Stink bomb

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – If there ever was a time for the Green Bay Packers to see just how they measure up against the best that the NFC has to offer, it was on Sunday. But by the time the St. Louis Rams grabbed half of the eight gifts that the Packers brought with them to the Dome at America's Center, it was too late.<p>

The Rams dashed to a 31-10 lead early in the third quarter and there was no Little League point-rule in effect to call it. When it was over, the Rams cruised to a 45-10 win, using six interceptions off star quarterback Brett Favre to produce 35 of their total points.

For as much as the Packers stunk, the Rams are not that almighty. The eight turnovers left a haze between the two teams for now. The Packers can clear the smoke, but they'll have to wait until next season to try while the Rams (15-2) play for their second Super Bowl appearance in three seasons.

"If we had fumbled and stumbled enough previous to this point, we wouldn't be here," said Packers coach Mike Sherman. "I'd much rather be in the arena being challenged and losing than not be in the arena at all. That's where we were today. We were in the arena. We were challenged and we lost. We'll get another chance next year, I promise you that."

For some reason, despite coaching the Ugliest Show on Turf, there is reason to believe Sherman. The Packers won 13 games this season, far more than anyone expected, nearly won the NFC's Central Division and advanced to the divisional playoffs. Aside from Sunday, Favre enjoyed one of his better seasons and nearly won his fourth MVP award. The defense improved. Ahman Green had a Pro Bowl season, and many of the younger players gained a ton of experience, especially in the playoffs.

Favre likened the loss Sunday to the days when Dallas used to whip on the Packers regularly in Texas Stadium, an almost domed stadium with that evil artificial surface. Favre says he plans to fire up his tractor and cut a lot of grass on his 400-plus acre spread in Mississippi this off-season, looking ahead to bigger and better games for the Packers. There is plenty of reason to believe Favre that the Packers will be back.

Maybe the loss to the Rams, an embarrassing one indeed, will encourage the team to focus a little more consistently during the regular season next year. This year, the team seemed to stumble after big victories. The Packers lost games that they were expected to win. If they can win a few of those games next year, it is not inconceivable to think that the Packers can overcome the Chicago Bears and win the "new" NFC North Division title.

"We will be back next year," said Favre, talking soft and visibly disappointed afterward. "I will be back. My plan is to make everyone forget about today."

If anything, the Packers showed that they can play with the Rams. They are the first team this season to hold St. Louis under 300 total yards of offense (292) in a game. Maybe that's because the defense was scoring so often, but take away the turnovers and it's a much different game. If K.D. Williams isn't caught for holding on Allen Rossum's 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, it's 21-14, instead of 21-7 in the second quarter. Take away two-thirds of the Packers' turnovers and it's a much different game.

And "if chickens had lips they could whistle," said Favre.

So it's back to the drawing board. But the board is that much better this season than it was last season at this time. With a key move or two to upgrade their current personnel, the Packers should be able to achieve everything they did this year and more.

If that happens, the Packers just may get another shot at seeing how they stand up to the Rams.

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