Butler: Packers Must Win Out


It's amazing how one game can change the look of an entire season.

The win over Minnesota a few weeks back saved the Green Bay Packers, and after additional wins over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the San Francisco 49ers, the Packers seemed poised to take the lead in the NFC North by season's end.

But after a thoroughly disappointing loss to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving, now one has to wonder if the Packers are going to run out of time.

Before the game the Packers seemed to have a firm grasp of what it would take to make it to the playoffs. Now their postseason hopes are starting to slip through their fingers.

After the loss to Detroit, several frustrated Packers players suggested that perhaps the Lions wanted the win more than they did. They suggested that maybe Detroit played with greater intensity.

It's a shame if that's true, but let's get serious here. Against a struggling Detroit team, it shouldn't have taken the Packers' greatest effort to get a win.

The fact that the Packers had a chance to tie the game in the end is proof of just that. Usually when a team turns the ball over five times on the road, it's a blowout. Somehow the Packers were still hanging around.

Given the setting, I'm not surprised that the Lions were energized to upset the Packers in front of a national TV audience. But I am surprised that the Packers didn't match that enthusiasm given all that was riding on the outcome.

A lot of times, after a terrible loss like that one, players do their best to avoid watching TV or reading newspapers. But I hope the guys are reading this now, because there isn't time to avoid the obvious: If the Packers want to make the playoffs, they have to win out.

Sure, there are other scenarios that could allow the Packers to sneak into the playoffs, but nobody wearing a green and gold uniform can allow himself to think any differently.

Anything short of an all-out effort over these final four weeks, and the Packers will be sitting at home in January.

It's time that players and fans forget about the first 12 games of the season, because they don't matter anymore. Not right now.

You'll have the entire offseason to think about the missed opportunities of 2003, but for the moment the focus has to be on the single goal at hand.

Players need to be accountable, need to keep from pointing fingers and need to make plays when given the chance.

And, oh, how the Packers had chances to make plays against Detroit!

From dropped balls to missed tackles, it seemed that everything went wrong on Turkey Day.

Offensively, the O-line that I've been praising all season couldn't control the big Detroit D-line like they did in Week 2.

Running back Ahman Green couldn't get anything going. And we'll never know if the Packers could have worn down the Lions defense, because the Packers abandoned the run in favor of the pass pretty early in the game.

Considering how they have lived off the run in recent weeks, I think they should have stuck it out a little longer. They needed to live and die with the strength of their team, and that's been the ground attack.

On the other hand, the O-line and running backs did nothing early on to show that they were going to have much success.

And when the Packers went to the air, bad things happened.

Brett Favre had a beautiful hook-up with Javon Walker, but he also threw three interceptions and had a costly fumble right after Mike McKenzie's outstanding interception.

People will wonder if the broken thumb is the problem, and it might have been on the fumble, but I don't see the injury having anything to do with those interceptions.

Part of the problem was that Favre seemed to have someone in his face all game long. He took a couple shots and whenever the Packers are playing from behind, he always has the mentality that he has to sling it around and make plays.

Sometimes it works. When it doesn't, it can get ugly.

Dre' Bly made it ugly. He forced Walker to fumble and had two interceptions, delivering the kind of gutsy play-making performance that no Packers player contributed.

Defensively, the Packers were without two of their best playmakers in Nick Barnett and Darren Sharper, but I don't think that had anything to do with their struggles early on.

They just lacked the fire and intensity that playoff teams are supposed to display at all times. Eventually they got it together and played a solid second half, considering all the times they forced the Lions into field goals, but by then it was too late.

Joey Harrington, who had thrown two interceptions for touchdowns the previous week, looked far too comfortable in the pocket in the first half and seemed to complete every pass he made.

And the Lions got just enough out of their running game to do damage, which surprises me considering the Packers have a rotation of Gilbert Brown and Grady Jackson to give them a presence inside.

Barnett's speed to the outside could have helped a couple times, but Torrance Marshall played pretty well in his absence and Marques Anderson made a few nice tackles stepping in for Sharper.

But the defense took another hit when Antuan Edwards hurt his hamstring and couldn't return and the secondary started to look thin in terms of experience.

McKenzie provided that interception and Al Harris had an outstanding tackle in the backfield, but it just wasn't enough.

And regardless of injuries, the Packers have to answer the call better if they want to be a playoff team.

Special teams answered the call when Najeh Davenport provided a 57-yard kickoff return. But the offense ended up giving it right back to the Lions.

Mistakes like that can happen once or twice in a game and the Packers can be okay. But they can't happen again and again and again like they did at Ford Field.

Make no mistake, the Lions are a better team than their record indicates. But the Thanksgiving Day loss rests on the shoulders of the Packers.

They were the ones that couldn't afford to lose, but they didn't play that way. And something tells me that those turkey dinners afterward didn't taste as good as they should have.

But considering the situation the Packers find themselves in now, maybe that's a good thing.

With four games to play and no room for error, the Packers better be hungry if they want to make the playoffs.

First course is Bear meat.

*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 Packers.com.

His weekly Q&A will run in its traditional spot Tuesday. Check back Monday to submit questions.

Butler's autobiography, 'The LeRoy Butler Story ... From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap,' is available on his website, leroybutler36.com.*

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