Sherman to shareholders: Forget Philly game

Packers fans, players and coaches have had more than six months to stew over January's bitter playoff defeat at Philadelphia. For those reliving fourth-and-26 like some sort of disturbed version of "Groundhog Day," Packers coach Mike Sherman has some advice.

"Let's put to rest the end of last season right now."

While admitting several times the Packers "probably should have won that game," Sherman sees the glass as half full rather than half empty. With 21 of last season's 22 starters coming back — assuming Mike McKenzie shows up — there's plenty of reason for optimism, Sherman said during his presentation at Wednesday's shareholders meeting in the Resch Center.

"Disappointment is different than discouragement," Sherman said. "Disappointment is something that happened because you missed four, five plays in a ballgame. There's no need to be discouraged because you should be encouraged by the team we have coming back."

The Packers finished last season strong, winning seven of their last nine games to rally to the NFC North championship. The offense emerged as one of the league's most lethal and the defense went from awful to good enough, with the reversal coinciding with the signing of mammoth defensive tackle Grady Jackson.

The Packers ended the season ranked 10th in the league in run defense but were among the top handful of teams in the second half of the campaign.

Everything cascaded from there. With Jackson helping create more third-and-6s than third-and-3s, the third-down defense finished 14th overall but was ranked second after the bye. With offenses facing more third-and-longs, the turnovers came in waves. Nearly half of the turnovers forced by the defense came in the last five games.

Suddenly, the Packers were a dominant team. A team that was so unsure of itself early, especially after a Week 1 loss at home to Minnesota, considered itself nearly unbeatable by Week 17.

"In the last five ball games I thought our team had a swagger that I hadn't seen since the Super Bowl years," Sherman said. "They really believed in themselves. They had the ability, the power and the chemistry to take it the entire way.

"But the core of those guys is coming back. They will still have that belief when they come in. We will not allow that to escape us. My biggest challenge is to make sure we have that chemistry, character and confidence."

Assuming the Packers have recovered from that loss at Philly, that shouldn't be a problem. The offense's star players, Ahman Green and Brett Favre, aren't players who rest on their laurels. The offensive line emerged as perhaps the league's best by season's end, and there's no reason to believe they won't be that good this coming season, either.

"The thing about this football team, more so than any time I've been here, is the hunger that they have," Sherman said. "They're tremendously hungry to start the season, they're tremendously hungry to win football games and they're tremendously hungry to win championships. You can count on that."

If the off-season counted in the standings, the Packers would be 1-0 by Sherman's reasoning. His four-part plans to improve the offense and defense were a rousing success.

On offense:

1. Goal: Keep the starting offensive line intact and add depth.

Result: Re-signed Chad Clifton and added Canadian Football League player Steve Morley to be a backup guard and tackle.

2. Goal: Add a third tight end.

Result: Signed Cardinals free agent Steve Bush, who shined during minicamp, and developed Tony Donald in NFL Europe.

3. Goal: Find a fourth receiver.

Result: Impressed by the play of Carl Ford, Scott Vines, Chris Jackson and Antonio Chatman in the minicamps.

4. Upgrade at No. 2 quarterback.

Result: Signed former Cleveland starter and No. 1 overall pick Tim Couch.

On defense:

1. Goal: Re-sign free agents

Result: Signed Jackson, Larry Smith and Michael Hawthorne.

2. Goal: Solve weakness at safety.

Result: Signed Bengals free agent Mark Roman to battle holdovers Marques Anderson and Bhawoh Jue.

3. Goal: Find a pass rusher.

Result: No luck. "There aren't many pass rushers available," Sherman said, adding he hoped someone on his roster would step up like Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila did three seasons ago. "Kabeer was not even a consideration as a pass rusher," Sherman noted.

4. Replace departed punter Josh Bidwell

Result: Drafted B.J. Sander in the third round and signed Travis Dorsch and Australian Nathan Chatman. Sander doesn't have a huge leg but excels at placing the ball, unlike the touchback-prone Bidwell.

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