Report card vs. Browns

Here are grades for the Green Bay Packers in the aftermath of their 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns Sunday at Lambeau Field:

Take away the fourth quarter, when the Packers were furiously trying to mount a comeback from a 19-7 deficit, and Brett Favre threw for a pedestrian 152 yards with two crucial interceptions that led to 10 Cleveland points. It wasn't until those final 15 minutes when Favre padded the stats against a soft Browns defense protecting the lead.

Favre had two of his three touchdown passes for the game in the closing four minutes, and finished with 342 yards through the air. He admitted as much after the game that the absence of playmaker Javon Walker, out for the season with a knee injury, had a profound effect on disrupting the rhythm of the passing game. Aside from Donald Driver, who had six catches for 105 yards and a 42-yard touchdown in the first quarter, replacement starter Robert Ferguson and backups Antonio Chatman and rookie Terrence Murphy periodically frustrated Favre by not lining up correctly and bungling their routes.

It's a sad commentary on the beleaguered state of the running game when the longest gain of the game belonged to Favre, who took off on a 20-yard scamper in the second quarter. Subtract that, and the Packers' bread-and-butter dimension mustered all of 96 yards in 29 carries, a substandard average of 3.3 yards per carry.

Featured back Ahman Green was held in check for the second straight week, picking up just 54 yards in 16 attempts (3.4 average). His long run was an innocuous 10 yards. Green hasn't rushed for 100 yards in his last nine games, dating to mid-November of last year. Until the rushing attack becomes effective again, opposing defenses are inclined not to stack the box and can sit back to prey on the pass.

Chances are Browns QB Trent Dilfer, a whipping boy for the Packers when he was with then-division rival Tampa Bay in the 1990s, doesn't savor his first win at Lambeau Field in seven starts if an inexperienced secondary doesn't flop on two huge plays. First, first-time starting CB Joey Thomas was beat off the line by Braylon Edwards on a quick slant, and Edwards sprinted for an 80-yard touchdown late in the third quarter that put the Browns ahead 12 points. Then, after the Packers clawed to within 19-17 in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, a miscommunication on an all-out blitz led to SS Mark Roman's badly missing a tackle of tight end Steve Heiden on a short pass. Heiden was subsequently in the clear to rumble for a 62-yard touchdown that clinched the upset victory.

With those two home-run-hitting passes, Dilfer totaled a gaudy 336 passing yards. More often than not, he had ample time to complete passes because the Packers' weak pass rush didn't sack him once.

Though it's only two games, the Packers are doing something right on the defensive side by not allowing both opponents to beat them on the ground. A week after not letting Detroit standout Kevin Jones run wild, holding him to 87 yards in 25 carries (3.5 average) with a long gain of only 7, Browns halfback Reuben Droughns was a non-factor Sunday. Romeo Crennel followed through on his promise to go to Droughns early and often. He had 15 carries in the first half, but managed only 43 yards with a long gain of just 8. That prompted Crennel to all but abandon the run in the final two quarters, as Droughns ran the ball only five times for 7 yards.

As a team, the Browns churned out 55 yards in 23 carries.

There was little to speak of with the return units. Chatman's only punt return was shortened from 16 to 9 yards because of a block-in-the-back penalty on rookie defensive end Michael Montgomery.

With Ferguson promoted to full-time receiving duties, cornerback Ahmad Carroll replaced him alongside Najeh Davenport on kickoff returns. The hardly dynamic duo combined for an average of 17.6 yards in five chances.

B.J. Sander was counted on mostly for placement kicks with his three punts. His net average (38.0) was actually greater than his gross (34.3), thanks to a backpedaling Dennis Northcutt being dropped for an 11-yard loss on his only return. The kickoff-coverage unit gave up a 35-yard return to Antonio Perkins.

Ryan Longwell connected on a 34-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to match his own franchise record of 14 straight games with a field goal.

Getting off to an 0-2 start against two supposedly inferior opponents is inexcusable in these parts. It can be argued that first-year general manager Ted Thompson hasn't given head coach Mike Sherman a roster chock full of talent, especially with 11 rookies dotting it. Still, something has been amiss the first two weeks, and it's been glaringly apparent that a number of the young players aren't playing with passion and a purpose from the outset. Consequently, the Packers have fallen behind early in games.

With the defense still without a takeaway and making crucial mistakes at inopportune times, an out-of-sync offense has been hard-pressed to play catch-up. The Packers have lost their last three home openers under Sherman, and the onus is on him this week in front of another restless Lambeau Field crowd to prevent the first 0-3 start since 1988.

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