Packers Outplay Bills, But Costly Mistakes ...
Monday, November 6, 2006
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The young and rebuilding Green Bay Packers might be making strides halfway through the season, but it doesn't mean they're very good.
After back-to-back wins, they had as good a chance as they could hope for to win on the road Sunday and get to .500, especially after the Buffalo Bills' best offensive player, halfback Willis McGahee, was injured on the first series and didn't return.
But for all the Packers did right — they outgained the Bills 427 yards to 184 yards — they made the kind of glaring errors in their 24-10 loss that would keep them from defeating anyone in the NFL.
Giving up a defensive touchdown, and twice getting to or inside Buffalo's 5-yard line and coming away with no points is losing football.
The second trip inside the 5 will be a matter of contention for the Packers and their followers. Coach Mike McCarthy's decision to throw a quick slant on first-and-goal from the 1 with a chance to tie the game at 17-17 with just less than 5 minutes remaining ended in disaster with a tipped ball and interception.
"We started feeling pretty good about ourselves after winning two games in a row," quarterback Brett Favre said. "When things are kind of going your way and something like this happens, it's kind of a reality check, puts things back in perspective of how good or not good we are, myself included."
The outcome puts the Packers and the Bills at 3-5, but each is feeling different about that record.
The demoralized Packers made several huge errors that cost them the game:
Favre and center Scott Wells twice turned over the ball on miscommunicated center exchanges, including a shotgun snap from Buffalo's 5 that hit Favre in the facemask as he was surveying the defense.
Favre gave Buffalo an easy second-quarter touchdown when he threw an interception that linebacker London Fletcher-Baker returned 17 yards for the score.
On a day when the defense held up its end of the bargain almost without fault, there was one major error that gave Buffalo an easy touchdown. With cornerback Charles Woodson moved to safety for one play because of an injury to Marquand Manuel, he blew help coverage for Al Harris that allowed Lee Evans to catch a wide-open, 43-yard touchdown pass that provided the winning score with 8 minutes remaining in the game.
The play that deserves the most scrutiny, however, is McCarthy's decision to pass on first down from the 1 with the chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.
"Their run game had been doing pretty good, so I don't understand it," Fletcher-Baker said. "But that's their prerogative."
The Packers had scored on a similar 1-yard connection to Driver in the third quarter, and McCarthy wanted to catch the Bills off-balance with a quick substitution and hustle to the line of scrimmage.
Cornerback Nate Clements played Driver on the slant, and appeared to barely tip the ball. Safety Ko Simpson intercepted, and returned it 76 yards to set up the clinching touchdown.
McCarthy defended the call as easy to second-guess, only because it didn't work.
"The tempo of our huddle break enabled them to react, and they made a big play," he said.
Favre, who had moved the Packers 60 yards on the drive, wouldn't second-guess his coach for the play selection.
"Everybody says bad play call, this and that, bad throw, Donald should have caught it, whatever," Favre said. "We've all done that before, second-guessed whatever. But on that particular play, I give Nate credit for getting his hand in there or whatever.
"There's a lot of other plays that led to us losing that football game."
Those plays include the shotgun snap in the final seconds of the second quarter that cost the Packers at least three points when they trailed 10-0. Favre said he suggested going to a silent count from Buffalo's 5 with 14 seconds left in the first half, but his linemen talked him out of it.
Wells snapped the ball before Favre was ready, the ball deflected off Favre's facemask and the Bills recovered.
"Guys like to be able to hear and go off a certain cadence," Favre said. "(Wells) thought he heard the second cadence. I had not given it to him. I don't know if the film showed it, but I was actually looking at our motion going out and trying to determine the type of coverage we had."
The Packers came into this game with seemingly a major edge at quarterback, with Favre facing second-year starter J.P. Losman, who had thrown as many touchdown passes as interceptions (five).
While Losman played a mundane game that wasn't as good as his passer rating of 97.1 points suggests — he threw for only 102 yards and was sacked five times — he at least didn't make any major errors.
Favre, on the other hand, was involved on both lost fumbles – the second was a conventional center exchange when Wells again snapped the ball too quickly — and two interceptions. Though neither of the fumbles was Favre's fault, and he caught a bad break on the tipped ball in the end zone, the responsibility for the first interception, which Fletcher returned for a touchdown, fell directly on the quarterback.
On a day when the Packers' defense held Buffalo to 184 yards, the Bills were going to need a defensive touchdown to win, and they got it. It came when Favre threw a short slant to the right to Driver that Fletcher appeared to anticipate when he began drifting toward Driver just after the snap.
Favre said that by coverage, he should have thrown to the left, but that he's had so much success with Driver on that play that he went to his favorite target. He tried to look off the linebackers to the left and made the quick throw, which Fletcher caught in his chest.
"I thought I could squeeze it in based on where London slid in," Favre said. "Give him credit, he made the play. There were three other options that were better than that one."
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