With about 2 minutes left and the Trojans clinging to a 38-33 lead, USC coach Pete Carroll elected to go for it on fourth-and-a-short-2 at the Texas 45. A first down would have clinched the national championship for USC. Failure would have set Texas in prime position to drive to the winning touchdown.
Rewind to the infamous fourth-and-26 game played Jan. 11, 2004. With about 2:30 left and the Packers clinging to a 17-14 lead, Sherman faced a similar situation as Carroll. Go for it on fourth-and-1 and convert, and the Packers almost certainly advance to the NFC championship game the next week at Carolina. Go for it and fail, and the Eagles are in prime position to kick the tying field goal, or even score the winning touchdown.
Even with a punishing ground game piling up big chunks of yards on practically every play, Sherman elected to punt. The Eagles marched to the tying field goal — converting fourth-and-26 in the process — and eventually won in overtime after an up-for-grabs interception by Brett Favre.
Sherman was vilified for the decision from the day of the game until the day of his firing. It was proof, the naysayers said, that Sherman didn't have the makings of a championship coach.
Hence, Sherman's laughter on Wednesday night. Instead of punting, like Sherman did, Carroll went for it. Even with a punishing ground game piling up big chunks of yards on practically every play, the Trojans were stuffed on fourth down.
Texas took over the ball and marched down the field to the championship-winning touchdown.
Fact is, Sherman was vilified for his decision to punt simply because it didn't work. There are a few what-ifs to keep in mind, however. If the Packers had converted on fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the second quarter, they might have been able to put the game away long before that fateful fourth quarter. If Josh Bidwell hadn't punted the ball into the end zone on fourth-and-1, the Eagles would have had to move the ball another 10 to 15 yards to get into field-goal position. If the Packers' defensive backs wouldn't have choked — why did they play 28 yards back on fourth-and-26? — maybe the defense saves the game.
The second mark on Sherman's tenure were his blunders as general manager. Although Sherman hit on first-rounders Javon Walker and Nick Barnett, his other first-rounder, Ahmad Carroll, looks like he'll never match expectations. And every one of his third-round picks, B.J. Sander, Donnell Washington and Joey Thomas in 2004, Kenny Peterson in 2003 and Marques Anderson in 2002, look like flops.
His moves in free agency appear no better, lowlighted by the signing of defensive end Joe Johnson. Here again, however, the naysayers have the benefit of hindsight when ridiculing Sherman. First, the Packers wouldn't have had to throw a $33 million, six-year deal at Johnson had Ron Wolf not blown the Jamal Reynolds pick. Second, Johnson had 21 quarterback sacks in his last two seasons in New Orleans and was considered strong against the run. He was the most coveted defensive player on the market. How was Sherman to know Johnson would get lazy after hitting the jackpot? As for Cletidus Hunt, Sherman had to take a gamble because promising defensive tackles are nearly impossible to find — the Packers, as are most teams, are still looking for one — and Hunt was coming off a season in which he led Packers defensive linemen in tackles and had 5.5 sacks.
The third, and most damning, mark against Sherman are his playoff failures. There's the blowout loss at St. Louis to end the 2001 season. There's the home playoff loss to Atlanta to end the 2002 season. And finally, the home loss to Minnesota to end the 2004 season. For the sake of telling the whole story, however, the Rams were a juggernaut that year, and the Packers didn't have a healthy skilled player on the field by the end of the loss to the Falcons. And for all of Favre's greatness, he's been a miserable playoff quarterback, as evidenced by his six interceptions against St. Louis and four against the Vikings.
None of this is meant to defend Sherman, but simply to put his failures in perspective. Fact is, despite his gaudy winning percentage before this season and the injuries that led to this year's disaster, Sherman probably deserved to be let go, simply because he stood on the wrong side of history so many times, no matter the circumstances.
Ten or 20 years from now, Sherman will be remembered as the coach who couldn't help the great Favre back to another Super Bowl. It will be a fair criticism, but history might have been different had Johnson and Hunt earned their money, had Bidwell not boomed that fourth-and-1 punt into the end zone and had Favre played like a Hall of Famer in the playoffs.
Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to email@example.com