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Favre bounces back, so does Sander; losing and still a chance to win weak division

The Green Bay Packers have the weekend off, but then again at 1-4 they've had more than their share of weekends off this season. Notwithstanding, even a poor start cranks up thoughts for the season, albeit most of them negative. With that in mind, here's my version of a top 10 list, which talks about thoughts of the Packers to date.

10. B.J. Sander. Remember him? The second-year punter has been solid this season after not kicking once as a rookie. Was he worth a third-round pick? No. No punter is. Still, Sander has been one of the positives through five weeks.

9. Henderson's demise Vonta Leach? He has slowly become the Packers' top fullback, even if 2004 Pro Bowler William Henderson is listed as the starter. Leach is younger and hits the hole harder on blocks. Still, Henderson is reliable in the passing game and is needed in areas. Nonetheless, this can be called a changing of the guard.

8. Running game. The loss of guards Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera, and the dwindling health of center Mike Flanagan, have left the Packers with the 28th-ranked running game. Ten running backs have more rushing yards than the Packers. Some think Ahman Green has slowed. Sure he has. How can he get to full speed when he's getting hit behind the line of scrimmage?

7. Injuries. The losses of Javon Walker (knee) and Najeh Davenport (ankle) for the season hurts the offense, but temporary injuries to Flanagan (sports hernia) and Bubba Franks (knee) have also been crippling, to a point. The offense was supposed to carry the team this season, but it has become a liability for various reasons, but one is injuries. Also, the loss of Na'il Diggs (knee), again, doesn't help a linebacking unit short on quality.

6. Division stinks. Most 1-4 teams are at a loss to get back in their division race, but in the NFC North one win in five weeks puts you 1 1/2 games out of first place. It's possible 8-8 or 7-9 could win this division, and just think the division winner gets a home playoff game. Play in Green Bay or Chicago in January or in Ford Field or the Metrodome? All have distinct home-field edges, leading one to believe the division winner could win a playoff game.

5. Offensive line. This unit has a new look this season with guards Will Whitticker (rookie) and Adrian Klemm (free agency). The new look is not a good one, so far. This twosome doesn't have the ability of Rivera and Wahle, but we all knew that. Actually, by starting a seventh-round draft pick and a journeyman this should've been expected.

4. Brett Favre. A couple weeks ago some were saying Favre's done, he's washed up. But his play in the last five quarters of the season certainly doesn't support that thought. Favre's effort has been fabulous and he's on pace to throw more than 30 TD passes. If he can cut down on the interceptions, then the Packers might have a chance. Might.

3. Sherman's future. The Packers extended Sherman's contract through the 2007 season, but if you think that means his job is secure, I have some land in Louisiana I'd like to sell you. If the Packers miss the playoffs, it's likely Ted Thompson sends Sherman into the unemployment line, and Sherman the coach will have nobody to blame but Sherman the GM.

2. Defense's play. The Packers' defense is ranked ninth. Ninth! With a defensive line that can't describe a quarterback to a sketch artist, a linebacker corps which is without Diggs and plays Paris Lenon, and a secondary which holds more often than a new bride and groom do on their wedding night, this is amazing. Defensive coordinator Jim Bates is doing a great job. Now if he had talent to work with.

1. Record. Entering the season, I was thinking 3-2 at the worst entering the bye week. As it looks now, who knows when that third win will come? Nevertheless, the Packers have time on their side. If the division continues to embarrass, and the Packers can overcome key injuries and improve on offense, this season may not be the wash it looks like right now. I'm not saying the Packers are going to the playoffs. I'm still betting against it, but with 11 games left there's time, but the Packers can't sit around and wait for something to happen, they need to make it happen.


Doug Ritchay

Editor's note: Doug Ritchay is a longtime sportswriter and former Packers beat writer for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail at dritchay@sbcglobal.net.


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