Black & Blue Review

The Lions are pleasantly surprised by their defense. The Packers are scrambling after losing their best receiver, while the Vikings are wondering about their offense.

All summer, the Lions have been looking for something substantial, something on which they could pin their hopes for a competitive season in the NFC North, and they might have found it in their season-opening 17-3 victory against Green Bay.

Their defense.

For months, the focus has been on the offense -- quarterback Joey Harrington, budding star running back Kevin Jones, wide receivers Roy Williams, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams (all first-round draft picks), and veteran tight end Marcus Pollard.

Could they move the ball consistently? Could they be productive in the red zone? Would Harrington blossom in his fourth NFL season?

The prevailing sentiment was -- and still is -- that the Lions offense is still a work in progress with coach Steve Mariucci and first-year offensive coordinator Ted Tollner tinkering with personnel, play selection and adjustments in their West Coast offense.

The defense was the wild card, but -- judging by the initial performance against longtime tormentor Brett Favre -- it might be something the Lions can lean on while they continue to develop their offense.

The Lions defenders held the Packers to 46 net yards rushing, intercepted Favre twice, sacked him four times (three by defensive linemen) and held the Packers without a touchdown for the first time in 77 games. The three-point production was Green Bay's lowest output since Favre took over as the starter in 1992.

"They did a great job of giving us field position, getting us the ball, keeping Green Bay out of the end zone ... they kept us in the ball game," Harrington said. "I told every one of them that and I'll tell them again: The defense kept us in the ball game."

The result is that the Lions got an important win against a division opponent and got off to the kind of start they needed to eliminate at least some of the self-doubts that are part of their 16-48 record over the past four seasons.

They will go to Chicago with a 1-0 record -- alone on top of the NFC North -- with a chance to tack on another win against another team experiencing the struggles they have endured in recent seasons.

If the defense can continue to play at the level it established in the season opener, their chances seem to be improving.


  • Free safety Terrence Holt has a pretty good idea of what the Lions' defense should be and he likes what he saw in the season opening 17-3 win against Green Bay.

    "That was a big statement," said Holt. "And that's what we try to do all the time. We just try to go out and play. Like I was telling some of the guys, we're a blue collar city and we're a blue collar defense.

    "We may give up a few yards here and there, but the most important thing is to keep them out of the end zone. We were able to do that today (against) a great offense that can beat you in so many ways. They're able to run the ball, they're able to pass the ball, they have a great quarterback, a Hall of Fame quarterback."

    Holt, who got some playing time late in his rookie year but has basically waited two seasons for a chance at a starting job, made the best of his first start as the No. 1 free safety.

    Although he was not credited with any tackles, he was around the ball in coverage most of the game. He broke up a pass, intercepted Packers' quarterback Brett Favre late in the game, and also recovered teammate Kenoy Kennedy's fumble following an interception earlier in the game.

  • Nobody felt worse than tight end Marcus Pollard after having a touchdown pass from quarterback Joey Harrington knocked out of his grasp in the end zone in the first quarter but he knew he'd get another chance. And he did.

    "It he's throwing to me, I feel like I should catch it," Pollard said. "He told me, 'I'm coming to you, I'm coming to you; get open.' And it happened. He threw the ball and I caught it."

    Pollard was happy with the touchdown catch, but he was still displeased with himself for dropping the ball he had caught as he crossed the goal line two plays earlier. Strong safety Mark Roman arrived a split-second after the ball and knocked it loose.

    Pollard had been open for several steps and it was suggested that perhaps it would have helped if Harrington had gotten the ball to him more quickly, but he rejected the notion.

    "He had to go through a play-fake, find the safeties and then find me," Pollard said. "The ball comes out, (but) I should have caught it. The guy made a great play knocking it loose from me, but I feel like I still should have caught it."

  • Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron worked from the press box in the Lions' season opener against Green Bay, but the Lions aren't saying if it was a permanent move.

    "Can't tell you that," coach Steve Mariucci said Monday.

    It appears, however, that Jauron, the former Chicago head coach, will be upstairs for game 2 Sunday against the Bears at Soldier Field.

    "I think he liked it," Mariucci said. "I think it went smoothly enough; he may continue it."

    The Lions felt it was especially important for Jauron to have the press box vantage point for the game against the Packers.

    "He had been down last year and he had been down during the preseason," Mariucci said. "We put him upstairs so he could see personnel coming on and off the field. The Packers do a good job of changing their personnel groups, doing it late enough so it's difficult to match, so he felt he would have a better vantage point being up, seeing all that, making the call and we signal it to the other coaches."

    Quarterback Brett Favre raised eyebrows and drew some criticism in NFL circles during the spring when he openly rebuked teammate Javon Walker for skipping the team's off-season workouts because of unhappiness with his contract.

    Among Favre's harsher sentiments about the Pro Bowl receiver's ploy was, "We can win without him."

    Four months after he made the utterance, Favre and the rest of the Packers will soon discover if they indeed can start winning without their top wide receiver.

    Head coach Mike Sherman confirmed Monday afternoon that Walker will miss the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Walker sustained the injury the midway through the third quarter of a 17-3, season-opening loss at Detroit.

    Surgery has yet to be scheduled for Walker, who returned on the team's chartered plane Sunday night in a wheelchair.

    Life after Walker this season for the players and coaches began in earnest Monday.

    As difficult as the loss of Walker was a horrendous showing by the offense, which had its league-best, five-year-old streak of scoring a touchdown in 77 straight games snapped. Despite recent events, Sherman said there won't be a pity party at team headquarters.

    "I don't think there's going to be desperation in the locker room," Sherman said. "There's disappointment for him personally and for our team, but you have to be able to move on.

    "Certainly, his impact as a football player and as a person in that locker room is huge. But I think our team will be fairly resilient in regard to that. People are going to have to step forward. When you have an injury like this, as difficult as it may be, it's an opportunity for other people."

    General manager Ted Thompson and his staff were exploring Monday whether any help can be had at receiver on the waiver wire or through a trade.

    For now, the Packers will prepare Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson to be their primary receivers against Cleveland on Sunday.

    Ferguson, who was outspoken in the preseason about not being utilized enough and was the subject of trade rumors with Philadelphia, will get a golden opportunity to prove he's a top-flight playmaker. His highest output his first four years in the league was a mere 38 receptions for 520 yards and four touchdowns in 2003.

    "Just like Javon at some point, the light clicked on," said Sherman, referring to Walker's breakout season last year with 89 catches for 1,382 yards and 12 TDs. "'Fergie' for us this year has to step up and be that big-play receiver. I talked to him about that after the game (Sunday) and how we have to be able to count on him."

    It remains to be seen, however, if Ferguson has completely moved past his season-ending head and neck injuries late last year. A vicious clothesline hit by Jacksonville safety Donovin Darius left Ferguson temporarily paralyzed.

    In Sunday's opener, Ferguson appeared to hold back from going for a low throw from Favre over the middle, which allowed safety Kenoy Kennedy to make an interception in the fourth quarter.

    Since Ferguson will assume a bigger role in the offense, Sherman must decide whether to risk keeping him involved as a kickoff returner and a valuable coverage guy on special teams.


  • In the wake of Javon Walker's season-ending knee injury, head coach Mike Sherman said Monday there's "a sense of urgency" to get rookie receiver Terrence Murphy on the field for game action.

    Murphy was deactivated for Sunday's opener at Detroit because he's not 100 percent recovered from a torn medial-collateral ligament in his right knee, an injury sustained Aug. 17. Murphy returned to practice last week. Sherman is hopeful another week of practice will have Murphy ready for the home opener against Cleveland this Sunday.

    The second-round draft pick from Texas A&M would be the No. 4 receiver behind Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson and Antonio Chatman.

    Sherman believes the speedy Murphy can be a threat running after the catch.

    "I like everything about him. He hasn't done anything to make me nervous about him yet," Sherman said. "But he hasn't played a whole lot (because of the injury). So, we'll see."

  • Sherman said he had "a heart-to-heart" meeting with embattled cornerback Ahmad Carroll on Monday morning.

    Carroll, whose penchant for excessively grabbing receivers tainted his rookie season last year, was penalized four times Sunday for either illegal hands to the face or holding. Three of the infractions were enforced.

    After watching game tape, Sherman called two of the penalties against Carroll "ticky-tacky." However, the coach acknowledged that Carroll's aggressive reputation is costing him in bump-and-run coverage.

    "I don't want to say they're targeting him," Sherman said of the officials. "But, obviously, they're aware of him, and I'm sure any head coach that we play makes the crew aware of him, as well.

    "As I said to him, he has a history and that history lives with him. There is no excuse."

    Sherman wouldn't say whether Carroll has lost his starting job for the next game, with Joey Thomas a candidate to slide in. A decision is expected to be rendered Wednesday.

    What happened to the Vikings offense?

    That was the question a day after the Vikings' 24-13 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their season opener.

    Quarterback Daunte Culpepper had five turnovers (three interceptions and two fumbles) and the lowest quarterback rating of his career (49.2); the offensive line, especially the interior players, failed to provide adequate blocking for the running game or sufficient protection for Culpepper; the running backs managed to gain a total of 26 yards on 16 carries; and the defense provided the team's only touchdown.

    This certainly wasn't the type of debut that coach Mike Tice or new offensive coordinator Steve Loney were looking for in the first game without receiver Randy Moss.

    "Offensively, it was atrocious," Tice said in his Monday afternoon news conference. "We had some not very good play inside, and we didn't play up to the speed at which our defense was playing at. We looked too big and too sluggish. We need to tighten some things up, a lot of things actually, to be honest with you."

    Tice did not vow to make any changes, although rookie right guard Marcus Johnson was benched in the fourth quarter Sunday in favor of Adam Goldberg. Even if Tice wants to start Goldberg at right guard against the Bengals, he might not have that luxury. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie suffered a sprained left foot against the Buccaneers, and if he has to miss time, Goldberg would be shifted to that position. That would force the Vikings to start Johnson.

    Tice made it clear he wasn't pleased with the inside blocking of center Cory Withrow or the guards, but is confident the problems can be corrected. "I just think that we need to settle some people down a little bit, get their steps lined up and make sure that we use the right techniques," he said.

    If that can be corrected, Tice feels it will take care of several issues and enable Culpepper to return to his 2004 Pro Bowl form. "When there is early pressure on the quarterback, your internal clock tends to speed up a little bit," Tice said. "You know you don't have as much time because you hadn't had that much time from... like the first snap on.

    "I think we have to make sure that 'A-gaps' are protected. Those are the two gaps closest to the center. I really believe in my heart that everything you do in protection starts at making sure that those 'A-gaps' are secure. They were not secure (against Tampa Bay). That is really where all the problems stem, quite honestly. We have to tighten that up."


  • Safety Darren Sharper, who returned an interception 88 yards for a touchdown in his Vikings debut, talked to his good friend and former Green Bay Packers teammate Javon Walker late Sunday after the receiver learned he would miss the rest of the season because of a torn ACL in his right knee.

    "It was tough for me to hold back some emotion when I saw it on the bottom of the screen," Sharper said. "I saw the game, actually had a chance to watch it, and saw the way he came down. I kind of knew he had messed it up pretty bad. I talked to him and he's a tough kid and a good kid who just has a positive look. He says he's going to come back stronger, and that's the type of attitude that he has. But it's hard for me to see a guy and a kid who has worked so hard because he busts his tail in the off-season and busts his tail throughout the season."

  • Tight end Jermaine Wiggins appeared to catch two touchdown passes in the second half against Tampa Bay, but both were wiped out by penalties. The first was for pass interference on Wiggins and the other was for an illegal block by receiver Nate Burleson. Despite the fact both calls were considered suspect, coach Mike Tice refused to criticize the officials.

    "I've decided that we don't gain anything from criticizing the officials," he said. "I thought they officiated a pretty damn good game. Maybe that's a change for our approach, probably one for the better."

  • Although the Vikings' defense played well in the loss to Tampa Bay, cornerback Fred Smoot was in his typical talking form when asked about the performance. "Not good enough, not good enough," he said of the defense. "You can expect us to go back to the drawing board, see what we did wrong and we're going to play 10 times better next week."
  • Brian Williams remains the Vikings' starting nickel back, although Ralph Brown replaced him in the second half of Sunday's game. "There is no conversation there," coach Mike Tice said. "Brian will be the guy."
  • Rookie punter Chris Kluwe had an outstanding debut with the Vikings after being picked up to replace veteran Darren Bennett.

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