The Green Bay Packers might want to plead the fifth on fourth downs.
They incriminated themselves three times on Sunday and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the NFC playoffs, losing 20-17 in overtime at Philadelphia.
Coach Mike Sherman and his staff surely did not distinguish themselves on a weekend of curious coaching decisions.
Sherman joined St. Louis Mike Martz and Kansas City s Dick Vermeil on the sidelines and on the witness stand in the court of second-guessing. John Fox of Carolina, meanwhile, got witness protection, surviving his gaffe as the Panthers advanced to next weekend s NFC title game in Philadelphia.
t Martz showed absolutely no faith in quarterback Marc Bulger and forfeited the opportunity to take a couple shots at the end zone and a game-winning touchdown at the end of the fourth quarter, letting the clock run down and settling for a field goal that sent a home game against Carolina into overtime. Can you imagine Mad Mike, normally anything but conservative, having Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Marshall Faulk, three of the game s top playmakers, on the field and not giving them the chance to produce a win?
t The Rams got that much of a chance only because Fox, with an 11-point lead and a defense that was dictating the game, decided on a long field goal attempt instead of burying St. Louis deep in its own territory via a punt with 21/2 minutes to play in regulation. The miss gave the Rams offense, mostly sluggish to that point, great field position and a shot of momentum.
t Vermeil s defense was helpless against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts from start to finish, but the veteran coach played it “safe” and by the book, refusing to pull the trigger on an onside kick after scoring to pull within seven points with 4:22 to play. The Chiefs kicked deep, the defense failed yet again, and Vermeil s team, once considered a lock for the Super Bowl, got the ball back with eight seconds and no realistic chance remaining.
Then there was Sherman and the Packers, the better team at so many positions, especially with the Eagles missing four starters - including running back Brian Westbrook and cornerback Troy Vincent - because of injuries.
The game hinged on three fourth-down plays, two with the Packers on offense and once on defense, and Green Bay went home 0-for-3.
The Pack had a chance to go up 21-7 just before halftime, but called a dumb play on fourth-and-goal from the Philly 1. With little room to work on what has to be a bang-bang play, Sherman called a run that had guard Mike Wahle pulling to block on the right. Eagles tackle Corey Simon beat his blocker, knocked Wahle off track and back into runner Ahman Green, who stumbled and was stopped inches short by Mark Simoneau.
Late in the game, when a first down would all but wrap up the win, Sherman refused to try another fourth-and-one at the Philadelphia 41 against the Eagles goal-line defense. Instead he had Brett Favre and Green and the rest of the offense line up and try to draw Philly offside, a sophomoric approach against a disciplined defense. A subsequent punt bounced into the end zone.
The Eagles rallied to tie the game after quarterback Donovan McNabb hit Freddie Mitchell with a 28-yard gain on fourth-and-26.
It should never happen. The defense has every advantage in that situation. A week earlier, in a wild-card game against Seattle, the Packers blitzed Matt Hasselbeck in a similar situation and came out smelling like a rose.
This time the Packers offered little more than token pressure, had three players in underneath coverage and four in deep zone. McNabb had time to read it, easily threw past the under coverage and whistled a bullet to Mitchell, who found just enough cushion in the deep zone for a first down.
So, to review, the Packers were aggressive, but stupid. Then they played scared. Then they were passive and gave away the ranch.
The game should have been in the “W” column long before Favre s silly pass in overtime was intercepted and returned to set up David Akers winning field goal for Philadelphia.
“I m very disappointed for them, rather than at them,” Sherman said of his Packers.
He didn t say whether they should be disappointed in the coaching they received.
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