Sherman Finds 12-4 Packers, Division Champions For First Time Since '97, 'Better Team Than A Year Ago' Despite Playoff Loss
In the course of his wide-ranging press conference, Sherman also addressed the following questions:
Q: 'You really sputtered on offense your last two games. What is your take on that?
MS: "We didn't convert third downs. And you say, 'Why didn't you convert third downs?' I wish I had an exact answer for you. You have to understand...this year...one problem in my mind was Ahman Green was not a hundred percent healthy this season. Last season, he played 81 percent of the snaps, this year he played 63 percent of the snaps. He wasn't always out there on third down...trying to take some of the pressure off of him.
"I really felt when Najeh Davenport got hurt, it was a direct hit on us during the second half of the season, because I felt comfortable that he could take some of those hits off of us. Then we had the young, undrafted rookie (Tony Fisher) who did that as well...did a nice job. But it felt like we lacked depth there. And consistency. And we were changing players up...we had injuries. When Chad Clifton went down, we moved our center (Mike Flanagan) to left tackle.
"There were a lot of issues in calling plays that you had to be aware of - who was on the field, what you could and could not do. Well, the last ball game, Fisher was the only tailback left. There had been times when Ahman Green could not go back out during the course of the season on the field because of injury or whatnot, so that all played a part in it...our inability to convert...with the juggling of players...that all played a part in it."
Q: Opponents used 'Cover 2' a lot. Could that have been a factor?
MS: "It shouldn't have been. 'Cover 2' does have a tendency to disrupt the releases of your receivers, but we have receivers who can get off the line of scrimmage...but that can jam you up, make tighter windows. When you play 'Cover 2,' most of the pressure comes down to the tight ends and the running backs in attacking it. At least, that's what has always been the case in the West Coast philosophy. In the old days, you used to attack 'Cover 2' right down to the middle of the field. You know, put the tight end on a vertical route. But the way people play 'Cover 2' right now, they take the middle backer and they play him at about a depth of 15-18 yards and they overlap the safeties. So what has to happen against 'Cover 2?' Well, you still have to catch the ball with your wideouts. But a lot of the pressure was funneled in with the backs and the tight ends catching the ball and the backs also running the football.
You know, this year we ran the ball 240 yards more than we did last year. We've run the ball better this year than any year since1985, in this organization. So we've made improvement in the running game. Part of that was the result of the amount of 'Cover 2' that we saw, as opposed to the three-deep or having the extra guy down in the box."
Q: Do you think your team was tired or overworked?
MS: That's a possibility. That's something I have to look at and be honest about. You have to be critical of the entire team, including myself, and I'm probably my own worst critic in regard to that. It's not any different than it was a year ago when we won the first playoff game. But what happens is, when you have attrition, the guys are double-dipping. You have guys who are practice squad looks and also playing their position as well. And, because of the attrition, they may indeed get tired.
"But, remember this, a lot of teams are tired at the end - not just us. And I guarantee you, Atlanta had to be tired. They lost three out of their last four ball games. San Francisco had to be tired. The Giants had to be tired, going all the way across the country to play a football game. The Jets had to be tired. So I would look at that as an excuse, much like I do injuries.
"You know, part of winning this thing is playing through that. And I've talked to the team about that a number of times. But everybody's tired this time of year. It's the team that can overcome that boredom or that tiredness and see the big picture is the team that's going to win this thing. That's when mental toughness comes into play. So I would hate to use that as an excuse. I would not want any of our players to even consider that. I mean, yes, I was tired, you know. But it's time. This is what you play for. It's 20 games, including preseason...16 regular season. Who's not going to be tired? But I mean you have to play through that. There's a maturity level that goes with that, however, and maybe with our youth, we didn't quite have that maturity level, I don't know."
Q: Do you think your offensive structure, including play-calling, is sound?
MS: "I'm very confident in it. I know it's taken some hits here as of lately. You have no idea of the frustration of the multitude of, you know, who's in the game? Who's healthy, who's not? Who do we have? Who can practice? Who can't practice on a Wednesday and a Thursday? Who's in the red zone? Were these guys in here for the red zone?
"And you guys who have been to the practices...know that sometimes we had to wait until the end of the week...In fact, Donald (Driver) didn't practice until Friday (the day before the Wild Card playoff against Atlanta)...We had some issues but it certainly didn't affect his performance - he played a heck of a ball game. But there were a number of times where we can't get guys out there because of injuries...until Thursday or Friday practice. And therefore your repetitions and your introduction to the game plan is hampered a little bit. But, with coaching, you have to overcome that...That's all."
Q: Does it affect play-calling?
MS: "It affects what you can and cannot do. And particularly when guys get hurt during the games, which we've had a few of. That affects things, no question."
Q: Do you think that, in situations like this, you can over-analyze?
MS: "I think so. I think you can paralyze yourself with over-analysis. I totally agree with you."
Q: On whether there was anything positive about the play of the special teams.
MS: "It got better on our coverage teams. We went against some pretty dang good return guys the last two weeks. If there's anything positive, it was our coverage units the past couple weeks. I was scared to death when we went up to the Jets - and those guys were very, very dangerous in turning games around. Now, in the second half, we gave up a big kickoff return that certainly was instrumental in their success. But, overall, I thought we did OK. The other day, going against Allen Rossum, I thought we did OK.
"Our return units...you have to put that on me as the general manager. I never quite found the guy, you know, and it's my job to find him. I couldn't invent him. I looked and looked and looked, and we looked as a staff, I should say. And he just wasn't out there.
"And Darrien Gordon came in and did a nice job of catching the ball for us. I felt like when we got going - I remember watching the Saints' game against Tampa and saw that the return game was such a significant factor in them winning that football game that I just felt like we had to get some return yards. We went with a young man that we had studied in the offseason and studied in the preseason in NFLE...J.J. Moses. I watched him, gave him an opportunity - thought he might give us some juice here. Lacked experience...probably not a great decision on my part.. I feel like Eric Metcalf, if he had been with me longer, would have done a nice job for us. I thought he showed some signs. Certainly, his first game against the Jets, he was nervous. But I think if I had given him more time with us, he might have been better. Probably should have brought him in earlier."
Q: Anything else a factor in the return game?
MS: "We didn't block very well...I wasn't crazy about our blockers' blocking, necessarily. I think we could have done better on that. But the truth of the matter is, you've got to make somebody miss. We're not going to get 'em all l blocked. But when you're double-jamming, somebody's coming free. You double this guy, (and) you double this guy, you know, they have some guys free and you're going to make some guys miss. So we can, and we will be, better at that next season."
Q: On 'shortcomings'
MS: "Obviously, as we just said, we have to be better in the return game. It wasn't good enough - our field position was not good. And we need to do a better job on kickoff return and punt return. We've got to get that improved. I do think that having a legitimate returner - and that's easier said than done...I mean, we looked long and hard for the right guy and it just wasn't mean to be.
"You know, we had too many three-and-outs on offense. We didn't convert on third down on offense. We need to stop the run on defense. We didn't do that consistently enough. We need to be much better there.
"Two things that I stress with the team, defensively, and the coaches you've got to create turnovers and you have to be good on third down.
"And I was proud of how we did that. We led the league in takeaways and I think we were second or third on third down. But those are two ways to get the team off the field. If you're not good at stopping the run, you'd better be good on third down and you'd better be good at taking the ball away. And that helped us. In the last two ball games, we didn't get turnovers at the rate we had been used to getting them, and that did not allow us an opportunity to get off the field. Those are the two ways to get off the field - third down and takeaways.
"And we stressed that...we were good at that. It's not that we didn't stress the running game...we did...but we weren't as good there as I would have liked us to have been."
Q: How do you improve on that?
MS: "I think part of it is getting guys on the field. We lost early on in the season two big run-stoppers with the defensive ends that I had planned to help us. They obviously missed a bunch of starts and we had to move people around, and we got rundown a little bit there. But I think personnel has a lot to do with that."
Q: Has Brett (Favre) given you any indication of how long he plans to go - and are you starting to plan for the day he retires?
MS: "Well, I started planning for it - not because of anything he said - a year ago when I became the general manager. That was one of my first things. I said, 'We've got to be able to keep this thing going when Brett decides it's time to call it quits.' And so I would have pursued something more aggressively yet last year if I felt there was a plan there that could help us. Then I would continue to be aggressive in trying to get that. Now last year we took Craig Nall (in the draft) to help us in that capacity, and this year we're looking to draft from the players available and hopefully identify somebody. But I'm not going to just take a guy just so we can check that off my list of things to do and feel good about it. It would have to be someone - a player you're taking that high in the draft - it should be somebody you'd be pretty comfortable with. Fortunately, there's quite a few players out there this year. It's a good year to take a player.
"There's a number of good quarterbacks out there that may fit what we do. If they're around when we're picking, there's a chance that we could take one.
"But he (Favre) hasn't indicated anything to me in regard to that. I just keep telling him to stop talking about retirement and he says 'they keep asking me"...so..."
Q: "How do you feel the Terry Glenn trade worked out for you and there is any concern about the way he fits into the West Coast offense and the hits he takes?
MS: "Even if you don't run the West Coast offense, DBs tackle the receivers. You're going to get tackled. And I don't think in this offense, necessarily, that you get guys tackled more than not. I mean, Terry's an aggressive player going for the football. I don't know what it is - it always seems like he lands on his head when he falls. I mean I don't know whether he's weighted down a little bit heavier up there or not but he always seems to topple down that way. He's an aggressive player going after the football - that's one of the reasons why he's had the injuries that he's had is because he is aggressive. If people see him at practice, he dives for balls in practice a number of times and takes shots there. So that's the type of player he is. It has nothing to do with the West Coast offense, necessarily. Your allusion may be more to the quick passing game, the slants and things where he did take some hits there. We don't necessarily subject him all the time to that type of hit, and that's fine. But he has caught 'em and run away with 'em, too. But I think he has made a great contribution. You've got to remember now, we went into the season...Donald Driver...now we picture Donald Driver right now - we all do - but it's been enhanced by his ability to play this year. I had a lot of confidence in Donald but to say that Donald would have the season he had, I'd be lying to say that I knew he'd play to the level he played. I knew he was a big-play receiver. He's a great kid...I knew he was going to work hard...I knew he was talented...But I'll be honest with you - he exceeded my expectations. (Robert) Ferguson was an unknown. He didn't have a great year last year. He was immature in handling himself. But if there's a player who has made the most progress this year, I would have to say that that he would be one of them. The guy is light years ahead of where he was a year ago...he's a bona fide threat on special teams...our pick teams are happy to be accountable for him....He dropped a couple the other day but he's been very sure-handed. He's tough...he blocks...he catches - he's made some big catches. Now he's emerged. So our perspective of those two players has been greatly enhanced by the season. We have seen the talent of Javon Walker and what he potentially can do as well.
"So, did Terry Glenn come in here and do what I wanted him to do? Most certainly - because he gave me a comfort level with his services and his experience...and how he adapted here...was not any problem here whatsoever. I was real happy with him and what he brought to the team.
Q: Will you be able to re-sign Vonnie Holliday?
MS: "It's going to take some creative work financially and we'll do that. I would never say never - that we can't do that. We will have to be very creative to get it worked out. But we're going to try like heck."
Q: On whether his dual role 'gets harder, the longer you are in it?'
MS: "In some ways it does and in some ways it doesn't. It's sort of like deer hunting, I guess. When you kill your first deer, you feel a little sorry about it. But, after a while, you just start blasting a way. You don't really care, you know. But with regard to these guys, I do feel close to them, but I do stress to them a number of times that this is a business - it's a tough business - when they have to make decisions that I might not like and I'll make 'em that they don't like. 'I'll always be honest with you. If we have problem in any negotiation - if you feel we've reached a standstill, call me and we'll try to keep an open line of communication.' So I think they understand...they certainly understand...It was tough...Russell Maryland...Santana Dotson - all the ones I had to let go. Those are about as tough as they get, you know. Antonio (Freeman) was tough. You know, some of the guys you can't bring back...Dorsey Levens.
"But, in regard to these guys - they understand it's a business and that I'm going to do what I think is best for the team. I only have to look any further than right over my left shoulder and I see a picture of the team and there's a picture of my family, and my family's going to have the overriding call. You know, how can we keep my family happy? And that's by putting the best football team on the football field."
Q: Do you still relish working both jobs?
MS: "No question's been made about that lately and I really don't see any other way to do it. Unless I had a Ron Wolf by my side, who I would welcome back at any juncture. But we shared a very similar philosophy. To have multiple philosophies in our organization I think is difficult at times - multiple viewpoints or visions. I think in this organization, from the administrative standpoint, Bob Harlan certainly has his vision and, from the football standpoint, I have mine and I am able to communicate that readily to the staff. And I think that has boded well for us, and hopefully it will continue that way."
Q: Is there any position that you're targeting in the offseason that you really want to upgrade?
MS: "Nothing specific. Obviously, we have positions of strength on this team and positions that need to be addressed. But, no, at this point we're basically evaluating all the college players. We're not going to be very active in free agency because we want to sign our own guys and that's going to pretty much dilute the pool. But we have a plan if we can't sign our own guys while we are active in free agency, so we're going to try to get our own guys taken care of.
"But in regard to college talent, we do an across-the-board evaluation of everybody and, as we get closer to the draft, we target which direction we're going. I don't want somebody to be in a school and not look at - they may say the offensive line is strong now and we won't take a lineman early - you never know what can happen, so they need to be aggressively going out there as a staff and look at every player and grading them with the idea that we may take that guy, even if he might not think we would, and so we'll get more focused on specific players as we get going into this thing."
Q: Can you at this point - on the chance that Brett Favre may play only one more year - afford to use a high draft pick to take a quarterback in this year's draft?
MS: "We have to have somebody who can go in there and win football games for us, regardless of whether Brett is here or not here because of the possibility of injury.
"I thought Doug (Pederson) did a great job for us this year I was real proud of what he did in the Washington game. I mean that game was about to turn on us for a little bit and then he completed a big third down pass and got us going. So he played a pivotal role in our success. But we always have to identify quality players and the quarterback obviously - with Brett's situation and also the fact that he may get hurt some day - would play into that as well.
"But, can we afford to use - I wouldn't say waste...I wouldn't say waste a draft pick - can we afford to use a draft pick that early? I think if the right player is there at that point, then we would use it. I'll be honest with you - I would have used it last year. If you can get a quality quarterback on your roster, I would venture that way."
Q: How would you characterize your salary cap situation?
MS: "This year is tough. It gets better. Next year, we're going to be in pretty good shape. It's not a great year for us right now - we're still absorbing some things from the past and that makes it a little more difficult. But this year is not an easy year. Next year will be a much better year. That's why it was so imperative that our young players and our draft picks play well this year and contributed because it gives us a greater depth on this football team. You know, if there's a positive that came out of the injuries, it is that we're a deeper football team now. When you've got a Matt Bowen go in and play the game he played (against Atlanta) - he played a heck of a ball game. And (Kevin) Barry has gone in there and played and won games...(Tony) Fisher has played, (Najeh) Davenport has played. We're a much deeper team now than any time I can remember - even back when I was tight end coach here (1997-98).
"So I feel like the future is bright because of what has happened with our young players, this year."
Q: Do you have any reason to believe there will be any long-term effect on Chad Clifton from his injury - and whether he will be ready for the '03 season?
MS: "I think anything's possible. We're certainly not anticipating that to happen. There's a possibility because of the hit that he took that things may not settle just right and, you know, things could develop. You don't know. He's not taxed himself in a way that you would as a football player He's just recovering as if he was a normal person. But to be able to play football makes a difference. But, at this juncture, there's no anticipation that he won't be ready for the first day of training camp.
"I think we (he and the team's medical staff) are pretty much in agreement that both he and Tausch (offensive tackle Mark Tauscher) will be hopefully ready for the preseason camp. But that will be modified, too, particularly Tausch will be modified maybe once a day, as we get there."
Q: What about the status of Gilbert Brown?
MS: "All those guys we'll evaluate, and we're not ready to make a decision on anybody just yet. We've got to see where we are with our injuries and what not. But as far as left tackle, I feel really confident that we really have been able to work with this Kevin Barry, who played right tackle for us, but he also played and practiced left tackle. And I think he did not give up a sack when he played. He's a very good athlete and I see him possibly being at left tackle for us in the future because of his athleticism, his ability to bend his knees and strike, and I think that he would be the player that I would put over there to back up Chad Clifton."
Q: What's the time line on the hiring of a linebackers coach (to replace Bo Pelini, who has become the defensive coordinator for the University of Nebraska's Cornhuskers)?
MS: "As always at each position, throughout my career, I make a list of possible candidates. I know pretty much what direction I'm going. Getting it done takes some time."
Q: Is Hardy Nickerson going to be back?
MS: "I expect him to - I expect him to be back. But, you know, we just have to play this thing out and see where we are and where we're headed there. I can't guarantee anything on anybody, just yet."
- Sherman concluded his press conference by listing the 12 players who had failed their season-end physicals: Gilbert Brown (hip), Tony Carter (shoulder), Donald Driver (shoulder), Brett Favre (knee and ankle), Ahman Green (thigh), Joe Johnson (triceps), Bhawoh Jue (hernia and ankle), Tod McBride (groin), Darren Sharper (knee), Mark Tauscher (knee), Chad Clifton (hip) and Frank Winters (knee). All will have a subsequent opportunity to pass the physical when fully recovered.
SHERMAN, WITH THE AID of a second consecutive 12-victory season, has become the "second-fastest starter" in Packers head-coaching history - behind only the fabled Vince Lombardi. He completed his third season as the 13th head coach in team annals with a 33-15 won-lost record after his first 48 games, just three games off Lombardi's pace 36-12-0 (1959-62).
Team founder E.L. "Curly" Lambeau ranks third at 28-15-5 (1921-25), followed by Mike Holmgren 27-21-0 (1992-94).
THE FAVRE FILE: Quarterback Brett Favre has amassed pass completions, yards and touchdowns with remarkable facility ever since making his debut under center for the Packers in September of 1992, and he continued to further entrench himself among professional football's all-time elite in 2002.
Since he always has been more about winning than the sheer production of imposing statistics, the Packers' freewheeling field general presumably would take his greatest pride in the associated numbers that reflect team success, such as having led his team to its fourth division title and eighth playoff berth in his 11 seasons.
And his career won-lost record, 115-58 in the wake of the Packers' 12-4 regular season mark; which makes his .665 percentage the third-highest among quarterback who have started their careers since the 1970 league merger (minimum 100 games) - behind only Joe Montana (.713) and Terry Bradshaw (.677).
Within that 115-58 record, Favre has mounted a career winning percentage of .860 at home (74-12), including nine games in Milwaukee - an NFL record of quarterbacks who have launched their careers since 1950.
- Favre also owns the third-best December record by a starting quarterback since the 1970 merger (minimum 20 starts) with a .761 percentage (35-11) - behind only Joe Theismann (.773) and Montana (.767).
From the individual perspective, among his multiple accomplishments, two readily stand out:
- Favre, while throwing for 3,658 yards, became only the fourth payer in National Football League history to pass for both 40,000 yards in the regular season and 4,000 yards in the postseason; and
- Also became only the fourth player in NFL annals to throw 300 touchdown passes in a career, closing out the season third all-time with 314 and thus ranking behind only Dan Marino (420) and Fran Tarkenton (342).
Along the way, the 33-year-old Southern Mississippi alumnus also weighed in with these multiple accomplishments:
- Extended his own NFL record of 3,000-yard seasons to 11 (1992-2002), two better than the 9 straight seasons of No. 2 Marino (1984-92).
-Now has thrown 20-or more touchdown passes (27 in '02) in nine consecutive seasons, one shy of Marino's record 10 such seasons.
- Became the third-fastest player to reach the 40,000-yard mark (vs. Chicago Oct. 7 in his 166th game) Only Marino (153 games) and Warren Moon (165) reached the milestone faster.
- Now stands sixth in NFL annals in career passing yards (42,285), having passed Montana (40,551) on Nov. 10 (vs. Detroit).
- Also ranks fifth in career completions (3,652) and career passing attempts (5,993).
- Stands fifth all-time in NFL career passer ratings at 86.7 - behind only Kurt Warner (98.2), Steve Young (96.8), Joe Montana (92.3) and Jeff Garcia (89.9).
- Has posted 35 career 300-yard passing games, the most among active NFL players.
- Owns 173-game starting streak, an NFL record for quarterbacks and the longest active streak in the NFL at any position.
- Possessor of a remarkable touchdown-to-interception ratio of almost 10-to-1 in the Red Zone (210 TDs to 22 INTs).
- Has engineered 26 career game-winning comebacks (three during '02 seasons - vs. Atlanta, Carolina and Minnesota).
- Also owns 35-1 record at home (29-0 regular season, 6-1 postseason) when the game-time temperature is 34 degrees or below (including wins over Miami, Chicago, Minnesota and Buffalo during '02 season).
- Was voted to the Pro Bowl for the seventh time in 11 seasons.
THE FAVRE PLAYOFF FILE: In addition to his regular season accomplishments, Favre "improved" seven of the 13 Packers postseason records he already held during the Packers' Wild Card Playoff against the Atlanta Falcons.
The extended records:
Most Games Played, 17
- Most Passes Completed, 338
- Most Passes Attempted, 564
- Most Yards Gained on Passes, 4,187
- Most Touchdown Passes, 30 (tied Terry Bradshaw for third-most in NFL playoff history)
- Most Passes Intercepted, 21
- Most Consecutive Games, TD Pass, 13, 1995-2002 (current) (ties Dan Marino's record)
- The 65,358 witnesses who sat in on the Packers' Wild Card Playoff against Atlanta set a new stadium attendance record. The old record, 64,196, was established on Dec. 1, when the Packers defeated the Chicago Bears, 30-20.
- The Packers made their 35th postseason appearance in the Atlanta contest, becoming only the 10th team in NFL history to make as many as 35 playoff appearances.
- The Packers now own a 23-12 postseason record - and what remains the highest winning percentage in NFL history (.657), based upon a minimum of 15 games.
- Ahman Green, by rushing for 1,240 yards in the season immediately past - despite sitting out two games and the second halves of two others - now owns three of the top six 1,000-yard rushing seasons in Packers history. His '02 total ranks fifth, behind his 2001 season of 1,387 yards (third-best in Packers annals) and ahead of his 1,175 in 2000 (sixth overall).
Only Jim Taylor, with a club-record 1,474 yards in 1962 and 1,307 in 1961 (fourth), and Dorsey Levens with 1,435 in 1997 (second) have "out-rushed" Green over a single season.