A fight to the finish

In the tale of the tape, Monday night's clash of heavyweights looks like George Foreman slugging it out with Larry Holmes. Today's Foreman and Holmes, not their vintage, champion selves.

The Green Bay Packers host the Tennessee Titans on Monday night. Both teams are 1-3, and their seasons are on the ropes. For the loser, a fourth loss in five games is a technical knockout. For the winner, a 2-3 start leaves it staggered but upright and still fighting.

"Well, it's not deep enough that we can't climb out of it — but it's pretty close," Packers quarterback Brett Favre said of the team's early-season hole. "No one, including myself, thought we would be 1-3. You never know what to expect any given year, but our expectations were a lot higher. And our character obviously will be tested."

The same is true of the Titans. Both teams came into this season with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. With Favre and Steve McNair at quarterback, both teams have a superstar gunslinger. Green Bay's Ahman Green is a superstar running back, while his Tennessee counterpart, Chris Brown, may be a superstar in the making.

The defenses, however, have let both teams down in a big way. After the preseason and the regular-season opener, Green Bay's defense was thought to have made big strides. Tennessee, meanwhile, always has a strong defense under coach Jeff Fisher. Instead, Green Bay's defense ranks 26th in the league despite a stellar debut against Carolina. Tennessee's defense is in the middle of the pack but is tied for 23rd with Green Bay in run defense and is dead last by allowing 5.5 yards per rush.

"If we don't improve our run defense, there is not a back in the National Football League that won't make us look bad," Fisher said.

The tie in rushing defense isn't the only ugly similarity between the teams' defenses. The Packers have allowed 94 points to the Titans' 91. Both teams' defenses have seven quarterback sacks. Both teams' defenses have only three interceptions.

"We have to play a helluva lot better than we've been playing," Packers coach Mike Sherman said.

Qualifying for the playoffs at 1-3 isn't impossible. The Favre-led Packers turned the trick in 1993. Getting to the playoffs at 1-4 isn't impossible, either, but it's been done only eight times in the long history of the NFL. The Titans pulled off the turnaround in 2002, with Fisher's crew finishing 10-1 and advancing to the AFC championship game before falling to Oakland. That history means nothing, Fisher says, since the cast of characters has changed.

You can say, ‘Hey, we have done it before,' but you don't want to go there," Fisher said. "The solution is the same, regardless of what year it happened or what your team consists of and what the makeup is and who is a part of it. When you lose games in a row, you have to pull yourself out of it."

And that starts with Monday's game. Both teams know you can't go on a long winning streak without that initial step.

"We're not in a position to make predictions or promises or anything like that," said Favre, whose Super Bowl-or-bust declaration is far closer to bust at the quarter pole of the season. "We have to find a way to win this football game. Tennessee feels the same way."


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