All eyes on Longwell

Placekicker Ryan Longwell will be under the microscope when the Packers take on the Tennessee Titans Sunday at Adelphia Coliseum.<p> The unusual attention being paid to special teams is a red flag that something has gone wrong this season. Since his arrival in 1997, Longwell had proven to be a part of the team that didn't require a moment's worry.<P>

Now the Packers are faced with a undeniable Longwell slump, and this time it's a double whammy. Kickoffs, never his forte, have been far short, setting up opponents near mid-field. After shaking off an early-season field goal slump, Longwell has begun another slide. Some of the field goal misses are explainable: wind, distance, blocks, bad snap, whatever. But now he's missed two of his last three, including one blocked due to a low kick out of a textbook hold. Time to stop explaining and start examining.

"I really haven't had too many bumps in the road for four years," Longwell said. "When they all kind of come at once "

That's true. Since the surprise rookie free agent out of Cal earned the job away from third-round draft pick Brett Conway in '97, Longwell has been the picture of poise. Entering this season he held the NFL record for highest career field goal percentage at 84.73. He recently passed Chester Marcol on the FG list with 125 (through the Bear game) to move into second place on the team's all-time list. Longwell stands at No. 4 on the Packers' all-time scoring list, with 566, passing Marcol and Jim Taylor already this season. After only four seasons here, Longwell holds seven team records and is tied for two other club marks.

Now the bad news. Longwell is 14/22 on field goal attempts through 12 games, meaning he's already missed more in 2001 – with four games to go – than he had in his first four seasons. His 4-year streak of 100-point seasons is in jeopardy.

The slump remains a mystery, but not for lack of trying on the part of the Packers and especially Longwell himself. Corrective measures have included practicing outdoors and reducing physical wear-and-tear from repetitions and training.

For Longwell, the most important factor in halting his erratic performance is his confidence. While field goals fly left or right and kickoffs whither far short of the end zone, Longwell's faith and confidence remain steadfastly on course.

"I have great faith in myself and I have great faith in my faith," Longwell said. "I know that trials are put in your life to learn, and you either get better or you get worse. I think I am a much better person - not that I was a bad person - but I think I am a much better person after going through this than I would have been having not gone through this."

"My confidence is at a very high level, despite what most people would think," Longwell said. "I have great faith in my abilities and I think I am hitting the ball well. I will go out and approach it the same way: I hit the ball and do my thing."

While the Packers allow the likeable kicker to soul search, they're trying to get him some outside help as well. Head coach Mike Sherman has placed some of the responsibility for opponents field position on the shoulders of the coverage team.

"We are not perfect there, but I think we are pretty good there," Novak said. "I think we have improved since the beginning of the year."

Sherman said he wasn't concerned that Longwell was losing confidence.

"I think kickers are like golfers or baseball players," Sherman said. "There are good times and then you might go into a little bit of a funk, and you just have to have the confidence in yourself and what you've done in the past. It's not like he hasn't done it. He has done it."

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