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Butler: Packers Must Cash In On Opportunities


Obviously I sound like a broken record when I say the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was heart-breaking for the Green Bay Packers.

But of all of the Packers' losses this season, Monday night's might have been the most disappointing.

As players all you ask for in the NFL is the opportunity to make plays. And the Packers had plenty of opportunities against the Eagles, but didn't cash in enough to win.

For a team that has had trouble holding on to the football this season, the cold and wet conditions at Lambeau Field didn't do the Packers any favors.

Monday night, Ahman Green had two fumbles, including one that was recovered by the Eagles. Najeh Davenport also had a fumble.

Brett Favre had three fumbles on the night, one of which ended a Packers drive, while the other two hurt the Packers' offensive rhythm and field position.

Favre's problems might have had as much to do with his injured thumb as the wet conditions, but even when he was able to get his passes off, his receivers didn't always bring it in.

Donald Driver got a hand on two deep passes, but couldn't make the play either time.

Those weren't exactly gimme opportunities, but they are the kinds of plays the Packers need to make if they're going to go on a playoff run.

Similarly, while the Packers' offensive line absolutely dominated the game against the Eagles, allowing Green to gain a team-record 192 yards while the Packers as a whole averaged 6.5 yards per carry, the Packers needed to be able to gain at least one first down on that late fourth-quarter drive that went three-and-out.

I'm not putting the blame on the O-line for that drive, but knowing those guys, they expect to convert every time, and even one first down that late in the game would have gone a long way toward a win.

Ryan Longwell's 45-yard field goal try that came up just short also would have been huge. But it's impossible to get down on any kicker that is trying to do his job in that environment, especially when it's a kicker who hadn't missed all season until then.

Besides, if the Packers hadn't lost 5 yards on the previous play, Longwell's kick probably would have been good for 3 more Packers points.

But that's the fine line between victory and defeat. And unfortunately it seems the Packers keep falling on the wrong side of that line.

In addition to the strong rushing performance, the Packers had other positives to point to Monday night.

The defense played extremely well for almost all of the game, stepping up for the offense when turnovers threatened to put the Packers behind.

But even there the Packers came up short.

For the second game in a row they couldn't come up with a takeaway and late in the game they didn't play aggressively and let the Eagles drive down the field for the go-ahead score.

A lot of people will look to place the blame on Bhawoh Jue, who was covering Todd Pinkston on the winning touchdown pass, but -- as I've demonstrated -- the game was about much more than that final play.

Still, Pinkston's reception was another example of a missed opportunity for the Packers.

On that play, the Packers were in a quarters -- or Cover 4 -- coverage and Jue should have had outside coverage with help inside from safety Antuan Edwards. But Jue got over-extended on the play and when Donovan McNabb lofted a ball out into the corner of the end zone, the Packers got beat instead of knocking it down or having a chance at an interception.

Jue's mistake was costly, but it was just one of many.

And you have to give credit to the Eagles for going after him. Up until that point, Al Harris had been in the game, but when Harris left with cramps, Philadelphia attacked the guy who had been getting cold sitting on the bench.

It worked.

The Packers might have had more success on the final Eagles drive by being more aggressive.

In my playing experience, when a team is in a must-score situation, like the Eagles were, bringing heat to the quarterback is the best way to counteract an offensive attack.

Instead, the Packers didn't get pressure on the quarterback and that allowed McNabb to take his time and make confident throws.

Even though I believe the Packers should have mixed in some blitzes, they weren't in a strict prevent defense like some of you might suspect. And the Packers had plenty of opportunities to make tackles and shut guys down out of their zone scheme.

They just didn't do enough to win.

The Packers do have to feel good about Grady Jackson's performance in his first game with the team.

Jackson only stands to get better and he definitely was a difference maker out there Monday. As a whole, the Packers did a pretty good job pressuring the quarterback, but they still need to get better pressure from their front four on an every-down basis.

That will help them get some 'cheap' sacks with a base four-man rush.

And when the defensive line does flush the quarterback out of the pocket, someone has to be able to step up to drop him for a loss, rather than letting him throw it away or -- even worse -- scramble up the field for a gain.

For as well as the defense played for the majority of the game Monday night, their biggest shortcoming was not creating turnovers, just like the offense's biggest mistake was giving the ball away.

I'm sure fans are going to be all over Green and his trouble with ball protection, but even though the fumbles are frustrating, you have to look at where the Packers would be without him.

Green is the strength of the team right now. His fumbling problems do have to be addressed, but for all of Green's positives other players have to be ready and willing to step up and counter the few negatives he might bring.

As disheartening as the loss is, the Packers can get that momentum back right away.

Awaiting the Packers at the end of this short week are the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- a team that seems to have been bitten by the same snake that's poisoned the Packers from time to time this season.

As devastating as the Eagles loss feels right now, the Packers really aren't in terrible shape in terms of a playoff run.

They missed an opportunity to close ground on the Minnesota Vikings -- who lost over the weekend -- and the rest of the NFC, but the Vikings are struggling even more than the Packers right now.

More than anything, the Packers need to rattle off a few wins to prove to themselves, to their fans and to the rest of the league that they can be a consistent force.

With three losses at Lambeau Field this season, the Packers need to re-create a home-field advantage that just doesn't seem to be there right now.

Strangely enough, they need to do that by winning some tough road games, creating some positive momentum and then returning to their winning ways at home.

All that will take is playing like the team that dominated the Eagles for the majority of Monday night's game, rather than the one that sometimes appears to be watching their playoff hopes slip away like a wet football.

*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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