The misery index is running pretty high in Green Bay right now and, unfortunately there's no end in sight. Once again the Packers played with plenty of heart and determination and they weren't able to take advantage of the opportunities they had to win.
After Sunday's defeat at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals, the Packers find themselves in a huge hole at 1-6. I can't give the team any stars for a great effort because a loss is a loss. But for as many injuries as the Packers have, and considering the fact that they had five turnovers against a strong team like the Bengals, I admired the Packers' ability to have a glimmer of hope at the very end. Cincinnati has a lot of offensive firepower and a strong, opportunistic defense. With five turnovers, this game shouldn't have been this close. The Packers came up short, but it certainly wasn't for a lack of effort. Frankly, I was surprised the Bengals were unable to capitalize on all of the turnovers. When you have a team as capable offensively as Cincinnati, this game should have been a blowout. Packers' special teams played pretty well, too. They didn't give up any big plays or long returns leading to points for Cincinnati.
Overall I thought Green Bay's defense did a nice job in keeping the Bengals' offense off the scoreboard especially in stopping them time and again, forcing them to punt. That happened four times in a row, and it wasn't until the fifth interception that the Bengals finally put points on the board. Credit the Packers' defense, but there were a few plays where Green Bay could have capitalized and might have won the game. The first one was Donald Lee's drop of a sure touchdown pass and the second was Nick Collins' drop of an interception that he probably could have returned for a touchdown. Collins is a very physical player and looking more and more worthy of that second-round draft pick. But he didn't make the play and he's going to have to make those plays to truly establish himself at the NFL level.
It's no secret that the Packers are struggling with the running game this year. You don't lose two guys the caliber of Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport and not feel the pinch. Having said that, I thought Tony Fisher did a decent job against the Bengals. This was his first extensive playing time, and he did as well as any Packers running back has this season. He rushed for 51 yards and had a nice diving touchdown. Fisher had some success with the draw play, and the Packers ran some nice counter plays, too. They also ran some sweeps and were able to move the football at times. You have to be pleased with the effort Fisher gave, considering that he hasn't had much playing time this year. Unfortunately, 51 yards was pretty typical of Green Bay's rushing attack this season. That's not going to get it done, and it puts a lot more pressure on the passing game.
Missed opportunities, time and time again, have been the theme for this season. Missed field goals. Dropped passes and interceptions. Penalties at crucial times in the game. Not capitalizing on big play opportunities. These are all ingredients in the recipe for a long, long season, and they have been present in every game except the team's only victory against New Orleans. You look at this season so far, and it's a shame. The Packers could have won at least three more games had they come up with just a few key plays. That's what separates the great teams from all the others in this league. There's such a fine line, such a thin margin between great and average. Great teams find ways to make those few plays throughout the game to give them those few wins. There is so much competitive balance and parity in the NFL that it might only take one play to make the difference in the game.
But the bottom line is the Packers are 1-6, and they have to find a way to hang in there and move forward. It's certainly not going to get any easier with the Pittsburgh Steelers coming to town. They are a team with an unbelievable defense. They also possess the best rushing attack in the NFL to go along with a very solid quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. From a quarterback's standpoint, the defense and the running game are such a luxury. When you have such a strong running attack, you can dominate football games by controlling the ball and the clock. That's a quarterback's dream, and Big Ben is living it right now. He has the highest quarterback rating in the league because teams are so concerned with the run that it makes throwing the ball that much easier. This will be a huge challenge for the Packers at home. We'll see if they are up to it.
Don "Majik" Majkowski was inducted into the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame earlier this year. His career for the Packers spanned six seasons (1987-92), including being named to the Pro Bowl in 1989 when he led the NFL in passing yards. In addition to his duties with Packers.com, Majik provides football analysis for WSSP-AM, SportsRadio 1250 in Milwaukee, WDUZ SportsRadio 107.5 & 1400 The Fan in Green Bay, WTSO - ESPN 1070 in Madison, WDEZ in Wausau, and WIZD in Stevens Point. Visit Majik's Web site, www.majiknetwork.net, for more information.