Is all well with Longwell?

With devasting injuries befalling Packer starters week after week, the team dependence on its stalwarts grows. Guys like Brett Favre, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, William Henderson and Ryan Longwell are counted on to keep doing what they do best even while the team implodes around them.

That plan isn't working – not with the Packers at 1-5. Sunday's loss to the Vikings was another in a string of close losses and what-if games. The team's total deficit of 23 points – a 4.6-point average – has been even narrower since the opening loss to Detroit. Since then the Packers have lost four games by a total of 9 points. The razor-thin margin opens the door for a lot of second-guessing. One play, one call, or one kick can be the difference.

One kick. Not only can it be the difference, it has been a deciding factor in two losses this year.

When the Buccaneers beat the Packers 17-16 in week 3, the heartbreaking defeat included a missed 42-yard field goal and a missed extra point.

This week Longwell missed twice, once from 53 and once from 42. Those are magnified by the fact that the game was played indoors. Adding insult to injury is that Edinger, a kicker once abandoned by the Bears reportedly for his lack of leg strength, won the game with a 56-yarder that would have been good from 60.

Certainly this complex game can't be reduced to a field goal or two. Had the defense not committed the cardinal sin or giving Vikings' receiver Marcus Robinson the sideline, overtime would have ensued. Then Longwell, who did give the Packers new life with his game-tying 39-yarder late in the fourth quarter, could have erased memories of his misses with a walk-off field goal in OT. Maybe it wouldn't have been as exciting as Scott Podsednik's miracle long ball for the White Sox in Game 2 of the World Series the same day, but for Packer fans it would have been close.

See, there's that what-if game again. When what-ifs give way to reality, what we are left with is the team's worst record since 1991. The record is the same whether the losses come by three points or 30.

Longwell is now one errant kick away from equaling his 2004 total misses (24-of-28 with misses from 45, 42, 49 and 31 yards) and he has already matched his total misses from 2003 (40, 45 and 49). He hadn't missed an extra point since 2001.

Is the problem the holding style of B.J. Sander? Is field goal percentage in converse proportion to kickoff strength, which has been an area of improvement for Longwell? Is this a rare clunker season similar to 2001 in which Longwell hit just 64.5 percent of his FGAs?

The Packers need answers, because the answers coming from the injury front are already in and they are not good.

The Packers mounting problems put enormous pressure on the consistent performers to stay that way. Favre hasn't thrown an interception in 10 quarters. Before Ahman Green's season ending injury, it looked like he had put his fumbles behind him.

Now the usually stellar Longwell needs to follow suit. It seems a little unfair, but the truth is the Packers can afford any more misses. Early in a game, a missed field goal tends to draw shoulder shrugs rather than despair. Staring an 1-5 record and a spot in the NFC North cellar all alone, the Packers have time to ponder what if… what if the perfectly capable Longwell connects on those two kicks. 3-3 would put them in a tie at the top of this weak division.

Now a seasoned veteran, Longwell plays many roles for the Packers and plays them well. He has rewritten the record books. He has been a leader, a hero, an articulate spokesman. Most importantly he has been more than dependable, making 82.4 percent of his field goals and more than 99 percent of his PATs over his 8 NFL seasons prior to this season. With most of the original offensive firepower sidelined by injury, Longwell's role will only increase. If the Packers are to eke out points – and wins – whenever they can the rest of the way, they need Longwell to return to being the rock he always has been.


Laura Veras Marran

Note: Laura Veras Marran was raised in Green Bay and is a longtime sports writer from Kenosha, Wis. E-mail her at lvmarran@aol.com.


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