Defense gives Pack more than passer and a prayer

QUICK HITS

September 18, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The Green Bay Packers used to go as far as Brett Favre's arm carried them.

That has changed this year.

They also have developed a defense to complement Favre.

After their 42-10 rout of the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, the Packers boast the second-best defense in the league based on yards allowed. They are No. 1 in offense.

Last season, they finished 14th in defense and seventh in offense.

"We were outplayed by our offense a lot last year," said cornerback Leroy Butler, whose two interceptions against the Chargers boosted his season total to four.

"Those guys are pretty good. We're right with them now."

Favre agreed.

"It's what the good teams need to do," he said.

A year ago, the Packers produced 16 turnovers all season. This year, they already have 13. They lead the league with a turnover ratio of plus-eight.

The result was that five Packers -- Edgar Bennett, Antonio Freeman, William Henderson, Butler and Desmond Howard -- jumped into the stands after scoring against the Chargers.

"The most embarrassing thing was not jumping into the stands all the way, because we grade each other on that," Butler said. "My teammates said, 'Congratulations, but you have a very low grade.' "

Butler started the craze in 1993, but wide receiver Robert Brooks made it popular and even released a rap single called "Jump Into The Stands" this year.

Butler and Freeman said the leap by Howard, who had been a bust in Washington and Jacksonville, was the best after returning a punt for a touchdown.

"I thought mine was good. I felt the elevation. But Desmond had a great jump, especially for the first time. He really flew," said Freeman, a Poly graduate.

The Packers appear to be so good that they've supplanted Dallas and San Francisco as the team to beat in the NFC and, by extension, the Super Bowl favorites.

They're also popular as the anti-Dallas team. A community-owned team, they have no Jerry Jones to hog the spotlight and there is no danger of the club relocating.

"We don't want to just win games anymore," tight end Keith Jackson said. "We want to dominate them."

The Packers are even doing it the hard way. They already have beaten two of last year's playoff teams -- Philadelphia and San Diego -- and play 3-0 Minnesota on Sunday. They also are host to San Francisco on a Monday night game Oct. 14, go to Kansas City on Nov. 10, to Dallas on Nov. 18 for a Monday night game, and play host to Denver on Dec. 8.

To cope with that schedule, they'll have to be dominating.

Winners and losers

Free agency and the salary cap were supposed to bring parity to the NFL, as most of the teams figured to finish between 7-9 and 9-7.

Instead, six teams have started with 3-0 records. That first happened in 1966, when there were only 15 NFL teams. It also happened in 1968, 1979 and 1986.

At least three teams will start 4-0 because the six unbeaten teams are playing each other in a bit of scheduling that the NFL couldn't have planned in its wildest dreams.

Green Bay visits Minnesota and the Denver Broncos go to Kansas City on Sunday, then the Miami Dolphins visit Indianapolis on Monday night.

By contrast, there are six 0-3 teams and -- believe it or not -- they all play each other Sunday.

The New York media got the jump a week ago when they dubbed the Jets-Giants game the Peyton Manning Bowl. But Seattle is at Tampa Bay and Arizona is at New Orleans in two other Manning Bowls.

Unhappy Bengals

It's difficult to imagine why the Cincinnati Bengals are paying Garrison Hearst $2 million except to keep him out of Baltimore.

First, Ki-Jana Carter complained because he wasn't getting enough carries.

So when Carter got 63 yards on 19 carries, including a 31-yard touchdown run, in the Bengals' 30-15 victory over the Saints, it figured it would be Hearst's turn to complain. He got minus-1 yard on five carries.

"I'd rather take less money and go somewhere else," he said. "I don't want to mess up the vibes of the team and I tried to fit in, but I still want to play. That's not happening.

"I don't like to bring personal things on the field, but this is a pivotal year for me. I knew somebody wouldn't get much playing time. It's me."

Getting lucky

Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson never likes the suggestion that he has been lucky in his career.

But he has been fortunate enough to capitalize on other teams' mistakes. In 1990, Emmitt Smith slid to the 17th pick on the first round before Johnson traded with Pittsburgh to grab him.

This year, running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar was still on the board when Johnson had the 80th pick on the third round.

Abdul-Jabbar is sixth in the NFL with 280 yards rushing and has scored five touchdowns, the most in the league.

The Ravens, desperate for a running back, could have taken him with the 65th pick on the third round. But they packaged that pick with their fourth-round pick to take cornerback DeRon Jenkins on the third round. He's currently a third-stringer.

He said it

Bill Tobin, general manager of the Colts, after the team's 25-24 victory over the Cowboys: "There's nobody in this locker room who doesn't believe that if had things gone right for us in the AFC championship game, we wouldn't have won the Super Bowl."

Pub Date: 9/18/96

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