Can it get any worse than this?

DETROIT - For openers, the Green Bay Packers' season opener represented everything you can't do to win an NFL game, with turnovers and penalties - a ton of them - topping the list.

Fortunately for the Packers, the penalties and turnovers are correctable. With practice and a little more focus, the young Packers also can do something about a handful of dropped passes, fumbles and the botched field goal attempt in their 17-3 loss to the Lions. All of the above goof-ups boil down to focus.

Before you think about writing off the Packers for good in 2005, remember that this is a long season. The Packers have plenty of time to adjust but need to do it quickly before they get into the tough stretch of games after the mid-October bye week.

Committing fewer penalties comes down to the players at this point. Coach Mike Sherman has been talking about reducing penalties throughout the preseaosn when the team committed 36, or an average of 9 per game. The 14 for 100 yards that the Packers had marched against them on Sunday only left Sherman more frustrated, but determined to clean up the laundry on the field. Four other penalties were declined by the Lions.

"I said I would get it cleared up and I haven't," Sherman said. "It isn't like it just popped up here, it's been happening all preseason. We haven't had our head in the sand in regards to it."

There is not anything the Packers can do about playing without star wide receiver Javon Walker. Walker will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. Fortunately, Green Bay has rookie Terrence Murphy waiting in the wings, though, with no experience.

What Sherman can do is penalize those who are hurting the team the most by sitting them on the bench. Let's go straight to Ahmad Carroll, who collected three penalties, including two in a stretch of three straight in the second quarter. Will he ever get it? Doesn't he realize that the official will through a flag if he grabs a wide receiver's facemask in an attempt to through him off his route? Joey Thomas, who made a number of solid plays, should be reinstated as the starter at left cornerback. For whatever reason the Packers started Carroll against Lions. If Green Bay wants to trim at least three penalties a game, Sherman should be Thomas in the starting lineup.

The fact that the defense performed well, despite the penalties, also gives the Packers a little more reason to keep their chins up. The defense has been a major question mark of the Packers throughout the preseason. Despite turnovers by the Packers offense, Jim Bates' crew held its own against a solid corp of Lions receivers and running back Kevin Jones.

The penalties and turnovers have to come to an end if the Packers plan to defend their NFC North Division title. Chances are they will.

"This is about as unoptimistic as I've ever been at the start of the year," said quarterback Brett Favre, who threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball away. "I feel like we can't play any worse. We've got to play better. Scoring only three points, there's no where to go but up. If we can improve a little bit on offense, just a little bit, we're capable of scoring 20, 30-plus points a game."

Green Bay's offense is not much different than it was last year when it rolled up a franchise record 6,357 yards. New starting guards Adrian Klemm and Will Whitticker played well, according to Favre and Sherman.

In a close game, the Packers have only themselves to blame for two big plays that were nullified by penalties. Antonio Chatman's 48-yard punt return, and Walker's 55-yard reception from Favre were plays that could have put the Packers knocking at the door of the end zone. But we'll never know what could have happened.

Even without Walker, the offense should bounce back from this clunker. The defense appears to be on track under Bates, and special teams, despite its botched first-quarter field goal, contained Pro Bowl return specialist Eddie Drummond.

The bottom line is the Packers need to reduce penalties and turnovers by improving their concentration. Will they? It would be hard to believe that they won't. If it takes replacing the main culprits with players who are more disciplined, then that's what the Packers need to do.

Better days should be ahead for the Packers. It is early in the season, and the mistakes, as frustrating as they were, are correctible. The Packers can play better, but it's up to the coaches and players to figure it out.

Todd Korth

Note: Todd Korth is managing editor of and Packer Report. E-mail him at

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