Favre is all Packers have

Nfl Week


They had been in subtle decline the past two seasons. Now the Green Bay Packers are in unremitting free fall as the organization braces for the day quarterback Brett Favre walks away.

That, by the way, is when the bottom will really drop out in Green Bay.

As the three-time NFL Most Valuable Player showed Monday night, he still can carry a team; he just can't carry it as far anymore. His four touchdown passes, with one interception and one lost fumble, weren't enough to beat the Carolina Panthers on a night his offensive line crumbled around him.

The loss left the Packers winless in four games and in the running for the first pick in next year's draft. So how does a team with the Packers' proud tradition go from winning three straight NFC North titles to instant doormat?

The fall from grace has been coming for a while, actually. In transition from former general manager Ron Wolf to Mike Sherman and, this year, Ted Thompson, the Packers' talent level has slowly but steadily eroded.

Wolf built the Packers into a powerhouse in the 1990s. They went to the Super Bowl twice, winning it once. When he retired before the 2001 season, the team was still strong enough to make another run or two. Except for a fourth-and-26 playoff fiasco in Philadelphia, the Packers might have done it as recently as the 2003 season.

Now it'll be awhile. Bad draft picks and poor free-agent decisions have sent the team stumbling to the basement in a woeful division. From Sherman's three drafts, between 2002 and 2004, he got just four starters. Only wide receiver Javon Walker, Sherman's first pick in 2002, is a special player, and he's done for the season after blowing out his knee.

(Wolf's final draft in 2001 didn't help; he whiffed on defensive end Jamal Reynolds and linebacker Torrance Marshall, and had a near-miss in receiver Robert Ferguson among his first-day picks.)

Sherman, however, exacerbated the problem with two critical free-agent signings. He gave defensive end Joe Johnson a huge contract in 2002 and got a huge bust. He then re-signed nose tackle Cletidus Hunt to a $6 million signing bonus in 2003 and had to cut Hunt this season.

Sherman also ran off talented cornerback Mike McKenzie in a contract dispute a year ago. McKenzie, now with the New Orleans Saints, will resurface at Lambeau Field today with the idea of burying Sherman.

While Sherman shuffled in three different defensive coordinators from 2003 to 2005, the Packers finally decided to strip his GM title. Thompson got the job this year and made some big decisions right away.

One was to allow his two veteran guards, Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera, to go in free agency. The decision on Rivera, at 33, was a good one. Not so on Wahle, 28. Minus the continuity that gave the Packers one of the league's best lines, Ahman Green has run to darkness and Favre has run for his life. And an offense that routinely made up for the defense's shortcomings no longer can do that.

Thompson's other decision was to draft Aaron Rodgers as Favre's heir apparent. But the only thing apparent about that is the Packers will really hit the skids once Favre, who turns 36 tomorrow, walks out the door.

Games of the week

Eagles (3-1) @Cowboys (2-2)

TIME -- 4:15 p.m.

LINE -- Eagles by 3

SKINNY -- Eagles coach Andy Reid has owned this series, winning nine of the past 10 games by a whopping average of 22.1 points. The Eagles also have won 25 of their past 29 NFC East games. They aren't invincible, but they don't lose to inferior teams.

PICK -- Eagles

Bengals (4-0) @Jaguars (2-2)

TIME, TV -- 8:30 p.m., ESPN

LINE -- Jaguars by 3

SKINNY -- It would seem the Bengals are ripe to take a loss. But the Jaguars haven't been able to stop their opponents' run game, and they haven't been able to establish one of their own. Add to that the fact Cincinnati's Carson Palmer (71.8 percent completions) is the hottest quarterback going right now, and you've got a good matchup for the Bengals.

PICK -- Bengals

Worth seeing

Patriots (2-2) @Falcons (3-1)

TIME -- 1 p.m.

LINE -- Falcons by 2 1/2 .

SKINNY -- This looks like a bad matchup for the Patriots. Atlanta's pass rush should give the Patriots' two rookie linemen - and by extension, QB Tom Brady - fits. Considering the Patriots haven't been able to run the ball this season, that's a difficult combination to overcome.

PICK -- Falcons

Dolphins (2-1) @Bills (1-3)

TIME -- 1 p.m.

LINE -- Bills by 3

SKINNY -- The Bills are so desperate that coach Mike Mularkey refused to name his starting quarterback for this game. Like it matters. The Bills are a mess. They're No. 1 in pass defense only because it's easier to run on their No. 31 rush defense.

PICK -- Dolphins

Bears (1-2) @Browns (1-2)

TIME, TV -- 1 p.m., Ch. 45

LINE -- Browns by 3

SKINNY -- After facing QBs Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Palmer the past three games, the Browns catch rookie Kyle Orton. The guess here is that Browns coach Romeo Crennel had a hand in New England's great success against young quarterbacks.

PICK -- Browns

Saints (2-2) @Packers (0-4)

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