Friday, 8:00 p.m. ET
LOCATION: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI
TV: ABC, Don Criqui, Randy Cross, Mike Lynch
RADIO: WBCN 104.1 FM, Gil Santos, Gino Cappelletti
SERIES: The Patriots have not beaten the Packers - including the regular season, preseason and playoffs - in nearly 11 years, dating back to a 17-16 win Oct. 2, 1994. The two teams haven't met in the preseason since 1997, but nonetheless Green Bay is looking to stretch its preseason winning streak against New England to four games tonight. The Patriots and Packers rarely meet in the regular season (three games in the past 16 seasons), and that trend won't change until next year, so tonight's game is certainly a rare matchup. The most notable game New England has played against the Packers is Super Bowl XXXI, in which the Pats couldn't squeeze the cheese and lost 31-25.
2004 RANKINGS*: Packers: offense 3rd (10th
rush, 3rd pass); defense 25th (14th rush, 25th pass). Patriots: offense 7th (7th
rush, 11th pass); defense 9th (6th rush, 17th pass)
* in yardage
KEYS TO THE GAME: Early in training camp, WR Troy Brown said, "We've got 11 or 12 receivers in camp fighting for a job. I want to be one of those guys on the field." Well Troy, that fight just got a little bit tougher.
Along with the activation of Tim Dwight before last week's preseason loss to the Saints (3 catches, 69 yards) and the recent trade for former Brown Andre' Davis, the New England receiving corps has improved significantly of late. This will give QB Tom Brady that many more options tonight and for the season, especially if Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch begins to find himself in double coverage. One of the Packers' weaknesses is pass defense (229 yds/gm allowed last year), so the Pats passing attack should be fully fleshed out tonight. With Branch, Dwight, Davis, pro bowler Troy Brown, David Givens, rookie Jason Anderson (2 TDs this preseason), and Bam Childress (just to name a few) all in the fold, the cuts should be tough calls to make even for Bill Belichick.
"I can't dictate that one guy is going to be more productive or do something that someone else isn't going to do," Belichick said. "If they can do it out on the field then great - they'll get that role on the team. If somebody else does it better than we'll go with somebody else."
Many of those cuts will need to come soon. The deadline for roster reduction to 65 players is August 30 and by September 4 the Patriot roster will need to be shaved down to the regular season limit of 53 players. That date looms large in the face of tonight's game against the Packers, so every contested roster spot will be scrutinized extra hard by the coaching staff of both teams. S Antuan Edwards was released yesterday and LB Don Davis (3 tackles last week) and QB Rohan Davey (DNP last week) appear to be on the hotseat after their competitors have performed well this month.
As they did last week, the Patriots should spread the ball around to as many different players competing on the offensive end. Nine different players caught a pass and four different players ran the ball, while five separate Patriots had a go at either punt or kickoff returning. Davis should be added to the special teams mix to return kicks. CB Ellis Hobbs appears to be entrusted to shoulder the load in the kickoff return department, considering he gained 111 yards on four kickoffs last week, including a 53-yard spree.
On the uncertain defensive lineman front, DL Ifo Pili, who spent his rookie season last year on the Eagles' practice squad and was cut by the Texans Aug. 13, looks poised to get an extended look in tonight's game. New England needs a strong backup option behind Vince Wilfork and the club is hoping Pili can fill that void. Now that the team's holes in rush defense have been exposed, it will be a constant theme to see the opposition targeting the weakness and taking it to the ground. Running backs Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport should see the ball a lot more than they did last week against the Bills, who all but shut the Packers down in a 27-7 rout.
FAST FACTS: Packers: Green Bay head coach Mike Sherman grew up in Hyde Park, Mass. and attended Boston Latin for high school. He also coached at Holy Cross from 1985-88 where he developed a relationship with Packers offensive coordinator Tom Rossley, who coached for the Crusaders from 1986-87. QB Brett Favre has looked sharp this preseason as he rolls into his 15th NFL season, completing 13-of-16 passes for 132 yards and two TDs. Former Patriots Adrian Klemm and Grey Ruegamer are listed as the top two left guards on the Packers' depth chart. Ruegamer is said to see time backup center tonight, though. Patriots: Starting RB Corey Dillon missed the game against New Orleans last week to be with his expecting wife, who gave birth to Dillon's second daughter on Tuesday. Patriots DL Vince Wilfork was teammates with Packers RB Najeh Davenport at the University of Miami.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a great football atmosphere. It's awesome Those fans are into the game. They'll be there early. I know when you play a one o'clock game there, which was most of the ones that I have played, those people are there in those orange ice fishing suits or whatever that is at 8:30 in the morning and they have their grills going There are a lot of football ghosts that have been in those stadiums and achieved great things, (but) in the immediate picture, we're not on a sightseeing tour here." -- Bill Belichick on Green Bay fans and Lambeau Field.
PREDICTION: 27-13, Patriots
Packers: CB Al Harris - abdominal, DT Cletidus Hunt - shoulder,
DT Grady Jackson* - knee, CB Joey Thomas, calf. Patriots: TE Daniel Graham - leg, WR Bethel Johnson* - undisclosed, RB Chad Morton* - undisclosed,
LB Mike Vrabel - ankle, LB Ryan Claridge - I/R
* on PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list
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