionalists, those who view this season as an aberration, an unfortunate blend of injuries and infusion of young players into a rarely altered system. Sherman can easily have this team back to ten wins next season with Favre and good use of our draft picks, as well as one or two key pickups on the free agent market.

In the other camp are the revolutionaries, who not only demand the firing of Mike Sherman, but the not-so-subtle hint for Brett Favre to leave, the cutting of any veteran player who didn’t meet expectations, all the assistants except for Jim Bates, and most of the front office and secretarial staff. For every season we delay this cathartic move, we delay the return to respectability and winning.

Both camps have excellent points, but both camps also have blinders on to the negative impacts of their chosen paths of righting the ship.

Standing pat, maxing out the cap, and continuing with veteran players who may simply not have enough to ever win another division title, much less a playoff game, may indeed cripple this team financially for a long time. In addition, continued losing may return Green Bay to its Siberia status among potential free agents, something we haven’t had to deal with since Reggie White decided Siberia ain’t such a bad place after all.

Mass changes will indeed bring the future closer in a speedy way, but what is that future? Will a new coach be as successful as Mike Sherman was, better, or will he be as successful as Steve Mariucci in Detroit, once hailed as a sure return to glory? Will Nick Collins define the “Thompson Draft”, or will Will Whitaker? Will our drafts bring us solid starters, or solid backups that end up starting? Siberia again looms uncomfortably on the horizon.

For many fans (and writers), the future is bright, for what could be worse? But after so many years of winning, it is easy to forget the 29 years of losing known as the “Dark Ages”, the period following the “Glory Years”. The revolutionaries point to the fact that with today’s free agency and salary caps, it won’t take 20 years to build a team back to a powerhouse status. After all, look at teams like Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Seattle, who rose quickly back to prominence after seasons of mediocrity.

However, look at teams like Arizona, Detroit, and Houston. These teams haven’t seen a successful program in years, and seemingly, everything they try to change just brings them back full circle to rebuilding…again. The salary cap and free agency makes today’s NFL much trickier than the olden days, when a veteran player was usually around until the team chose he wasn’t anymore. It is a fickle mistress, bringing success and glory to those who use it wisely, and financial misery to those who make mistakes. In your hands you can hold a trophy, or have your hands held by the shackles of players gone by who still cripple your cap, or take up roster spots because they are too expensive to cut.

So, what will it be? Keep what you have, or take the chance on Curtain Number Two? Shall we keep what we have and hope we can return to being “pretty good”, or strip everything down and roll the dice on whomever can come in and hopefully do the job better?

Ted Thompson has proven nothing so far, other than the ability to keep a secret. Can he rebuild this team from scratch? Or, can he take the steps necessary to keep it intact and plug enough holes to make it competitive again? Is the team’s performance a sign it is time to move on and drop all the ballast, or is it full of the same players that once dominated offensively, along with an optimistically improved defense?

Are our special teams problems a result of the coaching, or the result of so many injuries that most of the squads are manned by street free agents instead of the training camp backups now forced to start?

Either way, when you’ve been successful for so long, Ted Thompson has a lot of big decisions to make, and decisions that will be met derisively by one camp or the other…unless he is very successful. Such is the disappointment of a 14-year sugar high that you finally crash from.

So, what will it be, Ted? Will you keep the blender and Rice-o-Roni, or take a chance on Curtain Number Two? And trust me, “Let’s Make a Deal” never had so many viewers hinging on any of its contestants’ decisions.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

LA's Crystal Ball For 2006

It is times like these, when your team has gone 2-9, that the media and fans grow rabid and demand change. With the Green Bay Packers on their way to a losing season, everyone and their brother has a theory as where to place blame, and their own personally designed “want list” that will fix the franchise and return the team to glory.

Alas, what we want and hope don’t always match up with reality. We want Brett Favre to be an efficient game manager…it’s just not going to happen. We want Mike Sherman to put down the charts and beat the opposing coach to the checkmate. It’s a rarity, especially this year. We want Ahmad Carroll to not hold, we want KGB to dominate like he should, we want Nick Barnett to take that next step, we want Robert Ferguson to play like a solid starter…and alas, it’s just not reality.

So, I shall go into my special room patterned after the French Quarter, where I keep my crystal ball, and look into the future. This isn’t some honey-coated, best-case scenario with a happy ending. This is balancing what we’d like to see happen with reality.

Let’s see…the crystal is a little foggy. Kind of like the Packer second-half gameplans…wait a minute! There we go…

January 1, 2006 – The Green Bay Packers finish their season with a home loss to the Seattle Seahawks, who need the game to clinch home-field advantage. This is the first final game of the season in five years in which there is no hope for another game after today, and the Packers play like it. An uninspired performance at home is the exclamation point on the season.

The Packers finish 3-13, and clinch the third pick in the NFL draft. This is a mixed blessing, as it seems likely that both Reggie Bush and Matt Lienart will be gone to Houston and the Saints, who will pick ahead of the Packers.

January 4, 2006 – Mike Sherman is fired as head coach of the Green Bay Packers. Now, wait a minute, don’t dog me here…I’m not a Sherman hater, I’m just reading the tea leaves here. There is simply too much criticism and too poor of a performance, especially to finish out the season. Ted Thompson, however, true to his persona, is vague in his plans for a replacement and holds no timetable for a replacement. Tom Rossley is also fired, though Jim Bates is kept on as defensive coordinator. For now.

January 11, 2004 – With little excitement in the wild card playoffs, the media runs wild on Packer News. First of all, the media is constantly speculating on whether Brett Favre will retire now that Sherman has been fired. Favre has said he will go back to his home in Mississippi to think about it, but the media is relentless, particularly those who believe Favre owes the team an answer now.

The media is also relentlessly pushing Steve Mariucci as the next head coach. Mariucci does little to discourage the media from his interest in the job, which keeps not only the team and the coach in the spotlight, but encourages even more speculation that Favre will stay if Mariucci is hired.

Thompson is still very quiet on the hiring process.

January 18, 2006 – Ted Thompson holds a press conference to address the increasing media pressure as to the coaching hiring process. He announces that he does not plan on conducting a search until some of the coaches he is targeting are out of the playoffs.

January 19, 2006 – Brett Favre arrives in Green Bay for a closed-door meeting with Ted Thompson. Speculation runs rampant.

February 2, 2006 – During Super Bowl XL week, Brett Favre announces his retirement. While professional and sincere in his press conference, Favre makes vague references to not being a part of the future of the franchise.

February 5, 2006 – Brett Favre is honored in pre-game ceremonies at Super Bowl XL, featuring the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts.

February 18, 2006 – Chris Havel writes an opinion piece for the Green Bay Press-Gazette that Brett Favre was told by Ted Thompson that he would not make any promises as to Favre’s future in Green Bay during the closed-door meeting, and that he was going to have to make a commitment to Aaron Rodgers. Havel hints that this is a ploy by Thompson to encourage Favre to retire in order to build his own team without Sherman and Favre. Criticism abounds.

Thompson announces several candidates for the coaching job, including Jim Bates, Steve Mariucci, Brad Childress, Pete Carroll, and others. However, it is clear that Bates is not being seriously considered, Mariucci isn’t being considered, and Carroll won’t be available. Thompson is coming under more and more criticism for not having a plan in place.

March, 2006 – In another somewhat expected move, Ted Thompson cuts ties to Ahman Green, clearing his way to free agency, avoiding a roster bonus. Because of his injury, there are no takers until UFA season begins after the draft.

Brad Childress is hired as Green Bay head coach, and the reaction is lukewarm, at best.

April, 2006 – Jim Bates resigns as defensive coordinator to take a position as defensive coordinator/assistant head coach for another team.

April 28, 2006 – Draft talk is reaching its peak. Talk of Either Bush or Leinart falling to #3 is gripping the fans, as many fans and media formulate plans to even trade up a spot or two to guarantee getting them.

April 29, 2006 – In a surprising move, Houston does take Reggie Bush, and the Jets offer the pick for Leinart to the highest bidder. Someone bites, and its not Ted Thompson.

To the dismay of already jilted fans, instead of taking DeAngelo Williams, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, or A.J. Hawk, Thompson trades the pick for a mid-first round pick, a second round pick, and a fifth round pick. has its highest traffic in internet history, and the recently-installed language filter crashes from overuse.

Thompson takes players not on a lot of radar screens, such as Max Jean-Giles (OG, Gerogia), Frostee Rucker (DE, USC) and Wali Lundy (RB, Virginia) with those top three picks.

With a couple more trade-downs, the Packers draft nine players in this class.

May, 2006 – Mini-camps prove to be stressful. Josh Betts, Craig Nall, and Aaron Rodgers share reps at QB in an effort to replace Brett Favre, and none impress. Brett Favre laughs while riding his tractor, and those that attacked Favre relentlessly now prepare endless excuses as to why the team is better off. Unconvincingly.

July, 2006 – Training camp starts. Aaron Kampman has been signed to a large contract. However, Grady Jackson, Ryan Longwell, William Henderson, and Bubba Franks are gone from the team, and Al Harris has joined Javon Walker in holding out. New coach Brad Childress appears in over his head, as once again, the Packers were not major players in UFA, as salary cap accelerations from Favre and Green, as well as Hunt and others are still limiting how much money can be invested.

It is pretty obvious that Thompson is looking to clear a large chunk of money for the 2007 season, and is choosing to play with a minimal amount of long-term contracts for 2006.

At this point, the crystal goes foggy again…but it is clear that the future isn’t going to be as perfect as what we hope and wish.

Ted Thompson is going to do what he believes he feels is going to make his team. This can easily be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you see things unfold.

But, let it be known…the end of a Packer era has finally come. Will the Pack be back in 2006 or 2007, or will we be looking at another 29-year drought?

The crystal doesn’t see that far. Sorry.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Favre's Playoff Credibility

Okay, I’m worked on a couple of stats for you to address the claim that Favre is now a bad playoff quarterback.

First of all, you make the assumption that Brett Favre has only gotten bad in playoff games since the start of this millennium (of course, they missed the playoffs in 1999 and 2000). I won’t even go into his stats before that time, then. Let’s take it one game at a time.


Favre’s regular season averages: 31 passing attempts per game, 61.6% completed, 245 ypg, 2 TDs/game, 0.9 INT/game, 94.1 rating

Green’s regular season averages: 19 attempts for 86.7 ypg, 3.8 receptions for 37 ypg, 0.7 TDs, 0.25 fumbles lost pg, 4.6 ypc

Misc regular season averages: : 105 rushing yards per game, 1.3 sacks allowed, 5 penalties per game for 41 yards, 3.25 sacks per game, 1.25 INT per game


Favre’s regular season averages: 34 passing attempts per game, 61.9% completed, 228 ypg, 1.6 TDs/game, 1 INT/game, 85.6 rating

Green’s regular season averages: 20 rushes for 88.6 ypg, 3.5 receptions for 28.1 ypg, 0.6 TDs/game, 0.18 fumbles pg, 4.3 ypc

Misc regular season averages: : 120 rushing yards per game, 1.7 sacks allowed, 6.7 penalties per game for 57 yards, 2.7 sacks per game, 1.5 INT per game


Favre’s regular season averages: 29 passing attempts per game, 65.4% completed, 210 ypg, 2 TDs/game, 1.3 INT/game, 90.4 rating

Green’s regular season averages: 22 rushes for 117 ypg, 3.1 receptions for 22.9 ypg, 1.25 TDs per game, 0.3 fumbles per game, 5.3 ypc

Misc regular season averages: : 159.9 rushing yards per game, 1.18 sacks allowed, 5.5 penalties per game for 43 yards, 2.2 sacks per game, 1.3 INT per game


Favre’s regular season averages: 33 passing attempts per game, 64.1% completed, 255 ypg, 1.9 TDs/game, 1.06 INT/game, 92.4 rating

Green’s regular season averages: 17 rushes for 77.5 ypg, 2.6 receptions for 18.3 ypg, 0.5 TDs per game, 0.25 lost fumbles per game, 4.5 ypc

Misc regular season averages: 119.3 rushing yards per game, 0.8 sacks allowed, 7.2 penalties per game for 59 yards, 2.5 sacks per game, 0.5 INT per game

All right, we good so far? By the way, notice how Favre’s numbers either held steady or improved in 2004, while nearly every other stat on every other squad declined?

Let’s keep going, though. This is about playoff games.

2001 (beat San Francisco 25-15, lost to St. Louis 45-17) RS: Regular Season, SF: San Francisco, SL: St. Louis.

Favre (attempts, yards, TD, INT, rating)

RS: 31, 245, 2 TD, 1 INT, 94.1

SF: 29, 269, 2 TD, 1 INT, 112.1

SL: 44, 281, 2 TD, 6 INT, 53.5

Green (attempts, yards, recpts., yards, TDs, fumbles, total rushing yards for all rushers)

RS: 19/86, 4/37, 0.7 TD, 0.25 fumbles, 105 yards

SF: 21/86, 2/12, 1 TD, 0 fumbles, 106 yards

SL: 16/94, 8/55, 0 TD, 1 fumble (plus two other fumbles), 118 total yards

Sacks (allowed, taken)

RS: 1.3 , 3.25

SF: 1 , 2

SL: 2, 2


RS: 1.25

SF: 1

SL: 1

Penalties (number, yards)

RS: 5/41

SF: 3/30

SL: 3/20

Verdict: In a playoff game, Favre matched or improved upon his regular season statistics, and did well. The rest of the team fared as well, also. Give Favre a positive point here for playing up to his lofty averages.

In the second game, Favre threw 6 more interceptions while attempting 13 more passes. Green rushed for good yardage, but the run was abandoned in the second half, giving Favre more opportunities to throw from behind. The penalties, interceptions, and sacks were not a major factor, but a Green fumble, as were the two others, were. Favre did play poorly in this game. We’ll give him a negative on this one. Favre is now 1-1.

2002 (lost to Atlanta 7-27) RS: Regular Season, AF: Atlanta Falcons

Favre (attempts, yards, TD, INT, rating)

RS: 34, 228, 1.6 TD, 1 INT, 85.6

AF: 42, 247, 1 TD, 2 INT, 54.4

Green (attempts, yards, recpts., yards, TDs, fumbles, total rushing yards for all rushers)

RS: 20/89, 4/28, 0.6 TD, 0.2 fumbles, 120 yards

AF: 11/34, 1/3, 0 TD, 0 fumbles (3 by teammates, though), 56 yards

Sacks (allowed, taken)

RS: 1.7 , 2.7

AF: 2, 0


RS: 1.5

AF: 0

Penalties (number, yards)

RS: 7/57

AF: 3/20

Verdict: Favre didn’t play extraordinarily bad, but was once again forced to throw 40+ times while a running game was now completely invisible. The defense forced no sacks or turnovers and allowed 192 rushing yards, 64 by Vick. Favre gets a push. He played worse than his average, but no more worse than every other squad on the team. 1-1-1.

2003 (beat Seattle 33-27, lost to Philly 17-20) RS: Regular Season, SS: Seattle Seahawks, PE: Philadelphia Eagles

Favre (attempts, yards, TD, INT, rating)

RS: 29, 210, 2, 1.3, 90.4

SS: 38, 319, 1, 0, 102.9

PE: 28, 180, 2 TD, 1 INT, 82.4

Green (attempts, yards, recpts., yards, TDs, fumbles, total rushing yards for all rushers)

RS: 22/117, 3/23, 1.25 TDs, 0.3 fumbles, 160 yards.

SS: 23/66, 5/44, 2 TDs, 0 fumbles, 78 yards

PE: 25/156, 3/16, 0 TDs, 0 fumbles, 210 yards

Sacks (allowed, taken)

RS: 1.1 , 2.2

SS: 0, 2

PE: 1, 8


RS: 1.3

SS: 1 (and a biggie)

PE: 2

Penalties (number, yards)

RS: 5.5/43

SS: 5/30

PE: 6/45

Verdict: Favre played a great game against Seattle, even though Green and the running game were very much stymied. You have to give him a positive for that one. 2-1-1.

Against Philly, it’s pretty easy to see that Favre played right along with his numbers with probably a lower completion percentage against a great defense. I’m tempted to give him a positive here, but because so many other aspects of the team also played well, I will give him a push. He certainly didn’t lose the game for them. This is a game the Packers should have won.

And, yes, some will say that one interception blew it. The interception would never have happened had the Packer played to win and gone for it on 4th and 1, and the defense hadn’t allowed 4th and 26. If you deduct a point from Favre for it, you deduct one from the defense, special teams, and coaching for the same, if not worse, stupidity. Push. 2-1-2.

2004 (lost to Minnesota 7-27) RS: Regular Season, MN: Vikings

Favre (attempts, yards, TD, INT, rating)

RS: 33, 255, 1.9 TD, 1.06 INT, 92.4

MN: 33, 216, 1 TD, 4 INT, 55.4

Green (attempts, yards, recpts., yards, TDs, fumbles, total rushing yards for all rushers)

RS: 17/77, 2.5/18, 0.25 fumbles, 119 yards

MN: 20/80, 2/16, 0 TD, 1 fumble (3 by teammates), 105 yards (only 6 rushes in second half)

Sacks (allowed, taken)

RS: 0.8 , 2.5

MN: 2, 4


RS: 0.5

MN: 0

Penalties (number, yards)

RS: 7/59

MN: 8/55

Verdict: This one, to me, is probably the biggest debate. Being at the game, the whole team didn’t appear to be in the game. The statistics suggest that the game might have been closer, but we know that the Vikings scored on a lot of one-play launches. Favre hurt the team with his 4 INTs, but he also was playing without his top 2 WRs, and was playing with 2 guys who normally didn’t play offense with him: Chatman and Thurman.

Does that excuse the 4 INTs? No. He takes accountability for them. They obviously impacted the game. But the team was down by only 2 TDs to start the second half, and they ran Green only 6 times AFTER he had run 14 times for 60-odd yards in the first half. Davenport fumbled three times. The defense not only forced no interceptions, but started getting into spats with each other on the field.

The sacks were up there, but many were at the end of the game, as Culpepper kept looking downfield to keep throwing more long.

You may disagree, but I mark this one as a push, less on the basis of stats, and more on what I saw at the game that day…a team that allowed itself to be pushed around and embarrassed, that looked lost and confused.

Yes, Favre was matching nearly every reg. season stat except the interceptions. But when the Packers cut the game to 24-17, the Vikings set out to stay on the field. They first managed a 4.42 minute drive in the fourth quarter for a TD. The Packers stall after two incomplete passes and a sack, then punt the ball, miss the muff on the play, and then watch as the Vikings run EIGHT MINUTES off the clock without scoring. On that drive they allowed a 3rd and 6 and a 4th and 1.

Favre didn’t get a chance to have a 4th quarter comeback. The defense has to take some bite on this one.

So, in retrospect, though debatable, I place Favre’s performance at 2-1-2. That means, in the Sherman era, he has played well enough to win twice, played poorly enough to lose once, and played down to the level of the rest of the team twice.

You want to chastise Favre for this kind of performance? Go for it. But if you want to place the blame for two of those losses in the right place, I’d be looking at the guy who is supposed to make sure every squad comes in and plays at top level. And that’s the coaches. That’s Mike Sherman.

I’ll say that Favre sucked it up in St. Louis. Admitted, conceded. You got me.

The two wins, he played efficiently. The two other losses, though…I don’t give him a “negative” unless he plays poorly while everyone around him is busting their arses off. And they didn’t. They came in flat and played without heart.

Here’s the one caveat I will give you on Favre. His mistakes are more glaring than any other quarterback. Tom Brady could throw the exact same interception, and no one would notice. But, because Favre makes plays that no one else makes, takes risks that no one else makes, the mistakes are very overt. But his interception-to-attempt ratio is in the middle of the pack, which is pretty good when you consider he was throwing 40+ times a lot last year.

He is also entertaining. Like it or not, I’d rather watch Favre put a bullet to Ferguson in the endzone with two guys within inches of the ball, instead of watching Craig Nall or Aaron Rodgers play run-run-pass-punt.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Sum Of Its Parts

I still remember the announcement, sitting in my chair with my pretzels, as the Patriots ran onto the field. They had just gotten done announcing the starting lineups for the “Greatest Show on Turf”, with superstars like Kurt Warner, Issac Bruce, Torry Holt, and Marshall Faulk all getting a turn to bask in their own, individual moment of glory.

I remember waiting for the Patriots to be announced, almost snickering at the bunch of no-names that the Rams were going to steamroll for their second Super Bowl in three years. Who were these guys? Who was Tom Brady? I didn’t know a soul on the defensive side of the ball…and for that matter, if they hadn’t already been hyping up Brady as the guy who replaced Drew Bledsoe, I wouldn’t have known a soul on their offense, either.

But, it didn’t matter. “And now, being introduced as a team, the New England Patriots!!!” (see vision of entire team, offense and defense, running out as one mass onto the field).

Ha. Ha ha.

That’s not supposed to happen. I’m supposed to see chest-thumping and wild dancing. I’m supposed to see Ray Lewis do his little dance, or Terrell Owens mocking it. I’m supposed to see a face to go with each of these superstars’ names.

Ha. Funny Patriots.

As the game went on, I not only found myself rooting for the Patriots because they were underdogs, but because they played so well. I saw them stymie the vaunted Rams into a 14 point deficit. I saw Ty Law pick off a pass and return it for a touchdown. I saw a young, efficient quarterback pass for only one touchdown and 147 yards.

And then, as I feared, I saw the Rams fire back, on the arm of a former MVP named Warner.

And I saw them fall short. Glitz and showmanship and high-powered offense lost the battle to hard work, selflessness, and a stout defense.

I was almost insulted when Tom Brady was named MVP of that game. The whole team should have been named the MVP.

I heard the saying reverberating in the echoes of 9/11….”We’re All Patriots”.

Since that day, the New England Patriots have become an odd measuring stick for the rest of the NFL, and naturally, the Green Bay Packers. How can’t they…they’ve won 3 out of 4 Super Bowls. Every team wants to be in that position.

But how do you copy the blueprint of the Patriots? Spend a sixth round draft choice on a quarterback? Find castoff running backs to come in and be your runners? Have no-name wide receivers come in and play? That’s not sexy. That won’t bring in the fans. Randy Moss will sell more jerseys.

At the end of the Super Bowl, we once again found ourselves wondering… “Who the heck do you give the MVP award to???” Again, they played flawless, if unspectacular, football. The Eagles, again, had the sexy name players that got all the individual attention: Terrell Owens, Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Kearse, Trotter, Simon. And, again, they tried to come back at the end of the game, and the Patriots turned them away.

Again, Brady passed for a modest 236 yards and a couple scores. No interceptions. Donovan McNabb, like Warner, passed for 350+ yards, but turned it over to a great defense too many times.

The Patriots can’t give credit to any one position, any one squad for their success. They play with complete team ball. Freddie Mitchell disses one Patriot, the rest come together and shut him down. The defense is great. The offense is efficient and nearly error-free. Adam Vinatieri is ice-blooded. And the coaching is the best in the league.

They’re so efficient, they are almost boring. Bland. Old-School.

And they are everything right in sports. Perhaps the only thing. We live in an era of me-first, me-shawn, me-pumped up sports that are turning people away from our favorite past times. The NHL is on the verge of shutting down because of greed. The NBA has become a showcase for street thugs who never had to go to college. MLB has become a travesty of itself, embroiled in steroids and an unlevel playing field that has turned half the teams into AAAA farm clubs.

Even the NFL has approached these “new norms”, with players like TO, Randy Moss, and Mike McKenzie threatening the fabric of the game.

But the Patriots are the epitome of teamwork. If “Hoosiers” were a football team, it would be the Patriots.

Synergy is the intangible effect of great teamwork, where the overall team becomes more than a sum of its parts. The old story of 1+1+1=14 can easily be applied to New England: average players and late-round picks buy into the team concept, and work to their ability in a selfless way that makes the whole team more successful, and more successful than any other team in the league right now.

Forget those position-by-position matchups that the media likes to do. It doesn’t apply to the Pats. They’d probably lose every single battle, but they win the war.

Our Packers, unfortunately, are becoming the anti-Patriots, and I don’t believe that’s a good thing. We see talent at nearly every position, and we constantly fret about how they are underachieving. Favre has taken heat. Green has taken heat. Hunt is in the oven with the setting on “high”. Sharper, Carroll. Even the players who are actually playing well are getting criticism, like Barnett and Harris and Driver. Oh, don’t forget the criticism of the coaches. Burning effigy of Mike Sherman, anyone? The Slowik effigy has finally burned out.

As the media and fans search to find a formula that explains our problems, it becomes painfully noticeable that two things are prevalent:

a) nearly everyone boils the problem down to one person or player on the team;


b) nearly every person or player on the team has had a finger pointed at them by somebody as being the problem.

Not good. The critics of the team have focused so much on their “pet problem”, without realizing that each my simply be a symptom of a greater problem.

Teamwork. Synergy. Playing together on the same page. Team first, me second. Goals. “Super Bowl or Bust”.

I am in full awareness that there are many people who are more qualified than me to evaluate players and their performances. Not being a scout and having limited statistical experience (though I did get an A in Stats in college), I know that many here have leads and information I can’t have access to.

So, I approach this from an introspective fan’s point of view. Perhaps all of our arguments, from the Turnover Cultists to the Favre Apologists, from the Coaches-Fault to the Players-Fault, from the Cut-em-all-and-take-the-hit to the We-must-resign-Wahles…each of these are just symptoms, that benching Favre or cutting Sharper or going to a 3-4 defense or getting rid of Sherman won’t solve.

Sherman received high praise his first season for taking the boys on a bus to go bowling during training camp. It brought a sense of relaxation of comfort with the team. I’m sure he was pretty popular for a day or two, also.

With Sherman planted back in his position as coach, perhaps this is a good step towards building back that environment, where slackers like Antonio Freeman aren’t tolerated, where the W is the only stat worth caring about, where the Head Coach is the General leading you into battle, and everyone else falls into ranks and blindly battles for the cause. Bellichek falls into that category, for certain.

Perhaps Thompson is another step towards regaining this feeling. Perhaps Jim Bates will bring that discipline to the defensive side of the ball. You respect a guy more when you don’t feel he’s the “Coach’s Favorite Buddy”.

Obviously, there hasn’t been a sense of such synergy in Green Bay since the 60’s, when a bunch of good athletes got together and played blindly for a guy named Lombardi.

There are many symptoms that need to be treated: deciding who to resign, deciding what schemes to implement, planning for a quality draft.

But a lately-much-maligned GM by the name of Ron Wolf walked into Green Bay in 1991, looked at the roster, and said there weren’t many players here than would still be here a couple years from then. And he was right. Only a couple of guys like Butler, Jacke, and West remained Packers when they won the Super Bowl.

Wolf established an attitude of “You’re only here as long as it takes us to find someone better to replace you”, and the players jumped on board. They knew who was in charge, and trusted that direction.

Some may suggest that Mike Holmgren was a part of that philosophy, until perhaps his own ego got in the way following the Super Bowl victory. Such, also, will eventually happen to today’s Patriots.

But for now, the Patriots have written up a blueprint with no directions, a pattern to follow with nothing to prove it except their record. Dynasty talk aside, they are the ONLY team in the new era of free agency to have consistent, lasting success.

But it isn’t the schemes. It isn’t having a marquee player at every position. It isn’t doing a personalized dance in the end zone.

It’s introducing yourself as a team. It’s playing defensive back when you’re a wide receiver, and enjoying it. It’s standing up for your teammates, instead of standing around when your lineman is cheap-shot, and only having the coach actually go get in that player’s grill after the game.

The Packers finished the season as a bunch of individuals, with their fingers pointed at each other. The Patriots finished as a team, with their fingers pointed in the air.

Where’s your finger?