1. Are people jumping off the Packer Bandwagon now?
2. Does this game mean anything long-term or was it just an unfortunate loss?
Concerning the first question, no one can answer it yet, although I heard a caller to the Packers' post-game show say it was the most embarrassing game he has seen in 30 years. I do not agree with that guy, but it was tough to beat the tar out of the Bears for a half, only to see it slip away in the third and fourth quarters.
As for the second question, it is also yet to be seen. How the Packers respond to this disappointing loss may well determine their season. Next week's opponent, the Redskins, are quietly having a good season.
For the first four weeks of the season, the Packers made all the plays, caught all the breaks and protected the football. Brett Favre was playing like a MVP, the defense made stops when it mattered and the Packers could not run the ball. On Sunday, Favre made a crucial mistake that lead to a Bear TD, the defense broke down when it mattered and the run game, led by DeShawn Wynn and Vernand Morency, doubled up its yearly average. It was like the season got turned on its head and shook up. Five turnovers and 12 penalties, many of them costly, was uncharacteristic of the season so far.
Everything that was working for the Packers seemed to evaporate somewhere after halftime. James Jones' two first half fumbles in Bears territory were costly, but the Packers were still winning 17-7 at half. The Packers were running the ball and Favre was playing like he had in the first four games. The Packers were only averaging about 50 yards per game rushing. They had 64 on their first drive. They had 102 yards at half. They finished with 121. Let me spell that out for you: in the second half, the Packers ran the ball nine times for 19 yards. They had a 10-point lead and only gained 19 yards rushing in 30 minutes. Favre ended up throwing the ball 40 times. Below his yearly average, but still a lot. The defense, which has made the stops when it had to could not get off the field when it counted. They made costly penalties that kept Chicago drives alive. And once again, they could not cover the other team's tight end. Desmond Clark had three catches for 62 yards and the game winning TD. Rookie Greg Olsen had four catches for 57 yards and a score. No one, not Brady Poppinga, not Nick Barnett, not Atari Bigby or Nick Collins could stay with these two guys. This problem goes back well over a year. Clark ate up the Packers last year.
Is it a signature game? Will the Packers bounce back from it? Can Mike McCarthy get these guys prepared for next week? Will he use this game as a lesson? The Pack could have moved two games up on the losing Lions and four games up on the Bears. They knew that and still came out flat in the second half. They had no spark on offense. On a day when two starters, Corner Nathan Vasher and offensive tackle John Tait were inactive and another, DT Darwin Walker, went out with a bad knee early, the Packer could not put Chicago away. Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs were banged up. Safety Mike Brown is out for the year. This is not the Bears shut down defense of the past few years.
All season, the Packers made the play when they needed it. They were safe with the ball. They minimized their mistakes and costly penalties. On Sunday night, if front of the whole football watching world, they did none of that when it mattered. The first half looked like a repeat of the first four weeks of the season with a running game thrown it for good measure. 5-0 was right around the corner. Mentally, the locker room must have been up. Jones' two fumbles being the only real negatives to dwell on. With the game there for the taking, the Packers literally handed it back to the Bears.
Will this become the norm? Will Green Bay continue to struggle offensively? Have teams figured them out? Will offenses continue to exploit the weaknesses the defense has, primarily covering the tight end? Or will Mike McCarthy and his staff find the solutions? The Pack had a lot of fumbles against the Vikings two weeks ago, but it did not hurt them in the win column. Against the Vikings, they fumbled four times and lost two of them. The past two weeks, the Packers have put the ball in play nine times, losing seven of them.
The upside of the game is this: Even with the turnovers, the Packers still should have won it. That is what makes it such a gut punch game. It hurts more to lose when you know you should have won.
On opening day, the Packers caught a break against the Eagles and won one they probably should not have. On Sunday, some of that Karma went the other way against the Green and Gold. It happens and as much as everyone was probably overly excited about the 4-0 start, the loss to the Bears should not be seen as anything more than what it is, one loss. Did anyone really think they would win them all?
A problem develops if they do not correct the problems that surfaced on Sunday. The Chiefs Tony Gonzalez and Cowboys Jason Witten might have career days agains the Packers. The Redskins' Chris Cooley will be one to watch this Sunday. And anytime the Packers turn over the ball five times, they will more than likely lose. It is that simple.
I never thought that Green Bay was as good as their record indicated nor do I think that losing like they did to the Bears should be blown out of proportion. It was a bad loss. It was a conference and division loss. It was a loss that never should have happened, but it did. So be it. Get over it and move on. Assuming the coaches and players move on, it shouldn't be anything to worry about. If they cannot get over it, then it could become something worse. Good Coaches make sure that does not happen.
This is Mike McCarthy's biggest test as Head Coach in his short career. All the hype and all the progress could come crashing down next Sunday if the Packers do not respond to the Bears loss. If the Packers take it to the Skins then all will be forgiven. If they continue their careless, mistake prone ways, then it will be a long two weeks before they get a chance at redemption.
The two teams that Vince Lombardi coached are meeting next Sunday. One team is coached by a Hall of Famer, Joe Gibbs, who has won three Super Bowls. The other is lead by a second year coach, who can take a step closer to making a name for himself. If Coach McCarthy wants to take his place amongst the greats of the game, he will need to have his team ready at noon on Sunday.
Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.