The Packers were shellshocked from the opening drive, and the dazed-and-confused look lingered on the sideline, with defensive coordinator Bob Slowik admitting that he was too slow to change what was clearly broken.
"Looking back on it, I didn't feel I helped the guys enough with the calls," Slowik said. "In hindsight, shoot, we shouldn't have exposed them like that. They did a great job and I did a poor job. I take the hit."
For all but about three plays in the first quarter, Slowik relied on his base defensive scheme of four linemen, three linebackers, a lot of blitzing and a keen eye to stop the run. The Colts handled the blitz with ease — Manning was only hit twice on those 22 first-quarter throws — and were able to dissect the Packers' injury-riddled secondary. While the linebackers were preoccupied with the run, Manning used play-action fakes to throw over the top.
"We threw because of their blitz looks," Manning said. "The have some looks where they put more guys in the box than you have to block. We just said we're not going to have run plays called and keep checking to the pass. We said we're going to keep throwing, throwing, throwing until they say, ‘OK, we're going to drop eight guys.' They didn't really back off the blitzes until the second half, so you keep firing."
With first-round pick Ahmad Carroll out with a groin strain, possible starter Mike McKenzie out with a sore hamstring and starter Michael Hawthorne hobbled with an injured ankle, the Packers were defenseless against the talented Colts offense. But instead of dropping more players back into coverage, Slowik continued to blitz, leaving his short-handed secondary to defend one-on-one.
Green Bay's starting cornerbacks, Hawthorne and Al Harris, are perfect for the NFC North. At 6-foot-3, Hawthorne is ideal to face the division's numerous big receivers. Harris is one of the more physical corners in the league, also well suited for the division's big receivers. Neither are blessed with speed, however, and they were tortured by the Colts' quick receivers, who are made even quicker on the artificial turf.
Manning especially picked on Hawthorne. While some of the receptions came when Hawthorne was out of the lineup after being shaken up in the first quarter, Reggie Wayne finished with 11 catches for 184 yards and a touchdown. When Hawthorne was out, rookie Jason Horton was the whipping boy du jour. In fact, Manning only rarely threw to his right, which is where All-Pro Marvin Harrison generally lined up. Instead, he concentrated on Wayne and slot receiver Brandon Stokley, who caught eight passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Stokley's gaudy numbers would have been off the charts if not for having a Manning bomb bounce off his facemask to prevent a 72-yard touchdown.
With the Packers staying in their base defense for most of the first half, Hawthorne acknowledged the obvious after the game by saying: "We had no way to match up."
Said Packers coach Mike Sherman: "They did an outstanding job of exploiting us. You have to give them all the credit. We played a multitude of coverages and looks and trying to cause some confusion for the quarterback. Obviously, we did not do that. (Manning) performed, as he does, in stellar fashion."
In the second half, Sherman and Slowik pulled linebackers Na'il Diggs and Hannibal Navies in favor of extra defensive backs. The alignment worked as Manning and Co. were held to 10 second-half points. The success begs the question: Why did the Packers stay in their base unit so long?
"The dime helped us somewhat. It slowed them down somewhat but I doubt seriously we could have played the dime package the whole day," Slowik said.