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Packers-Browns Preview


Having weathered an early fusillade from the Michael Vick Falcons, then rebounded smartly to pull out their first victory of the preseason, the Green Bay Packers (1-1) take to the road for the third consecutive week, invading Cleveland Friday night (Aug. 15) in quest of a second straight success in a nationally televised (CBS) matchup with the Browns.

Kickoff in Cleveland Browns Stadium is set for 7 o'clock, CDT (Wisconsin time).

The Packers, quickly behind 14-0 in Atlanta's Georgia Dome - and later in arrears 21-3 - as the multi-talented Vick flashed a hot hand, proceeded to retaliate with 24 unanswered points en route to a 27-21 comeback victory.

For the Green and Gold, Friday night's Cleveland contest will be the final excursion of the preseason, following which they will return from the Ohio engagement to make four consecutive appearances in Lambeau Field.

The first will find them hosting the Carolina Panthers in the 54th Midwest Shrine Game Saturday night, Aug. 23, after which they will entertain the Tennessee Titans in the 43rd annual Bishop's Charities Game Thursday night, Aug. 28, before opening the regular season against NFC North rival Minnesota Lambeau Field Sunday, Sept. 7 - a day on which completion of the three-year "Lambeau" renovation will be celebrated with appropriate rededication ceremonies.

They then will complete the extensive "home stand" by hosting the Detroit Lions, another NFC North rival, the following Sunday (Sept. 14).

THE TV-RADIO COVERAGE: Greg Gumbel will call the play-by-play for the CBS Network's telecast of Friday night's game and Phil Simms provides the analysis, with Armen Keteyian reporting from the sideline. Mark Wolff is the producer and Larry Cavolina directs.

Saturday night's contest also will be broadcast along the 62-station Packers Radio Network, with Wayne Larrivee handling the play-by-play and Larry McCarren offering the analysis and commentary.

THE SERIES: For teams aligned in different conferences, the Packers and Browns are getting to be fast friends, competitively speaking. Saturday night's encounter in Cleveland Browns Stadium will mark their fifth meeting over the past four seasons - since Cleveland returned to the National Football League in 1999.

They include a late, regular-season matchup in Lambeau Field in December of 2001, a contest which saw the Packers emerge with a 30-7 victory.

Their second "relationship" was initiated in 2000 when Mike Sherman's first Packers team shaded the Browns, 34-33, in their final venture of the preseason. The Browns then squared accounts in their preseason inaugural in 2001, 10-3, in Browns Stadium, and the Packers went one up in the new preseason series in 2002 with a 27-20 win in a preseason "Monday Night Football" contest in Green Bay.

With previous history included, the Packers and Browns Friday night will be meeting in preseason play for the 20th time in a mutual history which reaches back to 1950 and the Browns' entry into the NFL following the dissolution of the All-America Football Conference. The Browns hold a three-game advantage in the non-league "series," having won 11 of the 19 previous meetings.

The Packers, however, lead the regular-seasons series, 9-6-0, all 15 games having been played against the "original" Browns - and including a 31-20 victory at Cleveland's old Municipal Stadium in 1995, just prior to that team's departure for Baltimore and a new identity as the Ravens in 1996.

The most significant meeting in the half-century history of the rivalry occurred in 1965, when the Packers, behind the sure-footed running of Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor on Lambeau Field's snowy turf, defeated the Browns, 23-12, to capture their ninth NFL championship.

THE HEAD COACHES: Highly consistent and meticulously prepared, Mike Sherman has presided over more victories in his first three seasons (33) than any other head coach in the Packers' 84-year history...more than team founder Curly Lambeau, more than the fabled Vince Lombardi and more than Mike Holmgren - the other winning head coaches in history of professional football's most successful franchise.

In that productive three-year span (2000-2002), Sherman has proceeded to entrench himself in what has become a substantially expanded role (he added executive vice president and general manager to his résumé after one season as head coach), escorting Green Bay to three consecutive winning seasons and, in 2002, to its first division championship since 1997 en route to a second consecutive playoff appearance, earning Sherman Staples 'Coach of the Year' honors for the '02 season en route.

Shouldering the additional duties with typically total commitment, and literally without missing a step, he led the Packers to back-to-back 12-4 records in 2001 and 2002 - the Green and Gold thus becoming the winningest team in the league over that two-year span (24-8). The 12-4 marks have been exceeded by only four teams in the club's 82-year NFL history and the 12-12 parlay was only the second such coupling in team annals.

In the overall process, the 48-year-old Northborough, Mass., native also has rivaled the regular-season accomplishments of the storied Lombardi over a comparable span, compiling a 33-15-0 mark in his first three seasons (16-game campaigns) compared to Lombardi's 26-12-0 over a similar stretch (two 12-game seasons and one 14-game campaign) while he served as the Packers' head coach and general manager (1959-60-61).

Additionally, Sherman equaled another Lombardi accomplishment by leading the Packers into the playoffs in only his second season (2001) at the controls.

Along the way, he has made Lambeau Field an uncomfortable place for NFL rivals to visit. Since he moved in at 1265 Lombardi Avenue in 2000, the Green and Gold have forged an imposing 21-3-0 record in "Lambeau" under his leadership - the best regular-season record in the NFL during that span - including the NFL's only perfect home record (8-0) in 2002.

The first man in a half-century to take on his tri-cornered role - since Lambeau functioned as vice president, general manager and head coach in 1949 - Sherman brings multiple credentials to his responsibilities. They include a Super Bowl following the 1997 season, during which he was a member of the Holmgren coaching staff that led the Packers into Super Bowl XXXII against the Denver Broncos at San Diego.

It was to be the first of three consecutive years in the playoffs for Sherman, who returned to the postseason with the Packers in 1998 and as the offensive coordinator on Holmgen's Seattle staff in 1999.

Now in his 26th year in the coaching profession, the Central Connecticut State University alumnus began his coaching career at Stamford, Conn., High School in 1978. He subsequently went on to coach in the college ranks for 16 years, including one year as offensive coordinator at Holy Cross and terms as offensive line coach at such highly regarded programs as Texas A&M and UCLA.

Paul Hilton "Butch" Davis led the Browns into the playoffs in 2002 in only his second season as head coach, rewarding Cleveland with its first postseason appearance since 1994 with a 9-7 record.

Davis took over the Browns in 2001 after rebuilding the University of Miami's football program, restoring it to elite status as the Hurricanes defeated Florida in the 2001 Nokia Sugar Bowl and finished second in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today rankings.

Hardly a stranger to pro football, Davis had helped the Dallas Cowboys win back-to-back Super Bowl championships (in 1992 and 1993).

Earlier, at the collegiate level, he won a national championship with Miami (1987). He subsequently served as head coach at Miami (1995-2000), where he forged a 51-20 record, including a 4-0 mark in bowl games. Davis joined Miami after six years (1989-94) with Dallas, serving as the defensive line coach for four years and the last two seasons as the Cowboys' defensive coordinator.

THE OPPOSITION: The Browns, who made their preseason debut over the weekend, were shaded by the Tennessee Titans, 10-6, in a defensive struggle at Nashville.

It was a "near miss" for the Browns, who appeared to have the game won in the late going when quarterback Josh Booty located wide receive Marc Soumah in the end zone. Officials, however, ruled Booty's pass incomplete.

Former Packer Joe Nedney's conversion, following an Eddie George touchdown, and 22-yard field goal provided Tennessee's victory margin.

Cleveland's points came on a pair of second quarter field goals, of 26 and 51 yards, by the Browns' Phil Dawson.

THE INJURY REPORT: Already shorthanded for the Atlanta contest without five starters - wide receivers Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson and tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher on offense and free safety Darren Sharper on defense, the Packers lost another, nose tackle Gilbert Brown (strained right biceps) in the first half of Saturday night's game.

Another, running back Tony Fisher, aggravated a previous hamstring injury prior to the game and was held out of action.

Marcus Spriggs and second-year pro Kevin Barry started at offensive tackle in the absence of Clifton and Tauscher, while Karsten Bailey and Javon Walker stepped in for Driver and Ferguson at wideout and Antuan Edwards for Sharper at free safety.

THE (NFL) STATISTICAL UPDATE: Packers tight end Bubba Franks leads the National Football Conference in preseason receiving with 6 catches for 35 yards, according to NFL statistics released by the Elias Sports Bureau.

Packers rookie receiver Carl Ford also ranks among the NFC leaders. He is tied for second place in receptions with 5 and ranks third in receiving yards with 58, an 11.6-yard average per catch.

Packers running back Najeh Davenport shares the NFC lead in nonkicker scoring with 12 points and ranks fourth in the NFC in rushing with 61 yards in 24 attempts, a 2.5-yard average. Davenport is tied with Tampa Bay's Thomas Jones, who also has 12 points on a pair of touchdowns.

Davenport also ranks sixth in the conference in total yards from scrimmage with 72 in 26 combined rushes and receptions.

Defensively, Packers linebacker Marcus Wilkins paces the NFC in sacks with 3.0 and teammate Bobby Jackson is out front in fumble recoveries with 2.

Josh Bidwell ranks third among conference punters with a 46.3-yard average for 6 punts and rookie Antonio Chatman is tied for seventh in NFC kickoff returns with a 27.0-yard average for 5 runbacks.

As a team, the Packers rank 27th in the NFL on offense (27th in rushing and tied for 20th in passing) and ninth on defense (4th against the run and 20th against the pass).

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