Defending Champs, Sloppy Play Hurt Packers

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If you relish acrobatic catches, beautiful play from the pocket and sunny weather, you would not have enjoyed watching the New England Patriots defeat the Green Bay Packers 27-3 in front of 69,501 fans on Friday night.

"Any time you turn the ball over four times," head coach Mike Sherman said. "You're going to look ugly."

Ugly is an apt description for a night that featured two interceptions from Brett Favre, an interception from Aaron Rodgers, an Ahman Green fumble, eight first half penalties and a downpour that drenched the field in the second half.

"We were somewhat tentative and made too many mental mistakes," fullback William Henderson said. "When you get a chance to play against the best, you go out there and you represent yourself to your best ability, and I know we didn't do that tonight."

The Packers repeated much of the same special teams miscues from last week's game versus the Buffalo Bills. Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs set the tone for the game by returning the opening kickoff 43 yards to the Packers 46-yard-line. The Patriots then used the short field for a four play, 41-yard drive, culminating in a Corey Dillon 12-yard touchdown run.

"Two weeks in a row we gave up a kickoff return," Sherman said "I'm very concerned."

In the first quarter Patriots wide receiver Tim Dwight also returned a punt 44 yards to the Green Bay 27-yard line.

Preseason can account for some of the performance. With so many new players on the field, teams often have trouble creating the cohesion essential for special teams success.

"Covering kicks is a tough thing to do in the preseason," kicker Ryan Longwell said. "What you teach on the Power Point is so different than what you run full speed. We just made fundamental errors the last two weeks ... Obviously it's not to our standard."

Special teams, however, did lead to the Packers' lone score. B.J. Sander punted the ball 30 yards to the Patriots 15-yard-line when Patriots cornerback Tyrone Poole let the ball carom off his back. Packers cornerback Chris Johnson astutely recovered the muff at the eight-yard-line to set up a Ryan Longwell 26-yard field goal.

That was one of the few mistakes by the Patriots all night. Indeed the back-to-back Super Bowl champions capitalized on the Packers' mistakes.

"There's a reason why they're in the position they're in.," offensive tackle Mark Tauscher said. "We obviously have a long way to go to put ourselves in that category."

Dillon became the Patriots' most effective weapon, rushing fourteen times for 70 yards and two touchdowns. He moved the chains and killed the clock.

Although the Packers did not stop Dillon, they showed some positive signs. They limited Tom Brady and the Patriots to 159 yards passing while the Patriots often started with good field position.

"I saw some good things on defense," Sherman said. "Were we perfect? No, far from it."

Sherman liked how physical the defense played and the way defenders burst off the line of scrimmage.

The Packers struggled more on offense than defense. Even Favre, who had posted a blistering 140.6 quarterback rating in two games, finished 9-of-21 for 69 yards and two interceptions.

An offense that amassed 1,908 rushing yards last season averaged only 3.3 yards on Saturday. Without an effective running game, the Packers could not create any kind of tempo or set up the play-action fake.

"When we get that first first down and that second first down, everything seems to click," Tauscher said. "Right now people are not respecting what we are doing running the football. Until we get to that point, it's going to be a struggle."

The Packers have time to address their problems on special teams and offense.

"This is the preseason," Sherman said. "We'll get fixed what needs to get fixed, and hopefully this game will be a distant memory four weeks from now."

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