While the Packers pulled out a 34-21 victory against Chicago last Sunday, there were definitely a few decisions that left you scratching your head. Those kinds of calls could be this team's undoing over the next three weeks when their margin of error is nil while making a postseason push.
At the end of the first half with the Packers trailing Chicago 14-13, Kordell Stewart was sacked for a nine-yard loss by Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila on third down with under 20 ticks remaining. With Chicago facing fourth-and-19 on the 50-yard line, no timeouts left, and the clock running, Green Bay inexplicably used their second timeout of the half allowing the Bears one last Hail Mary with five seconds to go.
Chicago had won four of their last six games and only missed field goals by the usually reliable Paul Edinger prevented the Bears from riding a six-game winning streak into Lambeau Field. Still mathematically in the hunt for a playoff spot and even an NFC North Division title, was it really the best decision to give Stewart a shot at the end zone? If the Packers had any Michigan alums on their roster, you can bet they would've been reminding Sherman about Stewart's Hail Mary to Michael Westbrook that beat the Wolverines back in 1994. And this has been just the type of season where someone would cash in on that kind of play to go up 21-13.
"It was a mistake on my part," Sherman said. "I was hoping I could block a punt and being a little bit too greedy there and it ended up backfiring and it will never happen again."
Luckily, Darren Sharper intercepted Stewart's pass in the end zone. But rather than take a knee to end the half, Sharper sprinted into the field of play. Last season, Sharper got in trouble for this kind of thing. Against Minnesota, it started a melee. But against the Bears, it didn't seem like the worst idea, being that Green Bay was down and in desperate need of a big play.
But if taking the time out that set up this play seemed curious. If running it out of the end zone seemed daring. Then Sherman suggesting that Sharper might've been better served had he lateraled the ball to a teammate is a little frightening.
"I was pretty happy because he bailed me out of a bad situation that I put us in," Sherman said. "I would have liked to see him, after that interception...I think on that last play, because of the scenario, I thought he did the right thing except I thought he could have lateraled the ball at some point there at the end because time had expired and that might have been able to get us a big play. But I didn't fault him for that return. It wasn't a return that was going to put anybody in real bad field position or so forth."
In Sherman's defense, Sharper did seem to have room to lateral the ball, but that's always a dicey play. After watching the Bears score on a 61-yard first quarter play, then take an interception 55-yards for a touchdown less than a minute later, how deflated would this Packer team have been if Chicago had managed to take a botched lateral attempt back in for six points? Paranoid? Perhaps, but at 6-6 heading into that contest, the Packers have had plenty of bounces go the other way. This was not a game for taking chances, it was a game for executing a plan that should've resulted in an inferior opponent being pummeled into submission.
Fast forward to the fourth quarter and you find two more calls that could've backfired, but fortunately didn't. After Packer cornerback Mike McKenzie took an interception 90-yards the other way to put Green Bay up 25-14, Sherman opted for a two-point conversion. A point after kick would've meant the Bears would need a touchdown, extra point and a field goal to tie. Try a two point and fail and the Bears could've taken the lead with two scores. There's a chart that NFL coaches have that outlines when you should go for two points. This wasn't one of those times. Sherman has said that while he uses the chart at times, other times he uses his gut. This time his gut worked and Bubba Franks' catch put the Pack up 27-14. But again, don't let the result cloud the decision. Eventually, it will catch up.
With 1:12 remaining, Sherman made his riskiest call, going for it on fourth-and-one at the Chicago 45-yard line. When you've got Ahman Green and maulers like Mike Flanagan, Marco Rivera and Chad Clifton in front of him, getting a first down to run out the clock shouldn't be a big gamble. But you probably thought that at the end of the Philadelphia game, too. Chicago stuffed Green and regained possession.
If it was anyone other than the Bears, this might've been bad. Another team would've been throwing to the end zone, looking for a tipped pass or pass interference that could've given them first-and-goal at the one-yard line. If they scored, they would've been an onside kick recovery and another score from winning. Far-fetched? Yes. But possible? Definitely. A punt would've forced Chicago to drive the length of the field with just over a minute left in the game.
Sherman might never be mentioned in the same breath as Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick or even Mike Shanahan and Dick Vermeil. But most weeks he's pretty good at what he does. He's got the best winning percentage (.688) of any coach in the league since the NFL instituted the salary cap in 1993, giving players unrestricted free agency, establishing parity and putting an even greater premium on coaching prowess.
Against Chicago, his team was able to win despite some questionable calls. But with the playoffs still in their sights, let's hope Sherman got all those out of his system. There are three games remaining and everyone in Green and Gold will need to step up their game. Even the coach.
W. Keith Roerdink is a freelance writer from Wausau, Wis. and a longtime contributor to the Packer Report. Check out his weekly Hot Read column every Thursday.