It all started in Philly

Beginning of the end for Sherman began in playoff against Eagles

There isn't one play, game or quarter that clinched the firing of Mike Sherman as the Packers' 13th head coach, but when any coach is fired there has to be a starting point where things started to erode. For Sherman, who was fired Monday by general manager Ted Thompson, all he needs to do is look back at the playoff game at Philadelphia in 2004.

The Packers led late, had the ball and faced a fourth-and-one situation inside Eagles' territory. Green Bay had amassed 210 rushing yards in the game, and knowing a first down would send the Packers to the NFC championship game, handing off one more time to Ahman Green (25 rushes, 156 yards) seemed logical. Why put it in the hands of the defense when the offensive line was dominating?

Sherman opted to punt, which led to fourth-and-26, which led to an amazing breakdown by the Packers' defense, which led to a first down, which led to a game-tying field goal, which led to overtime. Then in the overtime, the Packers, who once led 14-0, inexplicably call for a pass play and Brett Favre throws into double coverage, which led to an interception, which led to a game-winning field goal, and this eventually led to Sherman's unemployment status today.

Sure, there was time between this loss and this season to make up for this collosal mistake, but everything went south from here. Green Bay went 10-6 in 2004, but was handled by the Vikings in the playoffs at Lambeau Field, sending Sherman's playoff record at home to 2-2.Then this season, Sherman was doomed to fail for multiple reasons.

First, when Thompson assumed Sherman's GM role last year, it put Sherman squarely on the hot seat. Every new GM wants to hire his own coach and all he needs is a reason. Additionally, many wondered if the two really got along. Here's Thompson coming in and taking half of Sherman's titles. When Sherman was asked about their relationship, he didn't unveil anything.

"Coming into this situation was very difficult for him, as well as for me," Sherman said. "We had business conversations, which I thought were positive in helping us head in the right direction."

Thompson started his destruction of Sherman in free agency. Thompson didn't re-sign either guards — Marco Rivera or Mike Wahle — who each got big bucks to go elsewhere. Thompson isn't to blame here as the money was wild. However, who did Thompson replace these two stalwarts with? Will Whitticker, a seventh-round pick, and journeyman Adrian Klemm. Who really thought this combination would perform well, considering their backgrounds?

In the NFL draft, Thompson picked Aaron Rodgers in the first round. Obviously, Rodgers wasn't playing with Favre around, so this first-round pick was useless for Sherman to save his job. When asked about the Rodgers pick, Sherman noticeably avoided a direct answer. By doing that, he said enough.

Furthermore, Thompson drafted players in the second round in Nick Collins and Terrence Murphy, who most thought were reaches. Upon further review, Collins does appear to be a player in the making, while Murphy may never play again due to a spinal injury. So, Thompson didn't give Sherman much to work with.

Then the regular season started and injuries began hitting the Packers like waves hit New Orleans in August. It was just a matter of time before Sherman would be let go, and the time was "Black Monday." Although Sherman had five winning seasons in six years, Thompson didn't care. He wanted his own man.

However, Sherman could have avoided this mess if he would've gone for it on fourth-and-one at Philadelphia. The Packers make that three feet, they move onto the NFC title game at Carolina. They beat Carolina and it's a Super Bowl XXXI rematch against New England.

Even an NFC title game appearance two years ago would've prevented Sherman from being fired Monday. A Super Bowl appearance and Sherman would have plenty of time on his side.

But this didn't happen. Sherman's in-game coaching was always a question mark and the Philadelphia playoff loss is pure evidence of what can happen when the wrong decision is made. Did this game cost Sherman his job two years later? No, he had time to make up for it. But sometimes when a snowball gets rolling you can't stop it. Sherman couldn't stop the snowball and now he's a former Packers coach.


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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