SECOND PRESEASON GAME 5 PLAYS THAT MADE A DIFFERENCEby Jerry Gilbert
Packer fans have to be happy with the turnaround in the second preseason game. After being humiliated a week earlier in San Diego, the Green Bay Packers rebounded and defeated the Atlanta Falcons 38-10 at Lambeau Field. The offensive line protected its quarterbacks against a fairly good Atlanta defense. The line also opened some holes for a decent running game. On defense, after allowing an opening drive touchdown, the Packers were dominant and allowed only a 51yard field goal. They were particularly effective in the third quarter when they entered the field on consecutive drives with the Falcons near or beyond the fifty yard line and stuffed the opposing offense, not allowing even a field goal attempt. The defense also recorded three interceptions, which resulted in 17 points. On the other hand, without what might be called luck or Lambeau Field Magic, the final score could have been far different.
As I wrote in training camp reports leading up to the game, it was very clear to me that the goal of training camp was to correct offensive and defensive deficiencies which were manifest against the Chargers. That goal was generally achieved. A related goal was to improve the play of high draft choices. This was also generally successful. A. J. Hawk had a good game, and second round choice Daryn Colledge, demoted to second team, also appeared to have played well. On one pass completion, he was far down field trying to help the receiver. The rookies on the first string offensive line, Jason Spitz and Tony Moll also seemed to do their jobs.
At the same time, the tipped balls seemed to favor the Green Bay Packers all night. I believe that, if the team plays well, the home field will provide extra assistance from time to time. There is no other way to explain some of the strange occurrences, whether it was a dropped pass by an opposing receiver or a kick that went wide, during the long home winning streak of a few years ago. The favorable bounces all went to Green Bay Saturday night. They influenced the final score as much as good play by the Packers.
EXAMPLE Number 1 The first touchdown pass to Bubba Franks
The scorecard says Favre to Franks for a touchdown. All who saw it know that the pass to David Martin was too high and he got only one hand on it. The tipped ball could have gone anywhere including to an opposing player who may have run it back 100 plus yards. It bounced to Bubba Franks for a Packer touchdown.
EXAMPLE NUMBER 2 The fumbled punt snap by Punter Jon Ryan
In the third quarter, rookie punter Jon Ryan could not handle what appeared to be a bad snap in his own endzone. The scorecard shows a fair kick and a 7 yard return. We know that the ball fortunately bounced up to him and he made a good play to avoid a rusher and get off a decent kick. A different bounce would have meant a safety or even a touchdown for Atlanta.
EXAMPLE NUMBER 3 The 85 yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings
With the Packers deep in their own territory, Aaron Rodgers threw a pass that was tipped by a defender. Many bad things could have happened. What did happen was that Greg Jennings adjusted to the tipped ball and out ran the defenders for a highlight film touchdown. The good thing that this play showed is, as Larry McCarren put it, we now know that irrespective of his forty time, Greg Jennings is "as fast as he needs to be" to make the play.
EXAMPLE NUMBER 4 The interception return for a touchdown by Jason Horton
With the score tied and the outcome of the game in doubt, a pass from the Atlanta quarterback went off the hands of his receiver and Packer corner Jason Horton took it to the house. As the examples involving Bubba Franks and Greg Jennings illustrate, that tipped ball might just have easily resulted in a touchdown in the other direction. While it does not justify a separate item on its own, the interception of Michael Vick by Tyrone Culver was also fortunate. Culver had been out of position at least two other times earlier in the game including the touchdown by Atlanta. The fact that he was where he was supposed to be on this play could be interpreted as a lucky occurrence.
EXAMPLE NUMBER 5 The interception by Defensive Tackle Johnny Jolly
In the second half of the game rookie free agent defensive end Jason Horton dominated the Falcon reserve tackle that was trying to block him. However, on the play that led to the Jolly interception, it appeared that Horton intentionally tipped the pass toward the line of scrimmage. Batting the ball in that direction gives the offense a chance to turn a bad play into a good play. As it went down, Johnny Jolly gathered in the tipped ball for a Packer interception. I would be interested to know how the Packer coaches view his decision to bat the ball in that direction.
We who watched the game on the NFL Network heard the Atlanta announcers lament the fact that all the bounces seemed to go to Green Bay. They omit a bounce of a punt or two in their analysis. The punts died or went out of bounds for the Falcons and bounced into the end zone for the Packers. In addition, when confronted with a bouncing ball opportunity, Packer players took advantage. This is one factor which showed that the team was ready to play this game, and that is a tribute to the coaches.
Nevertheless, it is too early to reserve super bowl tickets. It is a relief to know that the Green Bay Packers are not a bad as they looked against the Chargers. They are also not good enough to dominate the Falcons without a lucky break or two. They played well enough to win. The bouncing ball allowed them to win easily.