Mixed bag of emotions

PackerReport.com's Bob Fox offers his opinion on Green Bay's disappointing loss to the New York Giants, excellent season, and promising future

The Green Bay Packers' 23-20 loss in overtime to the New York Giants at Lambeau Field on Sunday night was very disappointing. The Packers were one game away from facing the undefeated New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. They were at home. In Ice Bowl-type weather. The great Bart Starr was even there. But it wasn't to be. The Giants were more focused that night, and they deserved to win. The Packers were actually quite fortunate that the game went into overtime.

The Giants had 24 first downs to the Packers' 13. The Giants time of possession was 40:03, compared to the Packers 22:34. The Giants had 134 rushing yards, compared to the Packers' 28. Eli Manning didn't throw any interceptions, while Brett Favre threw two, including a very costly one in overtime. Favre threw for 236 yards passing, but 90 yards of that came on one TD pass to Donald Driver. The Packers were 1 for 10 on third down conversions. Yet, the Packers won the toss and had the ball first in overtime.

There is no doubt that the Packers were out of sync all night. The rushing game wasn't working and the Packers couldn't muster drives except on a rare occasion or two. The Packers defense did not play well, either. Manning had too much time in the pocket as he completed 21 of 40 for 251 yards, and 11 of those completions for 151 yards went to Plaxico Burress. Al Harris had some issues that night covering Burress, but on some catches the coverage was excellent yet Manning and Burress still connected.

The Packers defense also allowed the Giants to come back from deficits twice. The Packers led 10-6 at halftime, only to see the Giants re-gain the lead 13-10. Then after the Packers took the lead again 17-13, the Packers allowed the Giants to go ahead again 20-17. There were also missed turnovers that could have turned the game.

Early in the game, DT Cullen Jenkins dropped an interception from Manning. RB Brandon Jacobs of the Giants fumbled near the Green Bay goal line, only to have it recovered by TE Kevin Boss after going through the legs of DE Aaron Kampman. The Giants then went on to score a TD.

Also, with the game tied at 20-20 with just a few minutes left, the Giants R.W. McQuarters took a punt near mid-field and fumbled in Packers territory. First, Jarrett Bush tried to scoop up the fumble, but it was knocked away. Then, Brady Poppinga had a shot at it, but it squirted out and the Giants recovered. The Giants went on to miss a game-winning field goal before overtime, but who knows what would have happened had the Packers recovered. Green Bay's Mason Crosby was 2 for 2 for field goal attempts that night.

There were plenty of mistakes by the Packers. Not being committed to the running game for one. Stupid penalties like the one on S Nick Collins for roughing the passer that kept alive a TD scoring drive, or the one that took away Harris' interception. The Packers biggest offensive playmaker in 2007 was WR Greg Jennings, yet he only had one catch for 14 yards. Favre got off to a nice start with two TD passes, but he struggled at the end of the game.

A surprising season that few expected
I'm sure the Packers are kicking themselves for the loss, but in reality, the Packers have nothing to be ashamed about for the season they just completed. I was one of the few that picked the Packers to win the NFC North, but almost everyone picked the Chicago Bears ahead of them. I was hopeful that the Packers could win at least one game in the postseason, and that happened. The loss in the NFC Championship game hurt, but the accomplishments of 2007 still have to be recognized.

The Packers were 13-3 in the regular season and handily won the NFC North. The Pack was 3-1 against the NFC East. They defeated the San Diego Chargers, a team that was in the AFC Championship game. They won on the road at Denver and Kansas City. They finally made Lambeau Field tough place to play at again going 7-1 at home during the season. Yes, they lost at Lambeau in the NFC Championship game to the Giants, but just a week before at Lambeau, in a winter wonderland, whipped Mike Holmgren and the Seattle Seahawks 42-20.

Let us go back in history. Vince Lombardi's Packers lost their first championship game in 1960 to the Philadelphia Eagles, 17-13. Lombardi took the hurt and frustration from that game and made sure his players never forgot that painful lesson. Lombardi and the Pack went on to win five NFL titles and the first two Super Bowls. You certainly can't say the same thing will happen with Mike McCarthy and the Packers, but certainly the loss on Sunday night will help the growth of the youngest team in the NFL right now.

Time to re-load for 2008
The future looks bright for the Packers as well. The only real tough decision the Packers have with unrestricted free agents on their team is DT Corey Williams. Supposedly, the Packers are now talking to Williams' agent. Supposedly, Williams might give the Packers a home town discount, as many teams are expected to inquire about his services. Williams has had a couple of pretty good years back to back. I'm sure that Packers would like him back, but they also have 2007 first round pick Justin Harrell and Johnny Jolly, who had a fine year before going on IR with a shoulder injury.

The Packers should also have plenty of cap room this off-season to pursue other free agents or to re-sign their own players. Plus, GM Ted Thompson has had three productive drafts in his time in Green Bay. The drafts in 2005 and 2007 were good, but the draft in 2006 was excellent. I expect Thompson and his scouts to have another very solid draft this year. Thompson was down in Mobile, Ala. this week scouting the Senior Bowl.

Thompson now has a long term contract that was extended this year and so will McCarthy when it's finally completed. That really helps in terms of having a commitment from the organization. As I've said before, both Thompson and McCarthy were as good as anyone in their professions this year. McCarthy will get a chance to coach one more game this year as he will coach the NFC team in this year's Pro Bowl. McCarthy will coach 4 Packers this year in the game, Driver, Kampman, Harris and OT Chad Clifton. One name is missing now ... Favre.

Expect No. 4 to return
Favre was going to be the starting QB for the NFC, but he will not play again due to a lingering ankle injury. Favre will get with McCarthy in a week or so to discuss his future. My guess is that No. 4 will be back for another season. Favre has to know the the team is VERY close to taking the next step, which would be an appearance in the Super Bowl. Plus, Favre had his best season in quite some time.

Under McCarthy, Favre has obviously improved. His completion percentage of 66.5 was the best of his career. His seven 300-yard passing games tied a career high, and his 4,155 passing yards (third-best of his career), 95.7 passer rating (third), 15 interceptions (tied for third) and 356 completions (fourth) were among the best marks of his 17-year career.

Add to that, all of the all-time passing records that fell and now belong to Favre. Favre now has 160 wins as a starting QB, which is now the best all-time mark, 12 games better John Elway's 148. 160 wins over 16 seasons. Think about that for a minute. That means the Packers have averaged double-digit win totals per season while Favre was behind center.

Favre also added to his unbelievable consecutive game started streak by starting all 16 games in 2007 and adding to his astronomical amount of 253 games started consecutively. That's now 275 games if you include the playoffs. Plus, even with the interceptions in the Giants game, Favre threw five TD passes to just two interceptions in the playoffs this year with a QB rating of 99.0 over the two games he played.

Favre also now has the all-time TD pass record (442) that used to belong to Dan Marino (420). Favre also now is the all-time passing yardage leader as he now has thrown for 61,655 yards in his career, which topped Marino again, who threw for 61,361. Favre is also the all-time leading passer in attempts (8,758) and completions (5,377). Favre actually set the completion record last year, before adding to it this year.

So what does Favre have to prove? Nothing. He has a ring. He has the three MVPs. He has the records. But he still has ability. And he still has the desire. And now he has a great young team that can go places. Places like the Super Bowl. If this team was similar to the team that finished 4-12 in 2005, I believe Favre would retire. But this 13-3 team will only get better with more maturity and talent. The team has a very promising future. Favre knows that. That's why he will be back. That and because he loves the game and his teammates.

Bob Fox is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at greenbaybob@hotmail.com.


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