Schroeder's Return Gives Offense Needed Boost

CHICAGO - Make no mistake about it, the Packers offense needed Bill Schroeder back in the starting lineup. On Sunday against the Chicago Bears, he delivered.

After spraining his ankle against the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 14, the sixth-year wide receiver missed the next two games while the Packers offense suffered through its slowest stretch of the season. As a result, the Packers were humiliated by the Vikings in Minnesota and slipped past the Buccaneers at Lambeau Field thanks to a game-winning punt return for a touchdown by Allen Rossum.

Against the Bears, however, the offense put together a strong showing with the return of Schroeder. His four catches for 100 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown reception from Brett Favre, helped pull the Packers (6-2) into a first place tie in the NFC Central with the Bears. The 20-12 victory at Soldier Field ended the Bears' six-game winning streak, which included two straight miracle overtime wins.

Packer players and coaches alike were quick to give Schroeder his due for playing a large part in a big win on a bum ankle. "Billy played great," said Favre. "Billy's done that for us all year... it's nice to have him back." "He's a key weapon," added fullback William Henderson. "Having him back in the lineup is always going to be a key. Billy's a great receiver as you saw on his first touchdown, a big one for him."

Trailing 6-3 late in the first half, the Packers were in their two-minute offense looking to carry some momentum into halftime. When Favre dropped back to pass with 55 seconds remaining, he found Schroeder down the left sideline, deep in the end zone for the Packers' first touchdown. Favre got more than ample time to throw on the play, and slowly dissected the Bears' zone defense before finding Schroeder. Safety Tony Parrish was late coming over on the play, and the Packers had their first lead of the game.

"It felt real good," said Schroeder of his touchdown. "I was beyond tired, just laying there. I knew I shouldn't get up. I was waiting for the ambulance to come and get me. It felt extremely good to be given the opportunity to play this week."

Oddly enough, Schroeder re-aggravated his ankle sprain somewhat on the touchdown celebration which followed with fellow bookend Antonio Freeman. It was not bad enough to keep him out of the game, however, even though head coach Mike Sherman gave him periodic breaks.

Schroeder felt he was limited in what he could do during the game and played with some discomfort, but knew he had to suit up based on the magnitude of the game.

"The last two weeks, I just felt I was letting the team down by not playing," he said. "This week, a lot of the players were coming up to me and saying, ‘Bill, we need you this week.' Whether it was just for my playing purposes or just being on the field, it was something I felt I needed to do."

As for the pain Schroeder had to play through, he said, "I didn't think about it. I just went with it. If it hurt, then I dealt with it."

Wide receiver Donald Driver, the regular No. 4 receiver in the offensive rotation, was held out of the game with a quadriceps injury. That shuffled the Packers' depth at the position, and made Schroeder's return to the lineup even more important.

"He definitely helped our offense having him out there," said Freeman. "Anytime you have a starter out of your offense, it's going to affect your production. Whether it's Schroeder, Ahman Green, Bubba Franks, myself... because you have a group of core guys that you are used to being around, and who you expect to have in there every play. But that's when you have to have other guys step up and make plays. But as a football player, it certainly was good to have him back out there. It gives us more options as a team."

Schroeder also caught passes of 17, 23 and, 19 yards in addition to his touchdown grab. The latter two catches helped set up a third quarter scoring drive for the Packers which culminated in a nine-yard touchdown pass to Freeman. That put the Packers up 17-9 at the 7:05 mark in the third quarter.

The Packers' offense looked more in rhythm than it has in the last month as well. Six different receivers caught at least two passes each, and after an early interception, Favre threw for 268 yards and two touchdowns. "I just think that by me coming back today, maybe that gave a spark to the team," said Schroeder. "It had nothing to do with giving them the boost that's been said all week long that, ‘We need Schroeder back.' That had nothing to do with it."

Then again, it may have. The Packers offense certainly looked better, and that may not have been just a coincidence.

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