- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 22, 2001

The Green Bay Packers were hardly in a thankful mood last Thanksgiving weekend as they flew home from Charlotte after a 31-14 spanking by the Carolina Panthers. The Packers, who had gone 55-19 with two NFC titles and a Super Bowl victory from 1995 to 1998, were 5-7 and just about out of the postseason chase for a second straight year.

All-Pro quarterback Brett Favre had thrown just 15 touchdown passes. No Packer had more than 53 catches or seven touchdowns. The defense had given up an average of 27 points over the past eight games, five of them losses.

Coach Mike Sherman never before had run his own program on any level and had been a college position coach just four years earlier. Sherman appeared to be on his way to becoming the second straight Green Bay coach following Ray Rhodes to last just one season.

"The last two years were not typical Green Bay football," Favre conceded. "I hate to say that we were rebuilding, but we had three coaches and a lot of new faces."

Only seven starters from the 1996 champions were still regulars last year. But somewhere between Charlotte and the following Sunday's game in Chicago, the Packers discovered the formula for a turnaround that has carried over into this season.

After beating all four of its NFC Central rivals by an average of 10 points to close 2000 with a rush, Green Bay opened 2001 by throttling Detroit 28-6 and heads into Monday night's game with struggling Washington looking like the Packers of old.

"Everyone was embarrassed after the Carolina game," Favre said. "Everyone wanted to redeem themselves. But I don't think anyone was anticipating a 4-0 run. That says a lot about the character of our team and what type of talent we have."

It's probably more the character than the talent, at least of the proven variety. Favre is bound for Canton, but the only other Packer starters with Pro Bowl credentials are safeties Darren Sharper and LeRoy Butler and moody receiver Antonio Freeman. And Sharper is the only Green Bay player to earn a Pro Bowl spot in either of the past two seasons.

Favre, 31, is the oldest regular on an offense that features just two other Super Bowl starters, Freeman and fullback William Henderson. The offensive line has just seven years of starting experience. Butler, 33, is the only Super Bowl starter on the defense tackle Santana Dotson is recovering from a torn quadriceps and the only one over 30.

"We have a lot of young players who were asked last year to step up and play important roles," Favre said. "Now they're asked to be veterans."

Those young players certainly looked all right against the Lions.

Halfback Ahman Green ripped off touchdown runs of 31 and 83 yards and gained 157 yards on 17 carries. Favre hit 22 of 28 passes (to eight targets) for 260 yards and two scores. The defense sacked Detroit quarterback Charlie Batch seven times as second-year end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila recorded three and waiver wire tackle Jim Flanigan added a pair. This from a defense that recorded just 38 sacks last season. Green Bay had a 21-0 lead before the game was 11 minutes old.

With the massive Gilbert Brown out of football last year after he ballooned to 400 pounds retread Flanigan and underachiever John Thierry up front, the Pack's pass rush won't likely make anyone come up with a nickname. However, Green, who generated 564 yards of offense and eight touchdowns in the final four games of 2000 after being a spare part for two years in Seattle (the second under then-Seahawks offensive coordinator Sherman), looks like the real deal.

"My first seven or eight years, we relied on the pass much more than the run," said 10th-year starter Favre. "Now we're relying on both. Ahman has been a nice addition. Our offensive line [has] probably the best five run blockers we've had since I've been here. It takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback and the play-caller when you're able to be in second-and-6 and third-and-3 rather than in the long-yardage situations where you're almost forced to pass. We hope the Detroit game will carry over to the rest of our season."

If it does, the Pack will truly be back.

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