2005: A forgettable season

Turnovers, penalties, injuries cause Packers to go from penthouse to outhouse

The Green Bay Packers' 2005 season is one that the organization will quickly forget. For the first time since 1991, the Packers finished with a losing record. As a result, Mike Sherman was fired as head coach.

Though general manager Ted Thompson said that he fired Sherman for other reasons than the team's 4-12 record, that undoubtedly was one of the main reasons for the coach's dismissal. The record gave Thompson the perfect excuse to unload Sherman, despite a two-year contract extension he gave him five months earlier, and select his own coach. Thompson clearly continues to rebuild a team that he took over a year ago at this time.

The Packers began the 2005 season with a reasonable chance to finish with a winning record, but injuries to starters at three skill positions on offense, numerous turnovers and penalties, and a struggling kicker led to eight losses by seven or less points.

Except for one blowout loss during a Monday Night Football game late in the season at Baltimore, the Packers were competitive in every game despite finishing the season with 13 players on injured reserve, including five running backs. The Packers lost Pro Bowl wide receiver Javon Walker in Week 1 to a season-ending knee injury, and the injury bug continued to bite through Week 17. In between, running backs Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport, Samkon Gado; wide receivers Robert Ferguson and Terrence Murphy; and tight end Bubba Franks missed significant portions of the season because of injuries.

Thompson often plugged the holes with younger players off the team's practice squad, or off the street. Tight end Donald Lee and Gado stepped in and performed like starters, though, others struggled.

As the injuries mounted, so did interceptions for Brett Favre. The future Hall of Fame quarterback finished with a career-high 29 pickoffs, which resulted in the worst overall passer rating (70.9) of his stellar 15-year career. Favre finished with 20 touchdown passes as the Packers often played from behind.

As a result of Favre's poor season and the injuries, the Packers were tied for last in the league with New Orleans with a minus-24 turnover differential. The Packers were intercepted a total of 30 times and gave the ball away 15 times on fumbles.

The Packers' three-year reign on top of the NFC North Division was snapped along with its 13-year string of non-losing seasons. The Packers began the season with an opening-day record 11 rookies on their roster, and finished with 17 rookies on the roster.

"This thing (season) that we went through was as challenging as anything that I've ever experienced in my life," said Sherman, who coached the Packers for the last six seasons. "You can't compare it to someone having cancer. It's not the death of a child, or a son, or a daughter. It's not that. That's different. … It is stressful, it is anxious, disappointing, frustrating, all of that. It makes you look at yourself as a man and as a coach. It is difficult to go week to week, and go into a room with guys, and fall short of expectations and get them ready to play again, and (tell them) ‘give it everything you've got,' and ‘this is the reason why you have to do that.' I felt that we were fairly effective in trying to do that. We did fall short, obviously, way too many times, but I thought that the guys gave what they had when they took the field, for the most part."

Especially on defense. New defensive coordinator Jim Bates, without the help of any high-profile free agent signings or first-round draft picks, took a defense that was ranked 25th overall in 2004 to No. 7 in the National Football League. Bates, for his efforts, is a top candidate to take over for Sherman.

Middle linebacker Nick Barnett set a team record with 194 tackles. Green Bay's passing defense, led by cornerback Al Harris and rookie safety Nick Collins, ranked first in the league, allowing 167.5 yards per game.

The soft spot of the defense was its inability to defend against the run consistently and rush the passer. The Packers allowed 293.1 yards per game (23rd in the NFL) and were tied for 21st in the league with 35 sacks. Count on Thompson to get help along the defensive line in free agency and the draft this off-season to help improve those areas of the team.

In defense of Favre, he played behind a restructured offensive line after veteran guards Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera were lost in free agency. He also lost his Pro Bowl receiver and running back. It is very possible that Favre simply didn't trust the players around him on offense and tried to win some games on his own, and that didn't work.

The Packers never got comfortable with a starting five in training camp and began the season with rookie Will Whitticker and free agent pickup Adrian Klemm at the guard positions. Veteran center Mike Flanagan's hernia injury didn't help. Flanagan missed a pair of games in October, then battled the rest of the season despite constant pain from the sports hernia surgery. Second-year pro Scott Wells eventually took over for the ineffective Klemm at left guard. Whitticker was benched for two games late in the season after poor peformances, though, he re-claimed his starting spot for the finale against Seattle. Tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, the mainstays of the line, again were bright spots. Favre was only sacked 24 times despite a career-high 607 attempts passing.

Green Bay, which started five different players at running back because of injuries, finished with the 30th ranked rushing offense in the NFL. Gado led the Packers in rushing with 582 yards on 143 carries in seven games, plus one carry in his first game as a Packer. Gado, who missed the final two games with a knee injury, will challenge for a starting spot in the Packers' backfield in 2006.

Wide receiver Donald Driver picked up where Walker left off and had an outstanding season. Driver finished with a career-high 86 catches for a career-high 1,221 yards, but he turned out to be Favre's only target. Without Walker, Murphy and an injury-prone Ferguson, the Packers had the seventh-best passing offense in the league but not enough weapons to get the ball in the end zone consistently. After Driver, Antonio Chatman, who began the season as the team's fifth wide receiver, was second on the team with 49 catches for 549 yards.

Green Bay's special teams did little, if anything, to help the Packers win last season. Ryan Longwell finished with less than 100 points in a season for the first time in his nine-year Packers career. It didn't help that he had to adjust to two new holders, which played a part in him missing seven of 27 field goal attempts and one extra point.

Chatman returned a punt for a touchdown for the first time since 2001 and didn't turn the ball over, but still finished 13th in the league with an 8.5-yard return average.

If Walker, Green and many of the other Packers who were injured in 2005 can get back up to speed, and if Favre returns and has success under the new head coach, the Packers should be able to improve, especially if they improve their turnover differential. Those are some big ifs. Nevertheless, Thompson will have to find more impact players this off-season who can help the team on offense, defense and special teams in order for the Packers to go from worst to first in 2006.

Todd Korth

Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at packrepted@aol.com.

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