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Butler: Packers Got Win They Wanted


Last weekend the Green Bay Packers came from behind at Lambeau Field to defeat the Chicago Bears for the seventh straight time, 34-21.

But instead of celebrating the fact that the Packers' playoff hopes are still alive, it seems that many fans just want to focus on the 14-0 hole the Packers fell into to start the game.

So let's start this column off with a little dose of perspective.

I know the Packers have made beating Chicago look easy in recent years, and I know that at 5-8, the Bears aren't one of the NFC's powerhouse opponents this season. But the Packers and their fans should have learned from the Thanksgiving Day loss to Detroit that any NFL team can be a winner on any given Sunday.

As much as fans may want to compare everything to the 1996 season -- when we went 13-3 on our way to the Super Bowl and won many of our games by wide margins -- in the current NFL, blowouts just aren't going to happen as frequently as they used to.

Take a look at the Kansas City Chiefs. At 11-2, they're about as dominant as it gets in the NFL right now, but in recent weeks, the Chiefs lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, beat the Oakland Raiders by 3 points and the San Diego Chargers by 4 points.

The Bears meanwhile are having another losing season, but came into Lambeau Field having defeated the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium, 19-10, and the Arizona Cardinals at Soldier Field, 28-3.

Those wins by the Bears put them into playoff contention. So if you think that the Packers were the only ones hyped up to play a big game last weekend, think again.

Give Chicago credit for giving the Packers all they had last Sunday, and give the Packers the credit they deserve for stepping up and saying, 'No, no, no: not in our house!'

But since so many fans seem to want to focus on the negative, let's start with that 14-0 deficit before everyone jumps off the bandwagon.

Can the Packers afford to fall into holes like that? No. Not on a regular basis. But let's keep in mind that Chicago didn't build a 14-point lead by dominating the Packers, but by coming out on the winning end of two plays.

Marty Booker blew by Mike McKenzie on his 61-yard touchdown catch (more on that later), but to that point Chicago had run 10 plays (not including punts) to produce only two first downs.

Then Lance Briggs had Christmas come early when Brett Favre's throwaway pass didn't reach the sideline, allowing for an easy interception and touchdown.

So what happened on that Favre interception? Let me explain it, because on TV it might have been a bit confusing.

When Favre came to the line of scrimmage he read the defense and could tell that R.W. McQuarters was going to come on a blitz with a Bears linebacker.

Once Favre recognized that he attempted to call out the numbers so that either the offensive linemen or the running back could pick up the rush. The problem is, there was a miscommunication and the Bears defenders came free into the pocket.

Farve dodged one guy, but in an attempt to avoid a costly sack, he did what any good quarterback should do and he tried to throw the football away. Unfortunately, he didn't get enough on it and Briggs had an easy interception.

Was it a mistake to throw that ball? Well, yes, because it allowed 7 points for the bad guys. But this wasn't a case where Favre tried to throw the ball into traffic or mis-read the defense, he just didn't make a good throw.

That's going to happen sometimes. That's football. The only solution would have been to just take the sack, and something tells me that fans would have been frustrated by that decision, too.

The point is, Favre was trying to do the right thing and got a bad result. It's unfortunate, but I think Packers fans should think before they try to run a three-time MVP out of town.

If they'd notice, neither the Booker touchdown nor the Favre interception rattled the Packers players. If anything, it sparked them to step up their play even more.

In fact, I was standing on the sideline and the only finger pointing I saw was when McKenzie walked up to all the defensive players and told them that he was sorry for giving up the Booker touchdown and that he'd make up for it before the game was over.

But for now let's stick with the offense and commend offensive coordinator Tom Rossley for sticking with the run.

For the second week in a row, the Packers rushing unit was held in check by their opponent. But when you're one of the best running teams in the league, you can't take no for an answer and you can't quit trying.

I know it's a concern that the Lions and Bears had so much success slowing down Ahman Green, but the Packers have to continue to be a run-first offense.

Credit Green -- who finished 12 yards short of setting the Packers single-season rushing record -- for remaining patient and caring more about the win than about his individual legacy. That kind of unselfish attitude is what it takes for teams to be successful.

Even though Green wasn't the hero over the weekend, you have to think he has better days ahead before the season comes to a close.

The positive thing is that when the running game faltered, Favre and the passing game stepped up.

Other than the interception, Favre was sharp. When he's playing well, Favre works through his progressions better than any other quarterback in the NFL. That's something he wasn't doing as well the past couple weeks, but when the Bears doubled Pro Bowl wide receiver Donald Driver, Favre threw to Robert Ferguson or dumped it off to a running back.

In one instance, Favre found fullback William Henderson wide open in the middle of the field. Henderson made a rare drop on the play, which was shocking considering his nearly flawless season to this point, but the play was still a great example of how effective the Packers' passing game can be.

And, man, isn't it great to see No. 84 making those catches? In only his second year as a pro, Javon Walker is really coming into his own. Same with Ferguson, who is quicker off the jam than almost any receiver in the game and who had seven catches against the Bears.

With those guys coming along and Driver remaining a constant threat, the Packers will start killing teams with the passing game if opponents continue to rely on single coverage as they stack against the run.

Tight end Wesley Walls and Tony Fisher also just missed making some outstanding catches on two plays that -- in my opinion -- should have drawn pass interference penalties. If the Packers had come up with touchdowns there, the margin of victory would have been even greater.

But when the Chicago defense dug in, Ryan Longwell took the team on his shoulders.

Four field goals at Lambeau Field in December? Three at 35 yards or longer? I don't think people realize how tough that is.

The problem is, Longwell doesn't get the credit he deserves because he's so modest, especially compared to guys like Mike Vanderjagt or John Kasay.

Longwell is Mr. Automatic and hopefully Mr. Pro Bowl this season. (Speaking of which, **time is running out to vote** for guys like Longwell, William Henderson, Mike Flanagan, Mike Wahle, etc.)

But the real heroes against the Bears were on defense, because the only points they allowed were on that 61-yard pass play to Booker.

Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell had a great game plan, bringing a lot of heat on quarterback Kordell Stewart to force several mistakes.

But kudos need to be given to the players, too, who played with a lot of heart and desire. They forced fumbles, made interceptions and held the Bears to 44 rushing yards.

McKenzie's first interception, which deflected off Darren Sharper, was key because it helped the Packers climb back into the game. But his second pick and 90-yard interception return -- which tied yours truly -- was the backbreaker.

Credit Sharper and Nick Barnett for hustling down the field to make key blocks.

Speaking of which, wasn't it great to see Barnett flying around on the field again? I'm sure that sprained ankle will bother him to some degree for the rest of the year, but he's a difference maker and the Packers are happy to have him back out on the field.

Barnett and fellow linebackers Na'il Diggs and Hannibal Navies have to keep up their excellent play, because over the final three weeks of the season the Packers will have to stop outstanding runners like LaDainian Tomlinson, Tyrone Wheatley and Clinton Portis.

The defensive line also will be important in that respect, and the addition of Grady Jackson has sure helped give the Packers extra push up the middle.

Jackson had a great goal-line sack and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Cletidus Hunt, along with the warrior Gilbert Brown, have stepped up their play in recent weeks.

Now healthy, Aaron Kampman is a difference-maker for the D-line, too, and there couldn't be a better time for everything to start coming together.

In fact the only real glitch to come out of the Bears game was the kickoff return for a touchdown scored by Jerry Azumah.

It was meaningless in terms of the final outcome, but the Packers had several missed gaps, missed angles and missed tackles on that play.

But maybe it's good that they got that out of their system. John Bonamego's special teams units have been a strength all season, and I'm sure he'll make sure mistakes like that don't happen again.

Regardless of whether you came away from the Bears game feeling satisfied or frustrated, the bottom line is that the Packers came away with a must-need win.

There are three games left and all three are just as important.

If the Packers are going to survive the stretch run, they have to remain aggressive in all three phases of the game.

On offense, they have to find a way to get that running game going again, and on defense they have to continue to stop the run.

Of course the most key statistic of all will be turnovers. If the offense can protect the ball like they did against Chicago and the defense can keep generating takeaways, I think the Packers' 2003 season will last into January.

But just like the Bears, the Chargers, Raiders and Denver Broncos won't make it easy.

*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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