Last week, the Packers' prolific offense was the toast of the town. Just add water, however, and the Pack attack looked it was on a treadmill. They kept moving, but miscues kept them from getting where they wanted to go.
How much did the wet conditions – a steady drizzle with temperatures in the 30s - factor in to the Packers' 17-14 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles at Lambeau Field?
"The weather certainly affected the ball game," Packers coach Mike Sherman said. "It affected our attempt to throw the football. It seemed to affect us more than it affected them, and that concerns me."
The Packers had six fumbles, losing two, plus an interception. Meanwhile, the Eagles, who entered the game with 11 takeaways and a minus-4 turnover ratio, didn't cough up the ball at all despite the blustery conditions.
The most noticeable effect of the weather was the three times the ball slipped out of quarterback Brett Favre's hand before his arm was moving forward. The Eagles came up with it only once, but that time it sealed the game. With just 8 seconds left from the Eagles' 42, the Packers had to move at least five yards, then stop the clock in time to give kicker Ryan Longwell a chance to tie it up. Instead the ball moved backwards, out of Favre's hand and into the arms of Eagle's DT Darwin Walker.
"Part of it was what they were doing, part of it was that (the weather) it affected us for whatever reason, and the ball came out of my hand three times," Favre said. "The conditions dictated what we could do."
Favre discounted any problems caused by the splint on his broken thumb. He acknowledged that the splint and the weather made for a bad combination, but said there are "no excuses."
Likewise, Ahman Green dampened the enthusiasm surrounding his record-breaking night with two fumbles in the first quarter.
"The ball was slick, I had a problem gripping it," Green said. "It was a matter of focusing a little more and having the right equipment. It was a matter of trying to adjust to the conditions."
Sherman emphasized that despite the weather, the only "condition" the Packers couldn't overcome was their lack of scoring.
"What we didn't do was score enough points to win," Sherman said.
The scoring production, the Packers' second-lowest of the year, would have been a moot point if the Packers didn't rain on their own parade. While the Eagles didn't capitalize directly on any of their takeaways, the Packer turnovers all occurred in Philadelphia territory. Green's first fumble came after he posted back-to-back runs of 32 and 9 yards during the Packers first foray into Eagles' territory and the only such venture of the first quarter. Meanwhile, Favre's first fumble was recovered by Packer center Mike Flanagan, but did cause an 18-yard loss, resulting in a punt. It happened again in the second quarter, three plays after the Packers were handed a second chance due to the Eagles' neutral zone infraction before a punt.
The second time the Packers marched into disaster struck again. And again, it came at the hand of a playmaker. Favre, already charged with two fumbles when the ball slipped out of his hand during a pass, let it fly directly into the arms of former teammate Nate Wayne. The play added the proverbial insult to injury as Wayne had drummed Favre for an 11-yard sack loss on the previous play. The former Packer first took Green Bay out of field goal range, then put his team into it.
More evidence that Packers could conquer the weather: it seemed inevitable that the conditions would hamper a two-minute drill opportunity at the end of the first half, but Favre and Co. to stage a textbook drive, proceeding as if on dry land. Green Bay's scoring drive took five efficient plays to go 54 yards in 1:07, culminating in Favre's 24 –yard touchdown pass to Green.
Before that, neither offense could shake off the rain, so the first-half highlight reel didn't have much to show unless you're a big fan of Josh Bidwell and Dirk Johnson. In the first quarter, each team had three punts, and in all six cases there was no return attempted. The parade of punts continued in the second quarter, with five more punts interrupted only by Favre's interception and David Akers' missed field goal.
Longwell suffered his first missed field goal attempt of the season, breaking a regular-season streak of 14. Longwell's last miss also came in the rain Dec. 15, 2002 on a 42-yard attempt in the Packers' 20-14 win in San Francisco's 3Com Park.
Likewise, the usually sure-footed Akers missed a 47-yard field goal with 5:04 remaining in the first half. His kick fell wide to the right and low, as Philly squandered the only real scoring attempt of the game so far. The miss was Akers' second of the year, with his only other coming in Week 7 win over the Jets.
Other miscues can be attributed to the slick football and treacherous footing:
- James' Thrash's 51-yard reception featured either a slip by defender Mike McKenzie, a push-off by Thrash, or both.
- A wide-open L.J. Smith watched a softly-thrown pass from McNabb slide right through his hands deep in the Packer red zone. Although Todd Pinkston managed to hang onto the ball on the Eagle's third-and-goal pass, it wasn't enough and they had to settle for a field goal.
It wasn't until the final decisive minutes that the Packers and Eagles looked like two teams playing in different conditions. After stopping the Eagles on fourth down, all the Packers had to do was string together a first down or two to salt the game away. But Green Bay went three-and-out. Fullback William Henderson caught a pass from Favre on third-and-five, but lost his footing and couldn't drag the tackler to the first-down marker. After a sub-standard 34-yard punt by the busy Bidwell, the Eagles made the field look short – and dry.