Lombardi: Depression, then guarded elation

During Monday's game, I was in a state of depression. Not so much because the Packers were losing, or that it looked like they were headed to a 0-4 start to the season. Rather, I was depressed because of the way they were losing, of the way they were playing. I saw turnovers and penalties. I saw blown assignments and missed tackles. I saw injuries and questionable play-calling. I also got a feeling that the team was disoriented and confused.

I saw a defense that was shutting down the run pretty well, but giving up big plays. Even when the Packers clawed back to within 13 points in the third quarter, the coverage team gave up a 60-yard return that temporarily killed any momentum the Pack had. The Packers were beating themselves, just like they beat themselves in their first three games. Their opponent was only too happy to take advantage of the situation.

I am a fan of this game they call football and can watch almost any game that is played, as long as it is played well. I have never turned off a football game in disgust. I almost did on Monday night. I was sick of watching Ahmad Carroll mug his receiver. I was sick of watching Robert Ferguson not fight for the ball and give up an interception. I was sick of the Packers being on the wrong side of the turnover margin. I was sick of offsides penalties and holding penalties. I was sick of watching Na'il Diggs and Mike Flanagan and Chad Clifton and Ahman Green and Terrence Murphy limp or be carried off the field. Every now and then I caught a glimpse of Bubba Franks and Javon Walker on the sidelines and it made me cringe. I had seen enough.

I believed in this team. They are better than they have shown. They have good coaches who have a wealth of experience. They have talent and all of these experts who are writing them off are just jumping on the bandwagon and beating a dog when it is down. Granted they are 0-4. They have lost to inferior teams in Cleveland and Detroit. Carolina and Tampa are good, but this team is better. Excuses are meaningless, but the turnovers and penalties and injuries are killing this team. Injuries happen, but the turnovers and dumb penalties have got to stop.

So I am sitting there in my living room, remote in one hand as I try and draw the energy to hit the off button and give up on this Packer team. If this team cannot come out and play a good game with everything on the line, why should I watch? They knew the stakes going into the game. They knew that this was a must-win game.

But something prevented me from cutting the power. I could not summon the will to do it and in retrospect I am glad that I was too lazy. What the Packers showed me over the last 14 minutes and 44 seconds of this game gave me hope for this team. The Panthers were leading 32-13 and the Packers just went three and out. Could it get any lower than that, but on the following third down, KGB sacked Jake Delhomme, causing a fumble which Cullen Jenkins recovered. On the next play, Brett Favre hits Donald Lee for a TD. After the two-point conversion, the score was 32-21.

The Packer defense held strong on the next possession and Favre and the offense got the ball back with 7:18 left. Three minutes later the score is 32-29 after an Antonio Chatman TD catch and a Robert Ferguson two-point conversion. The defense held again and the offense got it back at the two minute warning. I was on the edge of my seat. I knew that the Pack was going to at least go down and tie, if not win. They had all the momentum. The Panthers looked gassed and the patchwork offensive line was giving Favre time, and he was in the zone. He drove them down to the Panthers' 41 yard line, but they could not convert on fourth down. I was initially stunned. How could this have happened? They were going to win.

I sat there slack jawed for a few minutes and listened to John Madden and Al Michaels drone on, but I was too numb to make anything of it. It was a great ending and a great game. The Packers battled hard, but could not overcome the deep hole they had dug over the first three quarters. They played with effort and given the injuries they had experienced, they really had no business even being in the game. But they were and that should count for something. If they play like they did in the first half, they will not win another game. If they play like they did at the end of the game, they still have a chance.

The NFC North is weak and the Packers are not out of it yet. If they show the same effort and confidence that they showed at the end of Monday's game, they can still make something of this season. Can they build on their fourth quarter effort, or will the disappointment of battling back and still losing be too much for them to handle?

John Lombardi

Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. John resides with his family in Green Bay . His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. He will be contributing columns for PackerReport.com.

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