Return Game Suffers Big Blow

With Allen Rossum sidelined three to five weeks, Antonio Freeman, Charles Lee, Robert Ferguson or a free agent will be returning kicks and punts for the Green Bay Packers.

The Packers' lackluster return game was dealt a huge blow when Rossum suffered a meniscus tear in his right knee during the Packers' Thanksgiving Day victory over the Detroit Lions. Rossum injured his knee during the first half and was replaced in the second half by Freeman.

Green Bay has been ranked in the bottom five in the league in punt and kickoff returns throughout this season. Rossum's injury also affects the Packers' secondary when he has been playing in the ‘dime' defense in recent weeks.

"Right now I'm looking at guys that we can bring here," said Packers coach Mike Sherman. "That's an avenue I can take if I didn't think Rossum could be back in three weeks. It's up in the air right now. I hope to have an answer by next week.

"We know ‘Free' can get us the catch. I feel confident he can secure the football. Maybe Charles Lee can give us something, or (Robert) Ferguson can give us something. There is security with a head coach knowing a guy is going to catch it, number one."

Freeman returned punts during a four-game stretch earlier this season when Rossum was out with a hamstring injury. He averaged 5.7 yards per return. Backup running back Rondell Mealey handled kick returns during Rossum's absence, returning four for 63 yards (15.8 yard avg.).

Aside from Rossum's game-winning 55-yard punt return for a touchdown Nov. 4 against Tampa Bay, the Packers return teams have been lousy. Green Bay ranks 28th in punt-return average (7.7-yard avg.) and last in kickoff-return average (16.4 avg.). Injuries during various stretches to players like K.D. Williams and Rossum haven't helped, but Sherman desperately wants those units to improve.

"Even when we had Rossum back there ... we didn't block very well. It's a little discouraging as an offense to always start on the 18-, 19-yard line," said Sherman. "Maybe we'll make some changes on how we do things and change the players."

Brown holds up: Besides Rossum, the Packers escaped Pontiac without any serious injuries.

Nose tackle Gilbert Brown, who sat out of Green Bay's loss against Atlanta and only played about five snaps Nov. 11 against Chicago, held up. Sherman said he expects Brown, who has been slowed by groin and thigh injuries, to be able to start for the rest of the season.

"He didn't reinjure anything in the game," Sherman said.

Brett Favre entered the game with a sore back after the pounding he took four days earlier against Atlanta. Favre was thrown to the turf hard by defensive end Robert Porcher, who was flagged for roughing the passer, but was OK afterward.

Last time the charm: The Packers played their final game against the Lions in the Silverdome. The Lions will play at new Ford Field, a domed stadium, in downtown Detroit beginning next year.

Green Bay finished with a 9-18 record in the Silverdome, home of the Lions since 1975. Ford Field will host Super Bowl XL on Feb. 5, 2006.

On a roll: Nate Wayne's career-high third interception in the third quarter is the fourth this season for Packers linebackers. The Packers linebackers didn't have any interceptions in 2000 and had just five sacks. This year they have seven, led by Wayne's 4.5.

Middle linebacker Bernardo Harris and Wayne each had interceptions against the Falcons on Nov. 18, the first time since Week 7 of 1997 that the Packers had two interceptions in one game by their linebackers. Prior to Green Bay's game against Atlanta, the Packers had just five interceptions in their previous 65 games. Back in there: Barry Stokes started for the third straight game at left tackle on offense for the Packers, but Chad Clifton was eased into the mix during the second and fourth quarters. Clifton has been hobbled since Nov. 4 with a sprained ankle.

"Barry Stokes ... I can't say enough about a guy like Barry Stokes," said Sherman. "He's from Michigan. He's worked his butt off. He wanted to start this game, but it is Chad's position. Barry has played well for us. I had no hesitation about Barry Stokes, but it is ‘Cliff's' position. You don't lose a position by injury, so we wanted to give Cliff a chance to play as well."

Clifton is expected to start Dec. 3 at Jacksonville.

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