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Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009

This Maintenance Job Spruces Up a Season

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Funny how things can look so different from one week to the next. After a ghastly loss to Tampa Bay, the Packers were 4-4 and sinking fast. Now a 17-7 victory over Dallas at Lambeau Field has the Pack back in the thick of the race for a wild-card playoff spot. Who better to explain the turnaround than the Observers?

Artie: Before this weekend's game against San Francisco, Mike McCarthy needs to get another part-time maintenance worker fired. He finally found a way to get problems corrected!

Frank: You refer, of course, to a story that came out last week. The Lambeau Field worker, Mike Wood, said he made a "kick some butt" comment to McCarthy before the home game against Minnesota. He said he was fired after a supervisor told him McCarthy thought he said something like, "Don't lay an egg." McCarthy's reply: "I did not fire anybody."

Artie: Who cares what's true? Clearly this is the key, because nothing else has been able to, in McCarthy's words, "correct" or "fix" or "clean up" any problems. This time he scared 'em straight.

Frank: There was also a "clear the air" meeting of the offense after the Tampa Bay disaster.

Artie: I didn't see much change there. Except for the one long second-half drive that made it 10-0, I don't think the offensive line protected Aaron Rodgers much better than before. They cut his sacks to "only" four.

Frank: The penalties sure didn't get cut.

Artie: These were the two most-penalized NFL teams going in, and they lived up to it. Twenty-two flags overall, a dozen for the Pack! In the third quarter, Tramon Williams returns a punt about 40 yards but there's a hold AND an illegal block. Lord knows they can't fire the special-teams coach, so they might as well fire a part-time maintenance worker, ain’a?

Frank: Anyway, as the Packer fan in this duo, how much better do you feel at 5-4?

Artie: Not all that much. Of course it's delicious to beat the Cowboys after all that crap in the '90s when the Packers couldn't get past Dallas in the playoffs. And the defense had a great day, especially Charles Woodson with eight tackles, two forced fumbles and a goal-line interception.

Frank: They sure swarmed over Tony Romo, sacking him five times. I thought maybe the Packers' offensive line had switched uniforms.

Artie: Dom Capers, the defensive guru, found a way to get pressure, which never happened in two games against the Vikings or at Tampa Bay. The offensive line sort of came together in the second half, but I think the Dallas defense just wore down because they were on the field so long—or hobbling off with injuries.

Frank: With no rooting interest in the game, I just thought it was a dreary display of mistakes and penalties.

Artie: Amen to that.

Frank: Things could have been very different in the first half. The Cowboys missed a very makeable field goal that would have made it 3-0; Roy Williams might have scored on a long pass but a lucky swipe caused him to fumble; and a Dallas sack and fumble recovery deep in Packer territory was nullified by a questionable penalty in the secondary.

Artie: Right you are.

Frank: But a win's a win, and with the next two games against San Fran and Detroit the Packers have a good chance of hitting December at 7-4.

Artie: Atlanta and Philadelphia lost Sunday, the Giants already were 5-4 and now Dallas is just one game ahead. The Vikings can't be caught but a wild card is mighty possible—if the O-line and penalties get fixed.

Frank: The officiating crew also had a bad day Sunday. They took time to consider two challenges that weren't allowable in the first place.

Artie: One was because McCarthy had run out of challenges by being wrong once earlier in the game. He's now 11 for 25 in challenges. I think he gets so emotional that he throws the red flag without thinking about it.

Frank: On the failed challenge, where Jordy Nelson was clearly short of the goal line, Troy Aikman even used the word "dumb."

Artie: I say somebody steal McCarthy's red flag. And have some other part-time maintenance worker take one for the team and say, "Coach, don't let the 49ers kick your butt."

So Far So-o-o Good

Frank: I think I know something you're more encouraged about—the Bucks.

Artie: Especially our wunderkind of a point guard, Brandon Jennings. The kid scored 87 points in victories over Denver and Golden State!

Frank: And amazingly, he didn't score a single point in the first quarter either night.

Artie: I saw most of the game against the Warriors. Twenty-nine of his 55 points in the third quarter—lights out like I've never seen! It wasn't just flinging it up; he made shots every kind of way you can—driving to the rim, pulling up for a floater, hitting threes.

Frank: He's taking more shots with Michael Redd injured, but from what I've seen he's under control.

Artie: Absolutely. He still had five assists against the Warriors. Redd would kill to have five assists. Actually, if he saw himself with five assists in the box score he'd think it was a misprint.

Frank: The Bucks are also getting Andrew Bogut more involved in the offense.

Artie: It's the ideal combo of inside/outside.

Frank: I've felt for years that Bogut didn't get enough touches. Now it seems to be happening quickly and consistently.

Artie: A couple of years ago, Bogut said he should get the ball more. Some people said it sounded arrogant, but he's a smart guy. He can score in close, but he's such a good passer that he can get the ball back to Jennings and the others.

Frank: It's enough to make Buck fans dream of... Well, it'd be wise to wait. They had to fight all the way against Golden State, hardly a strong team.

Artie: Still, nobody expected their 5-2 start, and they battled Dallas into overtime Monday night. With games against New Jersey and Charlotte to wrap up a six-game homestand, now’s the time to build something. They'll have their big test in January when they take a six-game Western trip.

Frank: Certainly nobody expected Jennings to be as great as he's been.

Artie: To score 55 and still be playing team ball! His shooting was supposed to be a weakness, and nothing in the preseason indicated he was improving this much!

Frank: I heard him say he'd been taking a thousand shots a day in extra work.

Artie: No wonder he decided to live in St. Francis so he'd be close to the Cousins Center.

Frank: Of course, it's early. He might hit the wall in an 82-game season; he didn't play all that much last season after going to Italy out of high school.

Artie: That's for after New Year's. For now, let's revel in the kid!

A Looper Loophole

Frank: The Brewers decided to decline their $6.5 million option for next year on Braden Looper and gave him a $1 million buyout.

Artie: Good move. They don't need Suppan-Lite—or is it Jeff Suppan who's Looper-Lite?

Frank: But Looper still could return, if he'll take less money.

Artie: Oh. At least it wouldn't cost as much for all the homers he gives up.

Frank: Anyway, the Brewers are whittling payroll to pursue other pitching.

Artie: But a lot of these free agents are well in their 30s and not much of an upgrade—Jarrod Washburn, Randy Wolf, Doug Davis. More "inning eaters." I'd rather trade for a young guy with star potential, like Kevin Correia in San Diego or Edwin Jackson in Detroit.

Frank: Someone who'll eat innings effectively would be nice.