Report card vs. Bengals

Rush defense preserves its top 10 ranking

True, never-say-never Brett Favre almost willed an offense incredibly depleted by injury to one of his signature fourth-quarter comebacks. Yet it was mostly because of Favre's head-scratching miscues that the Packers were forced to try to erase a 21-7 deficit in the final 13 minutes. In a span of 11 pass plays from late in the second quarter to early in the fourth quarter, Favre had five passes intercepted, a personal high for a regular-season game. In Favre's defense, two of the picks resulted from tipped passes. However, the other three interceptions were born of poorly thrown balls.

Although diminutive Antonio Chatman played big in his first start at wide receiver with a career-high eight catches for 97 yards, top receiver Donald Driver and tight end Donald Lee hurt the cause with drops on would-be touchdowns.

Life without Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport, both of whom are on injured reserve, began in earnest Sunday. The results, not surprisingly, weren't any better than when the Packers had their top two running backs on the field. Tony Fisher isn't cut out as a featured back who can consistently run the football 20 to 25 times a game, and is no better than serviceable in the lead role. Sure enough, he gained only 51 yards in 17 carries, though he had a powerful 12-yard run through an open lane in the middle in the third quarter. The Packers had three other running backs activated, but newly promoted rookie Samkon Gado and ReShard Lee were the only ones called on and just for a carry apiece. So much for getting their 30th-rated rushing attack on track against the Bengals' leaky, 27th-ranked run defense, which yielded but 76 yards on the ground.

Bengals receiver Chad Johnson will have a tough time justifying putting a check mark under all of the others in the "No" category next to the name of the Packers' Al Harris on the famous "Who Will Cover 85 in 2005?" list. Harris didn't exclusively shadow Johnson the entire game, but when the two were matched up, Johnson managed only two catches for 9 yards.

Other than a 38-yard reception at the expense of Ahmad Carroll in the third quarter, Johnson was a non-factor, held to five catches for 62 yards despite having 13 balls thrown his way by Carson Palmer. Safeties Nick Collins and Mark Roman were disruptive with their help coverage against Johnson. However, Carroll resorted to his early-season transgressions, committing four penalties (three enforced).

Nickel back Joey Thomas infuriated defensive coordinator Jim Bates in the first half, giving up a long completion on third down and then drawing a hand-to-the-face penalty that bailed the Bengals out of a failed third-down play. Thomas promptly was benched in favor of rookie Mike Hawkins. As a team, the Packers allowed the Bengals to convert seven of eight third-down situations in the first half.

The Packers preserved their top-10 league ranking by again refusing to let the opponent's featured back run the slightest bit wild. Rudi Johnson got his wish with more carries, but he mustered but 72 yards on those 22 touches for a pedestrian per-rush average of 3.3 yards.

Tampa Bay's Cadillac Williams (in Week 3) remains the only back to chalk up a 100-yard day against the Packers. Cincinnati backup Chris Perry, however, had the longest -- and possibly the biggest -- run of the game with a 17-yard burst on a toss play around left end that enabled the Bengals to eat up some valuable time and gain more favorable field position before they punted the ball back to the Packers with only a minute to play.

Cincinnati was held to 95 rushing yards, marking the fourth time the Packers haven't given up an aggregate 100 yards.

Ryan Longwell didn't have to come out to attempt a field goal and undoubtedly wonder what type of hold he would get from B.J. Sander, whose struggles in that realm possibly cost the Packers a couple victories.

Sander was adequate with his three punts, averaging 41.7 yards. Running back ReShard Lee gave the lethargic kickoff-return unit a boost by returning four for an average of 25.8 yards -- nearly a full 7 yards more than the Packers' 31st-rated average the first six games.

Antonio Chatman seemingly had an extra spring in his step while making his first pro start at receiver, as he returned four punts for an average of 9.8 yards, bolstered by a season-high 18-yard gain in the third quarter.

For a change, another close defeat can't be pinned on lapses made on the sideline or from the coaching box. Mike Sherman and his staff had their hands tied coming into this game without the services of six of their top 10 players at the skilled positions of running back, wide receiver and tight end. That the Packers were within 28 yards and an inadvertent, game-ending illegal-forward pass by Brett Favre of forcing overtime against the heavily favored Bengals on the road spoke well of how the coaches had their undermanned team prepared to fight to the finish. Jim Bates' defense made a handful of costly mistakes in pass coverage, but otherwise kept the score within reach by not allowing the Bengals to score points off any of the first four of Favre's five interceptions.

Now that the team is staring at a 1-6 record, the challenge becomes greater for Sherman and Co. to keep their mostly youthful contingent of players from calling it quits with a second half of the season yet to play.

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