Contrary to preseason forecasts, the Super Bowl is wide-open this year. The Green Bay Packers, considered a lock to repeat before the games began, still might win it with their MVP quarterback and their big-play defense. But they will not run away with the season the way they did a year ago.
That much seems clear after the first month of play.
The Packers let the Detroit Lions off the hook early on Sunday, then couldn't overcome their own deficiencies late in a 26-15 loss at the Silverdome.
Green Bay's Brett Favre was reduced to throwing from his knees -- not a good idea even if you're the MVP quarterback -- and running back Dorsey Levens fumbled at the Lions' 2 as the offense continued to sputter. The defense couldn't contain Scott Mitchell, let alone Barry Sanders, on still another treacherous artificial surface.
Green Bay won in the Silverdome, 31-3, a year ago with a sizable group of Packers fans on hand. This year, the Lions scattered those Wisconsin ticket-buyers in the end zones and upper deck, then capitalized on every mistake the Packers made. And the Packers made enough to raise serious doubts about where their season is heading.
Yes, the Packers' depth has been depleted by injury. And yes, they get everybody's best shot. But there was a deeper, more worrisome element to Sunday's loss. If Favre throws from his knees a year ago, the ball miraculously finds a hole and a receiver and maybe the end zone. This time it went 45 yards the other way with an interception.
Favre, the ultimate risk-taker, is taking bad risks. After five weeks in 1996, he had thrown for 16 touchdowns and three interceptions. So far this season, he's thrown for 10 touchdowns and seven picks. His percentage is down (61.2 percent to 56.3) while his yards are up (1,146 to 1,319).
In fact, he looks more like the pre-1995 Brett Favre than the two-time MVP. Maybe that's why he refused to talk with reporters after Sunday's defeat.
At 3-2, the Packers are two games off the startling Tampa Bay Bucs' pace in the NFC Central. The Bucs come to Lambeau Field this Sunday, though, and the Packers can't afford to fall three games behind this early.
Expect the real defending Super Bowl champions to show up, along with their MVP quarterback, not that reckless risk-taker.
Chapel time in Dallas
Forget their 37-7 Week 1 demolition of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In their past three games, the Dallas Cowboys went back on the offensive treadmill to nowhere, reminiscent of a year ago.
They beat the hapless Chicago Bears, 27-3, this week, but generated only 180 net yards -- their worst outing since 1991. Even though they're 3-1 and tied for the NFC East lead with Washington, they know they must do better.
Chicago blitzed Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman on almost every play, and he only made them pay once, with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Michael Irvin on an audible.
"We used to sit in the chapel and pray that teams would blitz us," Irvin said. "[Blitzing is] the new fad. It's not a bad idea, but when they go for broke, we have to say, 'OK, y'all are broke.' "
The Atlanta Falcons have given up five touchdowns of 50 yards or more this season, most in the NFL. The Bears and Bucs are the next closest with two each. Ten teams have started 5-0 the last 10 years; eight of them won divisional titles. The Packers are 9-22 on turf and 9-10 in domes in the Mike Holmgren era. Sanders has six straight 100-yard rushing games against Green Bay in the regular season. The Bears haven't scored a touchdown in their past 11 quarters. Jets' running back Adrian Murrell rushed for 156 yards on 40 carries against Cincinnati. The Bengals had the ball for 39 plays. Pete Stoyanovich's game-winning field goal was his first in two years with the Kansas City Chiefs. He kicked 11 in seven years with the Miami Dolphins.
Pub Date: 9/30/97