Good finish still attainable

Many veterans, coach fighting for job security

December shapes up to be an abnormally cold, dark month in Green Bay.

For the first time with Brett Favre as their quarterback, the Packers, at 2-9, are assured of finishing with a losing record. The three-time-reigning NFC North champions also will be playing out the string the last five games because they can't catch front-runner Chicago, which has a six-game lead on them in the division.

About all that's left for a Packers team decimated by injuries to key players on offense -- Pro Bowl tight end Bubba Franks (neck) joined the extensive list in Sunday's 19-14 loss at Philadelphia -- is to play for pride. A number of free agents-to-be, among them Pro Bowl center Mike Flanagan, Pro Bowl fullback William Henderson, defensive end Aaron Kampman, nose tackle Grady Jackson, kicker Ryan Longwell and running back Tony Fisher, also will be playing for job security in the future.

Then, there's the quandary in which coach Mike Sherman purportedly finds himself. Despite having his contract extended before the season for two years through 2007, Sherman's employment status beyond the New Year's Day finale against Seattle isn't secure. First-year general manager Ted Thompson, notoriously reticent, won't let on whether or not Sherman will be retained for next season.

A respectable finish to a dismal campaign thus far still is attainable and could be what Sherman needs to buy at least another year. If such a scenario is what Sherman is up against, he undoubtedly will put Favre on the field as his quarterback down an otherwise meaningless stretch.

Days prior to the elimination game Sunday, Sherman said that's precisely what he planned to do, dismissing the pleas of fans to give meaningful playing time to rookie Aaron Rodgers -- Thompson's handpicked successor to Favre.

"It's no different than last year or the year before or the year before that. I wouldn't have taken him out in those years, so I'm not prepared to do that at this present time," Sherman said of putting a clipboard in Favre's hand on the sideline.

Sherman makes the argument by saying he's been given no indication from Favre that retirement will beckon after this season. Thus, there's no urgency to give Rodgers an extended look if he's going to remain on the bench in 2006.

For his part, Favre, 36, said last week he won't base his decision about whether to return for a 15th season as the team's quarterback on the ugly record this year.

"I feel like I'm playing as well right now as I've played in previous years," said Favre, who has thrown for 19 touchdowns but also has a league-high 19 interceptions. "I would love for us to be better as far as wins and losses are concerned. But, there's no doubt that, physically speaking, I can still do the things I've been able to do in the past. In fact, I'm moving around better than I probably have in the last couple years."

Until Favre wants to broach the future, which doesn't figure to happen until after the season ends, Sherman isn't compelled to get persuasive with his on-field leader and talk up the promise next season holds.

"I don't think I should have to lobby someone to play football," Sherman said. "That's quite a commitment to make to someone who's going to be 37 next year. That would be a helluva commitment for him and for me to talk him into that."


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