Green Bay pulled its usual December magic, and this year made it last just a little longer as they not only made it to the second round but were competitive once they got there. That's a big change from any other year in coach Mike Sherman's tenure so far.
The Packers outscored opponents 142-52 in December, holding the Broncos to a field goal by the time the finale rolled around. In the Packers' final eight quarters of the regular season, they allowed just one TD. Granted, these defensive stands did not come against championship-caliber squads, but can certainly be considered a building block.
After a lucky break sent his team to the playoffs, coach Mike Sherman reflected on the good feelings generated by the Packers down the stretch.
"To win seven out of our last nine -- four in a row -- I think it speaks volumes for the type of people that we have in that locker room. I don't know if we are the most talented team out there, but I would find it hard pressed to find a team that cares about one another as much as they do and enjoys one another, is willing to work hard to get where they want to get and is accountable for their mistakes. You tell them what they did wrong and they fix it. So as a coach that is magical to have a team like that."
4. The number four thing to look forward to is No. 4.
Brett Favre still wants to win with this team.
The fact that he didn't talk after the playoff loss could actually be interpreted as a good sign – and a wise move. While Favre shoulders the most direct blame for the interception, fingers could also be pointed at Sherman in several instances and probably Javon Walker's interpretation of the route as well. Favre may have been following the adage "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."
When he broke his silence in a press conference following his Snickers "Hungriest Player" award, he confirmed that:
"I felt like at the time I didn't have a lot of good things to say," Favre said. "I didn't have a lot to say, period. Anyone in my position, if it means enough to you, could understand where I was coming from.
Favre has certainly earned the right to keep his thoughts private for as long as he pleases. His commitment to not burning bridges speaks volumes about his continued commitment to this team. In a television interview following the press conference, Favre said he still feels like he can be the best, and said when he's out on the field he still feels like he can accomplish any goal.
That's not the talk of the defeated or depleted.
3. This team needs detail work, not demolition.
The offensive line is rock solid. Longwell could kick here for another decade – or more. Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport are an unparalleled one-two punch. In the receiving corps, the Packers are one small step away. Ferguson, Driver and Walker are a serviceable trio that needs to take it up a notch to reach the high level their QB deserves. A talented free agent could fit the bill there as well. A more threatening pass rush is a must, but Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Grady Jackson are not to be taken lightly. Like the receivers, the defensive line needs a higher level of play or big-name help, but are not a lost cause.
2 . With just a couple of notable exceptions, the team is young. The receiving corps and secondary are almost painfully young, with Darren Sharper as one of the DBs' veteran leaders at the ripe old age of 28. The offensive line is another good example of an entire unit that is already effective with perhaps its best years ahead. Working to re-sign Chad Clifton is evidence that the Packers understand this.
Ferguson made giant steps in his growth as a football player. He played hurt, he made big-time plays and he even turned into something of a team spokesman. Barnett has a chance to go down in history as a stroke of GM genius by Sherman. With a sea of linebackers from which to choose, Sherman came up with a relative unknown. But those who did know him had nothing but good things to say about the Oregon State product. Barnett made the transition to the pros in impressive fashion… His shortcomings on the infamous 4th-and-26 play shouldn't overshadow a fantastic rookie year. The small mistakes that added up to big heartbreak vs. Philly were myriad.
Is it likely that the Packers can parlay a memorable 2003 season into a more consistent and ultimately more successful 2004 campaign? We can't say for sure, but we do know that it is a lot more likely than Jerry Jones doing back handsprings.