Favre presiding over end of an era
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mike Sherman, his tone weary and matter-of-fact, ran through the Packers' long injury report:
There was more, lots more. When the Green Bay head coach, who was 20 minutes late for his regular Wednesday news conference because he was consulting with team doctors and trainers, finally got to the end of the list, he sighed.
Sherman's Packers certainly are in a fix. They are a dubious 0-4, the certifiably worst record in the NFL. It almost doesn't seem possible, but after 13 consecutive seasons without a losing record -- going back to Mike Holmgren's arrival in 1992 -- there is a very real chance this season's Packers ultimately could be losers.
On the field, the players still are fighting the good fight. Down 23-7 at Carolina on Monday night -- no doubt, prompting millions of football fans to tune out -- the Packers rallied and nearly caught the Panthers. If wide receiver Donald Driver had hung on to Brett Favre's pass on fourth-and-3 in Carolina territory, there would have been enough time to tie or win the game.
As Sherman pointed out, a victory on Sunday against the Saints, a distinct possibility, would make the Packers 1-4 -- the same record they had after five games last year. And as folks here are happy to tell you, Green Bay won nine of its last 11 games to win its third consecutive NFC North title. And, in the context of the anemic division, where the three other teams all have exactly one win apiece, it wouldn't take much of a winning streak to vault back into contention.
Still, this season feels different.
Listen to the conversation in the atrium restaurant at Lambeau Field, the lobby of the Best Western or the bar at Brett Favre's Steakhouse and you'll pick up the vibe: There is a general feeling that the time for these Packers has passed.
Someday, maybe soon, they'll be talking about those 1990s teams with the same fondness -- and historical distance -- they speak of the teams of Lombardi and Starr and Hornung.
Since 1990, when the current playoff system was instituted, only one 0-4 team eventually made the playoffs, the 1992 San Diego Chargers. Those are long odds, indeed.
Several weeks ago, Favre made headlines when he said that if he thought the Packers were in a rebuilding mode, "it would be time for Brett Favre to go home." Clearly, Favre is in denial. He turns 36 on Monday and, trying to do too much, he has thrown eight interceptions, a pace that would give him a career-high 32 at season's end.
"I've never been 0-4, never been 0-3," Favre said after the loss on Monday night. "It's the hand we're dealt. We put ourselves in this position, and we've got to find a way to get out of it.
Green Bay Packers
But are the Packers giving Favre his money's worth? Based on the Carolina game, he is still a viable quarterback, one of the best in the league, but the supporting cast no longer comes up to that standard.
This year the team drafted 11 rookies and kept every one. Green Bay went from having a middle-of-the-pack roster in terms of age to having the fifth-youngest team in the league -- some fairly radical personnel surgery.
By looking no further than his daily quarterbacks meeting, Favre can see the face of the future. The Packers drafted California quarterback Aaron Rodgers No.24 overall, and rumors continue to circulate that Rodgers actually might start a few games late in the season, ending Favre's NFL record iron-man streak of 209 consecutive starts.
How did the Packers find themselves in this state? Like so many championship teams, their core players got old. Sherman, who followed Holmgren in 2000, was the general manager for the last five years. Last year's extended contract squabble with cornerback Mike McKenzie -- he eventually was traded to the Saints -- convinced management that Sherman couldn't effectively hold both jobs.
Back in January, Packers President and CEO Robert Harlan hired Ted Thompson as executive VP, GM and director of football operations to handle personnel issues. Very quickly, it became obvious the Packers were committed to getting younger. Quite simply, the Packers let their guard down. Thompson let starting guards Mike Wahle (Panthers) and Marco Rivera (Cowboys) depart via free agency. They were replaced by Patriots free agent Adrian Klemm and seventh-round draft choice Will Whitticker. Safeties Darren Sharper and Bhawoh Jue also left, and were replaced by Arturo Freeman, Earl Little and Todd Franz.
In fairness, the season-ending knee injury to wide receiver Javon Walker, who had a Pro Bowl season (89 catches, 1,382 yards, 12 touchdowns) in 2004, was a crushing blow, and there have been numerous early season injuries on both sides of the ball. Still, it's not enough to explain 0-4.
Green Bay Packers
Even the veterans have failed Favre. Against the Panthers, wide receiver Robert Ferguson let a perfectly thrown slant pass slip through his hands, and cornerback Ken Lucas intercepted it. Instead of going in for a score that would have cut the Carolina deficit to two points, the Panthers scored to make it 23-7.
And yet, with a little more than a minute left, there was Favre driving the Packers toward the equalizing field goal. But on fourth-and-3, Driver couldn't reel in Favre's pass.
"I wanted to catch that ball; I wanted to make a big play to keep the drive alive and win the game," Driver said. "I did feel like I let Brett down on that one.
"They always say you want to go out on a bang, you don't want to go out, under. I know myself, I am not going to let him go down like that. I don't want to leave my legacy like that, and I know he don't want to leave his, so I am going to battle. ... I know my receiving corps are going to go out and play, not just for ourselves but for him."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.