Lombardi: Packers answer some questions

It is not often that you see the home team win by seven touchdowns. That only happens in college when Florida plays Little Sisters of the Poor. But that is what all Packer fans witnessed Sunday afternoon as Green Bay capitalized on multiple New Orleans turnovers and mistakes to whip the Saints 52-3. It could not have come at a more critical moment in the season.

After suffering through four straight losses that saw decisive turnovers and unforgivable penalties on their own behalf, it was the Packers who finally forced the opponent to make the mistakes.

It was over by halftime, the losing skid has ended and with a bye week to recover, the Green and Gold can rest up, heal up and make a run at the top of the NFC North. Only the Lions have two wins in the division and once again the Packers control their own destiny.

One of the questions I pondered all week was whether the Packers were mentally tough enough to capitalize on their strong finish in the Carolina game and carry that effort and level of play over into the Saints' game, or would that close loss send the Packers into a tailspin. I know that this was only one game, but the team answered that query and some other tough questions pretty decisively.

Could they overcome the injuries to so many frontline players and play a complete game? The radio waves, TV stations, Internet and newspapers were abuzz last week with speculation and lamentation about the injuries to Ahman Green, Chad Clifton, Terrance Murphy, Na'il Diggs and Mike Flanagan. Throw in the Javon Walker injury and the fact that Bubba Franks was not 100% and it would have been easy for the team to rationalize their poor performance with the injury bug.

Could the Offensive Line protect Brett Favre and generate any running game? Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera are gone. Flanagan is out indefinitely. Chad Clifton was questionable and there was a chance that only Will Whitticker would start the Saints game in the same spot that he started the Carolina game. It looked daunting. The Packers had plans to move Mark Tauscher to left tackle. Scott Wells was in at center and the unit cohesion was once again under scrutiny. This was a position that was already was in flux before the rash of injuries and these hurts only contributed to the potential disaster that awaited this team if they could not jell and play as one.

The Saints did not get a sack and the Packers averaged more than four yards a carry when it mattered, so they did all right upfront.

Would the Packers continue to commit turnovers and fail to generate any take-aways? It is a fact in the NFL that the team that wins the turnover battle overwhelming comes out on top. The Packers proved this fact over the first four weeks of the season. I am happy to report that the Packers intercepted the Saints quarterbacks three times (two by Al Harris), and both Harris and Nick Barnett returned a pick for a touchdown. Barnett's 95-yarder was a thing of beauty. They also forced two fumbles and scored 31 points off turnovers.

Will penalties kill this team again? The Saints were the team to hurt themselves with penalties and the Packers were relatively free of stupid mistakes. New Orleans had twice as many flags thrown their way and about three times as many penalty yards. At times, with the turnovers and penalties, the Saints looked like the Packers of the last four games.

Are the Packers talented enough to win? Much has been made about the lack of talent on this football team. Pundits have pointed to the last three or four drafts and noticed the lack of big-time starters and used that to explain the Packers' dropoff. Many fans have criticized the Packers' lack of activity in free agency and have blamed Ted Thompson for sitting on the status quo when it comes to ability. There is a lot of truth to this analysis, but there is so much more that goes into building a winning team. This team is talented, maybe not as talented as the Eagles, Patriots or Colts, but they are better than 0-4. No team in the history of the NFL can start the season with a negative nine turnover ratio and expect to win ballgames. The fact that they were in all four of those losses shows me that they are better than advertised. If they can protect the ball and play smart, they can win more than they lose and that is the name of the game.

It was a good day to be a Packer fan. Green Bay played mistake-free football and took advantage of all the mistakes their opponent made. I am not ready to say this was a statement game (the Saints are not an elite team), but the Packers let the rest of the league know that they are not going down without a fight. They are only one game back in the win column and with the helter skelter nature of the Lions, Bears and Vikings, there is every reason to think that the Packers have as much of a chance in the NFC North as anyone else. As I am sure most of you know, they were 1-4 last year at this time and look what they ended up accomplishing. The schedule is a little more difficult this year, but they probably do not have to go 10-6 to win the division and make the playoffs.

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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