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Fewer Passes No Problem For Packers


Wednesday, standing in the media auditorium at Lambeau Field, Brett Favre found that even in his 13th NFL season, football can still surprise him.

He'd just finished talking about the importance of a strong rushing attack, even supporting his argument by pointing out that the only time he passed for 400 yards, against the Chicago Bears in 1993, the Green Bay Packers lost the game.

But as Favre harked back to last weekend's 20-13 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium, he couldn't hide his amazement.

"Who would have thought," Favre marveled aloud, "(that) I'd throw for 92 yards and we'd beat Tampa at Tampa?"

Until last weekend, probably no one.

Although Favre's legions of fans perhaps over-romanticize some of his abilities from time to time -- imaging a man who throws for 300 yards just by rolling out of bed -- his reputation as a gunslinger is well earned.

None of Favre's records, including three NFL MVPs, has come from being a sub-100-yard passer in a run-first offensive scheme.

Yet, run-first has been the Packers' makeup this season. Run first, as in run before passing. Run first, as in run better than anybody else.

With six regular season games remaining, the Packers lead the NFL in rushing in terms of total yards and yards per attempt.

And if the Packers' West Coast offense now looks a little more like smashmouth football than it did in the mid-90s, that isn't concerning the quarterback one bit. Even if it makes him "the highest paid handoff guy in the league."

"I want to win," Favre said. "We've had this conversation (as a team) the last couple weeks about being unselfish and winning ... Believe me, trust me, I would rather take that win than to throw for 350 (yards) and 70 percent completions and four touchdowns and lose."

But Favre isn't the only player to see his personal statistics suffer as the rushing game charges through the Packers record book.

With running back Ahman Green leading the NFL in total yards from scrimmage with 1,500, the Packers receivers have been forced to fight for scraps in the passing game.

None of them has established a 100-yard receiving game this season, and not because they're unable, but because their opportunities are so few.

If Favre keeps his current pace, he'll attempt fewer than 500 passes for the first time in his career since 1992, when he started only 13 games. By comparison, Favre attempted 551 passes last season and had 580 attempts as recently as 2000.

But if you think the receivers are fuming over their limited looks, think again.

"If you love this game, it doesn't matter who's getting the ball," said wide receiver Donald Driver, who caught 70 balls en route to a Pro Bowl appearance last year, but has just 31 catches so far this season.

"We've got too much talent on this team for one guy to be getting the ball. Right now (the receivers') job is to go out there and if the ball is coming our way, make the catch ... If our job is blocking, then we block."

It's not as if the passing game hasn't come up big for the Packers this season.

In a key win at Minnesota, Javon Walker made only three catches, but one of them allowed the Packers to convert on third down, while the other two went for touchdowns. Last weekend, Robert Ferguson made two third-down catches on what was a 98-yard, game-winning drive.

"Our concentration level has been at an all-time high," Walker said. "We might not get a ball until the fourth quarter, but if we get that one chance, we'll make a play on it that will hopefully put our team in a position to win."

Sooner or later, as more teams stack against the run and actually -- gasp -- force Favre to throw the ball with his broken thumb, the passing game is likely to regain some of its distinction.

GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman said that one of his goals this week is to get the receivers more involved and to create more explosive plays out of the passing game, lest the offense become one-dimensional.

In the meantime, however, Sherman won't miss the opportunity to take pride in the humble attitude displayed by players who -- through no fault of their own -- have been largely ignored.

"I think it's a credit to that group of men that you don't hear guys bitching and griping," Sherman said of the receivers. "Most places with big-time receivers you have guys being selfish ... We have good quality guys that just want to win football games."

And at 5-5, one game back of the Vikings in the NFC North, the Packers need to do the latter any way they can.

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