Sidelines: A sigh of relief

Many positives to take from exhibition opener

We told you there was no need to panic after last week's dreadful Packer performance in the controlled scrimmage with the Buffalo Bills. Likewise, despite Green Bay's overall adequate if unspectacular play against the San Diego Chargers Thursday night, it's probably a wee bit early to make your reservations in Detroit to watch the Packers in the Super Bowl.

But this game, the first pre-season contest of 2005, offered enough encouraging signs to keep Packer fans content for at least another week. Before the rainshowers chased home many of the 69,611 fans who had filled Lambeau Field, they got to see several positive signs for the home team.

It all began with quarterback Brett Favre who played until midway in the second quarter. If Favre wasn't in mid-season form, he seemed close to it. He completed 9 of 10 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions for a gaudy quarterback rating of 137.9. He scattered passes to seven different receivers. On the 23-yard, second quarter scoring strike, Favre put up a beautiful pass to Donald Driver who timed his leap perfectly and came down clutching the ball in the end zone. The touchdown was a perfect example of a quarterback having extreme confidence in his receiver against a one-on-one match-up knowing his receiver will make the play.

Speaking about the performance of Green Bay's offensive first unit, Favre said, "We accomplished one goal: We went down the field and scored. We put some points on the board. We did some things well. Overall I was pleased with the performance. For the first preseason game we played well and we should do well in certain areas. But we don't want to get too excited as we still have a lot of work to do. I haven't watched the film yet but I felt like the (offensive line) protection was really good. We didn't run the ball as well as we would have liked but it was O.K. WE had a rookie, William Whitticker, at guard and that worked out pretty good, too."

The Packers had an excellent game plan to allow Favre to work without exposing him unnecessarily to the defense. Head Coach Mike Sherman's play-calling protected Favre because Favre never went back into a deep, seven-step drop or stayed in the pocket where he could have been hit. Sherman called a lot of short-rhythm timing patterns with three- and five-step drops and also used a lot of play-action passes, roll-outs and quick screens. All of this gave Favre a great opportunity to get into a good rhythm and Favre was quick and decisive in his defensive reads.

Other high points of the evening:
? BJ Sander definitely got off on the right foot with seven punts good for a 46-yard average, including boomers of 50 and 53 yards. His first punt traveled 42 yards and pinned the Chargers at their own 3.

? The defense showed marked improvement over a week ago, bending often but breaking only for one San Diego touchdown. Rookie Nick Collins looked like Willie Mays playing center field, waiting forever until collecting an end zone interception from Drew Brees. Unfortunately, in his excitement, Collins neglected to down the ball in the end zone, opting instead to run it out and only making it to the Packer 13 yard line. "I should have taken a knee," Collins admitted, "but I didn't know where I was on the field. When I caught it, it was just ‘Run! Run! Run!' Next time, I'll take a knee."

? Ryan Longwell proved his value once again, nailing a game-clinching 53-yard field goal despite the soggy conditions. B.J. Sander's placement and hold were excellent. "The ball was just soaking wet," said Longwell. "The first credit goes to Rob (Davis) for his snap. And then B.J. got it down right where we needed it, right on the spot. I played it four feet inside the left upright and that's exactly where it started. That means the hold was perfect."

? Aaron Rodgers was introduced to the NFL without any glaring incidents. He completed only 2 of 6 passes for 7 yards but he showed an ability to escape the pocket and get some extra yardage.

? Antonio Chatman's confidence as a punt returner continues to blossom. He's also growing as a wide receiver and made a nice catch for a first down when the Packers decided to go for it on fourth down. "Brett always tells me when there's a crucial down to just be aware and be ready to get the ball because it might be coming to me," chuckled Chatman. "The Chargers were cheating on a blitz and Brett gave me a nod and I knew he was going to come to me. I just had to make sure I got open."

Certainly, the Packers have plenty of things to work on with their next test coming against the Buffalo Bills. But for this week, at least, all of the "sky is falling" chatter should come to a screeching halt.


Tom Andrews

Editor's Note: Tom Andrews began covering the Packers in 1974 as a reporter for Milwaukee radio stations WZUU and WOKY. He has been a contributing writer to Packer Report since 1999 and his articles have also appeared in the Green Bay Packers Yearbook, Packer Profiles, Packer Tracker and Sports Collectors Digest among other publications. Andrews is also president of Andrews Media Ventures, a Milwaukee area media and communications consultancy. Email him at toma@andrewsmediaventures.com.


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