Commentary: Super Bowl or bust goes bust

Barring a turnaround bordering on miraculous, this season is over. Four games into it, a season with such high hopes is on the verge of blowing up in Hindenburg fashion.

The Packers are 1-3, and with Tennessee visiting Lambeau Field on "Monday Night Football" next, they are staring at 1-4. That's 1-4 with an 0-3 Lambeau Field record. After that the Packers play at Detroit, where Green Bay always struggles. A team many of us thought had a real chance to win the Super Bowl realistically could be 1-5 two weeks from now.

The Packers' pulse is fading and you wonder if Mike Sherman can find the number for 9-1-1 in his Rolodex.

You want some evidence? Grab a beer to cry in and make yourself comfortable.

1. The Packers were beaten by a tight end Sunday against the Giants. It wasn't Pro Bowler Jeremy Shockey, however. Some guy named Visanthe Shiancoe — you don't have to remember the name because you'll never hear it again — provided the big blocks on the Giants' three biggest plays Sunday: Tiki Barber's 52-yard touchdown, Barber's 38-yard run to set up the winning touchdown, and Barber's 17-yard dash on third-and-8 in the final 2:30.

2. Ed Donatell was run out of town for being the defensive coordinator on fourth-and-26, but how many of you wouldn't trade his replacement, Bob Slowik, for Donatell right about now? Donatell is defensive coordinator in Atlanta, which is 4-0. Slowik's defense, meanwhile, couldn't stop a snowball from melting in Antarctica.

3. The coaching has been awful. Against Indianapolis last week, Slowik stubbornly stuck with his base defense while the Colts put five touchdowns on the scoreboard by halftime. It's not against the rules to change the plan on the fly. Sunday against the Giants, with the Packers behind 14-7, 56 yards from the tying touchdown, no timeouts and just 15 seconds left in the game, the coaches inserted third-string quarterback Craig Nall to utilize his strong arm. Good move, but in perhaps the most brain-dead play call in the long and proud history of the franchise, Nall had four receivers to choose from. One was Donald Driver, who ran a short route in an attempt to pick off Javon Walker's man. Tight end Bubba Franks ran straight down the middle. Receivers Robert Ferguson and Walker ran post routes that took them to the middle of the field. With no timeouts, the Packers needed a completion by the sideline to stop the clock. Nall didn't have that option. Nall completed his pass to Ferguson, who was immediately tackled and the final seconds ticked away. Furthermore, the Packers were the third-least penalized team in the league last season but have the sixth most this season.

4. The home mystique is gone. The Packers were 22-3 in the first 25 home games under Sherman, but have won just six of their last 12 at Lambeau Field. If the Packers lose Monday to the Titans, they will be 6-7 at Lambeau dating to the January 2003 playoff loss to Atlanta. "We don't have a mystique at home," safety Darren Sharper said. "There ain't no mystique. Teams come in playing like we are playing in the backyard. The mystique thing is overrated. It's overrated because we need to play. It don't matter where you're playing. We're playing on the same football field."

5. Remember all that good fortune last year? Remember Brett Favre lighting up Oakland after his father's death? Remember Arizona's miraculous victory over Minnesota to get the Packers into the playoffs? Well, the Packers used up all that luck last season. Favre, moments after having his head bounce off the Lambeau Field turf, ran onto the field and threw yet another legendary touchdown pass. But instead of the Packers riding that inspiration to victory, they gave up a deflating 52-yard touchdown run moments later.

6. The Packers were healthy last season. The starting offensive line was together for all 16 games. This season, center Mike Flanagan is out for the season, Favre hasn't been able to finish the last two games, the top two nose tackles are on the sideline and the secondary has more injuries than a 20-car pileup.

7. Mike McKenzie played like a Pro Bowler last season. This season, as he nursed his, ahem, ailing hamstring, he was such a jerk that he couldn't even watch the game from the sideline. Meantime, with Sherman in a tizzy to get McKenzie up to speed, he put rookies Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas on the backburner, slowing their development. I don't think the Packers can win without him, but it's clear then couldn't win with him. So good riddance, but why did the Packers bother rushing McKenzie into the lineup if they were going to trade him?

8. The playmakers aren't making plays, especially on defense. The Packers have a ton of money invested in defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt, defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Sharper. Sharper had a gift-wrapped interception Sunday, but for the most part this trio has been as invisible as the air you breathe. Promising young linebacker Nick Barnett hasn't made a tackle of significance all season and too often overruns plays that turn into big gains. Running back Ahman Green has made a lot of big plays, including one for the opponents in both Lambeau losses. With the exception of Walker, the much-hyped receiving corps has been average at best.

9. Slowik's defense was supposed to create big plays not give them up by the bushel. The Packers finished 10th in forced turnovers and 20th in sacks last season under Donatell. After Sunday's game, they are tied for 17th in turnovers. Thanks to four sacks of the plodding decision making of Giants quarterback Kurt Warner, the Packers climbed from 30th to a tie for 19th in sacks. On most passing plays, however, Warner could have bagged a whole cart of groceries without being touched by the rush.

10. The Packers lack a killer instinct. The Giants outplayed the Packers in every respect Sunday but the game was still there for the taking. The Giants missed three makable field goals and Warner threw an interception in the end zone when he telegraphed a pass into triple coverage. By all rights the Packers should have lost 30-7, but instead they had a pulse in the final moments. Championship teams can snatch victory from jaws of defeat. Bad teams snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Favre proclaimed this season Super Bowl or bust, and it's clearly a bust through the first four games. Even if the Packers can turn this around, they'd have to finish 9-3 just to get to 10 wins and have a shot at the postseason. With games against Tennessee, Minnesota (twice), St. Louis, Philadelphia and Jacksonville left on the schedule, Green has a better chance of learning to run with the ball in his right hand than the Packers have of getting back to the playoffs.

Huber writes for packerreport.com. Contact him via e-mail at packwriter@hotmail.com


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