With few weaknesses, Packers a strong pick Patriots are inconsistent, don't match up well with Green Bay 'total package'; SUPER BOWL XXXI

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW ORLEANS -- The Green Bay Packers will win Super Bowl XXXI tonight not because they are a great team, but because they have fewer weaknesses than the New England Patriots.

The Packers are solid throughout their lineup.

"When you look at our total package, we're competitive in all three phases of the game: offense, defense and special teams," Packers offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis said. "That's more than you can say about most of the teams in this league. There are not a lot of questions to be asked about this football team."

It's true. There are questions about the Packers' running game, suspect cornerbacks and whether left offensive tackle Bruce Wilkerson handle the pressure of right end Willie McGinest, but the rest of this team is sound.

You can't say the same thing about the Patriots. Quarterback Drew Bledsoe has been known to rattle under pressure. Running back Curtis Martin, despite more than 1,000 yards rushing, has been inconsistent. New England's secondary is still beatable, and Patriots fans are wondering if coach Bill Parcells will be leaving to join the New York Jets.

At this point in the season, games aren't won on strengths, but on weaknesses and matchups.

"Actually, Jacksonville matches up better with Green Bay than New England," said Fox-TV analyst Terry Bradshaw. "Green Bay has some super strong areas where the Patriots are weak, and that can't be said on the flip side."

New England has had problems in the secondary and the Packers counter with quarterback Brett Favre, receivers Andre Rison and Antonio Freeman and tight ends Keith Jackson and Mark Chmura, who make up one of the most productive passing units in the game.

Bledsoe's and Martin's inconsistencies are matched against Green Bay's defense, No. 1 in the league, which allowed the fewest points (210), passing yards (2,740) and first downs (248) this season.

The Packers seldom blitzed because their front four of Reggie White, Santana Dotson, Gilbert Brown and Sean Jones provided enough pressure to get 37 sacks.

Are you hearing footsteps yet, Mr. Bledsoe?

"The word is around the league and we've seen it on film. You get to the kid and he gets a little jittery," White said. "That's in our game plan."

The Packers eventually will get to Bledsoe through Martin, a north-and-south runner who will have to run east and west because Packers tackles Brown and Dotson will dominate the middle.

With no running game and play-action passes off it, Bledsoe will get pummeled by the Packers' pass rush. That's another difference between the Packers and Patriots. Green Bay has survived and thrived without a dominant running game. New England can't.

"We've got to set Drew up first, because play-action is our style," Martin said. "We can't dictate to this team, so we have to keep them off-balance and guessing. We have to get significant numbers on first down."

New England does have a slight chance. If given time, Bledsoe can make big plays to wide receivers Terry Glenn and Shawn Jefferson, who are faster than Green Bay cornerbacks Craig Newsome and Doug Evans, a speed advantage that could be enhanced on the artificial turf.

Speed and quickness may be the team's biggest assets, especially at the defensive end/outside linebacking positions, where McGinest and Chris Slade line up against Wilkerson and Packers right tackle Earl Dotson.

The Patriots have some intangibles working in their favor, as well, such as the AFC having lost 12 straight Super Bowls, and the Packers being as much as two-touchdown favorites.

"I think that makes the team fully aware that they're going to be challenged or that the majority of people think that they're going to be challenged at a very high level," Parcells said. "If the underdog role serves you well, it's in the ability of the coach to really just point out what the public perception is and what the experts think."

The possibility of Parcells leaving won't be a factor. This is not college. There will be no cries of "Win one for the Big Tuna!" Most of his players respect Parcells, but they don't like him enough to run through a brick wall.

That's about all the Patriots have working in their favor, and it's not enough. This is Green Bay's year. The Packers have waited a long time for this moment to shine.

They started the climb in 1992, finishing 9-7 but barely missing the playoffs. They have been in the postseason ever since, losing to the Dallas Cowboys last season in the NFC championship game.

But now the Packers are 60 minutes away from claiming their spot as the best team in pro football for the 1996 season. Notice, the word was best, not great.

The Packers just have fewer weaknesses than the Patriots.

Pub Date: 1/26/97

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