What might be a challenge? Oh, maybe converting on third down, getting the tight ends more involved in the offense (especially in two and three tight end sets), finding someone other than Donald Driver who can get open on a consistent basis, and of course, scoring touchdowns. Call me crazy, but based on Sunday's performance, I think I might be on to something.
Even if you didn't think Green Bay would beat Chicago, you thought they'd score a few points. A field goal, at least. Anything. At the end of the first quarter, the Packers trailed the Bears 204-29 in net yards and a fake punt that went for a first down was one of the offensive highlights of the first half. I'd venture a guess that's not how they drew up the game plan this week.
For the game, Green Bay was 1 of 11 on third down conversions. And as they fell further behind, their chances of improving on that stat declined. To beat the Bears, they knew they had to establish the run, control the clock and keep things close. But when the score became lopsided, the Packers were forced to abandon their game plan and start throwing more, allowing the Bears to sit back comfortably in a ‘Cover 2' defense and tee off on Brett Favre. Chicago's got a great defense, but Green Bay made them look circa-1985 Bears defense. And they're not that good by a long shot.
To make matters worse, McCarthy opted to keep Favre in the game, down 26-0 early in the fourth quarter, rather than insert Aaron Rodgers. With no point in running the ball and few options other than to throw deep, Favre was intercepted on consecutive possessions. Predictably, those plays will lead to endless speculation and mind-numbing conversation on the national sports scene about whether Favre has ‘lost it,' if he should've retired after last season, and if he's on his way to another 29-interception season. That's not something Favre, the team, the coaches or any Packer fan feels like listening to one week into the season. At that point in the game, those interceptions meant only slightly less than if he had completed the passes. More compelling and more worrisome, however, is the fact that Favre has failed to throw a touchdown in five of his last six regular season games. That's a poor reflection on Favre and his supporting cast no matter how you look at it.
If there was any positive on the day, it was that stashed within the offensive ineptitude, were two fairly impressive individual performances. One was expected, one was a pleasant surprise. Driver finished the game with seven receptions for 96 yards. While just one of them came in the first half -- a sweet 17-yarder where he dragged across the middle from Favre's right and turned it up field. He added six grabs in the second half. If someone else doesn't step up, Driver could end up with a 100 catches on the year, which would be a good news - bad news scenario.
The pleasant surprise was running back Ahman Green. Almost one year after rupturing his right quadriceps tendon, he ran for 110 yards on 20 carries and snagged three passes for 22 yards. With questions about not only his health, but how he'd operate in a new offensive system and behind a line starting two rookies at guard, Green provided a small ray of hope. The fact that he did it against one of the NFL's best defenses makes it even more meaningful.
But did you catch Favre glancing longingly at the Packer sideline at the start of the game? He was checking out his old teammates from the Super Bowl XXXI Championship team that were in town for alumni week. How much would he have liked Andre Rison or Keith Jackson to be lined up on offense? Or maybe Aaron Taylor protecting him at guard? And I don't mean those players in their prime, I mean those players lining up on Sunday. Hey, it couldn't have gone much worse.
Favre said he was thinking, ‘Man, we were pretty good.' Though he insists it was chemistry more than raw talent that was key to their success. He admitted he had to put on a smile when he saw them all in the locker room immediately following the loss. He's still trying to win games for the Packers and said it's a lot more difficult now than it was then. Favre said that 1996 team took it for granted how difficult it was to win because they did it on a regular basis, especially against the Bears. But he's got a new set of challenges in front of him now. Handling success may not be one of them.
W. Keith Roerdink
Editor's note: W. Keith Roerdink is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.