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By Don Majkowski
Penalties. Turnovers. A potential TD pass overthrown slightly. A botched chip shot field goal attempt. Bad luck. These were the ingredients for a very disappointing opening day for the Green Bay Packers last Sunday. You can say the Packers beat themselves. At the same time, take nothing away from the Detroit Lions. They hung tough and cashed in with points at several key junctures. They played some great defense and held Green Bay's offense to a meager three points.
Still, this one really hurts. The Packers know deep down that this game was theirs for the taking and they couldn't get the job done. When you get flagged 14 times for 100 yards it's tough to win. One of those penalties nullified a beautiful 47-yard punt return by Antonio Chatman. Not only could the Packers have won this game, they would have had a leg up in the NFC North Division race because Chicago and Minnesota also lost. The sad exclamation point for the day was losing Javon Walker for the rest of the season with a knee injury. He is an All-Pro receiver and a real weapon. The Packers will have to find some way to fill a huge void. The opportunity is there for guys like Robert Ferguson and Terrence Murphy to step up and make their presence felt. There's also the possibility to pick up a player off the waiver wire. One name that came to mind is Koren Robinson, whom the Minnesota Vikings released on Saturday. The Vikings however re-signed him Monday.
Going into the Detroit game, it seemed everyone's biggest concern was how the defense would play and whether they would be able to stop running back Kevin Jones. The offense figured to be potent, even with two new starting guards. Who would have figured the Packers to score only on a Ryan Longwell field goal for the fewest points since Brett Favre took over as the starting quarterback.
I thought the defense held its own against Jones, making him earn every one of his 87 yards. Overall, I think the defense played surprisingly well and really stepped up and were well prepared. Special teams played well, for the most part, too. They kept Eddie Drummond, one of the most dangerous kick returners in the NFL, under wraps all day.
So what's the good news in all of this? Most of the mistakes Green Bay made are correctible. The fumbled snap and the ball that slipped out of Brett's hand as he attempted to pass made it obvious that it was warm in that dome. Brand new NFL game balls are very slippery. I've been there before and I know how easy it is to lose your grip with those new balls when you're trying to pass. This is not to make any excuses because it's something all teams have to deal with, but it was unfortunate that the problem cropped up in two big plays that went against the Packers.
There's no doubt in my mind that the Packers were ready to play and wanted it every bit as badly as the Lions. Unfortunately, they didn't seal the deal on some opportunities like theye have in the past, especially offensively. In the first quarter, the Packers came out with several nice completions in a row and were driving the ball nicely, but failed to convert on 3rd and 2. Third down conversions were just not acceptable at only 5-of-16 for 31 percent. They had a lot of third down and short-yardage situations, too, so they've got to clean that up. That's what stalls drives and they have to get better in this area to give themselves the opportunity to score more points.
Green Bay's offensive line actually did an adequate job in a loud, hostile environment. It must have been very difficult for the guys to communicate because of all the noise in Ford Field, site of this year's Super Bowl. There's no way you can blame them for the lack of points that the Packers scored. Will Whitticker was going against an All-Pro in Shaun Rogers who's an absolute beast. That's a tall order and Whitticker did an admirable job. There were also flashes of the kind of line play that Packers fans have come to expect. Ahman Green ran extremely hard, but he had just 12 carries. There were several situations where we had to throw the ball and that detracted from the running game. When you don't have the running game going, it hurts your ability to make the play action pass work, something the Packers have always done very well.
Fortunately, this was only the first game of the season. Mistakes like holding, blocking in the back, false starts, and illegal hands to the face are all correctible. The Packers need to learn from these mistakes and, at the same time, develop a touch of amnesia. They can't change what happened. They can only work harder to get better and that process starts this week for this week's home opener against the Browns.
Don "Majik" Majkowski was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame earlier this year. His career for the Packers spanned six seasons (1987-92), including being named to the Pro Bowl in 1989 when he led the NFL in passing yards. In addition to his duties with Packers.com, Majik provides football analysis for WSSP-AM - SportsRadio 1250 in Milwaukee; WDUZ 107.5 &1440 (The Fan) in Green Bay; WTSO - ESPN 1070 in Madison; WDEZ - 101.9 FM in Wausau; and WIZD - 99.9 FM in Plover/Stevens Point.