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THE REFS AND THE COACH PART 2

by Jerry Gilbert
After the opening game depressing loss to the untalented Detroit Lions, I suggested on this site that the coaching by Mike Sherman and his staff and the officiating by the incompetent referees combined to give the Green Bay Packers what has turned out to be their worst loss of the season. After the Sunday night rebound overtime victory by the Packers in a rematch with the Lions, it seems that a story about refs and coaching is again a pretty good way to sum up the game.

As is the norm, this crew of NFL officials was too athletically limited to stay up with today's professional football player. They were inconsistent and often wrong. However, the net effect helped rather than hurt Green Bay this time. They gave Roy Williams a disputed touchdown grab that Packer cornerback Al Harris will never recognize as the right call. On the other hand, they correctly determined forward progress during the Packer defense's heroic goal line stand in the second half. A few plays later, they judged that Samkon Gado's clumsy forward push of the ball as he was being tackled in his own end zone was in fact an attempted forward pass. Gado's heady play to avert a safety deserved to be upheld after the indecisive officials initially got it wrong.

As for Mike Sherman, he probably displayed his best ever working of the officals to turn them around to an ultimate finding that Sam Gado properly attempted what was finally ruled to be an incomplete pass. The referee never mentioned that fullback Vonta Leach, an eligible receiver, was within a few feet of the attempted pass. Intentional grounding is never the right call when a pass drops at the feet of an open receiver. Sherman's persistence brought the officials around.

On the other hand, what was that offensive game plan at the beginning of the second half? In the second quarter, a combination of short passes and great running by Gado had produced 10 points. During halftime, Sherman apparently decided that the correct strategy was to pick on Detroit cornerback R.J. McQuarters. Fortunately, after that needless three and out, a stretch in which McQuarters played very well, sanity returned, and the combination of Sam Gado on the run and the short passes re-emerged as the game plan. Whenever Brett Favre needed a first down, he would toss a short pass so that William Henderson could motor through cornerbacks.

Credit the coaches also for a solid game by the defense. The sieve like special team coverage units are another story. The defense has been the team's best unit all season, but they have often wilted at crunch time near the end of games. This time they made the needed stops in the second half to give the offense time to find ways to score. Holding any team scoreless in the second half is an accomplishment. After the games opening drive, the defense shored up its run defense. After that, the occasional circus catch by Roy Williams was the only offense the Lions could muster.

Nick Barnett ranging sideline to sideline may have played the best game of his short career, and Grady Jackson was a man against boys in the goal line stands. They were the stars, but at key times, nearly every defender did something to help the cause. It was great to see Corey Williams back for a few plays at defensive tackle. Unfortunately, now that he is back promising rookie Brady Poppinga is out for the season.

Much was written this week about the unlikely statistic that the Packer defense is number one against the pass. Critics have noted the string of mediocre quarterbacks and the fact that miscues generally put the Packers behind early in the game, and opponents mostly run the ball after that. These are valid points, but they do not explain a number one rating. The rest of the story has several components. One is a pro bowl season by Al Harris. Steady improvement by Ahmad Carroll is another reason, and the safety play of Mark Roman and Nick Collins has been pretty solid. Finally, it has been the pass rush. Aided by an occasional blitz, and blitzes designed by Jim Bates seem to work better, Cullen Jenkins and Aaron Kampman have led the pass rush. There have not been all that many sacks, but quarterbacks are harassed. One question however, can't Bates figure some way to stop a quarterback who scrambles? They tied up Michael Vick, but Mike McMahon and Jeff Garcia ran at will.

The Packers found a way to win on Sunday, and that should quiet the talk about first pick in next year's draft. Mike Sherman has held the team together and will probably be back coaching next season. Also returning will be the NFL's loveable and inept referees.

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