Packers Notebook - Down, Not Out

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The Green Bay Packers certainly didn't want to be 4-5 heading into a tough road game against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who also, coincidentally, are off to a 4-5 start.

But there's no reason to believe that it's too late for the Packers to turn things around.

Just two games behind the Minnesota Vikings in the race for the NFC North title, the Packers can find comfort in the fact that since 1990, 12 teams have come back from 4-5 or 3-6 starts to make the playoffs.

Two teams did so last year: the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets recovering from 4-5 beginnings to finish 9-7.

Equally encouraging is the Packers' second-half schedule, which, statistically speaking, looks to be an easier stretch than the opening act.

Of Green Bay's remaining opponents, only the 5-4 Denver Broncos have a winning record to this point.

And in recent years, the Packers have been a strong second-half team.

Since 1990, only the San Francisco 49ers (62-29) have a better record over the final seven games of the regular season than the Packers (59-32).

Out Early

In an effort to make the return trip from Tampa a little happier than it's been in past seasons, the Packers are switching things up this road trip by departing Green Bay Friday evening instead of Saturday afternoon and staying in a different Florida hotel.

Packers GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman doesn't pretend that such alterations will be the sole answer to the Packers' woes at Raymond James Stadium, but after five straight losses there, it's worth a try.

"I'm a big one on, if it's not working, let's change it and do something else," Sherman said. "The last time we won down there (when Mike Holmgren was head coach in 1997), we went down on a Friday, and I'm hoping we can replicate the game."

Other than transplanting the Packers' customary walkthrough practice on Saturday -- usually held at Lambeau Field or the Don Hutson Center -- the early departure does little to alter the team's usual schedule. All meetings at the hotel will proceed as normal.

Although the Packers haven't traveled two days before a regular season game since that 1997 meeting with the Bucs, at Minnesota this season they switched team hotels and came away with only their third win in their last 12 trips to the Metrodome.

"I think the only reason we're going early is to be superstitious," quarterback Brett Favre said. "If it works, maybe next year we go down five days early."

It's too soon to tell whether the Packers will have to travel to Tampa Bay again next season, but that would be the case if both teams place the same amongst their own divisions this season.

What is certain is that the Packers and Bucs will meet in 2005, but -- for the first time since 2001-- it will be at Lambeau Field.

Different Times

When the Packers acquired Favre in a trade with the Atlanta Falcons in 1992, current Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden was starting his first of three seasons as a Packers assistant coach.

All these years later, Favre still remembers many things about Gruden from their early experiences together. For example, Favre recalled this week that Gruden was "sharp" and "determined" to be a "great coach."

What Favre doesn't remember is whether it was in fact Gruden who picked him up at the airport when he arrived in Green Bay for the first time more than a decade ago.

"I honestly don't remember who picked me up, because I was drunk, I believe," Favre told the Tampa media in a conference call this week. "Those times have changed ... I haven't had a drink in six years, so I can joke about that now."

Marquee Match-up

Unlike the previous two weeks, the Packers won't be on national television this Sunday when they take on the Buccaneers.

But they won't be far from it.

Televised on FOX, the Packers-Bucs match-up is scheduled to go out to 86 percent of the country.

Meanwhile, the competing FOX broadcast of the Minnesota Vikings at the Oakland Raiders will only reach 4 percent of the country.

Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Cris Collinsworth will call the Packers-Bucs action, with Pam Oliver reporting from the sidelines.

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