Packers-Lions Notebook - Handling Success


Handling Success

They'd like to have everyone healthy, to be improving at an even faster rate and to have back their sub-par performance at New Orleans. But halfway through the 2002 season, the Packers have little to hang their heads about.

At 7-1, they have the best record in the NFL and a four-game lead in the NFC North.

It's enough to give the impression that the Packers are the envy of the league. And that's enough to give Packers GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman cause for concern.

"It's funny, there are two things you have to deal with as a football coach," Sherman said. "You have deal with how you handle adversity -- and I think we've handled that well. You also have to deal with how you handle success. That can be equally damaging at times, if you lose sight of what made you successful."

One of the things that's allowed the Packers to be successful thus far has been a need to prove that they could be. It's worth noting that following their only loss of the season, the Packers were almost unanimous in suggesting that the Saints displayed a greater desire to win when they met in September.

Sherman called it a chip on the Saints' shoulder, one that seemed to land squarely on the Packers after the loss.

They've won all six games since, their longest winning streak in a decade. But a head coach's fear is that with each passing week, the bitter taste of defeat will evaporate, and with it the team's focus and desire to prove itself.

That's when success could be damaging, Sherman said, "if players get concerned about who is getting the credit. If they say, 'Well, we don't have to practice quite as hard.'"

Thus, Sherman's challenge becomes reminding a team that has successfully demonstrated its will to win seven times this season, that they are only as good as their next game, and that their current record is only as significant as a halftime score.

It's a day-at-a-time, game-at-a-time approach in which the Packers are well-schooled.

"I think that we believe that we need to take it one day at a time," defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila said. "We're still a work in progress; we still have so much work (to do). Coach Sherman is treating it like that.

"When we come in (the locker room), we come in as if we lost. The same way as when we lost to the Saints, we come in here and we know we have to come back and work again, hard. We still have that urgency to keep pushing forward."

With half of the regular season yet to be played, it's an urgency they'll need to keep. And Sherman believes his team has the makeup to do so.

"Even though we're a young football team, we have good leaders on our team," he said. "I think we have a mature type of attitude for the most part. I think they see the big picture and they understand that we'll be as good as our next game."

Turning Point

This weekend the Packers will encounter a different Lions team than the one they prepared for in Week Three.

Back when these divisional rivals met in September, the Lions were not only 0-2, but were non-contenders, having lost both games by a combined 52 points.

Of course, the Packers only added to Detroit's losing ways. But against Green Bay, the Lions did something they hadn't done all year: started their last drive with a chance to win.

It's been that way ever since. Led by rookie quarterback Joey Harrington, the Lions haven't always won, but they've contended.

Since the Packers left Ford Field, the Lions have gone 3-2 to improve to second place in the NFC North. They've defeated the one team to beat the Packers this season (New Orleans), and haven't lost by more than 7 points.

"I think the Detroit Lions right now are a very confident football team," Packers GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman said.

That the Week Three matchup was a turning point for the Lions is obvious. But not to be overlooked is what it meant to the Packers.

Although they turned the ball over three times, the Packers also earned five takeaways to end up on the positive side of the turnover ratio for the first time all year.

It was a sign of things to come. Over the past six games, the Packers are plus-17 in the turnover ratio. They lead the NFL with 27 takeaways.

"That's the one stat that directly correlates to winning and losing in this game," Lions head coach Marty Mornhinweg said. "You can take the turnover ratio, in many cases during the year, and draw a line, and all those above are going to the playoffs and all those below are out."

Sherman is well aware of that line. To help illustrate the importance of the turnover ratio to his players, Sherman said he utilizes the weekly reports of Mike Eayrs, the Packers' director of research.

Eayrs' reports make that line between winning and losing, more actual than conceptual.

"It helps when you're talking to the team to get some statistical data," Sherman said. "It backs you up that way and gives you another angle to talk to them about it."

Of course the best learning environment still involves hands-on experience. And starting with their win at Detroit, the Packers have been able to see the relationship between turnovers and victory firsthand.

"I think the players know how important that is, and now even more so," Sherman said. "Because (turnovers are leading to wins), they are buying into it even more."

Still Going

In 10 meetings over his NFL career, Brett Favre has never lost to the Detroit Lions at home. And he'd like to keep it that way.

But even if the Packers are favored going into Sunday's game, and even if the Lions have yet to win on the road this season, the streak won't put any extra points on the scoreboard. Just like the Packers' four-game lead in the NFC North doesn't guarantee them a divisional crown.

"I can almost say verbatim what Marty Mornhingweg is telling their guys," Favre said. "They're in second place. Call it what you want, but they are in second place. And they have played well.

"Regardless of Lambeau, Chicago, wherever they're playing, they still feel like they have a chance. And they do.

"There's a lot of football left. Joey's starting to play better, they're starting to kind of gel as a team, their defense is playing better.

"At some point, Detroit will win at Lambeau Field. I just hope it's after I retire."

In Honor

On the eve of Veterans' Day, Sunday's singing of the national anthem at Lambeau Field will be followed by a fly-over from four F-16 fighter aircraft.

Twenty-five family members of overseas military personnel from Wisconsin will be on the field for pregame ceremonies, and a video greeting from those servicemen and women will be played on the Jumbotron during the game.

Also, at halftime, a marching band will play tribute to local veterans.

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