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Mike Woods column: Packers avert disaster but can't keep tempting fate

Sep. 30, 2012
 
Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Graham Harrell and running back Cedric Benson have a bad exchange as Harrell stumbles on the handoff during Sunday's game at Lambeau Field. The play resulted in a fumble recovered by the New Orleans Saints. William Glasheen/Gannett Wisconsin Media
Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Graham Harrell and running back Cedric Benson have a bad exchange as Harrell stumbles on the handoff during Sunday's game at Lambeau Field. The play resulted in a fumble recovered by the New Orleans Saints. William Glasheen/Gannett Wisconsin Media

For the second time in four weeks the Packers were thrown a grenade. And for the second time they managed to field it with care and dispose of it before disaster struck.

This is a team that realistically could be 0-4, or 3-1, but at the quarter pole is 2-2 with a future that is as murky as when the season began.

“We’re 2-2, so I guess in that sense they always say you are what your record says you are so I guess at this point we’re a .500 ballclub,’’ said nose tackle B.J. Raji.

Five hundred means average. Nothing special. A team that, at this stage, could either fall off the cliff or still climb to the mountaintop.

But today they still have hope. Hope because they were able to do what they couldn’t do in Seattle; overcome adversity inflicted by the officials and some that was self-induced.

For that they deserve as much credit as you wish to heap upon them. But at the end of the day this is what we’re looking at.

We’re looking at a defense that too often looked like the black sheep it was last year, as it gave up 474 yards to the Saints, including 429 through the air. It allowed New Orleans to convert a higher-than-acceptable 9 of 17 third downs. It didn’t force a turnover and managed just two sacks for a team that put it up 54 times.

Then again, when the Saints had first-and-goal at the Green Bay 1 and trailing 21-14 in the third quarter, the defense performed like a championship defense should. It stood strong thanks to huge plays by safety Morgan Burnett and cornerback Tramon Williams, and the damage was limited to a field goal.

“I thought our defense was really put in some tough situations,’’ said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “I know they had a lot of yards and production against us, but I thought they stepped up in adverse times.’’

What we’re looking at is an offense had its best outing of the year, but it should have against the worst defense in the NFL. The Saints had the worst running defense, which is why Cedric Benson managed to run for 84 yards and a 4.7 average. And Aaron Rodgers had his best day throwing the ball, piling up 319 yards, four touchdowns and a 119.9 rating, against a Saints defense that ranked 23rd against the pass. And he wasn’t sacked.

To their credit, the Packers came away with four touchdowns in the red zone.

“I thought we were all on the same page all game,’’ said right tackle Bryan Bulaga. “We were getting the declarations up and getting the IDs right away. Guys knew where they were going and we were just playing good, fundamental football.’’

To their discredit, when they had to turn to backup quarterback Graham Harrell after Rodgers was poked in the eye, they couldn’t execute a simple handoff on first-and-goal from the Saints’ 2. Harrell tripped over center Jeff Saturday, the attempted handoff was fumbled and the Saints recovered.

It was one of two turnovers by the offense which, in many circumstances, would have been lethal.

What we’re looking at is a team that was humbled in Week 1, needed a high-risk fake field goal to spark them to victory in Week 2, had a win taken from them in Week 3 and had plenty of referee-made excuses not to win in Week 4 but found a way anyway.

The Packers have their shortcomings. But character and perseverance aren’t two of them. They could have allowed the avalanche of adversity they faced Sunday to bury them and perhaps their season. But they didn’t.

“It gives us some confidence,’’ said Rodgers. “I think 1-3 would have been difficult. We’ve got a tough schedule coming up (with three straight road games). We have to learn to win on the road with this group of guys we have, (and) 1-3 would have made that very difficult I think.

“When you start having consecutive losses you can’t help but have that feeling of ‘Here we go again,’ at times and unfortunately there was a little bit of that tonight with some of the calls. But we were able to overcome it. I think it says a lot about the character of this team.’’

That it does, and chances are the circumstances they were able to overcome Sunday will aid them in future weeks.

But nothing will replace simply playing better. And if the Packers don’t want to be what they are today, that is what they have to do. Otherwise the grenade will eventually detonate.

Mike Woods: 920-993-1000, ext. 232; or mwoods@postcrescent.com; on Twitter @PCMikeW

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