During the week leading up to the Cincinnati Bengals game, reporters asked Green Bay Packers head coach Mike Sherman for his first impressions of his opponent. He mentioned their skill at forcing turnovers.
Sherman's comments proved prophetic.
The Bengals, who entered the game with an NFL-best plus-16 turnover margin and 15 interceptions, picked off Brett Favre five times Sunday, and those turnovers turned out to be the difference in the Bengals' 21-14 win.
Even after Favre amassed a personal record number of interceptions during a regular season game, the Packers still had a chance. Favre, who passed former quarterback John Elway for second all-time in passing attempts and passing yards, nearly pulled off the improbable comeback.
The Packers' offense received the ball at their own 10-yard-line with 56 seconds left. A defensive pass interference against Bengals safety Ifeanyi Ohalete, covering wide receiver Andrae Thurman, netted 48 yards. Then Favre hit Antonio Chatman for 18 yards. After the clock stopped as a fan ran on the field, defensive end Duane Clemons sacked Favre on the Bengals' 30-yard-line. With time for one last play, Favre faked a spike before taking off on the left side and hurling a pass to tight end Bubba Franks. Officials ruled it an illegal forward pass, cementing the Bengals' win.
A drained Favre then collapsed to the turf. He had already expended himself fully on the last offensive series. Trailing 21-7 with 8:37 to go, Packers cornerback Ahmad Carroll intercepted a Carson Palmer pass intended for T.J. Houshmandzadeh at the Green Bay 12-yard-line.
Favre then led the Packers on a 13-play, 88-yard-drive. Franks, who caught his 205th career reception on the day and finished with seven catches for 62 yards, played a significant role. He caught passes for 14 and 12 yards on the drive before hauling in the drive-capping, one-yard touchdown with 3:11 left to cut the lead 21-14.
Much was made of the problems the Bengals' myriad of weapons would present for the Packers. The Bengals high-powered offense features the AFC's second leading passer in Palmer and yardage leader for a receiver in Chad Johnson. For the most part, the Packers' defense contained both. They posted solid numbers. (Palmer completed 22-of-34 passes for 237 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, and Johnson had five catches for 62 yards.) The Bengals' offense, however, only managed seven second-half points.
And they used a shortened field to score their lone second half points, a 27-yard touchdown pass from Palmer to fullback Jeremi Johnson. O'Neal tipped a Favre pass, and rookie linebacker Odell Thurman snared his second pick and Favre's fifth of the day. The Bengals needed just that one play to score.
The Packers' run defense limited Rudi Johnson, who entered the game as the AFC's fourth-leading rusher to 72 yards on 22 carries. Middle linebacker Nick Barnett helped out with 12 tackles. Those efforts held the Bengals to 317 total yards.
Another question during the week was how a Green Bay running game would respond without its top two running backs, Ahman Green (knee) and Najeh Davenport (ankle). No. 3 running back Tony Fisher stepped up. Running hard, he finished with 17 carries for 51 yards and the Packers' third rushing score of the season. His one-yard vault into the end zone occurred with 9:39 remaining in the first quarter and tied the score at seven.
His most impressive contribution may have been his pass blocking. On a second quarter play, he blocked two blitzing defenders, allowing Favre to roll out to his left and hit Donald Driver for 28 yards.
ReShard Lee carried the ball once for four yards, and Samkon Gado, elevated to the active squad on Saturday, rushed once for eight yards.
Another player in an elevated role, Antonio Chatman, responded. Filling in for Robert Ferguson (knee) as the No. 2 wide receiver, he caught eight passes for 97 yards while also serving as the team's punt returner. He returned four punts for 39 yards.
Those performances were not enough to overcome the Packers' turnovers. Favre, who had not thrown an interception in three games, racked up his first when defensive lineman Robert Geathers tipped his pass. Thurman intercepted it with 1:27 left in the first half.
Favre threw a pass behind Driver with 7:04 in the third quarter, and cornerback Deltha O'Neal snatched it. Four Green Bay offensive plays later, O'Neal stole his second of the day. Nailed by linebacker Landon Johnson, Favre would throw his next one to cornerback Tory James. It was Favre's third interception of his last four passes.
The Packers' defense held each time, not allowing any points to the Bengals on those shortened fields until Thurman's final interception of the day.
Carroll recorded an interception, leading to the Packers' final score. Safety Nick Collins almost had another, breaking on a pass late in the second quarter, but the ball went through is hands.
Such close calls were the story for another week. The Packers played hard, moved the football and played solid defense to keep the game tight and nearly pull out a win. But too many mistakes -- notably turnovers -- resulted in their sixth loss of the season.