Hot Read: Packers season veering off course

The 2003 Green Bay Packers are starting to resemble that lemon you brought home from the car lot. You know the one. It looked so good sitting there all shiny, with the sun reflecting off it. All the reviews said it was a can't miss performer and that fast-talking guy in the sport coat said it was ready for the long haul. But now it's sputtering, conking out on you and fallen short of nearly all your expectations after just three short weeks.<p>

Someone might want to see if there's a factory warranty on an NFL team.

Staring up from two games back in the NFC North Division standings at 1-2, the Packers are exactly where they should be, given their abysmal play on both sides of the ball. Even more troubling is the fact that this occurred during the easiest stretch of their schedule. If you can't win the season opener when you're re-dedicating your stadium or a road match up with one of the worst teams of the past decade, what will you do when you face the Chiefs, Buccaneers or Broncos?

Green Bay lost four of their last five games dating back to last season, but at least the Jets and Falcons were top-caliber teams riding hot streaks at the time. Minnesota seems to be better than advertised -- at least they were before Daunte Culpepper cracked a couple bones in his back -- but they were without their top running back and tight end when they came to town.

The 31-6 win against Detroit, while impressive on its own, means little when followed by the embarrassing 20-13 loss at Arizona. What have you proved if you beat up on one of the NFL's weak siblings one week only to be trounced by another the next? Not much. And even in their win over the Lions, the Packers struggled to throw deep and or register a sack.

In Arizona, the wheels officially fell off. If this team really were your car, there wouldn't have been enough warning lights or alarms to indicate everything that went wrong in this defeat. Special teams aside, there wasn't an offensive or defensive unit that came close to performing up to snuff. What made the end result even harder to stomach was that after watching the first three quarters, the game pretty much played out as expected.

Against Jeff Blake; a short, old, cast-off quarterback, Emmitt Smith; a past-his-prime future Hall of Fame running back, and a pair of rookie wide receivers, the Packers looked like dispassionate zombies going through the motions on most plays. Green Bay may have expected to win this game, but give Arizona credit because they did not expect to lose.

The seven minute-plus drive that the Cardinals put together in the third quarter was when the game really ended. If Blake had been anymore comfortable in the pocket he would've been holding a cup of Gatorade in his other hand and anything resembling a pass rush was merely a mirage in the desert heat. Where were the sacks from the $95 million defensive line? And while Blake is known to look downfield, he found paydirt all day long on intermediate routes against a Packer secondary that played more too-deep zone than two-deep zone.

Meanwhile, Brett Favre and the offense were stymied by an Arizona defense that had given up 80 points over the previous two weeks. Forget the game-ending interception by Dexter Jackson in the end zone, this game should never have come down to that. After rushing for 160 yards against Detroit, Ahman Green had just 53 yards on 21 carries. Favre was 10-10 with four minutes left in the first half, but his longest pass of the day was just 23 yards to running back Tony Fisher. His leading receiver on the day was fullback William Henderson. That wasn't a winning formula at Tempe and won't be at Chicago, St. Louis or Green Bay, for that matter.

If the Packers had scored on that final drive, Head Coach Mike Sherman said he would've gone for two points. Considering how much trouble Green Bay had getting in the end zone prior to that, it's a tough decision to support. But play calling has been on par with execution thus far this season and that decision would've proved as questionable as punting with an inch to go on fourth down.

Now Green Bay's preparing to head to Chicago for a Monday Night Football match-up in the newly renovated Soldier Field. One can only hope the Packers recall the reception they got from the Vikings at their open house and pay it forward on the Bears. The good news for the Packers is that they rarely play two terrible games in a row. Of course at that rate, they'll end the season 8-8. Based on what they've shown so far, that sounds about right.

(W. Keith Roerdink is a freelance writer from Wausau, Wis. and longtime contributor to the Packer Report. Check out his weekly Hot Read column each Thursday.)

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