Packers' stance turns from swagger to stagger Week 9 Preview

October 24, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

The Green Bay Packers have gotten a lesson in humility this year.

Just two months ago, safety LeRoy Butler was talking about the Super Bowl champions posting a perfect season.

But after struggling to a 5-2 start and failing to cover the spread in all seven games, the Packers find themselves two-point underdogs when they go to Foxboro Stadium on Monday night for a Super Bowl rematch against the New England Patriots.

Not surprisingly, Butler is singing a different tune.

What are the Packers' chances of repeating?

"Not very good," Butler said. "Until we start playing better, we can forget about that repeating stuff. If we don't start playing better, we'll be struggling to make the playoffs."

The Packers have been hurt by injuries and the usual letdown that comes with being Super Bowl champions.

It hasn't helped that quarterback Brett Favre isn't having an MVP year and that their defense, hampered by the absence of injured nose tackle Gilbert Brown, is ranked 27th against the run. Last year, it was fourth.

Coach Mike Holmgren gave the players the bye week off in an attempt to recharge their batteries.

They also hope that Brown, who's listed as questionable with a kneecap injury, can return.

Defensive tackle Santana Dotson said Brown is eager to get back on the field.

"He's like a horse in the stalls who's kicking around and can't wait to get out there," Dotson said.

The Packers are so desperate for defensive line help that they picked up Gerald Williams off waivers from the Carolina Panthers earlier this week.

How the Packers are able to defend against Patriots running back Curtis Martin will play a key role in the game.

The Patriots also are 5-2 after suffering a 24-19 loss to the New York Jets and their old coach, Bill Parcells, who got a game-winning relief performance from quarterback Glenn Foley.

The Patriots are favored because they have the home-field advantage in what is the first Super Bowl rematch to be held on a Monday night.

And after saddling ABC with the Bills-Colts yawner this past Monday, the NFL made amends with this matchup.

Best of the rest

Vikings at Bucs: When Tampa Bay beat Minnesota, 28-14, on Sept. 14, it was considered a surprise, but it became part of the Bucs' 5-0 start. This time, the Bucs are favored despite two straight losses. The winner will share first place in the NFC Central with Green Bay if the Packers win. If the Packers lose, the winner gets sole possession.

The Bucs have more at stake because another loss would start speculation that they're reverting to their losing ways. The Vikings, by contrast, have won three straight, and quarterback Brad Johnson is having a great year.

Jaguars at Steelers: When Pittsburgh went to Jacksonville last month, Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin said the Steelers would decide when this series becomes a rivalry. Pittsburgh promptly lost in Jacksonville for the third straight year (a blocked field-goal attempt at the end was the difference), and the Steelers are now treating this like a rivalry. The two 5-2 teams are playing for first place in the AFC Central.

In the first game, the Steelers' Jerome Bettis ran for 114 yards and the Jaguars' Mark Brunell passed for 306, and they'll again be the main offensive weapons, although the Pittsburgh secondary seems to be improved now that Carnell Lake has switched from safety to cornerback.

Worth a look

Ravens at Redskins: The William Donald Schaefer Bowl is a one-sided rivalry since Redskins fans who follow the Orioles generally don't root against the Ravens the way Baltimore fans root against the Redskins. On the field, it's a pivotal game because both teams are struggling, but neither is taking drastic action and neither is likely to capitalize on the other's main weakness.

Gus Frerotte isn't playing well enough to shred the Ravens' suspect secondary, and it's difficult to run the ball effectively from a three-receiver formation, so the Ravens probably can't pound the Redskins' 29th-ranked rushing defense. That means the game probably will be decided by turnovers.

Cowboys at Eagles: Eagles coach Ray Rhodes switched to Rodney Peete at quarterback last Sunday to give his team a spark, and the Eagles needed overtime to escape with a victory over Arizona. Look for the Eagles to be more fired up for this game because they're playing the Cowboys.

The Cowboys are struggling, but they're still the Cowboys. Dallas, which needed a bad snap on a field-goal attempt to beat the Eagles at home in the first game, already has three road division losses and can't afford another.

Raiders at Seahawks: How can you figure out the Raiders? They started 2-4 and then upset the Broncos last Sunday. Now they can reach .500 by upsetting the Seahawks, who have won four of five after an 0-2 start.

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