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Butler: Coaches Had Them Ready


Last Sunday night, at about 5 p.m., I was sitting on the bus outside the Green Bay Packers' team hotel, waiting to head over to the Metrodome.

The Packers were two and a half hours away from taking on the Minnesota Vikings, and after I sat down next to wide receiver Antonio Freeman -- a former teammate of mine -- we started to talk about some of the horrors of playing under the roof in Minneapolis.

"It just seems like every time we have them on the ropes, we let them off and lose the game," Freeman told me.

So I asked him, how did he think the Packers were going to respond that night, facing a must-win in the race for the NFC North Championship?

"We're going to take it to them," he told me.

Right then and there, a few hours before the game, I could tell the Packers were ready.

Around 5:30 p.m., I was walking through the visiting team locker room when I ran into GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman.

He told me how the Packers had had a good week of practice, and that he expected them to get back to their winning ways.

It was a divisional opponent, Sherman pointed out, and the team understood the importance of a win.

Around 7 p.m., having gone through pre-game warm ups, the Packers were back in the locker room for final instructions.

Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell reminded the defense that they couldn't give up big plays and that they had to tackle well.

"Don't wait," Donatell said. "Go out and take this game from the initial kickoff."

Offensive coordinator Tom Rossley said the Packers were going to be aggressive from the start. They were going to take it right at the Vikings, find out how well their cornerbacks could cover and keep the pressure on with a steady pounding of running back Ahman Green.

About 7:15, Sherman stepped up to address the team. He said, "Take your game to another level. America is watching. They want to know who the real Packers are. Go out and show them."

As the team listened, just minutes before the game, I could tell they were ready.

Introductions of both teams followed, and before the game started I was standing next to Brett Favre on the sideline.

Coach Sherman had joked that the reason I came to Minnesota was to calm Favre down and keep him from getting too excited, but it was still pretty obvious how badly Favre wanted to win.

As we were standing there, I asked him whether the velocity or accuracy of his passes would be affected by his broken thumb.

He said it wouldn't, that it was mind over matter, and that once the game kicked off and the adrenaline started flowing, he wouldn't even think about his thumb anymore.

It was at that point that I told him that the game would be determined on how he played, and that if he did well, the Packers would win.

That might sound like a lot of pressure to be putting on a guy right before kickoff, but for a guy like Brett Favre, pressure is something to thrive on.

And as the game began, I could tell the Packers were ready.

From the opening play of the game, the offense was just as aggressive as Rossley promised. In what was a great game plan, the Packers had the perfect mix of run and pass to keep the Vikings off balance.

Broken thumb and all, Favre was precise with all of his passes. Even the interception that was just a bad read.

But once again, major credit has to be given to the Packers' offensive line, which totally dominated the game from start to finish.

Chris Hovan? He had to pick fights to get mentioned. In fact, the last time I saw him was on the cover of the game program. Other than that, he didn't show up Sunday night.

When the O-line is dominating like that, you can pencil in Green for 100 yards, no problem. And Favre, he has all the time he needs to make plays.

Perhaps his greatest of the night came as a lead blocker, after Green broke a tackle and reversed direction. Most quarterbacks would have carried out their play-fake and ran off the field, but Favre couldn't wait to dive into the action.

After he put his body out there for that block, Favre was as excited as he got all game. Green was pumped. The Packers sideline was pumped. Packers Nation was pumped.

That's why people love Brett Favre. Because he'll do whatever he can to help the team win.

On the receiving end of a lot of Favre's passes Sunday night was Javon Walker, who looks to be the team's new rising star. The Vikings' Randy Moss made his touchdown catch, but Walker was the real No. 84 on the field Sunday night.

He has a long way to go to be considered as great as Moss, but Sunday he was the best receiver on the field.

Meanwhile, Donald Driver showed why he's a Pro Bowl receiver, not with catches, but with his speed on an end-around and with his great run blocking.

And speaking of blocking, there isn't a fullback in the entire league that's in the starting lineup on offense and special teams and makes as many plays as William Henderson.

If this guy doesn't go to the Pro Bowl, it's a shame. He's by far the best all-around fullback in the game right now, from his tackling on kick coverage to his pass catching and outstanding blocking. That guy doesn't get enough credit, but hopefully everyone **will cast their vote** to get Henderson to Hawaii this year.

Just like the offensive unit lived up to Coach Rossley's words, the defensive unit came through for Coach Donatell.

Yes, they gave up a 43-yard touchdown to Moss, but other than that they kept the Vikings from making big plays.

The touchdown to Moss was the result of a bad read by the secondary, but defensive backs coach Bob Slowik remained positive and didn't let his players get down. And that's part of the reason I think they bounced back and won the game.

Antuan Edwards showed me that he's becoming a veteran safety with his play. I'm not sure if it showed up on TV, but Edwards was largely responsible for limiting Moss to just six catches.

Credit should also go to cornerbacks Al Harris and Mike McKenzie, who were physical all night long. They got in Moss' face and refused to give in, as evidenced by McKenzie's crucial tackle in the fourth quarter.

If the secondary continues to play that well collectively, the Packers will be back in the playoff picture in no time.

Now, I'm sure the fans wanted even more pressure on quarterback Daunte Culpepper than they got, but give credit to the scheme, which was designed to keep the quarterback from beating them on long runs or long passes.

The Packers still managed to keep Culpepper on the run and the Minnesota running game, despite a few gains here and there, never broke off a huge play and never established itself to the point that the Vikings controlled the clock.

As a whole, the Packers made plays when they had to on defense.

They made a few changes from what they did in the season opener, but really the defensive attack was the exact same one that got handled by the Vikings in Week 1. The difference this time was that the players made plays.

They also did a good job of disguising their defense, as when safety Darren Sharper delayed his blitz just long enough to surprise Michael Bennett with a tackle at the line of scrimmage.

Standing on the sideline, I was impressed with the Packers' determination. I was also impressed by linebacker Nick Barnett, who looks like anything but a rookie.

That kid is going to be a star in this league, and here's how I can tell.

Barnett played almost the entire second half with leg cramps. The first time he left the field, I stood there as the doctors explained that if he went to the locker room to get an IV, he'd have to miss maybe seven plays.

Barnett looked everyone in the eye and said, "I ain't missing any plays," and got right back on the field. Eventually he did have to be taken to the locker room when the cramps refused to go away, but that kind of toughness and intensity isn't usually seen in rookies.

That sort of toughness has been seen all season long, however, by the Packers' special teams units, which are the strength of the team.

In coverage, I don't know if there's a guy in the league who gets down the field faster than Robert Ferguson. Even if he doesn't make the tackle, he's disrupting the returns.

Meanwhile, Josh Bidwell continues to play at a Pro Bowl level, launching a high 61-yard punt that was called back by penalty before responding with another deep, high kick the following play. His leg seems to be getting stronger in the second half of the season.

But don't forget about Ryan Longwell, another guy deserving of Pro Bowl votes, who kicks clutch field goals through the uprights time and again. He's automatic.

So was Sharper at the end of the game, when coordinator John Bonamego placed him perfectly to recover the onside kick to preserve the win.

And what a win it was!

Going into the second half of the season, the Packers started with a bang. They're right back in the hunt for the division crown and that rare Metrodome win could catapult them on a winning streak.

The Packers don't have a winning record yet, but more importantly they have their swagger back.

The coaches had them ready for this game. Now they need to keep focused for the entire second half.

*LeRoy Butler played 12 seasons for the Green Bay Packers, helping them to two Super Bowls and earning NFL All-Decade Honors for the 1990s, before retiring in July 2002. This season Butler is providing exclusive analysis to with a breakdown of the upcoming game on Saturdays and a column and Q&A session on Tuesdays.

Butler's autobiography, 'The LeRoy Butler Story ... From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap,' is available on his website,*

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