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Butler: Streaking Packers Staying Hot


I know people have concerns over the fourth quarter from Sunday, but I'm going to deal with that later. First of all, I want to say what a great turnaround this has been over the last four games. After losing four straight and going to 1-4, the Packers have fought their way back to 5-4 and are in a tie for first place in the NFC North.

I can't think of any team - outside of the perhaps Pittsburgh Steelers that have won seven in a row - that is hotter than the Green Bay Packers right now. The Packers have done whatever they've had to do over this four-game stretch to get the victory, and they've done it.

You have to look at the leaders on this team, the guys like Brett Favre and Ahman Green and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila - these guys just would not let this season slip away from them. You have to give them a lot of credit.

Also, you have to give Coach Sherman a lot of credit for what he has done. He has his team focused on the big picture and that's winning the division and getting back to the playoffs where the Packers belong.

Ahman Green, like I've said before, is a second half guru. He kicked of the second half of the season with an outstanding game against the Minnesota Vikings. Not to mention he had to leave the game after getting kicked in the knee, got it taped up, and came back and played very well in the third and fourth quarters.

Brett Favre again proved that he is an ageless wonder. I had a conversation with him before the game and I asked him about playing at his age, and his reply was that every time he puts those pads on, it hurts and he feels it, but he loves the game, he loves the excitement and he loves what you the fans give him every time he steps out on the field.

That's why when he took the ball with the score tied 31-31, there wasn't a doubt in my mind that the Packers were going to leave Lambeau Field with the 'W'. Brett made a beautiful throw to Tony Fisher and made some other great plays to get the team in position for Ryan Longwell to kick that game-winning field goal.

Looking at the offense, I think the Packers are on to something here. The offensive line continued to prove that they are one of the best lines in the NFL. They grind the defensive line up and protect Brett Favre against countless blitzes and stunts.

I also want to talk about a player who I think all of you need to vote for on those Pro Bowl ballots, and that's Javon Walker. This young man has stepped his game up and is now one of the top receivers in the entire league. He's gaining a lot of yards and making big plays every week.

I think he and Terrell Owens are the biggest impact receivers in the entire NFL. The way Javon goes up and gets the ball and has the speed and the quickness and toughness to find the end zone, I just find that outstanding.

Bubba Franks made a great catch in the end zone. It's always good to see the Packers take advantage of him as a big target in the red zone who runs very good routes. David Martin also had a long catch along the sideline that proves his versatility in this offense.

I think the offense is really starting to find a balance. If they have to get into shootouts, they can win the shootouts. If they get into a situation where they have to run the ball to protect a lead, they can do that too. Whatever is necessary, this offense is capable of getting it done.

One thing - just about the only thing - that has disappointed me about the offense has been the number of fumbles that they have given up. The Packers are -11 in the turnover ratio, and there have been way too many fumbles. If the Packers don't turn the ball over, they will be a very difficult team to beat down the stretch.

Defensively, it seems to me like the Packers have to get their continuity together and get the scheme in perspective. Daunte Culpepper is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league, and he showed why on Sunday.

There were some positive signs that I took away from the defense's performance, though.

KGB, like I've said before, is another one of those second half of the season guys. He had two sacks against the Vikings and possibly could have had four, but Dorsey and McKinnie, the two tackles, kept grabbing and holding him. Kabeer also played very well against the run.

Cullen Jenkins also showed some great explosion on his sack breaking through the middle of the line.

Bhawoh Jue had a possible interception that could have put the game away without all of the last-minute heroics, but I thought it was good that he was in position to make the play.

One thing that concerned me on defense was that there were so many times that the Vikings had a receiver come wide open in the middle of the field.

Another real concern I have - probably my biggest concern with the defense right now - is the third-and-long situations. I know you guys have the same concern from reading all of your e-mails.

Whenever it's third and nine-or-more, teams have been able to convert those plays, and that's something that has got to get fixed. I think the defense needs to get more aggressive on those downs and put the guys in the position to make the plays.

I'm looking for one of the guys to step up here in the second half of the season and put that to rest. Giving up big plays on third- and fourth-and-long will make you lose games that you should win.

I also think the tackling in the red zone must improve, and just like everyone has said, this team is going to have to cause more turnovers to help out the offense. They've got to strip the ball and intercept passes to put the offense working with a short field.

To think about some players of the game, I would have to give co-offensive player of the game awards to William Henderson and Brett Favre.

Henderson blocked well all day, caught a touchdown pass, and then went on special teams and made the tackle on the kickoff. This guy is playing like he's 23, not 33 like his driver's license would tell you. He catches passes and jumps over tacklers, and then goes back to the huddle and pancakes defenders when he's throwing blocks for Ahman Green.

I don't even have to say what a great job Brett did, throwing four touchdown passes and keeping the offense going for another big game.

Defensively, Kabeer is the player of the game for his performance. He took over the game at one point, and that's what it's going to take for the rest of the season.

On special teams, I have to give a game ball to Ben Steele for getting that fumble recovery that he probably shouldn't have gotten. He wrestled the ball away from four Vikings on that play and set up that big field goal at the end.

The concerns I've pointed out are being fixed as we speak. The Packers are going on the road next week, and they're going to have to step up defensively against a good, young Houston Texans team.

*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 again providing exclusive analysis to beginning with training camp and later with a breakdown of the upcoming game on Saturdays, followed by a column and Q&A session on Tuesdays during the preseason and regular season.

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

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