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Packers-Titans Preview


Even with the board in the wake of an unproductive encounter with the Carolina Panthers, the Green Bay Packers (2-2) will strive to rebound against the undefeated Tennessee Titans in their preseason finale at Lambeau Field Thursday night (Aug. 28) and thus head into the regular season on a positive note.

Kickoff for the contest, the 43rd annual Bishop's Charities Game, will be 7:05, CDT (Wisconsin time). The game is a sellout (72,515).

The Packers, who had taken a two-game winning streak into action, fell to the undefeated (3-0) Panthers, 20-7, over the weekend in their first Lambeau Field appearance since last January's Wild Card Playoff against Atlanta.

The attendance for the 54th Midwest Shrine Game set a new Lambeau Field record, 69,831. The previous record, 65,358, was established at the Atlanta playoff game Jan. 4.

The Titans, who will be helping the Packers close out their preseason schedule for the second year in a row, posted their third straight preseason victory Saturday night, downing the Cincinnati Bengals, 23-15.

THE TV-RADIO COVERAGE: Kevin Harlan will call the play-by-play for Thursday night's game over an eight-station state television network, with former Packers lineman Bill Maas handling the analysis and Jessie Garcia reporting from the sideline. Ross Schneiderman produces and Suzanne Smith is the director.

WFRV-TV's Larry McCarren, the analyst for the Packers Radio Network, also will join the telecast for pre-game, halftime and post-game segments.

Green Bay's WFRV-TV and Milwaukee's WTMJ-TV will originate the telecast, which also will be carried by WKOW/ABC; Madison, Wis.; WAOW/ABC, Wausau/Rhinelander, Wis.; WXOW/ABC, La Crosse, Wis.; WQOW/ABC, Eau Claire, Wis.; WYOW/ABC, Eagle River, Wis.; and WJMN/CBS, Marquette, Mich.

The game also will be broadcast over the 62-station Packers Radio Network, with Wayne Larrivee handling the play-by-play and McCarren offering the commentary and analysis. The Packers Network broadcast also will be available on the internet via for NFL Field Pass subscribers.

THE SERIES: Virtual strangers for 15 years, the Packers and Titans will, in contrast, find themselves squaring off Thursday night for the third consecutive year. The "renewal" began in 2001, when the Packers visited the Titans in their Coliseum home in Nashville, the Tennesseeans emerging with a 26-20 victory.

Last August, the Green and Gold closed out their preseason schedule against Tennessee shading the Titans, 21-20.

Prior to their '01 encounter in Nashville, the teams had met only twice since 1986, the Packers posting a 16-14 victory in 1992 at Houston, where the franchise had originated and the team was known as the Oilers, and a 30-22 win in Lambeau Field in 1998 - the year after the Oilers moved to Tennessee.

The rivalry began in 1972, a year which saw the Packers register a 23-10 victory over the Oilers in the Houston Astrodome en route to the NFC Central Division championship.

The regular season series stands all even at the moment, 4-4, the Titans having squared the record in their 2001 regular-season meeting.

Thursday night's contest will see the principals meeting in preseason play for only the fourth time. The then-Oilers posted a 20-3 victory in their first non-league meeting, at Houston in 1972, and the Packers evened the score at Milwaukee County Stadium in 1973 (33-14). They did not meet again in preseason until last August, when the Packers narrowly prevailed, 21-20.

THE HEAD COACHES: In the short span of three years, Mike Sherman, invariably positive, highly consistent and meticulously prepared, has ensconced himself among the elite head coaches in the National Football League and the premier field leaders in the Packers' distinguished history.

In those three seasons (2000-2002), Sherman has presided over more victories (33) than any other head coach in the Packers' 84-year annals, thus surmounting a list which includes team founder Curly Lambeau, Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren.

The highly organized New Englander also has matched another major Lombardi achievement by leading the Packers into the playoffs in only his second year as head coach. He likewise has gone one up on Lombardi by escorting the Packers to victory in his first postseason game. The latter is an accomplishment that eluded Lombardi, who lost his initial playoff game as Green Bay's field leader.

End route, he has established himself in a substantially expanded role (he added the titles of executive vice president and general manager to his résumé after one season as head coach), leading Green Bay to three consecutive winning seasons and, in 2002, to its first division championship since 1997 on the way to a second consecutive playoff appearance, earning Sherman Staples 'Coach of the Year' honors for the '02 season.

Assuming the additional duties with typically total commitment and literally without missing a step, he led the Packers to back-to-back 12-and-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).

Moreover, 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 coupling in team annals (12 or more victories in back-to-back seasons).

Along the way, the 48-year-old Northboro, Mass., native has surpassed the regular-season achievements of the storied Lombardi over a comparable span, forging a 33-15-0 mark in his first three seasons (16-game campaigns) compared to Lombardi's 26-12-0 (two 12-game seasons and one 14-game campaign) while he served as the Packers' head coach and general manager (1959-61).

In the process, Sherman has made Lambeau Field an uncomfortable venue for NFL rivals to visit. Since he checked in at 1265 Lombardi Ave. in 2000, the Green and Gold have compiled an imposing 21-3 home record, the best regular-season mark 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 served 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 XXXI 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 as tight ends coach with the Packers in 1998 and as the offensive coordinator on Holmgren'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 went on to coach in the college ranks for 16 years, his résumé 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. He launched his NFL coaching career with the Packers in 1997, when he signed on as tight ends/assistant offensive line coach under Holmgren.

The Titans' Jeff Fisher is the winningest head coach in the NFL over the past four seasons, having compiled 44 victories in that span, and also is the winningest head coach in the history of the franchise with 80 victories.

Additionally, the former Chicago Bears cornerback - heading into his ninth season as head coach - likewise is one of the longest-tenured field leaders in the league. He officially became head coach Jan. 5, 1995, after replacing Jack Pardee on an interim basis, Nov. 14, 1994, with six games remaining in the '94 season.

Last year, Fisher became the fourth youngest head coach (44) to reach 70 regular-season victories (Don Shula, John Madden and Bill Cowher).

Over the past four seasons, Fisher has led the Titans to three playoff appearances, two AFC Championship Games, two division titles, and a berth the Super Bowl. In 2000, Fisher became only the fifth coach in NFL history to lead his team to consecutive 13-win seasons, joining Mike Holmgren, George Seifert, Marv Levy and Mike Ditka.

Fisher originally joined the Oilers in 1994 as defensive coordinator after serving as defensive backs coach of the San Francisco 49ers (1992-93). Prior to heading up the 49ers' secondary Fisher served as the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams (1991). He began his coaching career with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1986, where he handled defensive backs until becoming the NFL's youngest defensive coordinator in 1988.

THE LAST TIME: The Packers' most recent encounter with the Titans - in last year's Midwest Shrine Game the night of Aug. 30, 2002 - was a late developing affair.

Four of the five touchdowns in the game, which saw the Packers squeeze out a 21-20 victory, came in the fourth quarter. And from the Green Bay perspective, it was rookie quarterback Craig Nall who was the difference-maker.

Nall entered the game with the Packers trailing, 7-6, and presided over 46- and 82-yard scoring drives in the final period to secure a 21-20 win over the Titans in a contest which had been a defensive duel for the better part of three quarters.

Nall's fellow rookie, defensive back Marques Anderson was the initial catalyst, recovering a fumble by Titans quarterback Neil O'Donnell at the Tennessee 46-yard line in the final minute of the third quarter. Five plays later, Nall hit wide receiver Charles Lee with 16-yard touchdown pass, with only 46 seconds gone in the fourth quarter. Sherman then opted to attempt a 2-point conversion and it was the "correct" call, Nail finding wideout Robert Ferguson in the end zone to send the Packers up, 14-7.

The lead, however, was short-lived. The Titans retaliated with a 71-yard scoring drive of their own. Tennessee quarterback Billy Valek fired a 14-yard strike to running back Robert Holcombe, who fumbled at the Green Bay 1-yard line when jolted by a Rob Holmberg tackle. Titans wideout Justin McCarens fell upon the loose ball in the end zone for the touchdown, following which Joe Nedney's conversion made it 14-all.

The Titans fumbled again on their next possession and, this time, the Packers' John Gilmore recovered - at Green Bay's 18-yard line. Nall proceeded to make capital of the opportunity, sparking an 82-yard drive with a 44-yard strike to rookie Javon Walker out of the shotgun.

Five plays later, Nall found Lee with a 25-yard throw for the score. Ryan Longwell's conversion provided the Packers with their 21st and final point of the evening.

The Green and Gold were not home free, however. After failing to score following a 64-yard drive to the Green Bay 2 when a fourth down Valek pass fell incomplete in the end zone with 1:17 left in the game they were given a final opportunity when a roughing-the-passer penalty on Rod Walker gave the Titans a first down at the Green Bay 13-yard line. Valek found wideout Eddie Berlin for the score on the next play, reducing the Packers' lead to 21-20.

Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, opting to go for the win, called for a 2-point conversion attempt and Valek's pass was incomplete with 4 seconds left, assuring a Green Bay victory.

THE BISHOP'S CHARITIES SERIES: The Packers have had more than a decade of unbroken success in the Bishop's Charities series. They enter Thursday night's 43rd annual contest having won 12 consecutive games, a streak they initiated with a 28-7 win over the New England Patriots in the 1991 Charities game.

The Packers own a 24-17-1 overall record in the series, launched in 1961 through the joint efforts of the late Vince Lombardi and Stanislaus V. Bona, then Bishop of Green Bay.

The Bishop's series has raised in excess of $2,750,000 for the numerous charities of Green Bay's Catholic Diocese.

THE OPPOSITION: The Titans scored in every quarter, punctuating their overall effort with a 10-point second period, in their 23-15 victory over Cincinnati. Quarterback Steve McNair, in a precise evening, completed 13 of 17 passes for 167 yards and 1 touchdown, without an interception.

Tennessee backup quarterback Neil O'Donnell completed 7 of 14 attempts for 109 yards and a touchdown, also without an interception.

THE INJURY REPORT: Right guard Marco Rivera, who sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in Saturday night's game against Carolina, could miss 2-4 weeks of action, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman announced Sunday. Sherman accompanied his report with a note of optimism, however, observing, "Because of who it is and the way that he's been able to come back from injuries in the past, I wouldn't rule him out for the opener (Sept. 7 against Minnesota)."

Last season, despite tearing the MCL in his left knee in a game at Detroit Sept. 22, Rivera did not miss a start, extending his personal starting streak to 67 games, fourth-longest active streak on the Green Bay roster.

Sherman, reporting on other injuries suffered in the Carolina contest, also announced, "Darren Sharper strained his groin...He didn't seem overly concerned but it is a strained groin...Jacoby Shepherd tore a ligament in his thumb...Najeh Davenport strained a hamstring (and) Craig Nall bruised his hand. I believe someone stepped on his hand. We X-rayed that and he is fine."

THE (NFL) STATISTICAL UPDATE: Packers placekicker Ryan Longwell, the conference leader last week, is now second in NFC non-kicker scoring with 18 points, on 3 field goals in as many attempts and 9 of 9 conversion attempts.

Teammate Ahman Green, coming off a 77-yard effort against Carolina, now ranks third in the National Football Conference in rushing with 142 yards in 26 attempts, a 5.5-yard average, and 2 touchdowns, and fifth in total yards from scrimmage with 174.

Cornerback Al Harris is tied with the Arizona Cardinals Quentin Harris and Justin Lucas for the NFC lead in interceptions with 2.

Running back Herbert "Whisper" Goodman stands third in total yards from scrimmage with 179 (89 rushing and 90 receiving) and is tied for ninth in receiving with 8 catches. Goodman, and teammate Najeh Davenport also are tied for second in non-kicker scoring with 12 points each.

Josh Bidwell ranks eighth among NFC punters with a 44.4-yard average for 12 punts and Antonio Chatman is 10th among NFC punt returners with an 11.7-yard average for 3 runbacks.

Marcus Wilkins is tied for the NFC's sack lead with 3.0 and fellow defender Bobby Jackson is tied for the conference lead in fumble recoveries with 2.

As a team, the Packers rank 26th on offense (19th in rushing and 25th in passing) and 14th on defense (fourth against the run and tied for 23rd against the pass).

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