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Letters To LeRoy Butler


Why didn't head coach Mike Sherman go for it on fourth-and-1, with 2:30 on the clock? The Packers would have won the game if they made it. The Eagles defensive line has more holes than Swiss cheese, the Packers have Ahman Green running the ball. What was he thinking? - Steve (Lansing, MI)

Steve, I received hundreds of emails and many fans are as disappointed as you are that the Packers didn't go for it on fourth-and-1. But it seems all of you have forgotten that in the first half the Packers had an even shorter fourth-and-1, went for it and didn't make it.

True, part of the reason Ahman Green didn't get the first down was because he tripped over Mike Wahle. But it goes to show you that in football there are no guarantees. Either way, Mike Sherman was taking a risk. But just because you think Green would have made the first down -- and he very well might have -- you can't consider that a given when you decide that Sherman made the wrong call.

What Sherman was hoping was that Josh Bidwell could pin the Eagles at the 10-yard line or even closer to the end zone and that Philadelphia would be facing a long field. Instead, Bidwell's punt went in the end zone and the Eagles got the ball at the 20.

Still, I think Sherman's decision -- even if unpopular with the fans -- was the correct one. Even members of the offensive line said it was the right call.

But in hindsight, when you know that your team has already lost, it becomes really easy to say that the Packers should have gone for it. Had they missed and had the Eagles scored a touchdown instead of a field goal in the final 2 minutes, you might have been begging for a punt.

But either way, it's a tough call. If it works, it's the right one. It didn't end up working for the Packers, so I guess that makes it the wrong one. But it could have gone either way.

Why, with a little over a minute left in the game, didn't Ed Donatell blitz Donovan McNabb on fourth-and-26? That's absolutely ridiculous to sit back in zone and let him take a five step drop and pick you apart in the secondary. - Keith (Oshkosh, WI)

Keith, you raise a very good question. As I said in my column, the Packers had a few options. One was to play Cover 4, like they did, and another was to blitz.

The Packers felt like if they blitzed, the Eagles would have gone into a max protection allowing Donovan McNabb to fire downfield to a receiver running a double move in one-on-one coverage. The last thing Donatell wanted to do was hang his corners out to dry.

So Donatell played it smart and safe with a quarters coverage that should work every time. Just like you expect a receiver to catch a pass that hits him in the hands, the quarters coverage should stop fourth-and-26. But sometimes it just doesn't happen.

The Packers' spacing was bad on the play. Nick Barnett should have been deeper with his underneath coverage. Michael Hawthorne also should have been deeper and he shouldn't have let Freddie Mitchell get such a free release running by him.

Bhawoh Jue played his spot perfectly and nearly tipped the ball, and Marques Anderson and Darren Sharper were also in good spots, but the Cover 4 isn't supposed to allow a receiver to get that open over the middle of the field.

It was a defensive breakdown that cost the Packers. You can say that a blitz would have helped, but the Packers could have made mistakes out of a different scheme too.

It's a shame because for the most part the Packers defense played a solid game.

What went wrong on the fourth-and-26 play? What did we do wrong? What did the Eagles do right? - Ryan (Gaithersburg, MD)

I just mentioned what the Packers did wrong, but what the Eagles did right was give the Packers a formation they hadn't seen yet. That's what drew Nick Barnett in too far.

They ran a 74 All-Go Special where Freddie Mitchell released into the middle and James Thrash and Todd Pinkston each ran deep routes.

Even with the Packers out of their proper alignment, Donovan McNabb made a perfect pass.

The Packers should be able to stop the play every time on fourth-and-26, but it just didn't happen.

I believe it was in your Week 2 column that you implied that the 'Prevent Defense' works. Well? - David (Minneapolis, MN)

Well, actually, the Packers weren't in a prevent mode. If they were, they would have run what's called a Double Kick, with a guy deep in the middle, left and right. They would have only rushed three and they would have dropped eight into pass coverage.

And if they'd done that Sunday, they'd probably be headed to Carolina this weekend. But, again, the quarters defense the Packers went with should have worked too.

With your experience in big playoff games, what defense would you use to stop a fourth-and-26? - Pat (Collierville, TN)

Good question. I would have rushed three players and dropped eight into pass coverage. You get guys deep to keep the ball in front of them and then have every possible receiver manned up by the other defenders.

An all-out blitz could have worked, but fourth-and-26 is so hard to complete when the defense knows it's coming that there's almost more risk there than reward. But it didn't turn out that way.

Why did Mike Sherman opt to go for the touchdown and not the field goal after failing to get in the end zone on third down at the end of the first half? Get all the points you can when you can in a game like this. It was 3 points that he never got and it was 3 points that finished him. - Burt (Redlanda, CA)

Well, Burt, in a way you answered your own question. Sherman and the Packers were going for all the points they could get. When 1 foot is the difference between 3 and 7 points, go for the 7 points.

The Packers were trying to get a backbreaking score and put the Eagles away for good.

Unlike the fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter that they didn't attempt to convert, fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line wasn't a situation where if the Packers missed the touchdown they were putting themselves in a position to lose. If they came up short in the first half -- as they did -- there was plenty of time to make up for it.

But if they had scored, the Packers would have been up 21-7 going into halftime and would be receiving the ball to start the third quarter. And, in my mind, the Eagles would have caved.

In overtime, Brett Favre threw an interception that appeared to be a miscommunication with Javon Walker. I'm curious why the Packrers threw the ball rather than rush it. It was a game-ender for the Packers. - Richie (Waterloo, WI)

Richie, a lot of fans wondered why the Packers were throwing on first down considering the recent success of the running game. But all season I've gotten emails from people complaining that the Packers play too conservatively.

In this case, the Packers tried to use play action to get a one-on-one look with Javon Walker. Play action had been effective earlier, but this time Brett Favre had a pair of free blitzers in his face.

The Eagles had disguised their defense very well, so when Favre felt the heat he threw to what he hoped would be a jump-ball between Walker and one Eagles player. Instead, Brian Dawkins had moved his way into that area and made the interception.

Favre shouldn't have unloaded the pass, but there was nothing wrong with the pass call.

You didn't really expect the Packers to run every play for the rest of the game, did you? So why not pass on first down?

LeRoy, I'm not a Packers fan but I did find myself cheering for them against the Eagles. What was Favre thinking throwing that pass in overtime? I'm sorry but the question has to be asked. He's a veteran quarterback who is destined for the Hall of Fame and that was one of the most ridiculous decisions I have ever seen. In any other city the quarterback would have been crucified but it seems the Packer fans can find no blame in him. I do not hold him completely responsible for that loss but he certainly must be held accountable for that interception. The Packers deserved to win that game. I feel for the fans. - KC (Newark, NJ)

If you think fans don't hold Favre accountable then you haven't read some of the emails I have.

I think many fans forgive Favre for the mistake because they know the game shouldn't have gone into overtime in the first place and they know the Packers wouldn't have gotten that far without him. (Don't forget that both of the Packers' touchdowns that game were outstanding passes from Favre.)

But you're absolutely right that Favre is accountable for that interception, and he would be the first to admit that.

In football I think everyone has to be accountable, players and coaches.

And I've always said that quarterbacks get too much of the blame when teams lose and too much of the credit when teams win.

For example, in Favre's outstanding game against Oakland, some of his passes were in the picture perfect spot, but there were others that he just threw up for grabs and watched his receivers fight for the ball.

Favre isn't the only quarterback to make those passes. He's also not the only quarterback to make a mistake in the playoffs.

But Favre has been through enough games that he shouldn't have made that mistake. And he knows that, and I'm sure it tears him up inside.

The loss Sunday was similar to the loss you were a part of against the 49ers, in Mike Holgren's last game. Being that it was such a devastating loss for the fans, I can't help but wonder the impact it has on the players and coaches. How do the players and the coaches keep this from affecting them next year? - Brian (Chicago, IL)

Great question! Losses like that certainly are hard to get over. Just think about how much you have invested in the game as a die-hard fan and then imagine if it was your job instead of your hobby.

Every day these guys get up and work toward winning. And playing in the NFL is great, but it isn't easy.

After losses like the one the Packers had against the Eagles I've seen players go into depression as they think of all the would-haves and should-haves and could-haves.

But the good thing about the NFL is that you live to play another day. The Packers get another chance next year. But those opportunities don't come around every season, and this loss will eat at the Packers for a while.

Eventually though, the Packers will realize that they beat themselves in Philadelphia. When that sinks in they'll be frustrated at first, but then they'll be motivated. They'll look at next season and think they can beat every team they face if they give them their best.

And if the Packers look at it that way, they'll actually be in a good state of mind entering 2004.

LeRoy, I just wanted to say that I'm proud of the great job all of the Packers have done throughout the season! They held together and played as a team, overcame many obstacles and made it deep into the playoffs. Please thank all of them for us and tell them we are looking forward to all of them coming back next year. I have no doubt they will go all the way! - Tom (Greensboro, NC)

Tom, that's very nice of you to say, especially after such a painful loss.

Don't get me wrong, it's okay to be critical in sports and I enjoy the debate. But it takes a lot of strength to stand by your team in tough times.

I guarantee you the players appreciate your support.

The 2003 season may not have ended well, but it was still a success.

*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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