Sherman, Packers upbeat

Despite record, team confident it can salvage season

Packers coach Mike Sherman is steadfastly looking on the bright side amid the doom and gloom wrought by a 1-6 record.

It's only the fifth time a Packers team has gotten off to such a horrendous start - most recently in 1991 - and the team, accustomed to picking toward the bottom of the first round of the NFL draft, would have the No. 1 choice next spring if the season were to end today. The farthest thing from Sherman's mind, however, is whether or not he'll be occupying a seat in the Lambeau Field draft room 5 1/2 months from now, although he is under contract through 2007.

Rather, he's bound and determined to orchestrate one of the greatest rags-to-riches comebacks in league history and remains confident it can be accomplished.

"I think the team, as a group, are fairly resilient, fairly together. I don't see them cracking in spite of any of the adversity we face," Sherman said.

To be sure, there's been an unfair amount of adversity shoved in the Packers' collective face in the first eight weeks. Five players who opened the season on the 53-man roster are spending the remainder of it on injured reserve, including top wide receiver Javon Walker and top running backs Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport.

On Sunday, Sherman had to field a stripped-down offense that featured third-stringer Tony Fisher as the starting halfback, diminutive punt returner Antonio Chatman as a starting receiver and little help to speak of behind them. Somehow, the Packers were in the game against AFC North leader Cincinnati until an exhausted Brett Favre stumbled and illegally flipped a throw past the line of scrimmage on the final play, sealing the Bengals' 21-14 victory.

"No one is giving up. That's the good part," receiver Donald Driver said. "Everybody is frustrated because of the record, but we still have nine games to play. A lot of football left."

As the Packers begin preparing for a visit Sunday from AFC stalwart Pittsburgh, they still have a fourth straight NFC North title in their sights, never mind their current tenancy in the division basement. They don't believe 4-3 Chicago is a solid front-runner capable of breaking away from the mediocre pack. Plus, the Packers have two games against the Bears coming up in December.

By then, though, Sherman will have had to start pulling off a superb magic act, along the lines of what Forrest Gregg did in guiding a 1984 Green Bay team that started 1-7 to a 7-1 second-half mark for a break-even record. Impending games with Pittsburgh, at Atlanta on Nov. 13 and at Philadelphia on Nov. 27 make such a whopping rebound unlikely to happen.

Yet Sherman is poised to give it his best shot, just as he would hope his patchwork group of players would do the same.

"I think I'm coaching as good as I've coached since I've been here this year," the sixth-year coach said. "It hasn't translated into wins, but at the same time, from a leadership standpoint, keeping guys on track, communicating with people, I think we've done a heck of a job.

"I know our opportunities are diminishing. (But) we can pull ourselves out of this. I think the sun is on the horizon. We will get there as long as we have guys working."

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