MINNEAPOLIS -- It's only a partial score at this point, and things could change later in the contest, but so far I've got it the Revenge of Brett Favre 1, Green Bay's dreams of vindication zero.
Hard to imagine this wasn't the doomsday scenario the Packers feared the most when they considered how this highly anticipated Monday night at the Metrodome might play out.
What could have been worse than the exquisite agony of watching the on-fire Favre sit back in the pocket virtually unmolested and pick the Green Bay secondary apart with one of the most complete and controlled performances of his 19-year NFL career?
The Packers couldn't stop Favre on this night any more than they stopped him from winding up in Minnesota to begin with. They couldn't match the Vikings' potent mixture of offensive firepower and efficiency in Minnesota's 30-23 win (RECAP | BOX) . And once again, most alarmingly, they couldn't protect Aaron Rodgers, their hand-picked replacement for Favre, behind a Green Bay offensive line that is fast becoming a certifiable disaster.
There may be other low points ahead for these Packers this season, but it's difficult to envision one that will be more exasperating or humbling than Favre lighting them up for 271 yards and three touchdowns while Rodgers takes an eight-sack beating and turns the ball over twice in Green Bay's opening three drives? Oh, and did we mention a share of first place in the NFC North was on the line tonight?
"You watched the game. If we play anywhere close to what we played tonight, it won't just be Minnesota that we have to worry about,'' said Packers veteran cornerback Charles Woodson, telling it like it is amidst the somber loser's locker room. "There's a lot of other teams that we'll face that will do the same thing to us. What we've got to do? It's a tough call.''
It's a tough call all right, because the Packers right now are a 2-2 team that's grasping for answers, with no apparent quick fixes on the horizon. They're horrendous in pass protection -- having surrendered a league-high 20 sacks in four games -- and at the same time, the impact of their vaunted new 3-4 defense has been underwhelming, to say the least.
Green Bay's defense barely laid a glove on Favre Monday night, hitting him just one time and never sacking him on 31 pass attempts. Unsurprisingly, Favre's 24 of 31 passing performance produced those three touchdowns and a dazzling 135.3 quarterback rating, and the Vikings repeatedly killed the Packers on third down, finishing 8 of 14 (57 percent) with several double-digit yard conversions.
Five days before he turns 40, Favre sent his 30s out in style with a big-stage game that could have been ripped straight out of the prime of his career in Green Bay. And the Packers seemed almost powerless to do anything about it.
"The Brett Favre that has a lot of wins under his belt and lot of touchdowns (showed up),'' Woodson said. "I don't think there was any question of what he could do if he came back. He made the throws he needed to make. But you know Brett. He knows football. He's going to make those plays if you give him the chance. We didn't do ourselves any justice.''
If this were triage instead of pro football, the Packers' most pressing concern is obviously slowing down a pass rush that threatens to totally swamp their season. With left offensive tackle Chad Clifton missing his second game in a row with an ankle sprain, the Packers again had to reshuffle their beleaguered offensive line, shifting left guard Daryn Colledge to left tackle, center Jason Spitz to left guard, and inserting veteran Scott Wells at center in place of Spitz.
The results were again debacle-like, with Vikings right defensive end Jared Allen abusing Colledge and the rest of the Green Bay line for 4½ sacks -- the second-highest single-game total in team history -- with three other Minnesota defenders combining for 3½ more drops of the frazzled Rodgers. The eight sacks were also one shy of the Vikings team record, and when veteran defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy joins the sack parade, you know the floodgates have officially opened.
"I mean, eight sacks, my goodness,'' Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said of his team's new high when it comes to lows. "How many games can you win when you give up eight sacks? It's been going on for four weeks now. It's obviously an issue. We can't play this way. We're playing way too up and down and it's really hurting us.''
In fairness to the out-matched Packers offensive line, three or so of the sacks Monday night appeared to be on Rodgers, who either ran into them or hesitated too long before getting rid of the ball. That's never a good sign, because it looks as if Rodgers has been hit so often this season already that he's lost a bit of the feel for the pass pressure that a quarterback has to have. He looks a bit over-sensitive to the pass rush, sometimes feeling pressure when little or none is really present, and at times holding the ball rather than unloading it.
"It is frustrating, because we're know we're better than this,'' Packers right guard Josh Sitton said. "Eight sacks. It sucks. We're a prideful group. It's one of our goals every week not to let Aaron get hit, and when it happens, it sucks. We put that on ourselves. We've just got to get better.''
In another corner of the Packers locker room, across from where Green Bay's offensive line was facing the music, stood new Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers. His new 3-4 defense was supposed to be a disruptive force this season, but so far, Green Bay has just five sacks, and the Packers didn't force Favre into a single significant mistake.
No play epitomized Green Bay's defensive struggles against the Vikings more so than a third-quarter 25-yard Favre pass to reserve tight end Jeff Dugan. Facing absolutely no Packers pass rush, Favre stood in the pocket an amazing 7.34 seconds (ESPN timed it on the replay) before connecting downfield with Dugan, who had three Green Bay defenders in the vicinity. The very next play, Favre found receiver Bernard Berrian streaking down the left sideline for 31 yards and the touchdown that pushed Minnesota's lead to 28-14 and provided the game's eventual winning points.
"That wasn't a very good-looking play, was it?'' asked Capers, of Favre's seven-second stroll in the pocket on the pass to Dugan. "We have to generate more pass rush than we did tonight, no question. It was one of those nights where whatever you were calling it wasn't working. Our biggest liability tonight was third down, and it was combination of pressure and coverage. We have to improve there. We have to find a way to get off the field.''
After the euphoria of a 4-0 preseason that seemed a precursor of big things to come this year, the Packers find themselves at a bit of a crossroads after their humiliating night in Minnesota. Favre carved them up, and Rodgers was soundly beaten in his first head-to-head duel with his former teammate. As it enters its bye week in Week 5, Green Bay must come to grips with the reality that it's just an average 2-2 team, in a season that could still hold much promise or even more disappointment.
After their bye, the Packers have winnable games against Detroit at home, and Cleveland on the road. Then comes the Nov. 1 rematch with Minnesota, in Lambeau Field this time. With the Vikings at 4-0 and already two games ahead of third-place Green Bay, the Packers can't afford to let that gap continue to grow.
"It's the fourth game of the season, and obviously it was a game we came into with every intention of winning,'' McCarthy said. "We had a lot of opportunities to accomplish that, but we need to learn from this experience. I thought it was a great opportunity for our football team, especially our younger players. Playing in this kind of environment during the regular season is something I think we can carry with us. But we're 2-2, and we're 2-2 for a reason. We need to fix those things, and that's what we'll do.''
To be sure, there's plenty of work to do be done in Green Bay to get its once-hopeful season back on track. You can say it's still early, and perhaps it is. But for the frustrated Packers, it's getting later all the time.