Hangin’ with Havel!


Chris Havel’s sports columns will appear throughout the week on The FAN’s website. The columns are brought to you by these fine advertisers (click to go to their website/Facebook):

Hangin’ with Havel

Hangin’ with Havel

For Thursday May 16th

Chris Havel’s sports columns appear during the week on The FAN’s website. The columns are brought to you by these fine advertisers (click on hyperlink to go to their website/Facebook)

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Reflective Rodgers admits he

may not retire with Packers

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers is playing it cool.

Three weeks after the Packers traded up to select quarterback Jordan Love in the first round of the NFL draft, Rodgers officially broke his silence on the topic Friday in a conference call with media.

He was thoughtful, honest and genuinely understanding of the Packers’ decision to draft a quarterback for the future. He displayed no ill-will toward Love but admitted it could mean he won’t retire in Green Bay.

“I think it was more the surprise of the pick, based on my own feelings of wanting to play into my 40s, and really the realization that it does change the ‘controllables’ of a little bit,” Rodgers said in a 40-minute conference call. “Because as much as I feel confident in my abilities and what I can accomplish and what we can accomplish, there are some new factors that are out of my control. And so my sincere desire to start and finish with the same organization, just as it has with many other players over the years, may not be a reality at this point.”

I suspect Rodgers’ desire to be regarded among the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks of all-time goes hand-in-glove with his intention to play football into his 40s.

What else could it be?

It’s not about the money. He’s incredibly wealthy.

It’s not about the fame. He’s as famous as it gets.

It’s not about being unfulfilled in his life outside football. He and girlfriend Danica Patrick seem exceedingly happy as they travel the world, often while doing incredible works of charity.

Rodgers, in my view, already is among the NFL’s all-time greats.

Naturally, he would like to add another Super Bowl victory or two to his resume before he calls it quits. Whether that happens in Green Bay or elsewhere remains to be seen.

Frankly, it may not be up to Rodgers.

Rodgers said: “And as much as I understand the organization’s future outlook and wanting to make sure they’re thinking about the team now and down the line – and I respect that – at the same time, I still believe in myself and have a strong desire to play into my 40s. And I’m just not sure how that all works together at this point.”

Rodgers will be 37 in December.

He’s under contract for four more seasons due to the $134 million contract extension he signed in August of 2018. It’s difficult to imagine the Packers waiting that long to see what they have in Love.

My guess is that Rodgers plays two more seasons in Green Bay. Whether they win a Super Bowl depends on Rodgers’ health – Love isn’t ready to be the starter, let alone lead a team into the playoffs – and how successful coach Matt LaFleur is in implementing his system.

Rodgers was onboard last season.

The problem was the Packers’ receiving corps – beyond Davante Adams – wasn’t up to the task. Clearly, the Packers’ coaching staff believes they can win with Adams and whoever emerges among Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard, Jake Kumerow, Equanimeous St. Brown and free agent Devin Funchess.

I tend to agree.

The Packers’ offense also lacked a true H-back and big-play potential at running back beyond Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. If LaFleur and GM Brian Gutekunst correctly assessed A.J. Dillon and Josiah Deguara those are two big pieces to the puzzle. They are rookies, but they also are familiar with what’s expected in their roles in this offense.

Fans wonder how the Packers’ defense will be better.

The fact is it was pretty darn good last season. It hasn’t been that long since Za’Darius Smith and Co. dominated the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Any defense that can hold Kirk Cousins and the rest to a mere seven first downs, at home, in a big game, has got to be pretty capable.

Talk of playing Darnell Savage at slot corner is intriguing. So is the return of Raven Greene, the addition of Kamal Martin and the signing of free agent Christian Kirksey. Perhaps more exciting is the potential for young defensive players to take the next step.

Kevin King, Kingsley Keke, Jaire Alexander and Rashan Gary are just a few of the defensive players who are poised for a big season. It doesn’t mean it will happen, but that’s a fair amount of unrealized talent.

The potential is exciting.

Rodgers called Lazard an “ascending player.” He also said he was excited to get EQ back from injury and that he has “a ton of confidence” that MVS will rebound from an awful sophomore slump.

Tight end is manned by Jace Sternberger, who flashed potential after returning from injury, and Deguara – the third tight end off the board. Marcedes Lewis also is in the mix to provide veteran leadership.

“The key will be to find a way to re-create that chemistry and come together,” Rodgers said. “That gets figured out when we get back together in training camp.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic it’s unknown when that will happen.

“There are a lot of sentiments about us being not a great 13-3 team last year, so I don’t know if we’re going to be a favorite or be the team that’s expected to dominate the NFC,” he said. “I love our chances. I love our team.”

Rodgers said all the right things Friday.

It’s encouraging because I think he was being honest about his feelings, what the Packers need to do and where this will go.

What I don’t see is Rodgers pouting or being unhappy in Green Bay.

The clock is ticking. If it wasn’t official before the draft it is now. That’s ok as long as the Packers stick to the job at hand: Building on last season’s significant step to becoming a legit Super Bowl contender.

I used to say this of Brett Favre. The same holds true for Rodgers.

I wouldn’t bet against him.

Packers’ 2020 schedule tough, but let’s count the Ws and Ls

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Everyone from the national and local media to a fair number of their fans widely criticized the Packers’ offseason moves.

They claimed free agency failed to adequately fill glaring holes.

Rick Wagner is a step down from Bryan Bulaga at right tackle. Christian Kirksey can run, but he can’t stay healthy, so how can he be counted on to replace Blake Martinez? Devin Funchess has had some moments in the NFL, but he’s similar in size and speed to the current receivers. How does Funchess, an underachiever, upgrade a razor-thin position group?

Then the Packers held their draft and fans really began complaining.

They griped that the Packers’ No. 1 need – a receiver to go with Davante Adams – was ignored in a draft where 36 receivers were selected.

They weren’t too thrilled with the picks the Packers did make, either.

Green Bay GM Brian Gutekunst selected a quarterback, a running back and an H-back with the first three picks. How does that help a team with Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones and Jace Sternberger (a third-round pick in 2019) already penciled in at those positions?

It doesn’t, or so they believe.

Then the schedule comes out last week and Packers’ fans set about to penciling in the W’s and L’s. By the time they’re finished they can’t believe their eyes. It adds up to an 11-5 season and an NFC North title?

No way.

To that I say, “Yes, way.”

Here’s the game-by-game breakdown to prove it:

** Sunday, Sept. 13, at Minnesota

The Vikings (10-6, 2nd NFC North) selected 15 players in the draft to offset key losses via trade and free agency. That’s a solid plan in most any offseason, except this offseason is different.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the NFL’s first “virtual” offseason. On Wednesday, the league announced it was extending the “virtual” offseason – no face-to-face meetings, practices or workouts – until June.

It’s unlikely the Vikings’ rookie class can make an immediate impact.

Couple that with all the veteran defensive players Minnesota lost this season and the season opener has the makings of a Packers’ blowout.

The Vikings’ defense retained safety Anthony Harris, but lost defensive end Everson Griffen, defensive tackle Linval Joseph, cornerbacks Mackensie Alexander, Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes, and safeties Jayron Kearse and Andrew Sendejo.

That’s a lot of defense to let walk out of the locker room.

While rookie corners Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler are talented, and could grow in solid NFL bookends, they are still rookies.

Aaron Rodgers will eat the Vikings’ secondary alive.

Packers 34, Vikings 17

** Sunday, Sept. 20, Detroit

The Lions spent a ton of money on offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai (five years, $50 million) and added veteran free agent linebacker Jamie Collins and cornerback Desmond Trufant to their defense.

Then they drafted Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah to replace Darius Slay, Notre Dame edge Julian Okwara to replace Devon Kennard, and Georgia running back D’Andre Swift to give the running attack legs.

Again, the Lions are counting on rookies to play major roles.

Meantime, the Packers are counting on head coach Matt LaFleur and Rodgers to take another step forward in Year Two.

Packers 28, Lions 10

** Sunday, Sept. 27, at New Orleans

The Saints retained Drew Brees and Taysom Hill to go with Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas and the rest of that terrific offense.

The Saints drafted Michigan center Cesar Ruiz to anchor the line and Wisconsin edge rusher Zach Baun to get after the quarterback.

It’s always difficult to win at New Orleans. This is no different.

Saints 31, Packers 27

** Monday, Oct. 5, Atlanta

The Falcons added running back Todd Gurley and tight end Hayden Hurst to give Matt Ryan some weapons. He’ll need them because he’s going to have to outscore opponents to win.


Packers 30, Falcons 13


Week 5 – BYE


** Sunday, Oct. 18, at Tampa Bay


The Buccaneers added Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski while re-signing Shaq Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh to sustain one of the NFL’s more underrated defenses.


If the game matches the hype – “Rodgers vs. Brady” – it will be a dandy.


Bucs 28, Packers 24


** Sunday, Oct. 25, at Houston


The Texans’ Deshaun Watson is one of the NFL’s most electrifying quarterbacks. He lost the great DeAndre Hopkins, but added Randall Cobb and Brandin Cooks to the WR corps.


It won’t be enough to keep up with the Packers.


Packers 21, Texans 16


** Sunday, Nov. 1, Minnesota


It was so much fun in Week 1, why not more of the same in Week 8?


Kirk Cousins remains the Vikings’ greatest asset and liability.


The Packers will own them, home and away, before midseason hits.


Packers 24, Vikings 23


** Thursday, Nov. 5, at San Francisco


This is where it gets tough.


The 49ers kept most of their defense intact by retaining Arik Armstead and Jimmie Ward. They also drafted Javon Kinlaw to offset DeForest Buckner’s departure. Offensively, Emmanuel Sanders may be missed, but that depends on how rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk plays.


It doesn’t help that the Packers have three days to prepare for their Thursday night game at San Francisco.


49ers 31, Packers 20


** Sunday, Nov. 15, Jacksonville


The Jaguars and Garnder Minshew are interesting, but not so much that I see them beating Green Bay.


Packers 37, Jaguars 9


** Sunday, Nov. 22, at Indianapolis


Philip Rivers is going to be running the Colts’ show.


He’ll have rookies Michael Pittman, Jr., to throw to and Jonathan Taylor to hand off to. It’ll be interesting to see how good Taylor, the ex-Badgers’ ball carrier, will be in the NFL.


For what it’s worth, I think Taylor will be sensational. He might be good enough to get the Colts past the Packers, in fact.


Colts 24, Packers 23


** Sunday night, Nov. 29, Chicago


This is the first of four home games after Thanksgiving for Green Bay. It will be an interesting stretch in that Packers head coach Matt LaFleur intends to run the football, and this type of weather is made for that.


Packers 21, Bears 15


** Sunday, Dec. 6, Philadelphia


The Eagles have Super Bowl aspirations. They also were the only team to defeat Green Bay at Lambeau Field last season.


Can Philadelphia make it two straight in back-to-back seasons?


It’s possible.


Eagles 24, Packers 20


** Sunday, Dec. 13, at Detroit


The Packers added running back A.J. Dillon and H-back/tight end Josiah Deguara to shore up their offense.


The Lions added ex-Packers receiver Geronimo Allison.


I’ll take the Packers to sweep the Lions.


Packers 21, Lions 10


** Saturday, Dec. 19, or Sunday, Dec. 20, Carolina


Whether they play it Saturday or Sunday makes no difference. It only prolongs the inevitable.


Packers 28, Panthers 19


** Sunday night, Dec. 27, Tennessee


The Titans retained Derrick Henry and added edge rusher Vic Beasley in the offseason. They also paid a lot of money to Ryan Tannehill (four years, $118 million) to replace Marcus Mariota, now with the Raiders.


Titans head coach Mike Vrabel is a rising star. It will be interesting to see Vrabel and his protégé – Matt LaFleur – battle head-to-head.


Davante Adams, Aaron Jones and Rodgers are better than the Titans’ offensive weapons. It’s that simple.


Packers 27, Titans 21


** Sunday, Jan. 3, Chicago


The Bears’ defense added Robert Quinn in the offseason. The pass rusher has a nasty streak longer than Michigan Avenue. Quinn and Khalil Mack (remember him?) form a dynamic duo.


This will be a test to see if the Packers adequately replaced Bryan Bulaga with Rick Wagner. I think they did.


Packers 23, Bears 13


FINAL RECORD: 11-5, NFC North champions

Criticism of Packers for drafting Love off target

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Critics of the Packers have howled long and loud ever since Green Bay traded up four spots to select Utah State quarterback Jordan Love with the 26th pick of the 2020 NFL draft.

They didn’t like Green Bay “wasting” the fourth round pick to move up.

They didn’t like drafting a quarterback at a time Aaron Rodgers needed a receiver to help Green Bay reach the Super Bowl.

They didn’t think much of drafting running back A.J. Dillon in the second round and H-Back/tight end Josiah Deguara in the third round.

They wanted a receiver – any receiver – at all cost.

Well, I’m here to tell you they’re off target.

Let me count the ways …

** Gripe: The Packers haven’t given Aaron Rodgers any weapons.


Davante Adams is one of the NFL’s top receivers.


In fact, Adams is among the NFL’s top 10 receivers. That’s a pretty good start in the Packers’ “weaponry” department. He missed four games in 2019, but the Packers went undefeated in his absence. Could it be the perception that Adams needed a “Robin” was wrong? It’s likely.


Sure, the Packers would like more experience at receiver. That’s why they signed Devin Funchess in free agency. Funchess missed last season after breaking his collarbone in the Colts’ preseason. Indianapolis moved on and Green Bay moved in.


Funchess has never had a quarterback the caliber of Rodgers throwing to him. He also has had bad luck with injuries. Despite all of that, he is a big-bodied receiver with soft hands and a wide catch radius. He also knows how to get open while working against NFL defenses.


Funchess shouldn’t be undersold.


The holdovers shouldn’t be discarded, either.


Marques Valdez-Scantling was a disappointment. He missed his first chance to establish himself as a reliable No. 2/3 receiver. He’s down to his last chance this season. MVS has big-play ability. I also believe in his hands. He just needs to follow Adams’ lead and keep working at it.


Allen Lazard proved he can make big plays at the highest level. He also showed that he can disappear at times, and occasionally at times the Packers needed him to step up.


Lazard’s inconsistency should be altogether surprising. Last season was his first on the NFL’s grand stage. The experience should be invaluable.


Equanimeous St. Brown was injured, but he showed potential before being lost. EQ’s return to form and continued growth would be a boon for the receiving corps. EQ has talent. It needs to emerge.


Jake Kumerow is a strong special teams’ player and decent No. 5 receiver. The Packers don’t need all of these receivers to make leaps and bounds. They just need two of them to do it. Who? I’m not sure.


But I do believe it will happen.


Packers’ GM Brian Gutekunst is in that corner, too.


He made the point that for many NFL receivers their third season is when they find their “sweet spot.” It happened with Adams. It could happen, albeit to a lesser degree, with any of these receivers.


That doesn’t sound like “no weapons.”


Running back Aaron Jones is coming off a record-setting season in which he scored 19 touchdowns. Now he has A.J. Dillon and Jamaal Williams backing him up in the offense. Jones’ wear and tear could go way down while his use as a receiver in the slot could go up.


What’s a fact is that Jones is one of the NFL’s most dynamic weapons, and Packers’ head coach Matt LaFleur has shown the ingenuity to unlock that talent. And that was in their first year together.


It could and should get even better.


Dillon is a one-cut-and-go beast. He will break tackles, pick up the blitz and catch the ball out of the backfield. Dillon’s soft hands were one reason the Packers coveted him in the second round.


The Packers have invested third-round picks at tight end in consecutive drafts. That doesn’t sound like ignoring the offense or not providing Rodgers with ample weaponry.


Jace Sternberger is a pass-catching tight end. Josiah Deguara is more of an H-back/tight end who will line up anywhere in the formation. That one-two-punch at tight end is intriguing, especially given LaFleur’s desire to want to run the football to set up the pass.


I’m a big believer in the double-tight end formation, especially when the tight ends are talented complements of one another. Marcedes Lewis’ return also is a sign that LaFleur intends to run the football.


The offensive line lost Bryan Bulaga but added Rick Wagner. It’s not a wash, but it’s not that great a discrepancy, either. The Packers also drafted three interior offensive linemen who are strong and mobile.


That sounds like a lot of help on offense.


** Critics: Jordan Love can’t help them win games now.


If Aaron Rodgers – god forbid – happens to be injured for one, two, three or even four games, what chance does Green Bay have to keep the ship afloat? With Tim Boyle not much, but with Jordan Love a better chance because he can scramble, make plays on the run and move the chains with his legs.


I’ll concede that Love can’t help the Packers now if critics will acknowledge that they can’t say for sure Rodgers won’t be injured.


** Critics: Love wasn’t a bargain at 26 and may never be an NFL starter.


Go back and look up the draft profiles for Rodgers. They were unfair, unflattering and mostly inaccurate. But the Packers still selected him with the 24th pick in 2005. Who believes it was the wrong decision? Who knew then that Rodgers would go on to be a Hall of Fame QB?


Give Love a chance.


** Critics: Rodgers needed another WR weapon to win big.


So Rodgers isn’t capable of elevating his teammates’ play? That includes the receivers’ play? I don’t think so. When did this become a pity party for Rodgers as opposed to what’s best for the Packers?


If Rodgers is going to hoist the Lombardi Trophy any time soon it will be with both hands – the right for throwing and the left for handing off – and it will be a beautiful thing.


** Critics: The Packers did next to nothing to help the defense in addition to not drafting a receiver.


They added inside linebacker Kamal Martin from Minnesota in the fifth round. Martin, who is coming off injuries, showed lots of promise. He’ll be interesting to watch when training camp opens.


More important, perhaps, is the prospect that Green Bay might play Darnell Savage, Jr., as a slot receiver cover corner. The Packers’ coaches believe Savage can handle that role. In turn, it would allow Raven Greene to play the “lurk” position in the middle of the defense.


Kingsley Keke, Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry up front, Preston and Za’Darius Smith on the edges, Christian Kirksey in the middle, Kevin King and Jaire Alexander at the corners and Adrian Amos at safety round out a defense that wouldn’t have crumbled at San Francisco.




Packers’ 2020 draft all about offense, running the football

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers’ bottom line going into training camp, whenever that happens this summer, is simply this: Are they better than they were last season?

The answer is an unequivocal yes.

Certainly, some will argue that the Packers could’ve been in much better shape following free agency and the draft. Perhaps they’re right. Maybe they should have mortgaged the draft to move up and select LSU receiver Justin Jefferson, or Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray.

They didn’t.

Could’ve or should’ve doesn’t matter at this point.

What matters is how the Packers have responded since San Francisco routed them in the NFC championship game.

In the three months since then, Green Bay has lost right tackle Bryan Bulaga, inside linebacker Blake Martinez and outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell in free agency. Those are the only players of note.

Meantime, they added right tackle Rick Wagner and inside linebacker Christian Kirksey in free agency and nine players in the draft.

Wagner and Kirksey are meant to keep things business as usual, which in the Packers’ case, is a 14-4 record and a berth in the NFC title game.

They also are counting on players such as Rashan Gary, Jace Sternberger, Kingsley Keke, Montravius Adams and Oren Burks to improve. The same goes for impressive rookies Darnell Savage, Jr., and Elgton Jenkins, who started and played well last season.

In addition, they need improved play from Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Allen Lazard and Jake Kumerow. The receivers need to step up in their third season. GM Brian Gutekunst calls it, “finding their sweet spot.”

History has shown NFL receivers, for the most part, need several seasons of, well, seasoning before they hit their stride. It’s time for MVS, Lazard, Kumerow and Equanimeous St. Brown to get it going.

I’m willing to give MVS another chance. Unlike J’Mon Moore, who fizzled, MVS actually has done it at the highest level. He just needs to gain more confidence and consistency. One often goes with the other.

The Packers did add receiver Devin Funchess to the mix in free agency. Funchess provides a veteran presence to go with Davante Adams’ leadership and All-Pro skills at the position.

Incrementally, at least, the Packers are better at receiver.

So how else are they better?

Aaron Rodgers will be better going into his second season in head coach Matt LaFleur’s system. They shared a great deal of success last season in spite of the offense’s occasional struggles.

The addition of first-round pick Jordan Love provides long-term insurance at the most important position. Hopefully, he will be able to sit and learn while Rodgers keeps the train rolling.

That’s the plan, anyway, and it’s a good one.

The running back position is better thanks to Aaron Jones’ breakout season, Jamaal Williams’ steady play and A.J. Dillon’s selection in the second round of the draft.

The Packers have a three-headed monster at running back. Jones is a touchdown waiting to happen, Williams is reliable as can be and Dillon is the explosive, between-the-tackles runner the offense lacked.

Each of the backs can catch it out of the backfield, too. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if LaFleur has Jones and Dillon on the field together. Factor in the versatile Tyler Ervin and third-round pick Josiah Deguara, the H-back this offense requires, and it’s a talented group.

The offensive line might take a step back without Bulaga, but fans have to trust to Gutekunst in terms of his replacement, Wagner.

Otherwise, Jenkins should continue to improve, Corey Linsley will be healthy and in a contract year, and right guard Billy Turner has a season in LaFleur’s scheme. Furthermore, the three late-round draft picks in the offensive line’s interior should infuse youth, speed and depth.

Defensively, it’s this simple: The holdovers need to either maintain or elevate their level of play.

The Smiths – Za’Darius and Preston – can’t do much more. That said there’s no reason they can’t make a similar impact this season. They’re that much further along in coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme.

Cornerbacks Kevin King and Jaire Alexander are more than solid. Alexander is a burgeoning star and King is coming off his best season. Adrian Amos was a strong free-agent signing at safety and Savage has boundless potential after a really good rookie season.

Tramon Williams likely will be re-signed, Raven Green will be healthy and the two seventh-round draft picks – TCU safety Vernon Scott and Miami edge rusher Jonathan Garvin – might hit.

Clearly, there are numerous question marks.

But isn’t that true going into every NFL season?

In one draft, the Packers added the quarterback of the future, an explosive running back who can contribute right away, a much-needed H-back and a trio of young, hungry offensive linemen.

If inside linebacker Kamal Martin proves a hit in the fifth round the defense definitely will be better equipped to stop the run.

This all might sound like trying to put a pretty face on what some fans and media feel was an awful draft, and offseason, for the Packers.

I don’t see it that way.

I see LaFleur changing the culture of this team, especially on offense, to fit his preferred way to play. He led the Packers to a 14-4 record with ex-head coach Mike McCarthy’s players.

Let’s give him a chance to see what he can do with some of his own.

Packers trade up to select

Utah State QB Jordan Love

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Here is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, from the makeshift office in his basement, to announce Green Bay’s selection: “With the 26th pick in the 2020 NFL draft the Green Bay Packers select Jordan Love, quarterback, Utah.”

Many fans and media members were surprised and/or disappointed.

I get it. I was right there with them, but there’s a reason fans cheer, sportswriters opine and GMs draft.

I’m reminded of the Rolling Stones’ classic, “You can’t always get what you want.”

Fans wanted a receiver, an inside linebacker, a defensive end … heck, just about anything but a quarterback. They wanted Gutekunst to get Rodgers and/or the defense the help necessary to get to Super Bowl LV.

Those fans who are howling their displeasure with GM Brian Gutekunst’s decision need to recall the song’s next line.

“But if you try sometime – like moving up from the 30th pick to the 26th – you get what you need.”

The Packers needed to find Aaron Rodgers’ successor.

If not Thursday night, when?

They may have landed the next Patrick Mahomes in the process.

Nobody faults Gutekunst for being true to his board. That is until they disagree with his pick. Then they don’t want to hear about the board.

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

Packers’ fans didn’t get what they wanted.

But the Packers got what they needed: A quarterback with the best arm in this draft who is athletic, smart and eager to learn while sitting and watching one of the league’s all-time greats.

The Packers’ greatest need, it could be argued, was hiding in plain sight.

The reality is quarterbacks as talented as Love are difficult to acquire unless you’re the Cincinnati Bengals and you own the first pick because you’re awful. Even at that I’m not convinced Joe Burrow is going to be a better NFL quarterback than Jordan Love when it’s all said and done.

Rodgers said he wants to play until he’s 40. But just because the mind is willing doesn’t mean the body will be able.

Rodgers turns 37 on Dec. 2. He isn’t a kid anymore. He’s far from it.

But he can still play at a high level. Winning now and drafting Love aren’t mutually exclusive. It is possible to do both. In fact, I think the Packers are going to post a double-digit win total this season.

Rodgers led the Packers to the NFC Championship last season without any help from the 2020 draft.

And let’s not forget: The draft isn’t over.

The Packers still have eight picks. That’s enough ammunition to get at least one of the players I coveted coming into this draft: Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson or Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault.

Gutekunst will get Rodgers significant help at receiver in this draft.

Count on it.

If New England’s Bill Belichick had traded back into the first round and selected Love at 26 many fans and media would be calling it “genius.”

Gutekunst beat The Hoodie to the punch.

And all he will get for his trouble is criticism.

It goes with the territory.

When Kansas City selected Patrick Mahomes – after the Bears traded up to take Mitch Trubisky – not everyone was sold on it. Now, Mahomes isn’t merely the face of the Chiefs, but the face of the league.

By the way, the common comparison to Love is … Patrick Mahomes.

The Packers’ drafting of Love is a shrewd, long-term investment.

A few years from now the Lions and a lot of other NFL also-rans might be wishing they’d had the foresight and the fortitude to draft Love.

Perhaps Rodgers’ unique perspective will enable him to understand Gutekunst’s decision. Rodgers was the Packers’ first-round pick in 2005 when Brett Favre was still the man in Green Bay.

Rodgers, of all people, should accept this for what it is.

It’s not his call. It’s the right call.

This draft is more about the Packers’ future than it is Rodgers’ future, which is as it should be.

Love (6-4, 224) can make all the throws with ease.

He also can escape the pass rush. He ran a 4.7 40-yard dash to go with an explosive 35 ½ inch vertical leap.

Love was college football’s eighth-ranked quarterback two years ago. He threw for 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 13 starts. He completed 64 percent of his passes for a school-record 3,567 yards.

He appeared destined to be a Top 10 pick.

Unfortunately, Utah State’s coaching changes and drop in talent led to Love’s decline in touchdowns and increase in interceptions. Love did his best to win games, even if it meant taking more risks than he’d prefer.

Clearly, he isn’t a stats guy. He’s a winner.

Packers’ fans should withhold judgment and give Love a chance.

They also should trust in Gutekunst.

Packers should nab CB at 30,

then trade up in 2nd for WR

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Here is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, from the makeshift office in his basement, to announce Green Bay’s selection: “With the 30th pick in the 2020 NFL draft the Green Bay Packers select Jaylon Johnson, cornerback, Utah.”

Some Packers’ fans will be less than thrilled.

I can hear them now.

“Why would the Packers take a corner at 30? They’ve got needs at receiver, inside linebacker, defensive end and offensive tackle,” these fans will howl. “Oh, and did I mention, they need a receiver?”

It is true the Packers need a receiver to pair with Davante Adams.

The question is which receiver and when?

They also have needs at inside linebacker and defensive end.

As unpredictable as the NFL draft is – especially when a team has the 30th pick – it is almost impossible to guess what the Packers will do. It’s even more difficult without knowing which 29 players have been taken.

On the other hand, Green Bay GM Brian Gutekunst has enough of a track record to make an educated guess. His limited history suggests he’ll take the big man – all things being equal – over another position. It also shows he’s willing to trade up or down based on circumstances.

With that in mind, my preference would be TCU defensive end Ross Blacklock at 30. He would start at the 5-technique next to Kenny Clark. Blacklock is athletic, powerful and effective against the run and the pass.

In a perfect world, Blacklock goes to the Packers at 30. Then Gutekunst gets busy finding a receiver in the second round.

Obviously, the world is far from perfect.

My next-best choice would be either of the top inside linebackers: Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray or LSU’s Patrick Queen. Again, I don’t see either of them being on the board when the Packers are on the clock.

A receiver is possible, but only if it’s LSU’s Justin Jefferson.

Jefferson is likely to be gone. He’s the only receiver – aside from top picks CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III – that would I would select with the 30th pick.

So what does that leave if Blacklock, Murray, Queen and Jefferson are off the board? An offensive tackle might be enticing. Houston’s Josh Jones might be there, and if the Packers take him, I understand why. Rick Wagner is little more than a one-year stopgap.

I would wait until next year to draft an offensive tackle.

That’s why I would select Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson at 30.

Johnson has been on my radar for a while now. The kid can play.

Johnson (6-0, 193) clocked a 4.5 40-yard dash with 15 reps at 225 pounds and a 36 ½ inch vertical leap. He’s a playmaking cornerback with terrific size and length to play press coverage. He can turn and run if necessary, but his greatest assets are his strength and awareness.

Johnson immediately would challenge Kevin King to start opposite Alexander. In the meantime, he would fit nicely on the perimeter to allow Alexander to move to the slot corner on passing downs.

He was a first-team All-Pac 12 selection while carrying a 3.6 GPA.

He’s smart (see the GPA) and instinctive in both man and zone coverage with good recognition of route combinations. He has decent burst and agility in short spaces and explosiveness to fend off “jump balls.”

Johnson naturally has “rake it or take it” skills on 50/50 balls.

I prefer Johnson to Alabama’s Trevon Diggs and LSU’s Kristian Fulton, two cornerbacks from “big time” schools who are going to be good NFL players but lack Johnson’s overall game.

Furthermore, King’s contract is up after this season. If he plays well the Packers would be forced to pay him or let him walk. If he plays poorly they’ve still got a need at cornerback.

Johnson’s presence would make that decision easier.

So what about receiver?

The Packers may have to trade up into the second round from 62. That’s OK so long as they snag one of these two receivers: Colorado’s Laviska Shenault or Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk.

Shenault (6-1, 227) is blessed with outstanding physical skills.

His best attributes are his “vice-grip hands” as scouts refer to it, and his strength and leaping ability to make the tough, contested catches.

Shenault also lined up at every position, including wildcat at Colorado, where he flashed as a powerful ball-carrier out of the backfield.

He would be similar to the 49ers’ Deebo Samuel as a playmaker.

My other favored receiver is Aiyuk.

Aiyuk (pronounced EYE-yook) is a 6-0, 205-pound athlete who ran a 4.5 40-yard dash, did 11 reps at 225 pounds and posted a superb 40-inch vertical leap at the combine.


A transfer from Sierra College entering the 2018 season, Aiyuk excelled almost immediately as a receiver/return specialist. In 2019, he took another leap that had Arizona State fans giddy.


He caught 65 passes for 1,192 yards (18.3 average) and eight touchdowns. He was also one of the top return specialists in the nation. He is a slick, instinctive pass catcher according to scouts who believe he has star potential with some NFL polishing.


Aiyuk has been criticized for not being more physical and competing with defenders for 50-50 balls. It’s likely he would be the Packers’ No. 3 receiver behind Adams and Allen Lazard to open the season.


His upside could be higher if he gets stronger as he matures. He has tremendous hands, is a ball snatcher and quickly converts from receiver to runner once he catches it.


Aiyuk has the instincts and vision of a running back, which explains why he’d fit into LaFleur’s scheme.


If Gutekunst finds a way to acquire Johnson and Shenault it would be an excellent draft. Then he can find a third-round inside linebacker and a fourth-round defensive lineman.


We’ll know soon enough.






NFL Hall of Famer, Packers’ great Willie Davis dead at 85

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Willie Davis, the Hall of Fame defensive end who starred on the Green Bay Packers’ championship teams of the Sixties, passed away Wednesday after a month-long battle with kidney failure.

Davis, 85, was born the son of a sharecropper in Lisbon, Louisiana.

From that humble beginning in the midst of a racially segregated south in the 1930s, Davis rose to become a wildly successful businessman, entrepreneur and benefactor to those less fortunate.

Davis was the first black captain on head coach Vince Lombardi’s team. It wasn’t because he was black. It was because Lombardi saw the quality of character in Davis and believed he was the right man to lead.

Davis and Jerry Kramer also were the team’s first integrated roommates, not because they were trying to prove a point, but because Kramer needed a roommate and they genuinely enjoyed each other’s company.

Clearly, Davis was a leader on and off the field.

Packers center Bill Curry, who grew up in the segregated south, was taught to believe that blacks were somehow inferior to whites.

Davis changed Curry’s racist views forever, according to an NFL Films documentary.

Curry called Davis “the finest combination of leader and player that I ever saw.” He said Davis’ ability and desire to connect with his teammates – including Curry – made him a better player.

But it was more than that.

“Davis didn’t’ just help me to play in the NFL for 10 years,” Curry said. “He changed my life because I was never able to look at another human being in the same way I had.”

Davis earned a scholarship to Grambling State University, where he played for Hall of Fame coach Eddie Robinson. After graduating in 1956, he served in the United States Army for two years before being a 15th-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns.

Davis, who was miscast as an offensive tackle with the Browns, flashed the athleticism, tenacity and intelligence to convince Lombardi to trade for him before the 1960 season.

Lombardi viewed Davis’ skillset as that of a powerful defensive end. It was similar to Lombardi’s ability to see college halfbacks Herb Adderley and Bob Jeter as NFL cornerbacks. He also converted Willie Wood from college quarterback to Hall of Fame safety.

It was much the same with Davis, who went on to become a Hall of Fame defensive end. The Sporting News ranked him 69th on its list of 100 all-time greatest NFL players in 1999.

Davis retired after the 1969 season. While with the Packers, he spent the offseason in 1968 earning a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Chicago.

It served him well as went into his professional life as a businessman.

Davis helped the Packers win multiple titles, and to this day the 1966 Packers endure as one of the NFL’s most revered teams of all-time.

Lombardi’s Packers were 12-2 that season with their only losses being at San Francisco, 21-20, and at home against the Vikings, 20-17.

They finished four points shy of an undefeated regular season.

In the playoffs, they defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 34-27, in the NFL Championship Game before claiming a resounding 35-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I.

Super Bowl LV will be held Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa Bay.

Amazingly, after more than five decades, nine of the 22 starters on that Super Bowl I team are still alive. With such a short life expectancy for pro football players – especially of that era – it’s fairly remarkable.

It turns out Davis was the last of Lombardi’s former players to see him before the great coach died in September of 1970.

In an excerpt from “The Lombardi Legacy: 30 people who were touched by greatness,” Davis recounts the moment:

“I remember walking into his (hospital) room with Mrs. Lombardi – and he looked at me and he was so deteriorated that I couldn’t have recognized him from before. And I never will forget this. He said to me, ‘Willie, you were a hell of a football player, and you were the best deal I ever made.’ And then he said, ‘Hey Willie, you played great football for me.’ He started to cry and said, ‘Willie, I want you to pray for me.’

“I’m thinking oh my god, I was just knocked out, and I said, ‘Coach, I came back (to Washington, D.C.) to make a deal with you – you get up and come back and coach and I’m gonna come out and unretire.’ He kind of cracked a smile, looked a little bit more and he started to cry again. He told me and Mrs. Lombardi, ‘Leave, you guys, leave.’

“And we went out and this is all in less than 10 minutes,” Davis said.

Soon after that the great coach was gone.

Davis said there wasn’t a day that went by without him thinking about Lombardi. I suspect that held true on Wednesday, the day Willie Davis passed, while kidney failure slowly, ultimately, claimed his life.

It was the day God’s football team forever reunited the NFL’s greatest coach with one of the league’s finest defensive ends.

Rest in peace, Willie Davis!




Selecting Brewers’ 1970-94

team fuels fond memories

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The never-ending quest for radio content during the COVID-19 pandemic can take a person to unexpected places.

Many of Sports Line’s listeners double as Brewers fans. The MLB season is on hold due to the virus, but Milwaukee’s baseball-starved fans still crave April’s version of a hot-stove discussion.

Not wanting to disappoint, I asked Marques Eversol, my co-host Wednesdays and Thursdays, to indulge me in a Brewers-related task.

The Milwaukee Brewers turned 50 on Wednesday, April 1.

The fact that I turned 50 a while ago and Marques is still on the sunny side of 30 made divvying up the homework pretty straightforward.

As Brewers’ GM I selected my “All-Brewers team, 1970-94.”

Do the names Tommy Harper, Davey May or George Scott ring a bell? How about Jim Colborn, Jim Slaton and Ken Sanders?

In turn, Marques chose his “All-Brewers team, 1995-present.”

I have to believe the 2018 Brewers featuring Christian Yelich and Josh Hader will be more than adequately represented.

The unveiling takes place on this afternoon’s show.

The exercise, it turns out, was far more challenging than I thought. The problem wasn’t having enough great players to field a worthy team. It was having so many terrific options to choose from.

Our 20-man roster includes eight pitchers (five starters, a left-handed reliever, a right-handed reliever and a closer). It also includes 12 position players: The eight starters, a DH, a backup catcher, a utility infielder and a reserve outfielder.

Playing Brewers GM is intriguing in and of itself. To assemble a Brewers’ roster with my favorite childhood players was delightful.

It took me back to my first Brewers game.

I was a fifth-grader at Castle Rock Grade School in Adams County. The country school was nestled adjacent to wooded property. A few miles to the southwest – just beyond Jimmy Zentner’s family farm – ran the Wisconsin River. The sprawling metropolis of White Creek was just a half-mile up the road. It was unincorporated, of course, but it featured a tavern, gas station and grocery store all rolled into a frame building.

Who knew we had the first convenience store just down the road?

It was straight out of Norman Rockwell.

It also was a million miles from County Stadium, or so it seemed.

Nevertheless, our fifth-grade class ventured out on the best-ever field trip. I don’t remember who pitched for Milwaukee, or who got the timely hit, or even whether they won or lost.

What I do remember in vivid detail is the field of dreams. The infield and outfield grass was Ireland green and perfectly manicured. The contrast between the grass and the dirt base-paths was a sight to behold.

Mother Nature, with a little help from the Brewers’ grounds crew, stood in all her glory. County Stadium was no Miller Park, but who knew?

My love of baseball was forever sealed.

It led me to beg my parents to buy Strat-O-Matic baseball. When the UPS truck pulled into our driveway, my heart leaped as the driver came to the door with a package that looked to be the right size.

Yep, sure enough, the 1973 season edition, complete with scoresheets. It’s how I learned to keep “the book” as they say. I also kept complete statistics for my 40-game season. It’s how I learned to calculate batting averages and earned-run averages.

Math was never so much fun, before or since.

The 1973 season featured an overachieving Brewers squad with Tim Johnson at shortstop, Pedro Garcia at second base and Dave May patrolling center field. Jim Colborn won 20 games that season. Jim Slaton was another capable right-handed starter.

Naturally, I grew up listening to the great Bob Uecker. His sense of humor, knowledge of the game and unerring decency made me want to be a baseball announcer. I even tape recorded some Strat-O-Matic games pretending to be Uecker while I played.

Fortunately, the tapes were lost through the years.

I hadn’t really thought about the ’73 Brewers, or Strat-O-Matic, or Castle Rock Grade School in a long time.

The quest for radio content took me back to the day.

Tune in this afternoon to hear Marques and me as we unveil our teams. If you’re a Brewers fan, and you’re missing April baseball, take a walk down memory lane between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

You might be surprised where it leads.


April Fool’s lore guaranteed to bring a smile to sports fans

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – With the first pick in Major League Baseball’s 1985 June Amateur Draft, the Milwaukee Brewers select … Sidd Finch?

Well, not quite.

That honor was given to the New York Mets, with the help of co-conspirator Sports Illustrated, when the team and the publication concocted a tall tale for the ages.

Sidd (short for Siddhartha) Finch, was an English orphan who’d traveled to Tibet to train as a Buddhist monk, only to learn how to throw a baseball 168 mph. Millions of SI’s readers – and those fans whose sports’ outlets picked up the story around the nation – fell for the fib.

Two rival GMs even complained to the MLB front office.

They said it would be unsafe for hitters to step into the batter’s box against a pitcher whose fastball flies a vaporizing 168 miles an hour.

On April 2, the Mets held a news conference to explain that Finch had given up baseball to pursue his real passion: playing the French horn. Two weeks later, SI finally announced that Finch was a fabrication.

I still laugh at the Finch fairytale, my favorite April Fools prank ever.

Typically, I’m not big on pranks, hoaxes and similar shenanigans.

Invariably I wind up feeling empathy for the victim. In some cases it’s impossible for them to know they are being “pranked.” The reason I’m all in on the Finch story is that it’s preposterous to think anyone could throw a baseball 168 mph. I mean, c’mon, man.

In this case, Mets’ fans desire to have baseball’s next phenomena toe the rubber clouded their judgement and common sense. They should have known better, which is why I love the narrative.

In today’s COVID-19 world we’re safer at home in, I submit that this April Fool’s Day merits a hearty laugh or two … or three.

These are challenging times we’re dealing with.

The diversion of sports lives only in our memories, and certainly not on the perfectly varnished hardwood, the unlined field, the empty ballpark.

There is little to celebrate these days.

It’s why we celebrate the memory of foolish pranks, silly stories and creative ways to make us think.

One of my favorite April’s Fools pranks involved Charles Barkley.

The Round Mound of Rebound impressed upon teammate Manute Bol – the wide-eyed 7-5 center – that he was hosting his own cooking show. It was a spinoff of today’s Martha Stewart-Snoop Dogg cooking show, only it wasn’t real, but rather a way to prank Bol, and it was awesome.

While Barkley was explaining to Bol that he was hosting a cooking show, a teammate of theirs slid under the table unbeknownst to Bol. The table had a hole cut out large enough for the teammate to slip his head through.

Once the teammate was hidden under the table, which was shrouded in a fancy white tablecloth, Barkley and Bol entered to begin “filming.”

Sir Charles slowly revealed his delicacies – one by one – by lifting up the large, silver cover to unveil the dish. When the third cover was lifted, Bol was face-to-face with a teammate’s head on a platter on the table.

Bol freaked. His expression was priceless. Barkley laughed. It was one of those deep belly laughs that only Barkley can deliver.

It remains one of the best all-time sports’ related April Fools pranks.

Then there is the best rookie hazing prank of all-time.

It was delivered by the Lakers during the 2004-2005 season, and it was inspired by actor Lucy Liu attending a game at Staples Center. Rookie Tony Bobbitt began telling his teammates that Liu was staring at him. Bobbitt was convinced Lui was interested in him.

The Lakers sprang into action.

They surreptitiously had a ball boy bring Bobbitt a piece of paper with a phone number on it, and the ball boy told him it was Lui’s number and that she wanted him to call. It was actually Vlade Divac’s number.

Divac got a female Lakers’ employee to pose as Lui for his voicemail and the team would message Bobbitt as the actress. Eventually, Bobbitt got a date with “Lucy Lui” only to show up at the restaurant to find his teammates waiting for him instead.

Bobbitt could only laugh.

Happy April Fool’s Day from someone who generally doesn’t celebrate such nonsense, except maybe in these crazy times we’re enduring.

COVID-19 runs roughshod

over entire world of sports

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It began with the Ivy League’s cancellation of its men’s and women’s conference basketball tournaments March 10.

Where it ends is anybody’s guess.

The COVID-19 pandemic – an insidious global killer – initially hit the United States’ sports world 16 days ago when the Ivy League did the right thing by trying to keep its athletes out of harm’s way.

The NBA’s decision to suspend its season a day later likely hastened the NCAA’s move to cancel its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. The NHL, MLB and others quickly followed suit.

Today, the world of sports is at a standstill.

Now, we’re hearing that the college football season may be in jeopardy, and that the NFL’s GM subcommittee is fiercely lobbying NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to push back the April 23-25 NFL Draft.

The league already has canceled its Las Vegas party. The plan is to have the draft online – in some form or fashion – with TV coverage originating in a studio, rather than in front of a raucous live audience.

It is the world we live in for now.

Meantime, sports fans are finding their fix where they can.

The FAN’s sports crews continue to roll along – morning, midday and late afternoon – while trying to entertain, inform and provide a desperately needed diversion for its loyal listeners.

If anything positive can come of the coronavirus – and I doubt it – one nugget to hold onto is that we’re all in this together. I’ve had more family and friends – unsolicited mind you – offer programming ideas for Sports Line. They are well-intentioned, to be sure, and often helpful.

Andy, a friend and long-time listener, suggested a discussion regarding the potential for the Packers to select a defensive lineman or offensive tackle with the 30th pick overall.

Andy reminded me of Pro Football Hall of Fame GM Ron Wolf’s mantra: Big men are hard to find. Don’t ever overlook the behemoths that rule the line of scrimmage.

It’s sage advice, which is why we’re going to discuss it on the show.

I’ve heard suggestions for lists.

How about discussing the Packers’, Bucks’, Brewers’ and Badgers’ all-time greatest coaches, players, teams and broadcasters? Ok. I’m still waiting for someone to suggest debating the all-time best trainers.

I never knew how much ownership our listeners have in Sports Line.

It’s because they care. It’s why we appreciate them so much.

Content can’t be discounted, but the quality of the show isn’t merely about rehashing the previous night’s games. It’s about connecting with listeners in a meaningful, totally relatable way.

It’s what we do.

Trust me on this: We’re working as hard as ever, perhaps harder than ever, to make sure we take care of our listeners.

Occasionally we may swing and miss – not often, I’d like to think – but we’re always doing our best under the most difficult circumstances. They don’t get much more difficult than this past week.

Yet we persevere.

On Wednesday, Marques and I detailed the Bucks’ wondrous season up to its temporary stoppage and beyond. Sports radio is so much about educated speculation that this isn’t a total departure from the normal.

It just feels weird talking with my partners via conference call, rather than face-to-face. I can’t see Marques motioning to get to the break, or Harry Sydney’s grin while tossing a playful zinger my way.

I can’t see their faces, but I don’t have to. We’ve grown that close through the years. I may not always agree with my terrific on-air partners, but I always try to understand where they’re coming from.

Currently, we can’t take calls due to technical constraints. Again, we’re working on it, and we’ll get there. In the meantime, we’re relying on social media – Twitter and Facebook – to connect and interact.

They’re sports fans. We’re sports fans.

That initial connection has grown into a “let’s get together” feeling when Sports Line airs at 4 o’clock each afternoon, Monday through Friday.

We’ll continue talking Packers’ free agency and the draft, the Bucks’ shot at the NBA title when/if the season resumes, and the Brewers’ circumstances while dealing with a spring training cut short, and a season derailed before it begins.

Ultimately, we’re here for our listeners because they’re here for us.

We’ll get through this.

When we do everyone can celebrate the Bucks’ NBA championship and the Packers’ and Brewers’ return to business as usual with that rare and special Wisconsin gusto.

It’s what we do.

COVID-19 ends UW’s run;

Packers acquire ILB, OL

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Badgers finished with a flourish.

A Wisconsin men’s basketball team that faced adversity in the wake of the tragic offseason car accident that claimed the lives of assistant coach Howard Moore’s wife and daughter set a serious tone to the season.

The Badgers, picked to finish sixth in the Big Ten, soared much higher. Despite losing Kobe King at mid-season when the shooting guard said he didn’t like the team’s direction, the Badgers went on a run.

With the newest member, Micah Potter, blending into the rotation, the Badgers’ offense found its rhythm and the team began winning.

Brad Davison, Nate Reuvers, D’Mitrik Trice and Aleem Ford all stepped up their games, and the Badgers’ fortunes skyrocketed. One can only speculate what the Badgers would’ve done in the Big Ten tournament.

My guess is they would’ve advanced to the title game and improved their seeding, perhaps rising as high as a No. 3 seed. Given the incredible state of flux in college basketball this season – and the lack of a clear-cut top one or two supremely talented teams – it was wide open.

Gonzaga had its best chance to finally win the NCAA Tournament this season, but was deprived the opportunity by COVID-19.

Dayton won’t get to take it as far as possible, either.

San Diego State was another team that had my total respect and attention going into my bracket, but it isn’t to be.

Meantime, the Badgers also won’t get to finish what they started.

Wisconsin (14-6, 21-10) closed with an eight-game winning streak.

Only COVID-19 could stop the Badgers.

One feels sad for senior Brevin Pritzl, who didn’t get to finish his final season, especially at a time when he was playing his best basketball.

Nevertheless, the future looks bright for Wisconsin basketball.

While the Bucks’ and Brewers’ seasons are on hiatus, the Packers have been extremely busy in the offseason.

They filled two holes in a single day.

While their early moves didn’t have the splash that their signings of Preston and Za’Darius Smith made last offseason, the signings of inside linebacker Christian Kirksey and right tackle Rick Wagner were necessary not only to fill holes, but perhaps field upgrades.

Kirksey (6-2, 235) is a seventh-year player out of Iowa. The 71st player taken in the 2014 draft, Kirksey went on to be a five-year starter with Cleveland. His best seasons came in 2016 and 2017 when he registered a career-high 143. He will wear the No. 58 for the Packers.

Kirksey ran a sub-4.5 second 40-yard dash at the combine and has experience in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme. That time also coincided with his most productive seasons in the NFL.

Wagner (6-6, 315) is entering his eighth season. He started 12 games for the Baltimore Ravens last season and has 87 starts in his career.

Wagner was a fifth-round pick out of Wisconsin and went on to become the highest-paid offensive lineman when he signed with the Lions in 2017. Wagner will wear No. 71 with the Packers.

Wagner will replace Bryan Bulaga at right tackle. Bulaga signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Los Angeles Chargers. Kirksey will replace Blake Martinez, who signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the New York Giants.

It will be strange seeing Bulaga in a Chargers uniform, although Martinez seems like a Giants’ type of player.

Packers’ fans surely will wish them well. They were beloved players who wore the “G” with pride and represented the organization well.


Gritty Badgers earn Big Ten’s top seed in conference tourney

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Sports Line’s “Last Caller Standing” question Monday was a nod to the Big Ten co-champion Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team.

The Badgers (21-10, 14-6) inspired for the question: Which team comes to mind when you think of the grittiest, toughest outfit you ever saw?

Wisconsin received congrats from The Fan’s listeners on two fronts:

** The first is capturing a share of the conference title when very few outside the Badgers’ locker room thought it possible.

** The second is dealing with adversity throughout.

The death of assistant coach Howard Moore’s wife and daughter in a horrific car accident during the off-season in some ways set a thoughtful, serious tone to the season.

The Badgers also dealt with the in-season departure of Kobe King and the mid-season arrival of Micah Potter. If King didn’t want to play for the Badgers he most definitely made the right decision for him and his former teammates.

Wisconsin was able to improve after King’s exit.

Head coach Greg Gard and his staff deserves credit for overseeing the team’s evolution from an awful 7-4 non-conference squad to champions.

It is Wisconsin’s first Big Ten regular-season title in five years. That they share the title with Maryland and Michigan State is fitting.

It’s been that kind of bruising Big Ten season.

Their reward is the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Conference Tournament set for this week at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind.

The No. 24 Badgers play Friday at 11 a.m. with a quarterfinal game against either Rutgers (20-11) or Michigan (19-12). Wisconsin KO’d both the Scarlet Knights and Wolverines during its current eight-game winning streak.

It’s pretty heady stuff for a UW team picked to finish sixth.

“It’s a perfect ending to a story, but we’ve got to realize the story is not over yet,” guard Brad Davison said. “(It’s) only one of three (dreams), as we like to say.”

The Badgers earned the No. 1 seed by virtue of the tiebreaker: They beat Maryland in their only meeting and split with Michigan State. That narrow win over the Spartans was UW’s first victory after King’s exit.

Wisconsin’s strength is its offensive balance and defensive tenacity.

Gard can position five 3-point shooters on the court at the same time. When the UW is right opposing defenses are spread out and a step too late to cover the 3-point shot effectively.

When the UW is shooting well – thanks to its defense – it’s hard to beat.

Nate Reuvers leads the Badgers in scoring at 13.1 points per game, while D’Mitrik Trice is sixth in assists at 4.6 per game.

The Badgers got in a groove after King’s departure for good reasons.

While King was the Badgers’ best individual shot creator (and maker), there was too much standing around while he was getting his shot. That isn’t King’s fault, necessarily, as much as it is a fact.

In the case of Wisconsin’s offense, the sum total is greater than the individual parts. The Badgers have plenty of capable 3-point shooters. The trick is getting the basketball to the open shooter in rhythm.

Potter, Reuvers, Trice, Aleem Ford, Brevin Pritzl and Davison are all capable 3-point shooters. The key is to get them the basketball as they’re coming free off a screen and where they can catch it clean and shoot it.

That’s easier said than done against active, lengthy defenses.

But the Badgers have relied on true balance and then finding and feeding the hot hand. Trice has been invaluable as a distributor by being able to dish out five or six assists while committing one turnover in 40 minutes.

Meantime, Ford has become much more aggressive in terms of attacking the basket rather than settling for the jumper. Ford has the size to be an effective offensive rebounder when he gets after it.

Lately, all the Badgers have been getting after it.

ESPN’s “bracket-ology” has eight Big Ten teams in the field.

They are No. 3 seed Michigan State in the South (Houston), No. 4 seeds Wisconsin in the Midwest (Indianapolis, Ind.) and Maryland in the East (New York); No. 6 seeds Iowa in the Midwest, Michigan in the East, and Penn State in the West (Los Angeles); No. 7 seed Illinois in the East; and No. 11 seed Indiana in the South.

Wisconsin plays No. 13 seed New Mexico State in the “bracket-ology.”

First, there is a Big Ten Conference tournament to be won by one of the toughest, grittiest Badgers teams in recent memory.

All the action can be heard right here on The FAN beginning with Friday’s 10 a.m. pregame and 11 o’clock tip at Indianapolis.

Bucks surge past Raptors;
Packers eyeing ILB, WR
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Bucks are rarely tested and seldom beaten.
It is why Milwaukee’s talent, togetherness and tenacity are beyond reproach, but its toughness occasionally comes under scrutiny. When blowout wins become standard operating procedure it’s only a matter of time before it begs the lame question, “But what happens when someone gets in their face, D’s up and rains 3’s early and often?”
Bucks 108, Raptors 97 is what happens.
In front of a pro-Raptors crowd, in a venue that hasn’t been kind, they watched Toronto open a 12-point first quarter lead. The Raptors’ Matt Thomas, who hails from Onalaska, drilled 3 3-pointers early on.
Then the Bucks put on the clamps. They used a late 11-2 run to close their deficit at halftime to 52-50. Then, they calmly outscored the home team 34-19 to take firm control in the third quarter.
The Bucks, who have won 18 of their last 20, were plenty tough.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 19 points and grabbed 19 rebounds while dishing out eight assists to lead the Bucks to their 50th win.
Toronto, which is second in the Eastern Conference, has lost both meetings with Milwaukee this season. Last year, the Raptors closed out the Bucks at Toronto in six games in the Eastern Conference finals.
This year the Bucks are on a mission.
Eric Bledsoe had 17 points and Brook Lopez added 15 against the Raptors, who went from being in control to a double-digit deficit as quick as it takes Khris Middleton to nail a jump shot.
Middleton had 22 points with eight rebounds and eight assists in the back end of terrific back-to-back performances.
In Monday night’s marathon at Washington, Middleton scored 40 points in 41 minutes during the Bucks’ taxing 137-134 overtime win. Giannis fouled out with 1:39 to play, but Middleton picked up the slack by outscoring Toronto 9-0 at one point in overtime.
On Tuesday night, a fatigued Middleton fought through it – as did his teammates – to exact a measure of revenge from a year ago. Milwaukee has scored 100 or more points in 82 straight games – a season’s worth.

The Bucks are frighteningly good. They’re plenty tough, too.
But thanks for asking.
Packers’ general manager Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur addressed the media Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
The GM and coach appear to be on the same page in terms of where the Packers are at coming off a 14-4 season, and where they’re headed.
Two glaring needs were discussed by both: Inside linebacker and receiver.
It’s no secret that Blake Martinez, the lone reliable piece of the puzzle at inside linebacker, is all but gone in free agency. Martinez, a tackling machine, will command top dollar at his position. The Packers like him, but let’s put it this way: The 49ers’ run game gashed Green Bay’s defense with Martinez running the show.
Free agency represents a graceful way to say, “Thanks,” and move on.
The receiver position surely needs to be addressed this offseason. In fact, I suspect the Packers will double-down at receiver. They will select one in the first two rounds of the draft, and they’ll acquire a starting-caliber veteran via free agency (the Jets’ Robby Anderson, perhaps).
It’s been Gutekunst’s MO – doubling down at a position – since he selected cornerback Jaire Alexander at No. 18 and Josh Jackson at No. 45 in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Last offseason, he tripled down at pass rusher with Za’Darius and Preston Smith in free agency and Rashan Gary in the draft. He doubled down at safety by nabbing Adrian Amos in free agency and trading up to draft Darnell Savage, Jr.
Gutekunst also chose J’Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown in rounds four through six in 2018. The fact that Gutekunst needs to add a couple receivers speaks to the failures of Moore (gone), MVS (disappointing) and St. Brown (oft-injured).
The Packers’ GM is impressed with the 2020 receiver class.
Here’s what he had to say in Indy:
“I think it is a deep group,” Gutekunst said. “It’s pretty heavy at the top. More numbers than what we’ve seen in the past. It’s early. They’ve got to run, there are a lot of things they’ve got to do still, but going through draft meetings early, I was impressed with the class as a whole.
“It’ll be interesting how it falls, but there were some good players out there. I think in today’s day and age where these guys were starting seven on seven, it’s almost like AAU basketball.
“The receivers are so much more advanced in terms of their fundamentals coming into college and the league than maybe they have been in the past. It’s really just the NFL offense that will take time. So I think there’s some guys sitting here today that I think will have a chance to make a pretty immediate impact, and I’m excited about that.”
Gutekunst also addressed inside linebacker.
Here’s what he had to say:
“I think it’s a little bit of an evolving room right now. I feel really good about Oren (Burks). He’s got to stay healthy, but I think he has all the talent in the world to be a productive player for us. I think Ty Summers did a really, really nice job, not only on special teams but how he developed as a linebacker as well.
“And then Curtis (Bolton), obviously, he had the knee injury, so really we didn’t get a big opportunity to see him. But early on in training camp he was making some big strides. So I’m excited about those guys, but I think with Blake (Martinez’s) situation uncertain at the moment, it’s a little bit in flux as we go forward.”
In flux means at least two new inside linebackers in the door.

Badgers brace for Rutgers;

Bucks set for 2nd half run

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It was late-third quarter and the Bucks were holding a commanding 20-something lead over the Pistons.

Nevertheless, Giannis Antetokounmpo was diving for a loose ball as if it were Game 7 of the NBA Finals, which is exactly the point. The Bucks’ goal is to capture the NBA World Championship and nothing less.

They know what it feels like to come close, and they believe they know what it takes to claim the NBA Finals.

The Bucks (47-8) own the league’s best record for a reason.

They are its best team and playing like it.

They are on pace to win 70 games. If they finish 23-4 over the final 27 they’ll hit it on the head. That’s despite the fact that their roster actually improved with the addition of veteran forward Marvin Williams.

Furthermore, the Bucks are fresh. Giannis ranks just 63rd in minutes played in the league.

Milwaukee’s 126-106 victory over Detroit Thursday to tip off the season’s second half was business as usual. The Bucks jumped all over the outmanned Pistons and never looked back.

Giannis had 33 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Fellow All-Star Khris Middleton added 28 points and eight rebounds. Middleton’s ability to sense what his team needs – especially on the offensive end – has been a steadying influence.

Middleton’s even-keel disposition keeps the Bucks running smoothly.

Eric Bledsoe, who had 19 points and six assists, has been quietly playing his best basketball since he arrived in Milwaukee.

The Bucks are so good their former talent dots NBA rosters. In fact, three of the Pistons’ top players are ex-Bucks who simply couldn’t crack the lineup. Christian Wood had 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Thon Maker had 11 points and Tony Snell finished with 10 points.

The Bucks have won 15 of their past 17 with no letup in sight.

** Wisconsin Badgers update

Former Badgers basketball player Kobe King left the program because he didn’t like the direction it was heading. Since King’s departure, Wisconsin (16-10, 9-6) has won four of five games.

Is that in spite of King’s exit? Or is that, in part, because of it?

That’s an impossible question to answer, but it’s still interesting to speculate in light of how well the Badgers have played of late.

Junior forward Aleem Ford and guard D’Mitrik Trice have played with more confidence and consistency in this five-game stretch.

Ford has been more aggressive overall, but especially in terms of driving. Trice also has had a strong assist-to-turnover ratio. His defense also has been sharp and he’s contributing even when he isn’t scoring.

Wisconsin plays host to Rutgers on Sunday. A victory will get it in serious consideration for a mid-level NCAA Tournament selection.

The Badgers are 12-1 at the Kohl Center, although questions have arisen about the student section and its less-than-raucous behavior. Perhaps the section will perk up as the season’s second half rolls along, especially so long as the Badgers keep playing strong basketball.

Bucks continue to dominate;
Badgers roll past Buckeyes
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Bucks are 1-1 since the arrival of little Liam Charles Antetokounmpo. The birth of Giannis’ son caused the NBA’s reigning MVP to miss the last two games before the All-Star break, but the Bucks still managed to raise their record to 5-1 without their star.
Clearly, Giannis was where he needed to be under the circumstances, which is with his girlfriend, Mariah, and their newborn son.
The same can be said of the Bucks as they enter the All-Star break.
Milwaukee (46-8) is exactly where it needs to be at this point.
The Bucks have dominated the NBA thus far.
Their average margin of victory is more than 12 points per game. They have no player among the top 65 in minutes played, so they’re rested. They also have no apparent weaknesses.
If an argument might’ve been made that Milwaukee could use another lengthy, 3-point shooter with experience, GM Jon Horst answered with the pre-emptive acquisition of veteran forward Marvin Williams.
The rich get richer, so to speak, because Williams can still play. The former No. 2 pick overall in the 2005 NBA Draft remains a 40-percent shooter from beyond the arc. He also is active defensively and no longer craves the spotlight after 15 seasons.
What Williams does crave is a NBA title.
It’s clear he came to the right place.
Even without Giannis – or perhaps especially without Giannis – the Bucks are competitive and leave absolutely no doubt about their depth.
Dante DiVincenzo scored a team-high 19 points and Khris Middleton added 17 for Milwaukee. The Bucks trailed by 23 at halftime to the Pacers, but outscored Indiana 66-50 in the second half to make it interesting. Sterling Brown also came off the bench to make several 3-pointers while the Bucks closed to within 82-77 before Indiana rallied to hold on to the victory.
Pat Connaughton, who will represent the Bucks in the NBA’s dunk contest this weekend, is another of the bench brigade contributors.
Look for Connaughton and his dunk contest sidekick/guest, Christian Yelich, to make some noise and perhaps win it.
** The Badgers (14-10, 7-6) are coming off a resounding 70-57 victory over Ohio State last Sunday at the Kohl Center.
Brevin Pritzl made five 3-pointers on his way to scoring a game-high 19 points to lead Wisconsin to victory. Coach Greg Gard started forward Micah Potter along with Nate Reuvers, a move he said was “matchup” based, although I suspect Potter’s role is going to expand.
Aleem Ford had 10 points and nine rebounds while being more aggressive than he had been in previous games. Ford attempted just four free throws a year ago. Lately, he’s been attacking the basket as opposed to merely hunting the 3-point shot. He’s been getting to the free throw line and has gotten defenders to back off a bit on the perimeter.
D’Mitrick Trice has been playing better lately as well.
Trice has been hot-or-cold from the perimeter, but in the process he’s developed his all-around game so he’s still an asset even when his shot is off. Reuvers, one of the Big Ten’s best shot blockers, should benefit from Potter’s increased minutes. It will lessen the burden on the boards, and give defenses not one but two legitimate 3-point threats with size.
Wisconsin defeated Nebraska – Saturday’s opponent – by 14 points in their first meeting at the Kohl Center. The Badgers hit a team-record 15 3-pointers in the victory.
Look for the Badgers to get by the Cornhuskers, but it’ll be close. Then it’s time to get geared up for the Big Ten stretch run.

Chiefs rally past 49ers 31-20 to capture Super Bowl LIV

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Chiefs succeeded where the Packers failed.

Kansas City’s offense relied on veteran playmakers and an elusive, strong-armed quarterback to crack San Francisco’s bend-but-don’t-break defense. Its defense adjusted to the 49ers’ vaunted running attack in time to pitch a fourth-quarter shutout.

The challenges faced, and met, by the Chiefs led them to a 31-20 victory over the 49ers Sunday in Super Bowl LIV at Miami Gardens.

It was a testament to a team’s will and a quarterback’s talent.

It also was vindication for a great coach.

Andrew Walter Reid got his first NFL job in Green Bay as Mike Holmgren’s tight ends coach in 1992. Twenty-eight years and 222 victories later, Reid punched his Pro Football Hall of Fame ticket.

Only Buffalo’s Marv Levy has been inducted as a non-Super Bowl winning head coach in that NFL era. Reid might’ve been the second … maybe not. That question is moot today.

The Chiefs could do what the Packers could not, which is move the ball against the 49ers’ top-notch defense, and stop the 49ers’ running attack after an embarrassing start.

It led to Kansas City’s 21-point fourth quarter rally.

Damien Williams’ 5-yard touchdown catch from Patrick Mahomes gave Kansas City a 24-20 lead, its first of the Super Bowl. Williams’ second touchdown on a 38-yard gallop came scarcely a minute later and sealed the victory amid Chiefs’ fans chants of, “Andy! Andy!”

“This is what it’s all about,” Reid said as it rained confetti inside Hard Rock Stadium. “What a great team, great coaches … Appreciate every bit of it.”

Two ex-Packers helped the Chiefs’ defense in a big way.

Early in the second quarter, defensive back Bashaud Breeland intercepted a Jimmy Garappolo pass after the 49ers’ quarterback was hit by nose tackle Mike Pennel.

Breeland and Pennel were coveted by the Packers, but elected to seek opportunities elsewhere. Clearly, it worked out for them.

Congratulations also are in order for Reid.

“We wanted to get him that trophy because he deserved it,” Mahomes said. “The work he puts in day in and day out … I don’t think he sleeps. I try to beat him in and I never can. He is someone that works harder than anyone I’ve ever known, and he deserved this.

“I’m glad I could get him that trophy.”

Mahomes picked up some hardware of his own.

The Super Bowl LIV MVP completed 26 of 42 passes for 286 yards with two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. He was sacked four times and finished with a 78.1 quarterback rating.

But it was Mahomes’ performance in the clutch that won the game.

He led three touchdown drives with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Travis Kelce and Damien Williams all made big plays down the stretch.

Even the Chiefs’ offensive line – after being beaten up most of the game – provided enough time for Mahomes to make game-winning plays.

Kansas City’s defense blitzed the heck out of Garappolo and it paid off.

The Chiefs blitzed Garoppolo on 19 of his 33 drop backs (54.5 %), the highest blitz-rate by Kansas City since Week 10 of 2011, when they blitzed Tim Tebow on 55.6% of his drop backs, according to ESPN.

In the past 20 seasons, nine of the 20 Super Bowl runners-up didn’t make the post-season the following season. Only the 2018 Patriots reached the Super Bowl (and won it).

Nevertheless, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan believes they’ll be back.

“We’ll lick our wounds, we’ll get over this,” he said. “We’ll be fired up for next year … we’ve got a lot of people coming back. I think we surprised a lot of people this year. We knew we had a really good team. I’m proud of the guys and how much better they got throughout this year, and I expect to get almost all of these guys back and plan on adding a few more. We’re going to rest a little bit, get over this, but we’ll be fired up for next year.”

So will the Packers. In fact, the 49ers sounded similar to the Packers after their 37-20 loss to San Francisco in the NFC Championship.

It sets the stage for a Packers-49ers battle for conference supremacy.

It should be a dandy 2020 NFL season.


Packers optimistic about 2020
as Chiefs-49ers approaches
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Quarterback is the NFL’s glamour position, although it requires equal parts guts and guile – not to mention a ton of talent – to be played at the highest level, to be played the way the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes plays it.
Mahomes is the Super Bowl LIV “X” factor.
It doesn’t seem to matter that San Francisco’s defense is among the NFL’s finest. The 49ers bring a ferocious pass rush, stellar linebacker play and capable defensive backs in coordinator Robert Saleh’s scheme.
Nick Bosa isn’t a rising star. He’s already there. Bosa, Dee Ford, Fred Warner and the rest have dominated the post-season competition. When it wasn’t 49ers running back Raheem Mostert running wild, it was the 49ers’ defense ruining the Packers’ season.
Nevertheless, I’m picking the Chiefs to win a shootout.
Mahomes is the No. 1 reason.
The Chiefs’ quarterback has 11 touchdown passes to zero interceptions in his brief but impressive post-season career. He is the game’s most complete quarterback today.
The next step in the debate whether Mahomes is the NFL’s best QB comes Sunday evening, when he stares down the 49ers’ vaunted defense and we find out which one blinks.
My money’s on Mahomes.
He is the most accurate “off script” passer this side of Aaron Rodgers in his prime. Mahomes uses his athleticism to extend plays and his awareness and arm strength to complete them.
Tyreek Hill doubles as the NFL’s fastest receiver and Mahomes’ top quick-strike weapon. It seems as if defenses will be doing a seemingly terrific job on Hill, when all of a sudden it’s a quick pass, a missed tackle, one beautiful block and six points in the blink of an eye.
Mecole Hardman is another speedster with a nose for the end zone. Their speed balances up the field and gives defenses fits.
Damien Williams and LeSean McCoy are a more than capable one-two punch out of the backfield. Both catch the football easily, which is invaluable when Mahomes begins to ad lib.
The Chiefs’ offensive line is good enough to hold up, especially with tight end Travis Kelce in the mix. If Kelce isn’t the NFL’s best at his position, it’s the 49ers’ George Kittle.
I’ll be surprised if the Chiefs’ and 49ers’ tight ends don’t finish with more catches and touchdowns than their receivers.
Defensively, the Chiefs are considerably improved from a year ago, when their season ended with an overtime loss to New England in the AFC Championship Game.
The additions of Tyrann Mathieu and Frank Clark have shored up the Chiefs’ defense, with Clark especially enabling the pass rush.
The head coaches are among the NFL’s most creative offensive minds.
It is interesting in that they do it with entirely different philosophies. The 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan is 41 going on 81 with his old-school attack. He uses a fullback, for goodness sake, and frequently runs more than he throws. He is the best thing that ever happened to Jimmy Garoppolo.
Kyle Shanahan is a chip off the old block, his Super Bowl-winning father, Mike, in terms of creatively and effectively running the ball.
The Chiefs’ Andy Reid loves to throw it.
He also has the toys to make it work. At 61, he is one of the NFL’s most innovative play-callers. He is the one that watches college games, incorporates the best concepts and rolls with it in the regular season. Other NFL coaches watch Reid to see what he’s doing in terms of offensive innovation, and then they incorporate aspects of it.
Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, especially in the NFL’s testosterone-laced league.
Reid is an amazing 22-5 when he has additional time to prepare.
Super Bowl LIV prediction: Chiefs 38, 49ers 30 in a game for the ages.
The Packers’ GM and head coach held their post-season news conferences this week.
GM Brian Gutekunst identified several areas that need to be upgraded, including inside linebacker in particular, and the defensive front seven in general. Gutekunst also was candid in terms of the receivers
Look for Green Bay to double down at inside linebacker – with the anticipated departure of Blake Martinez in free agency – by adding a veteran free agent and a fairly high draft pick.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they do likewise at receiver. The Jets’ Robbie Anderson would be a primary target if I was Gutekunst.
In addition, this year’s draft is loaded at receiver. The Packers have Davante Adams as their No. 1 receiver and Allen Lazard as the No. 3. What they don’t have is a true No. 2 receiver, by that I mean a receiver who can step up and be the No. 1 in a jam.
Next week, I’ll recap Super Bowl LIV and explore the Packers’ offseason while keeping an eye on the red-hot Milwaukee Bucks.

49ers trample Packers 37-20
to claim NFC championship
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ wondrous season is over.
It ended with a thud as San Francisco ran roughshod over Green Bay on its way to a crushing 37-20 rout Sunday in the NFC Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
The Packers (14-4) saved their worst for last.
Green Bay’s offense was ineffective against the 49ers’ vaunted defense, and its defense was emasculated by their well-oiled running game.
“Right now, (the 49ers) are the gold standard in the NFC,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said after the loss.
Indeed, the 49ers’ performance reflects LaFleur’s preferred way to play. He wants his teams to play great defense, run the football effectively and pass when it wants to, rather than because it has to.
That was the 49ers’ game plan in a nutshell.
When the 49ers had the football it was like watching 11 green-and-gold speed bumps trying to stop a runaway semi-tractor. When the Packers had the football, well, they didn’t have it for long.
Aaron Rodgers lost a fumble and threw an interception in the first half. San Francisco scored 10 points off the turnovers. The 49ers punted once. It was on their opening drive.
After that San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan served up a steady diet of handoffs and heartache, not mention misdirection and misery.
Za’Darius and Preston Smith looked gassed while getting gashed.
It was 27-0 at halftime. It was all over but the crying. That and trying to figure out how the Packers were going to score four second-half touchdowns to complete one of the all-time great rallies in NFL history.
It wasn’t to be.
There were some highlights – the greatest being that they qualified to be playing for the right to go to Super Bowl LIV.
Davante Adams had nine catches for 138 yards, including a 65-yard bomb against 49ers’ cornerback Richard Sherman. Aaron Jones rushed 12 times for 56 yard and a touchdown but the offense couldn’t sustain drives long enough for Jones to click.
“We just weren’t very consistent in the first half,” a subdued Rodgers said after falling to 1-3 in NFC title games. “Made a couple of mistakes personally that hurt us and kind of let it get away from us.”
Rodgers was wrong on that score.
It didn’t get away from the Packers. The 49ers took it from them.
When Rodgers wasn’t running for his life, Raheem Mostert was running to daylight. He lit up the Packers’ defense so magnificently I figured he’d need a welder’s mask to avoid retina damage.
Mostert rushed for 220 yards on 29 carries and four touchdowns.
His 7.6 yards per carry was so obscene I suspect it triggered a similarly obscene response from some disappointed Packers’ fans. In short, the 49ers’ offensive and defensive lines were superior to Green Bay’s.
Packers’ cornerback Tramon Williams played with the much-traveled Mostert in Cleveland. He didn’t seem surprised by the back’s big day.
“Eight passes … the rest runs,” Williams said. “The first rule of football is ‘Stop the run’ and we didn’t do that. The kid’s fast – track-and-field fast. He made some money tonight.”
Williams chose to praise Mostert rather than point fingers.
“The guy was just gashing us the whole night,” he said. “And I’m talking about it wasn’t little holes, it was huge holes.”
Mostert rushed for 142 yards before contact.
Shanahan rode Mostert all the way to the finish line.
“The lanes that we saw and the way he was running we just wanted to keep feeding him,” Shanahan said. “I know he was feeling it. That wasn’t too hard to see.”
The 49ers’ eight total pass attempts were the third-fewest in a playoff game in the Super Bowl era. San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completed six passes for 77 yards for a 104.7 rating.
That wasn’t in the first half. That was in the game.
Garoppolo had the best seat in the house from which to observe the 49ers’ second dismantling of Green Bay in as many games. In fact, the Packers’ wondrous 13-3 season can be divided into three parts:
** The team’s hiring of LaFleur and GM Brian Gutekunst’s solid moves in free agency and the draft leading into training camp.
** Green Bay’s unexpected but impressive 8-2 start that was quelled by a disheartening 37-8 loss to the 49ers Nov. 24 at Santa Clara.
** The Packers’ six-game winning streak after that loss. It earned them the NFC’s No. 2 seed and included a home playoff win over Seattle. It also gave the Packers another shot at the 49ers – their measuring stick.
It was an opportunity to find out if the Packers were Super Bowl caliber, or merely a really good team whose health, cohesiveness, talent and desire carried it as far as it could.
Packers’ fans got a resounding answer Sunday night.
Rodgers completed 31 of 39 passes for 326 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He looked skittish under duress. He was sacked three times and committed three fumbles, losing one.
Ball security, once Rodgers’ calling card, crumbled in the face of a 49ers’ pass rush led by Nick Bosa.
The 49ers went from four wins in 2018 to a berth in Super Bowl LIV.
“It’s still kind of surreal,” 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said. “With the stuff this team has gone through, this organization, it’s special. It’s the pinnacle of football right here.”
So where do the Packers go from here?
Clearly, Green Bay’s shortcomings were exposed thanks to the 49ers. There shouldn’t be any illusions. There is hope, of course, but there also is much work to be done.
A complementary receiver, a sideline-to-sideline hell-raiser at linebacker and reinforcements on the interior of both lines is necessary. It isn’t going to be easy replenishing the roster, especially with the Packers selecting 30th in each round of this spring’s NFL draft.
However, the cache of being a 13-win team might stir interest from prospective free agents. Furthermore, the vibe in Green Bay is excellent under the direction of Gutekunst and LaFleur.
Clearly, Rodgers was disappointed but not discouraged.
“The window’s open and I think we’re going to be on the right side of one of these real soon,” he said. “That’s the exciting thing. It doesn’t make this feeling any easier, but that is very exciting moving forward.”
Most Packers’ fans would agree. They all hope Rodgers is right.

Packers stop Seattle to get 49ers in NFC title game
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers aren’t on a mission.

They’re on an adventure.
They’re a team that decided months ago to band together as “brothers” tethered by a common cause: Do your level best to go 1-0 each week, then collectively turn the page and get on to the next chapter.
The next chapter – the next “adventure” – is the San Francisco 49ers.
Every tale needs a “Packers versus Opponents” storyline, right? The temptation was in me to call them the “Santa Clara 49ers” for the duration of this column. When push came to write I couldn’t do it.
The San Francisco 49ers (14-3) are too tough and talented an opponent – and too proud a franchise – for that foolishness. Rather, I see similarities between the 49ers and the Packers – two of the NFL’s finest franchises.
At first blush, this NFC Championship Game may seem like a mismatch. Their recent past, a disturbing 37-8 blowout win by San Francisco on Nov. 24 at Levi’s Stadium, doesn’t bode well for Green Bay.
It’s one reason the Packers opened as 7-point underdogs. Based on bettors’ confidence in the 49ers at home, the point-spread has since risen to include the half-point hook (-7 ½.)
Another reason is the 49ers’ weaponry on both sides of the football.
Their defense deploys the best front four in the NFL today.
Nick Bosa, Sheldon Day, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead are a massive, explosive concoction of trouble. The Packers’ offensive line – especially Bryan Bulaga (Bosa) and Elgton Jenkins (Buckner) – had better be on their toes.
The 49ers’ linebacker corps has Fred Warner making plays on early downs, Dee Ford making plays on passing downs, and Kwon Alexander making plays on every down.
San Francisco’s defensive “weak spots” are few but worth exploring by the Packers’ offense and head coach Matt LaFleur.
The 49ers’ first problem is a defensive line that is so anxious to get to the quarterback it is susceptible to big plays in the run game. The Packers have to run it to test them, and convert third downs in-between.
The second area to attack is right cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, a second-year pro who had five tackles in the 49ers’ late-November win. The Packers seldom threw his way. Aaron Rodgers was often under heavy pressure, and when his No. 2 receiver came open, it was too late.
Look for the Packers to throw to Rodgers’ left in the flat to the backs, which is one way to test Moseley, as well as attacking with Marquez Valdes-Scantling or Allen Lazard. If the Packers expect to win, MVS, Lazard or perhaps Jake Kumerow are going to have to make some plays.
As terrific as Davante Adams has been he can’t do it alone, and as old as the 49ers’ Richard Sherman is he still commands respect.
That’s where Jones and Jamaal Williams come in. I like the idea of using Jimmy Graham on fewer plays but with more targets his way, and Marcedes Lewis’ presence on run downs.
But Jones is the big-play weapon.
LaFleur needs to shift him into the slot, or at the least call a deep wheel route or three, to give Jones a chance to make plays.
The Packers’ rhythm in the passing game will be critical. It is possible Jones will be able to effectively run at San Francisco. If that happens, LaFleur’s job gets a lot easier.
If not, the passing game is going to have to be sharp.
In fact, Green Bay will need Rodgers to connect on third-down throws regardless of their ability to run effectively. It’ll merely be the difference between “third-and-long” and “third-and-we got this.”
LaFleur’s greatest challenge will be managing down-and-distance. The Packers can’t afford pre-snap penalties, offensive holding, or general shoddiness (drops, fumbles, sloppy routes, etc.) if they hope to win.
Defensively, the Packers are in a great place.
They are led by Za’Darius and Preston Smith, a pair of free-agent gems who grabbed the leadership mantel by the throat from Day One. Their on-field play is nothing short of dynamic.
They are a legit, double-digit sack duo that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is all-too-happy to unleash. His creativity, coupled with the Smiths and Kenny Clark’s talent and desire, has been impressive.
The 49ers’ greatest unknown may be their quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, who is 1-0 in the post-season but largely untested. Once he realized the Vikings weren’t as good as the talent surrounding him, Garoppolo settled down and played pretty well in the 27-10 win.
It’s one thing defeating Kirk Cousins. It’s another KO’ing Rodgers.
It will be interesting to see if Pettine goes after Garoppolo early, or gives it some time to see how the 49ers’ signal caller is performing. Clearly, the 49ers are going to run the football with Tevon Coleman, Raheem Mostert and the rest. I will be surprised if the Packers’ defense is constantly gashed in the run game. It’s too solid for that. I think.
In an interesting NFC championship game featuring a Packers team on an adventure versus a 49ers team that’s at home and heavily favored, logic and common sense dictate predicting a 49ers’ victory.
But I’m red-hot and fresh off Packers 28, Seahawks 23, to stop now.
Packers 30, 49ers 28 in a thriller … you can thank Mason Crosby (one missed PAT, one thunderous FG) later.
In the AFC, it’s Kansas City 34, Tennessee 20.

So what’s at stake Sunday?

Only everything for Packers

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – In the afterglow of the Packers’ fairly amazing 13-3 regular season, as Sherlock Holmes would tell Watson following an epiphany, “Ah-huh, my dear Watson, the game is afoot.”

Indeed, the game is afoot, or through the air, depending on how Packers’ head coach Matt LaFleur intends to attack the Seahawks’ defense.

That is just one of the questions swirling about as the Packers prepare to defend Lambeau Field’s honor Sunday night against Seattle in the NFC divisional playoff round. Kickoff is set for 5:40 p.m. with a mild forecast calling for temperatures in the teens, a slight breeze and no snowfall.

Obviously, the weather is subject to change.

Hopefully, so is a Packers’ offense that presumably used the bye week to scrap the bad, keep the good and forge ahead fearlessly. With that as the backdrop, there’s no question this has a “big game” feel to it.

Of all the questions going in, the greatest question – which triggers an avalanche of questions – is this: “What’s at stake for the Packers?”

Only everything, I believe, at the risk of overstatement.

If the Packers lose there will be more questions than answers, a topic I prefer to explore if/when it happens. That’s what the offseason is for.

The difference between 13-3 and a playoff win versus 13-3 and a one-and-done post-season can’t be overstated.

So what’s at stake?

It spawned a lively “Last Caller Standing” segment Tuesday on Sports Line. Callers discussed everything from the off-the-field economic benefits to Green Bay – a win might lead to a second home playoff game if the Vikings upset the 49ers. Undoubtedly the two-year post-season absence caused area businesses to take a hit.

On the field, a victory would serve as affirmation, especially if you’re Packers president Mark Murphy.

A year ago, Murphy fired Mike McCarthy, who has been tasked by Dallas owner Jerry Jones to restore the Cowboys’ greatness, which like Jones himself is becoming ancient history with each passing season.

Murphy’s hiring of Matt LaFleur and the Packers’ 13-3 season that followed strongly suggests he and his search committee did it right. The good will and trust that engendered among Packers’ fans is priceless.

Win or lose Sunday night, Murphy has made his mark. It’s a “W.”

Brian Gutekunst isn’t an “I told you so” kind of guy.

Nevertheless, the Packers’ GM might be tempted, especially if the Packers defeat Seattle with a swarming defense led by Za’Darius and Preston Smith. Gutekunst hit free agent home runs with both.

Safety Adrian Amos also has been strong, while right guard Billy Turner has been solid. They all have helped make Gutekunst look good.

The rookies also have contributed mightily.

Darnell Savage, Jr., starts opposite Amos at safety. Left guard Elgton Jenkins stepped in seamlessly when Lane Taylor was injured. The Packers haven’t looked back.

The verdict is still out on Rashan Gary, the 12th pick overall, but given the Smiths’ dominance the rookie has been brought along slowly. He’s averaging about 12 snaps a game. Imagine the ruckus that will be created if Gary happens to make an impact play Sunday night?

Like I said, there’s a lot at stake.

So what’s at stake for LaFleur?

One caller suggested that despite his 13-3 season, a resounding defeat might challenge LaFleur’s psyche going forward. I doubt it, but it’s possible. More likely LaFleur will learn from this – win or lose – and continue to build upon a terrific start.

Another caller said a victory might launch the start of a dynasty here. It isn’t often that franchises and their fans talk “dynasty” with a 36-year-old quarterback at the trigger. On the other hand, the Packers have won a lot of games with Aaron Rodgers at something less than his best.

Rodgers remains a top-5 quarterback, in my opinion. He has altered his game to adjust to inexperienced receivers, a first-year head coach with a new scheme, and a different philosophy in general.

Rodgers will deliver in the clutch and the Packers will advance.

Predictions: Last week 3-1 against the spread.


Vikings (11-6) vs. 49ers (13-3)

My only misfire last week was Vikings at Saints. I’m tempted to overreact and pick the Vikings to cover the 6 ½ point spread. Dalvin Cook looked sensational and Kirk Cousins finally rose to the occasion.

In addition, the Vikings’ defense is the real deal. If anyone on the planet can cover 49ers tight end George Kittle it’s the Vikings’ Eric Kendricks.

My pick: Vikings 31, 49ers 30 in a thriller.

Titans (10-7) vs. Ravens (14-2)

The Titans did what so many couldn’t. They knocked the Patriots out of the post-season. They did it in convincing fashion behind a powerful running back (Derrick Henry) and a scrappy defense.

Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel is a realist though. When asked how they might be able to stop Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, he said, “We could try to tie his shoelaces together.”

The Titans will be game, but it won’t be that close.

My pick: Ravens 28, Titans 15


Texans (11-6) vs. Chiefs (12-4)

Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes failed to live up to the hype last year. This time they will roll to the AFC Championship Game.

My pick: Chiefs 35, Texans 10

Seahawks (12-5) vs. Packers (13-3)

Aaron Jones is going to remind everyone that he is a touchdown machine, and Davante Adams is going to wear down the Seahawks’ secondary with a barrage of receptions.

The Packers haven’t played their best game of the season. It might take that to knock out Seattle and its incredible quarterback, Russell Wilson.

The Packers have a pretty good quarterback in Rodgers, who is the single-greatest reason why Jones and Adams are going to come up big.

Prediction: Packers 28, Seahawks 23




Packers await highest seed;
Greet criticism with a smile

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The NFL postseason is upon us.
It is a most wondrous time of year for fans, and that is especially true for Packers fans, whose team is in the playoffs after a two-year absence.
To them it is cause for celebration.
This isn’t a news flash, but Green Bay (13-3) is being portrayed by some as “Paper Packers” – meaning their sputtering offense’s margin for error is paper-thin, and that it can be easily torn apart by a playoff defense.
That’s all talk for now. Fortunately the NFC North Division champs can begin disproving it beginning at 5:40 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 12. That’s when the NFC’s Divisional Playoff kicks off at Lambeau Field.
Until then, Packers fans should roll with the criticism.
In fact, they should expect and embrace it.
They should allow it to fan their competitive fires.
It will make it all the sweeter when the Packers advance to the NFC Championship Game. That’s my prediction and I’m sticking to it. I’m sick and tired of the Packers’ doubters. They’re even worse than the Packers’ apologists during the previous two substandard seasons.
Be warned: I’m fine with a healthy “I told you so!” to the naysayers.
It’s coming Monday, Jan. 13. Count on it. And count on this …
The Packers doubting is going to begin smoldering Saturday as the wild-card round opens with back-to-back AFC matchups. It will pick up momentum before and during the Vikings-Saints game Sunday. By the time the Seahawks and Eagles kick off – presuming New Orleans wins – Green Bay will be viewed as sizable underdogs without playing a down.
That’s fine.
Look at it this way: Most national media and fans view Aaron Rodgers as the Packers’ only salvation. If he isn’t playing at a MVP level, and the offense continues to languish, the Packers have little chance to advance.
To be fair, the national media has reason to think it.
Doubting the Packers’ offense – and spending countless hours trying to fix it – has become Green Bay fans’ obsession this season. Given the fact that the Packers’ current five-game winning streak exists mostly in spite of Rodgers and the offense, it’s probably fair criticism.
Rodgers hasn’t been his dynamic self lately.
That’s no secret. It’s reflected in his uncharacteristic inaccuracy.
Passes long considered easy completions have become something of an adventure. The new phrase in Green Bay: It isn’t over until it’s over … overthrown, that is!”
Some of it is the receivers’ fault. The unit hasn’t made nearly as many breathtaking, game-breaking plays as it is capable of.
Davante Adams has registered high-volume reception games, but in terms of tearing out a defense’s heart … it hasn’t happened.
Some of it is Packers’ head coach Matt LaFleur’s fault.
LaFleur needs to be sharper in his play calling.
By that, I mean he needs to find creative ways to get Aaron Jones the football. He also needs to keep Jamaal Williams in the mix, especially in the passing game and when trying to kill the clock.
LaFleur’s decision to make Allen Lazard the No. 2 receiver was wise. He hasn’t declared any such move publicly, but 17 targets in the past two games don’t lie.
Lazard needs to seize the moment.
Jones is the Packers’ post-season wild-card. He is as dynamic as any running back in the game. He also is more durable than one might expect, and he’s developed into a versatile weapon.
LaFleur needs to ride him.
The Packers’ defense has been outstanding.
Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith comprise a considerable 1-2 punch. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s decision to move Za’Darius Smith all along the line before the snap has helped unleash the beast.
Meantime, Preston Smith sets a strong edge against the run without limiting his ability to get to the quarterback.
Blake Martinez typically shines in the biggest moments. Kenny Clark has been an imposing presence up front, and Martinez has profited.
Corners Kevin King and Jaire Alexander finished as the NFL leaders in passes defended by a duo. Still, they must elevate their level of play in the playoffs if Green Bay is going to hang around awhile.
Safeties Adrian Amos and rookie Darnell Savage, Jr., has been a solid and steadily improving tandem. Role players Chandon Sullivan, Will Redmond, Ibraheim Campbell and maybe Raven Greene have helped the unit better-defend running backs, tight ends and the middle of the field.
The special teams’ return units are much-improved with the addition of return specialist Tyler Ervin, and punter J.K. Scott and kicker Mason Crosby have been solid all season.
Bring on the Saints … or the Eagles … or whomever because the Packers are going to be better-prepared than most will expect.
To that, I say, “Good.”
Bills (10-6) at Texans (10-6)
The Texans have won the AFC South four of the past five years, but only have one playoff victory to show for it. That win total is going to double after a narrow victory over visiting Buffalo on Saturday.
The Bills’ defense is as good as any in the NFL. Quarterback Nate Allen also is playing better, but the Texans’ defense is stiff and Houston’s lagging offense is going to have speedy receiver Will Fuller V back after a hamstring injury in Week 16.
Prediction: Texans 23, Bills 20.
Titans (9-7) at Patriots (12-4)
Titans’ quarterback Ryan Tannehill has thrown for 22 touchdowns to just six interceptions this season. He also has had some success against the Patriots in New England during his time in Miami.
Derrick Henry is a load at running back, and rookie receiver A.J. Brown out of Ole Miss has eight touchdown catches while eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark in receiving yards.
The Patriots’ offense has struggled throughout the season’s second half. Some say it is Tom Brady’s age beginning to show. I say it is the absence of true playmakers at the skill positions that’s killing them.
Prediction: Titans 26, Patriots 24.
Vikings (10-6) at Saints (13-3)
Drew Brees is amazing and it’s fair to say the Saints have not only the best backup quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater) in the NFL, but the top two with Taysom Hill’s inclusion.
Alvin Kamara has been subpar by his standards this season, but that doesn’t mean he won’t break out on Sunday. Michael Thomas is a pass-catching machine – or nightmare if you’re the opposing defense – and Minnesota is going to have to sell out to stop him.
The question is at what cost?
The Vikings have an outstanding defense, a tremendous halfback, a dynamic duo at receiver … and a dud at quarterback.
Minnesota is going to go as far as Kirk Cousins’ tiny shoulders can carry them. I admit I’ll be rooting for a Vikings’ upset on behalf of Packers’ fans – who wants to play the Saints?
The Vikings are eight-point underdogs. In this case, Las Vegas is right.
Prediction: Saints 31, Vikings 23.
Seahawks (11-5) at Eagles (9-7)
Well, someone had to win the NFC East and it is Philadelphia to little fanfare and scant expectations. Seattle’s defense and quarterback Russell Wilson represent a handful in the playoffs.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll isn’t widely lauded outside Seattle. There’s a reason. The reason is he’s a damn good coach who constantly finds ways to win. The criticism is thinly veiled envy.
Prediction: Seahawks 19, Eagles 16.

Packers pound Vikings 23-10 to capture NFC North title

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ defense finished what it started.

Green Bay’s amazing if unexpected run to the 2019 NFC North title began with a defense-fueled 10-3 victory at Chicago in Week 1. It was sealed with a defense-dominated 23-10 victory over the Vikings on Monday night at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Packers (12-3) clinched the division title and remained in contention for the NFC’s No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout.

“The first time we got together our No. 1 objective was to win the North,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said. “Our guys accomplished that tonight. I’m very proud of them.

“Now it’s time to reassess and have new goals. We took care of the first goal. Now we have another big game against the Detroit Lions.”

The Packers currently sit as the NFC’s No. 2 seed. They will capture the No. 1 seed if they beat Detroit and Seattle beats San Francisco next week. If the 49ers win, the Packers will be the second seed.

Minnesota (10-5) also is in the playoffs, but still hasn’t defeated a team with a winning record this season.

It was Green Bay’s first victory at U.S. Bank Stadium in four tries. It was a hard-hitting affair that had an ominous start for the visitors.

The Packers’ first half was marred by three turnovers that the Vikings turned into 10 points. Still, the Packers only trailed 10-9 at the half.

“We found a way to win,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “That’s an important quality for a team that wants to make a run. It wasn’t always pretty but we stuck with it.”

Packers’ defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s unit was outstanding.

It registered five sacks and an interception while allowing the Vikings’ offense to gain a total of seven first downs. It was Minnesota’s fewest first downs in a game since 1971.

The Vikings’ defense was called, “The Purple People Eaters” back then.

On Monday night, it was the Packers’ defense that ate up Vikings’ quarterback Kirk Cousins, who was hounded and harassed all night. Cousins completed 16 of 31 passes for just 122 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His quarterback rating was 58.8.

Za’Darius Smith and friends were in Cousins’ facemask all night.

“The defense kept us competitive in a game that could’ve become real ugly real fast,” LaFleur said.

Za’Darius Smith racked up 3 ½ sacks to go with his five QB hits and five tackles for loss. He reduced the Vikings’ offense to a real snooze … nothing but Zzzzzs and their fans let them hear it with boos.

Kenny Clark also had a sack and Preston Smith got a half-sack. Cornerback Kevin King’s second-half interception thwarted a promising Vikings’ drive with Minnesota leading 10-9.

Cousins arched a deep pass intended for Stefon Diggs, but King left his man and swooped in to make the interception. His 39-yard return set up the Packers’ offense with first down at Green Bay’s 47.

“That was a big-time play when we needed it,” Za’Darius Smith said.

Rodgers promptly directed the offense on a five-play, 53-yard touchdown drive capped by Aaron Jones’ 12-yard sprint to the end zone. Rodgers connected with Geronimo Allison for the 2-point conversion to make it Green Bay 17, Minnesota 10.

“I liked the 2-point thought,” Rodgers said. “That was an important spot. Matt (LaFleur) letting us go for it showed trust and then he dialed up a really good play. The Kevin King interception was a big play for us – not just the interception but the return close to midfield was important.”

Jones rushed 23 times for 154 yards and two touchdowns.

His 56-yard touchdown gallop in the fourth quarter extended the Packers’ lead to 23-10. Mason Crosby missed the PAT.

“It isn’t about how you start,” Jones said. “It’s how you finish.”

Jamaal Williams rushed six times for 33 yards before leaving with an injury. LaFleur said he didn’t know the severity of Williams’ injury, but after the game TV reports suggested the running back would be Ok.

The Vikings’ defense played a lot of “two shell (safety)” which is intended to reduce big plays and force offenses to execute. It worked early, when linebacker Eric Kendricks recovered two first-half fumbles. Jones fumbled after a pass catch, and Adams did likewise.

A huge factor was Kendricks’ departure with an injury in the first half.

When the Packers weren’t running they were passing … to Davante Adams, who caught 13 passes for 116 yards on 16 targets.

“We had to dink and dunk, run the ball and be aggressive when we had the opportunities … and check it down when we didn’t,” Rodgers said. “There’s a lot of emphasis on looking pretty, or dominating in a certain way, but we had a good performance. We had balance.

“We turned it over three times,” he added. “But in a game when our defense isn’t locked down, and we have to make plays, I expect (the offense) will deliver.”

Rodgers completed 26 of 40 passes for 216 yards and his first interception in 278 pass attempts. He had a 68.3 quarterback rating and was sacked three times.

Still, when Rodgers had to get it done on third down, he delivered several drive-sustaining darts. After the game, Rodgers’ high level of satisfaction was obvious and understandable.

“To win this game – in a place where I was jeered as I was leaving with a broken collarbone – it feels pretty good,” he said. “It’s really sweet.”


Healthy Packers hunting a ‘W’ against red-hot Vikings

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – This has been building for a month.
The Packers’ three-game win streak is an apropos lead-in to Monday night’s NFC North game against the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Green Bay (11-3) responded to a humiliating loss at San Francisco by defeating the Giants, Redskins and Bears in rather workmanlike fashion. As their opponents’ win-loss records improved, so did the Packers’ play.
It wasn’t always pretty, but it was pretty necessary to their season’s success. They didn’t fold after the 37-8 loss to the 49ers at Santa Clara. They bucked up and continued to play hard and handle their business.
It is the same with Minnesota (10-4) as it braces for Green Bay.
The Vikings and quarterback Kirk Cousins have been celebrated and criticized – often in the same series, let alone the same game. Almost as a tip of the helmet to Cousins’ critics, who say he chokes when the lights are brightest, the most talked about statistic this week is Cousins’ 0-8 win-loss record on Monday Night Football.
Still, the Cousins and the Vikings persevere.
It appears they will have to do so without running back Dalvin Cook, whose shoulder injury seems likely to sideline him. Fellow backfield mate Alexander Mattison (ankle) also may miss the Packers’ game.
On Thursday, Cook discussed his shoulder injury with the media.
“It’s just about getting healthy,” he said. “Pain and all that comes with the game … you can bare so much. You can do so much, but it’s all about being healthy and I think that’s when I’m at my best for the team.”
Cook and Mattison represent 1,597 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns.
The Vikings will replace them with the trio of Mike Boone, C.J. Ham and Ameer Abdullah. Boone is a freak athlete who possesses the explosiveness to hit it for a long run. The Packers’ defense can’t relax if indeed Cook and Mattison are sidelined.
That’s because the Vikings’ backup running backs are capable, and because their passing offense occasionally is among the NFL’s best.
Cousins’ numbers are special.
He has 25 touchdown passes to just five interceptions with 291 completions in 413 attempts (70.5 completion percentage) for a 111.1 quarterback rating.
Stefon Diggs has developed into his go-to receiver with 60 catches for 1,073 yards and five touchdowns. Adam Thielen battled a hamstring injury for much of the season, but he is back and healthy.
Tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith, Jr, are a potent one-two punch.
Furthermore, the Vikings’ offensive line has been much-improved for most of the season. Cousins has been sacked just 23 times this season, and he owns the NFL’s top passer rating when he has a clean pocket.
The Vikings’ defense remains a beast.
Danielle Hunter has 13 ½ sacks to lead the squad. He also is fourth on the team with 65 tackles. Everson Griffen has eight sacks and nose tackle Linval Joseph has three sacks and 41 tackles in what has been an excellent season.
Eric Kendricks has a team-high 110 tackles along with an NFL-best 12 passes defended among linebackers. Anthony Barr has 1 ½ sacks and 73 tackles as a steadying veteran presence.
The Vikings’ Achilles heel has been its secondary. Xavier Rhodes is having a sub-standard season, and aside from safety Harrison Smith the secondary has been a sore spot.
Clearly, Aaron Rodgers is going to try to take advantage.
The question is whether the Packers’ running game can grow legs to allow for believable play-action opportunities. Furthermore, can the Packers’ offensive line protect well enough to give Rodgers time to find his open receivers?
A healthy and steady dose of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams will help. In fact, it’s critical that the Packers’ running game produces. If Rodgers has manageable second- and third-down situations it will provide chances to make big plays.
Rodgers, who struck a philosophical tone Thursday, really likes where he and his team are at.
“I love being 11-3,” Rodgers said.
He would love being 12-3 even more.
Packers head coach Matt LaFleur also likes his team and its chances at Minnesota.
“I think we have a bunch of guys that are going to fight for every inch out there and that are resilient and that care about each other,” LaFleur said. “This is what I told the team last night, ‘What I love about this team is these guys have embraced their roles.’ ”
Now, they are embracing the challenge that the Vikings present.
The Packers have qualified for the playoffs, but there’s so much more out there to accomplish. It begins Monday night at Minnesota.
Prediction: Packers 26, Vikings 24
I’m thinking Mason Crosby bangs one through the uprights from 50-plus yards at the gun to clinch the victory. Rodgers has to feel a bit like some media outlets and fans are tugging on Superman’s cape.
Rodgers will have that gleam in his eye, and Aaron Jones is due for a monster game despite the Vikings’ vaunted defense. Even if the Packers won this game 3-0 I doubt their fans will call it “an ugly win.”

Packers brace for Bears;
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ win-loss record says they are the NFC’s No. 2 seed if the playoffs began today.
Their performance of late is less encouraging.
The Packers’ 20-15 victory over the Redskins Sunday at Lambeau Field leaves Green Bay (10-3) in good position with three games to play. The playoffs seem all but certain, and a deep run is within reach.
That’s if you believe the Packers are as good as their record indicates.
After seeing the Packers clinging to shaky leads entering the fourth quarter against the Giants and Redskins, I’ve got my doubts.
Call me a cynic. The fact is I’m a realist.
The Packers haven’t played their best football yet. It’s a credit to their collective, team attitude that the sum total is greater than the parts. Matt LaFleur’s 10 wins in his first season as Green Bay’s head coach is a noteworthy accomplishment. It is, after all, the most wins by a Packers’ head coach in their first season in team history.
All of that leads to this fact: They want more. Their fans want more.
The worst-case scenario is that the Packers finish 11-5 and don’t make the post-season. It could happen, but only if Green Bay collapses.
I don’t see that.
What I do see is a team in the Packers with a tremendous opportunity ahead of them: Putting the Bears (7-6) in their place, at Green Bay’s place, while continuing to charge toward the playoffs.
The Packers need to begin putting it all together.
The pieces are there – or at least enough of them, anyway – to take their game to another level. Execution has all to do with concentration and effort and nothing to do with talent. The Packers’ offense hasn’t been nearly sharp enough, either pre-snap or actually executing what’s called. There is plenty of room for improvement.
Can LaFleur get his team there in time?
And when I say “in time” I mean by Sunday’s noon kickoff against Chicago and rejuvenated quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears’ signal caller has been better in recent weeks while they have won four of their past five games. They would love nothing more than to derail the Packers and send them into a late-season spiral.
The Redskins almost pulled it off with a gimpy quarterback and their top running back KO’d with a leg injury. The Packers were holding a one-possession lead when they faced third-and-14 with 8:28 to play.
Aaron Rodgers hooked up with Aaron Jones for a 25-yard gain and Green Bay eventually tacked on a 33-yard Mason Crosby field goal with 2:34 to play to seal the win.
“That was pretty much the play of the game from an offensive standpoint,” LaFleur said. “It was looking pretty grim right there. Another third-and-long situation and just an incredible throw, incredible catch by Aaron Jones.”
Jones ran for a season-best 134 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. He also caught a team-high six passes for 58 yards. It was Jones’ third 100-yard rushing game of the season.
“Man, I was born in December,” he said. “I’m a Sagittarius. I’ve got a lot of juice left.”
Hopefully, that’s true for the entire offense.
The Packers are as healthy as any team in the league. On Wednesday everyone practiced except Tramon Williams and Jimmy Graham, who were riding exercise bikes on a scheduled veteran’s rest day. LaFleur had his team practice without helmets or pads.
Clearly, he wants to refresh his team before taking on the Bears.
The Packers’ greatest problem offensively has been down-and-distance. They’ve had third-and-long far too often.
“Any time you score 20 points, you always know there’s more out there,” LaFleur said, adding that they missed too many opportunities.
It’s been a collaborative effort, too.
If it’s not a false start, it’s a delay of game penalty. It’s been blown assignments allowing sacks. It’s been holding onto the ball too long because receivers couldn’t get open on time and in rhythm.
It’s time to clean it up with maximum concentration, attention to detail and a dash of urgency.
If the Packers don’t begin to ascend now, then when will it happen?
For all the griping and moaning, I still believe in the Packers because Rodgers is still good enough to put points on the board, and the defense is stout enough to make it stand up.
I’m taking Green Bay to win.
Prediction: Packers 27, Bears 16 with Rodgers leading the way.

Packers sweep aside Giants;

Bucks go on epic early run

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers expected to defeat the Giants Sunday at MetLife Stadium, but did they meet expectations in other regards?

Some media and fans say nope.

The Packers’ 31-13 victory over the Giants was important for many reasons beyond the win. I think they set a good tone going ahead.

Obviously, no team can erase 11 game’s worth of mistakes, and absolutely guarantee it has been fixed going forward, in a single afternoon. That’s especially true when the opponent – in the Packers’ case the Giants – have now lost eight straight games.

That said, the game’s importance lies in the foundation it lay, and the Packers’ ability to learn from it and improve because of it.

Here’s what the Packers accomplished:

** They re-established Davante Adams as a dynamic weapon, especially so in the red zone. Adams’ two touchdown catches ended a ridiculous drought and set the tone as the Packers prepare for the Redskins.

Adams is a go-to guy. His turf-toe injury cost him four games, and likely still has a negative effect, but he looked strong against the Giants.

Furthermore, the Packers established that they have a No. 2 receiver.

Against the Giants it was Allen Lazard.

He hauled in three catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. It was his first 100-yard game in his career. It also suggests the Packers have identified their No. 2 receiver.

It’s not Lazard. It’s not Marques Valdez-Scantling. It’s not Geronimo Allison. It’s not Jake Kumerow.

It’s whichever receiver steps up that day.

That’s based on matchups, game plan and a whole lot more variables. The important thing for the Packers is that SOMEONE steps up. Against the Giants, it was Lazard. Against the Redskins, may be Allison. When the Bears come to town, it could be MVS.

Adams doesn’t have to be the lone wolf. That’s what’s important, and a solid performance by Adams and ANOTHER receiver puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses.

It opens opportunities for both the tight ends and running backs.

** Za’Darius Smith is a beast. His 47 QB pressures are the NFL’s most. He’s relentless, explosive and everything a NFL playoff team needs to win a game, or two, or three.

Furthermore, the defense’s health should afford Mike Pettine the flexibility to mix and match as he sees fit. That’s especially important in regards to Chandon Sullivan, Ibraheim Campbell and perhaps Will Redmond when he returns from the injury list.

The Packers are 8-0 in games during which they force a turnover.

A hard-charging front seven, coupled with a ball-hawking secondary led by Kevin King (?), is a great formula for interceptions. Aaron Rodgers and the offense on a short field is a beautiful thing. The Packers just need to make that happen a lot more often.

A quick take on the Brewers, Bucks and Badgers’ football team …

** The Bucks are amazing. To be able to play with this level of fluidity on both ends this early in the season has Bucks’ head coach Mike Budenholzer looking like a genius.

The Bucks (18-3) have won back-to-back games by 40-plus points. They are only the fifth team in NBA history to do so. It allowed Budenholzer the chance to give his bench extended minutes in order to rest the starters, but also to keep them sharp. Furthermore, it’s a reward for all the bench players do during practice throughout the season.

“It was good for us to get everybody out on the court, having some other guys not play heavy minutes,” Budenholzer said.

The Bucks have won 12 straight, the fifth-longest winning streak in franchise history. Giannis racked up 55 points and 24 rebounds in a total of 42 minutes in the back-to-back blowouts.

In an Eastern Conference that has the Bucks, the Celtics and not much else Milwaukee is in prime position to make a run for the championship.

Happy Thanksgiving! And a great deal to be grateful for …
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Let’s start with the fact that I am grateful this Thursday is Thanksgiving Day, therefore I can wax poetic on all the many wondrous reasons to be grateful. As opposed to, say, the Packers’ 27-8 drubbing by San Francisco on Sunday night at Santa Clara …
This Thanksgiving I am grateful …
** For Packers’ coach Matt LaFleur’s temperament, no-nonsense approach, and desire to have balance (pass-run and offense-defense).
LaFleur, unlike too many coaches, invariably makes it about the team. He owns up to his team’s shortcomings, accepts blame when he messes up and moves on rather quickly to the next challenge.
That is bouncing back from the 49ers’ 37-8 pounding of the Packers.
Green Bay (8-3) doesn’t have the luxury of feeling sorry for itself. The Vikings (8-3) are knocking at the door. The NFC North is very much up for grabs. If the Packers intend to win a post-season game, as opposed to merely being there, they’ll convince me by winning the NFC North. As a wild-card team the Packers may be labeled “dangerous” but that’s only because they failed to capture their own division.
This Thanksgiving I am grateful …
** For the Badgers men’s basketball team being courteous enough to show us who it really is before the Big Ten season opener. Wisconsin (4-3) plays Indiana at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at the Kohl Center.
The Badgers are rugged, tough and gritty – each a euphemism for “teams that try hard but lack talent.”
A top-ten finish in the league is a pipe-dream. It’s not happening.
Already, the conversations in football and basketball focus on the future. In football, it’s having something special at quarterback. In basketball, it’s the blue-chip, can’t-miss 2020 recruiting class.
Meantime, the Badgers’ football team will be pushed by Minnesota, and the basketball team will have its hands full when the Hoosiers hit town.
This Thanksgiving I’m grateful …
** For all things Giannis. It’s not just the player, although he is among the greatest basketball players on the planet, but it’s more than that. It’s his desire to be great. It’s his passion to win. It’s his self-awareness, humble nature and good-hearted disposition.
It’s the way the Bucks have made a competent, concerted effort to build around Giannis. It’s the way they have melded the past and present to create a terrific marketing strategy going into the future. It’s the way Milwaukee in particular, and the state in general, has embraced him.
It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime fits in sports.
All that remains to complete the picture is the franchise’s second NBA title, immediately followed by the journey to repeat.
Thanks, Giannis.
This Thanksgiving I’m grateful …
** For the fact that the Packers only play once a week, otherwise I’d be in jeopardy of making even more poor predictions. It isn’t New Year’s Eve yet, but I’m going to resolve to improve upon my Packers picks.
Let’s get off to a great start: Packers 31, Giants 13
This Thanksgiving I’m grateful …
** For our listeners each day on Sports Line who help drive the show with their knowledge, insight, humor and self-deprecation. Just when I think Last Caller Standing can’t be any better, it is.
I also appreciate my fine “Hanging with Havel” sponsors this year.
This Thanksgiving I’m grateful …
** For my radio partner, Harry Sydney aka El Syd and Syd-Mo, who has helped make Monday, Tuesday and Friday afternoons a whole lot of fun for more nearly 15 years. I’m also grateful for my co-host/producer Marques Eversol, who helps keep us on top of all things sports, Tony G, the intern filling in for Marques, and Bill Rabeor, our fine host on Green Bay Game Day. Thanks, guys!


NFC supremacy hinges on
Packers-49ers showdown
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Seeing Seattle knock out San Francisco last Monday night in a 27-24 overtime slugfest left this distinct impression: The NFC is going to be a beast to capture.
The Packers’ next, biggest step toward that end comes Sunday night.
Green Bay (8-2) is at San Francisco (9-1) with NFC supremacy at stake. The Packers are three-point underdogs in a game that figures to be a donnybrook.
The last time the Packers played a game this late in the season (10 games or later) where both teams had a winning percentage of .800-plus was in 2007. That year the Packers and Cowboys came in with identical 10-1 win-loss records. The Packers lost 37-27 in that one.
So what’s to come Sunday night?
The Packers, who have won five of their last six at San Francisco, enter the game as healthy as they’ve been all season.
Veterans Tramon Williams and Jimmy Graham rode exercise bikes during practice Wednesday, but that was a scheduled rest day. Everyone else was available and preparing for the 49ers’ match-up.
Meantime, the 49ers’ injury list is at once daunting and puzzling.
It remains unclear whether tight end George Kittle (knee, ankle), receivers Deebo Samuel (shoulder) and Emmanuel Sanders (ribs), running back Matt Breida and kicker Robbie Gould will play.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been above-average this season, although he still seems to shrink in the face of heavy pressure. He has completed 218 of 317 pass attempts (68.8 percent) with 18 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 97.7 quarterback rating.
The 49ers’ rushing attack ranks No. 2 in the NFL at 149 yards per game. They also rank No. 2 in scoring at 29.5 points per game.
Defensive end Dee Ford (hamstring) and offensive tackle Joe Staley (finger, leg) aren’t expected to play.
Defensively, Ford’s absence puts the pass-rushing burden squarely on Nick Bosa’s shoulder pads. Bosa has seven sacks, which ranks second on the team behind Arik Armstead with eight. Interestingly, Armstead had a total of nine sacks in the previous four seasons. He has benefited from Ford’s presence, and the disruption caused by defensive end DeForest Buckner, an underrated player with five sacks and 41 tackles.
Fred Warner, who leads the 49ers with 71 tackles, is a solid if not flashy linebacker. He will make the plays he needs to but is rarely spectacular. Cornerback Richard Sherman is likely to shadow Davante Adams throughout the game. Sherman’s confidence, physical play and experience tend to compensate for his lack of speed.
Nevertheless, if Aaron Rodgers has time Adams should have a big night.
LaFleur made it clear the Packers are going to have to be patient. That suggests they will continue to rely heavily on running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the 49ers have allowed just four pass completions of at least 20 yards downfield, fewest in the league. Opposing quarterbacks also are completing an NFL-low 13 percent of passes that travel 20-plus yards downfield.
“They’re really sound,” LaFleur said. “You’ve got to be patient and can’t force a big play against those guys.”
The 49ers’ defense ranks second in the NFL in yards and points allowed, third in takeaways, first in sack percentage and second in third-down conversions allowed.
“The pass rush is real,” LaFleur said. “It’s an elite pass rush … just constant pressure. They can do it with four.”
The Packers’ offense will try to avoid the disaster that was Carson, Calif., and their 26-11 loss to the Chargers, who also pressured Rodgers with primarily just four pass rushers.
The Packers’ offensive line has been consistent throughout the season. Rodgers has been sacked 22 times through 10 games, which is significantly fewer than the 49 sacks he endured a year ago. They hope to hold up better than they did against Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram III.
The Packers’ running attack and short-passing game, especially to the backs, has been profitable. Jones and Williams have combined for 20 touchdowns during a season in which Adams is looking for his first TD.
“We’ve been finding a way to win, different ways,” Rodgers said. “I think great teams understand their roles and embrace them and make it more about the team.”
The Packers haven’t fumbled in four straight games, their longest in-season streak since 1967. That will be a challenge against a 49ers’ defense that has forced 22 takeaways, which ranks third in the league.
Rodgers took a pragmatic view of the upcoming game.
“The way I look at it we’ve got to beat them once at their place at some point,” he said. “It would be nice to do it now.”
The Packers aren’t downplaying the game’s importance.
“We’re all aware of where we’re at in the seeding going into Week 12 and what’s in front of us and the opportunities,” he said. “There’s still a lot of football to be played and a lot can happen. I think you’re just in denial if you don’t think about the implications with a ‘W’ or an ‘L’ this week and how that affects stuff down the line. That’s why I said the way we look at it we’re going to have to win there one time the rest of the year. It would be nice to get it done this week.”
Prediction: Packers 31, 49ers 27
I think this game is going to live up to its hype as a match-up of two of the NFC’s top teams. The Packers’ defense is going to have something up its sleeve for Garoppolo, and the Jones-Williams duo is set up to have a big game. The running back’s one-on-one matchups with 49ers’ linebackers favor the Packers.

Aaron Jones tallies 3 TDs;
Packers edge Panthers 24-16
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ goal-line stand and 24-16 victory over the Panthers, coupled with the Seahawks’ 27-24 overtime win at San Francisco Monday night, were at once thrilling and illuminating.
In Week 10 of the NFL season, I am convinced of this much:
** No. 1 – Russell Wilson is the NFL’s MVP.
The Seattle quarterback has been a force to be reckoned with this season.
Wilson has 23 touchdown passes to just two interceptions, one of which was the startling overtime interception Monday night. He has a 114.9 passer rating while completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for 2,737 yards. He also has rushed 50 times for 256 yards and 14 first downs.
Wilson is the reason Seattle is 8-2 and one of the NFC’s top two teams.
** No. 2 – The team that emerges as the NFC’s finest when the season ends is going to have to earn it.
The Packers’ hard-fought victory over Carolina Sunday at snowy Lambeau Field was ultra-competitive. So was the Seahawks’ 3-point overtime win at San Fran. In fact, the Vikings’ 28-24 win at Dallas also was incredibly interesting and physical.
Pick any two of six teams – including the Saints – and it’s going to be a tall task to win back-to-back games in the playoffs.
** No. 3 – The Packers (8-2) are in great shape going into the bye.
As good as the Seahawks, 49ers, et al, are there’s no question the Packers can play with them. Green Bay has a tremendous opportunity ahead of itself if three things happen.
The special teams and defense have to tighten it up, and the offense must continue to be grown and polished.
Aaron Rodgers and other veterans explicitly expressed the notion that this bye week is important for several reasons, including a moment to truly grasp the tremendous opportunity they have going forward.
The Packers’ schedule appears favorable.
It starts with a nationally televised Sunday Night Football contest at San Francisco (8-1) against the 49ers in a game that will go a long way toward deciding NFC supremacy.
The 49ers’ 27-24 overtime loss to Seattle on Monday night opened the door for the Packers to claim the NFC’s top seed. The 49ers played the Seahawks tooth-and-nail without tight end George Kittle and for most of the game without receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
Jimmy Garoppolo struggled in the face of the Seahawks’ pressure, which suggests teams may honor the 49ers’ running attack, but not at the expense of getting after the quarterback.
On Sunday, the Packers’ 24-16 victory over the Panthers was a study in perseverance. Green Bay’s failure to capitalize on an end-zone turnover by forgoing a field goal and getting stuffed on the goal-line could’ve been a killer.
Redemption came in the Packers’ goal-line stop by Preston Smith and Co. against Christian McCaffrey on the game’s final play.
It propelled the Packers into the bye week with momentum and a general feeling of a job well-done, but far from finished.
So who is the best team in the NFC?
Right now, it appears to be Seattle with the Packers a very close second. It’s amazing that the NFC North and NFC West both could argue that the division has the top two teams in the conference (Packers and Vikings; Saints and Seahawks) and that’s without the Bears or Rams, who have fallen on hard times.
My money goes on the Packers and LaFleur.
The offense remains a work in progress, but along the way it’s developed into a versatile attack that can run and pass.
It makes Rodgers that much more dangerous, and it’s why I believe the Packers – barring a crazy disaster – are going to claim the NFC’s top seed. It begins Sunday night at San Francisco after what the Packers hope will be a productive, largely uneventful bye week.

Chargers’ defense handles
Packers’ lackluster offense
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Los Angeles Chargers’ opening drive foreshadowed what was to come.
It covered 84 yards. It spanned 15 plays. It consumed eight minutes.
It resulted in a fairly innocuous 29-yard field goal to give the Chargers an early 3-0 lead of the Packers. Then it was Chargers 6-0 … and 9-0 … and 12-0 into the third quarter at Dignity Health Sports Park.
Ultimately, the Packers’ 26-11 loss to the Chargers was a reminder of the old adage, “On any given Sunday …”
The Packers (7-2) played their worst game of the season.
Offensively, they muddled their way to 184 total yards. Aaron Rodgers was a so-so 23 of 35f for 161 yards, one touchdown and an 85.5 passer rating. The 161 passing yards ranks among the lowest of Rodgers’ illustrious career.
The Chargers (4-5) were a 12-win playoff team a year ago.
Apparently, the Packers didn’t get the message. Los Angeles pass rushers Melvin Ingram III and Joey Bosa outplayed the Packers’ David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga to register 1 ½ sacks each.
The constant pressure applied by the Chargers’ front four allowed them to drop seven into coverage. Rodgers simply ran out of time before he could find a receiver who could shake the defense.
Davante Adams’ return was ho-hum.
He caught seven passes in four targets for 41 yards with a long gain of 9 yards. He wasn’t force-fed the football, but the production needs to be much improved. The best news is that Adams’ turf toe didn’t suffer any type of setback.
In the process, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Jake Kumerow were both shut out. In addition, Geronimo Allison (two catches, 21 yards) and Allen Lazard (three catches, 44 yards) chipped in, but neither produced a big play, much less a game-changing play.
The receivers have to be better.
The running backs, in turn, have to be utilized.
Aaron Jones had eight inconsequential carries for 30 yards with a long run of 7 yards. I realize the Chargers’ defense is really good, but the Packers’ game plan – as best as football forensics experts can decipher – didn’t involve Jones or Jamaal Williams/
That can’t be the case against the Panthers.
Carolina (5-3) is looking to reclaim its perch among the NFC’s bona fide playoff contenders. They will have to do it with Kyle Allen at quarterback. Allen is 5-1 as a starter and has been able to do enough to get Christian McCaffrey the football often enough to torment defenses.
McCaffrey, a MVP candidate at the season’s midpoint, is one of the NFL’s most exciting players. It’s amazing that he can be more than 55 percent of the Panthers’ offense without being battered and beaten. Then again, defenses have a difficult time getting its hands on him.
Whether he’s running it, catching it out of the backfield or going deep, McCaffrey must be accounted for. To think that Packers linebacker Blake Martinez can stay with him, or any of the safeties, for that matter, is probably foolish. Ibraheim Campbell was activated off the injured list and might be able to help the Packers better-defend the middle of the field. Either way, the Panthers’ offense has to be licking its chops.
Defensively, the Packers couldn’t get the Chargers off the field.
Melvin Gordon rushed a workmanlike 20 times for 80 yards and along with Austin Ekeler (12 for 70 yards) controlled the game.
Philip Rivers was good, not great, completing 21 of 28 passes for 294 yards and a 108.3 passer rating. The Packers’ defense can take some solace from the fact that it bowed its back in the red zone, limiting the Chargers to four field goals through 2 ½ quarters.
Ultimate, the Packers’ defense broke. It occurred after the Packers’ J.K. Scott had a punt blocked, setting up the Chargers at the Green Bay 27. It led to Los Angeles’ first touchdown and a 19-0 lead.
Now, the Packers’ defense gets the challenge that is McCaffrey.
Any sense of getting comfortable should be gone with the loss.
Humiliation can be a great motivator, especially if the Packers are going to develop into a serious threat to win the NFC.
It is re-set Sunday against the Panthers.
The Packers’ offense must rely on the running backs, especially Jones, as the focal point. Adams will get plenty of action, and his share of catches, but for now it has to come off action to Jones and the backs.
Rodgers took the loss to heart.
“This is a good slice of humble pie for us,” Rodgers said. “We’re kind of rolling, 7-1, and starting to listen to the chatter maybe a little too much. I think this will be a good thing for us. We’ll regroup, go back home and play another good team (Carolina) before the bye.”
Prediction: Packers 24, Panthers 23 in a last-second thriller into the bye.

Packers start fast, finish strong in 31-24 win at KC

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The NFL’s trade deadline came and went Tuesday with the Green Bay Packers standing pat.

Talk of the Packers acquiring a receiver in the wake of Davante Adams’ four-game absence was quieted in Kansas City. The Packers’ 31-24 victory over the Chiefs Sunday night seemed to seal that decision.

Green Bay (7-1) has won four straight without Adams due in part to its offensive diversity. Aaron Rodgers routinely spreads the football around with as many as nine different receivers being targeted.

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur’s use of the running backs in the passing game has been a game changer. Aaron Jones’ emergence as a triple threat running back (runner, receiver and pass protector) has allowed him to be one of the NFL’s most productive players.

The win at Kansas City illustrated the point.

Rodgers was 23 of 33 with 305 yards, three touchdown passes and a 129 passer rating. He also rushed six times for 29 yards to move the chains. Jones rushed 13 times for 67 yards and caught seven passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns.

Allen Lazard caught five passes for 42 yards on five targets. Jimmy Graham caught three passes for 20 yards and Jake Kumerow added two catches for 48 yards. The consistent play of Lazard and Kumerow allowed the Packers to release receiver Darrius Shepherd and re-sign Treman Smith as a kick returner.

It remains unclear when Adams will return, but meantime the Packers have put his absence to good use. The experience gained by the entire receiving corps, including Marquez Valdes-Scantling, is invaluable.

It’s Jones’ ability to run between the tackles or split wide and run a slant-and-go route to perfection that has made the greatest difference.

In fact, facing third-and-5 and needing a first down to close out the game, the Packers elected to throw it to Jones. Jones ran a quick out, caught the pass with ease and sealed the victory.

“I totally trust our quarterback,” LaFleur said, “and I trust Aaron Jones as a receiver. He made some great plays all night long.”

Jones opened the scoring with a 4-yard touchdown catch and closed it with a 67-yard touchdown catch on a screen.

“He’s very talented,” Rodgers said. “And I think this scheme is giving him the opportunity to do a lot more out of the backfield. You know, we’re splitting him out and throwing the ball to him. We kind of caught lightning in a bottle there a couple of times. Hit him on a slant-and-go for 50 and on a screen for 70 or whatever. He’s a talented guy. I’m very proud of him.”

For his part, Jones remains humble.

He talks about how important it is for him to keep working hard. An example was his offseason regimen, which included working on his pass routes and pass catching. He estimates he caught “thousands” of balls.

“I caught good balls, bad balls, high balls, low balls,” Jones said.

It shows.

“He’s an explosive weapon,” LaFleur said. “You don’t find many running backs that can go out there and produce like that. You don’t see many running backs that you can put them on the outside and run a slant-and-go. I think he’s a dynamic runner, a receiver, a pass protector.”

The Chargers (3-5) edged the Bears 17-16 when Eddy Piniero missed a 41-yard field goal as time expired. Philip Rivers was 19 of 29 for 201 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Melvin Gordon ran for a touchdown, although Austin Ekeler has been highly productive.

Keenan Allen remains a dangerous threat at receiver, and Joey Bosa had two of the Chargers’ four sacks against the Bears.

The Chargers parted ways with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt this week, so it’ll be interesting to see what, if any, changes are made.

Meantime, the Packers keep rolling.

They’ve got three of their next four games on the road, with their bye week sandwiched in there. Look for the Packers to extend their winning streak to five games, but I wouldn’t expect a blowout.

Prediction: Packers 27, Chargers 21.

Packers’ passing attack torches Raiders, 42-24
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – It was the fist-bump heard ‘round the NFL.
In Green Bay’s postgame locker room celebration Sunday, Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers consummated their head coach-quarterback relationship with grins and back-slaps and fist-bumps all around.
The Packers’ 42-24 victory over the Oakland Raiders should put an end to the media’s excessive fascination with the “How are LaFleur and Rodgers going to successfully co-exist?” storyline.
Five touchdown passes, one scramble for a score and a perfect passer rating by Rodgers in the rout Sunday should put it to bed. LaFleur, Rodgers and the Packers will be fine.
Green Bay’s 6-1 record and perch atop the NFC North feels legit.
The Packers’ defense is anchored by free-agent acquisitions Preston and Za’Darius Smith, its offense is beginning to click and the special teams – while needing work in the return game – has been OK.
Clearly, the Packers belong among the NFC’s upper-echelon teams such as San Francisco (6-0), New Orleans (6-1) and Seattle (5-2), with Minnesota (5-2) and Dallas (4-3) trailing a step back.
The Packers’ impressive win over the Raiders was their third straight without All-Pro receiver Davante Adams (turf toe). Adams could be back after the team’s Nov. 17 bye week. Between then and now, the Packers have the Chiefs at Kansas City Sunday night, the Chargers in L.A. the following week and Carolina at home before the break.
It’s a difficult stretch, to be sure, but it’s one that’s more doable with the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes sidelined by a knee injury. Veteran Matt Moore will start with rookie Kyle Shurmur backing him up.
The Raiders were able to stay with Green Bay for the better part of the first half, but Derek Carr’s red-zone fumble and subsequent touchback proved costly. Instead of trailing 17-14, the Packers stretched their 14-10 lead to 21-10 with a first-half ending touchdown drive.
Then, Rodgers hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a big play to open the second half, it just like that it was a 28-10 rout.
After a rugged Week 1 victory at Chicago, Rodgers declared, “We have a defense.”
In Week 7, Rodgers could add, “We have an offensive line, too.”
The human force field of tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, guards Elgton Jenkins and Billy Turner, and center Corey Linsley has been fantastic thus far.
Rodgers has been sacked just 12 times this season. He’s on pace to be sacked 25 times, which is almost half as many as last year’s 49 sacks. He’s feeling better and playing better.
“Collectively, we didn’t get enough push up front,” Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby said. “We didn’t get in (Rodgers’) face enough. We have to get to the quarterback to help our guys out on the back end.”
Crosby had the Raiders’ only sack.
Rodgers was 25 of 31 for 429 yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions for a perfect 158.3 passer rating. It was the first time in Rodgers’ illustrious 14-plus seasons that he’s posted a perfect mark.
His long-time teammates have seen it all before. The newcomers were slack-jawed in amazement.
Rodgers has completed 162 of 250 passes (64.8 percent) for 2,019 yards, 13 touchdowns, two interceptions and a 103.7 passer rating. Those are MVP numbers, again, for the Packers’ quarterback.
The running backs have been playing well, too.
Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams have combined for 43 receptions in 53 targets for 309 yards, a 7.2 average and four touchdowns. They also are rushing the ball effectively, with Jones leading the NFL with eight rushing touchdowns and nine TDs overall.
Against the Raiders, Rodgers completed passes to eight different teammates.
Jimmy Graham hauled in four passes on four targets for 65 yards and a touchdown. Geronimo Allison, who was coming off a concussion, caught four passes for 33 yards. MVS also played and made two gigantic catches despite dealing with knee and ankle injuries.
“We had a lot of guys step up; specifically Marquez and G-Mo,” LaFleur said. “Shoot, two days ago, we didn’t even know if they were going to play, and I thought those guys came and put together gritty performances.”
The Packers also got gritty performances from Will Redmond and Blake Martinez on defense. In fact, each helped prevent a Raiders touchdown.
First, Redmond’s hustling tackle ultimately saved a touchdown when he brought tight end Darren Waller down at the 3.
Second, Martinez’s desperate but determined dive to keep Carr from scoring. With Martinez in pursuit, Carr reached for the pylon with the ball in his left hand. It squirted free for a fumble and went into the end zone for a touchback.
Instead of trailing 17-14, the Packers got the ball back at their 20-yard line with 1:49 to play in the half.
Rodgers capped the seven-play, 80-yard drive with a 37-yard touchdown toss to Jake Kumerow to make it 21-10.
The Packers received the ball in the second half and Rodgers wasted no time hitting MVS for a 59-yard completion. Four plays later, Rodgers scampered in from the 3 to push Green Bay’s lead to 28-10.
The Packers’ defense surrendered 484 yards, including Josh Jacobs’ 124-yard rushing performance, but it stood tall when it mattered most. The Raiders were 3-for-6 in the red zone, with all three failures resulting in no field goals and zero points.
Now, the Packers must prepare for a Sunday night encounter with Andy Reid’s Chiefs in Kansas City. The Chiefs (5-2) already have lost two games at Arrowhead Stadium. It’s going to take a complete effort by Green Bay to hand them a third.
Will the Packers’ game plan involving running the football behind Jones, throwing it with Rodgers or spreading it all around? Will the defense sit back and wait for Moore to make a mistake? Or will defensive coordinator Mike Pettine blitz to force the action?
The beauty of it is this: The Packers have shown their fans that they have the ability to beat anyone. Their fans are confident Green Bay will take a strong game plan into the game. They’re just not sure what its focus will be for Sunday night.
Frankly, the Chiefs probably are wondering the same thing.

Packers atop NFC North after late FG stops Detroit, 23-22
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Mason Crosby’s walk-off field goal had scarcely sealed Green Bay’s 23-22 victory over Detroit Monday night when fans – in knee-jerk fashion – demanded the Packers acquire a receiver.
They were vocal on The FAN morning, noon and night.
And they were right.
While the Packers’ offense continues to be a work in progress, it’s asking too much to expect it to reach its potential without a talented, veteran slot receiver.
Green Bay (5-1) keeps winning in spite of its offensive limitations. A frequently dominant defense, true quality depth throughout the roster, and the incomparable Aaron Rodgers give it a winning edge.
However, the reality is this: While the Packers’ limited offense found a way to beat the Cowboys, Lions and quite likely the Raiders, is it good enough to beat San Francisco or New Orleans in a NFC showdown?
It’s probably not.
The “in my dreams” receiver would be the Jets’ Robby Anderson, 26, an explosive, fourth-year pro who’s better than his career numbers. He’s a sinewy, 6-foot-3 athlete with legit 4.3 speed and above-average hands.
Opposing defenses would hate dealing with Rodgers-to-Anderson, especially when Adams returns. In the meantime, Anderson would take the pressure off Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison, Jake Kumerow and Allen Lazard.
Anderson also could return kicks.
Another oft-discussed target is the Broncos’ Emmanuel Sanders, who has been effective despite coming off an Achilles injury. Sanders, who is Joe Flacco’s “go to” receiver in Denver, has 25 catches for 307 yards and two touchdowns thus far. He is quick and shifty despite his age (32) and the wear-and-tear that comes with 10 NFL seasons.
The Packers host the Raiders (3-2) Sunday in a noon game at Lambeau Field. It is a chance to further evaluate the offense in general – and the receiving corps in particular – ahead of the Oct. 29, trade deadline.
On Wednesday, the Packers signed veteran receiver Ryan Grant (6-0, 185) who most recently played with the Raiders. Grant had three catches for 16 yards in the Raiders’ 24-16 victory over the Broncos in Oakland’s season-opener, but was subsequently released.
Grant, 28, has decent hands and while he’s not a blazer (4.5 in the 40-yard dash) he is a solid veteran. Grant is going to need time to get acclimated to the offense, but he’s the first step to solving the problem.
If the Packers need to take greater measures, they still have the Chiefs game (Sunday, Oct. 27) and two days until the trade deadline.
Perhaps Lazard will be able to fill the void. He has excellent size (6-5, 220), strength and confidence as well as dependable hands. He also has a bit of chemistry with Rodgers, which always helps.
Darrius Shepherd, whom I’ve been a supporter of, really made it difficult to trust him after the abysmal Monday night performance. Shepherd’s careless fumble during a punt return and ricocheted football off his face-mask that went for an interception makes it so.
There is the legit concern that bringing in a new face might disrupt the chemistry in the receiver room and perhaps the locker room.
I don’t subscribe to that. Players want their team to give them the best chance to succeed, both personally and as a team.
If a Sanders, for example, better enables them to defeat the Raiders, Chiefs and Chargers, it’s the right move and what’s best for the team.
If the Packers don’t get a receiver, I still like their chances to keep winning while Adams continues to convalesce.
The fact that they’ve won two straight without Adams, who’s underrated outside the Packers’ fan base, is a major accomplishment.
Getting another receiver would keep it rolling.


Cowboys can’t keep up with Jones in Packers’ 34-24 win

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Jerry Jones owns AT&T Stadium, but the Dallas Cowboys’ defense couldn’t stop Aaron Jones from renting it for a day.

Jones, the Packers’ cat-quick back, spent Sunday afternoon leaving Dallas defenders and scorched turf in his wake. Jones’ four rushing touchdowns keyed Green Bay’s 34-24 victory over the Cowboys and left Dallas fans wondering what hit them.

It turns out it was an inside job.

Jones, a standout at UTEP, celebrated his record-setting performance in front of about 30 friends and family members – most of whom made the 600-mile trek from El Paso to cheer on their favorite son.

Jones rushed 19 times for 107 yards and caught seven passes for another 75 yards. His 182 total yards from scrimmage were twice as many as his Dallas counterpart, Zeke Elliott.

His 18-yard touchdown scamper – which was beautifully blocked – came on Green Bay’s second drive to set the tone. They led 17-0 at half and opened it to 31-3 before Dallas managed too little, too late.

For Jones, it was a game he’ll never forget.

“All my family was up in the stands,” he told reporters. “I could see my brother (Justin) right there. I threw him one of the balls when I scored. That was pretty cool … just being back in Texas.”

Jones grew up rooting for the Cowboys. He spent Sunday rewriting the team’s record book. He became the first player in history to rush for four touchdowns against Dallas.

The Packers backed Jones’ play with an opportunistic defense and Aaron Rodgers’ right arm. The Packers’ quarterback completed 18 of 19 targets to his running backs and tight ends to move the chains.

It kept the Cowboys’ defense on its cleats.

It was almost as if you could hear the Dallas defense asking itself, “Will THIS be the time Rodgers uses play-action and cuts it loose?”

The Cowboys’ hesitation was palpable in first-year head coach Matt LaFleur’s finest day as the Packers’ play caller.

LaFleur’s game plan included switching up to an inside zone blocking scheme, as opposed to the wide zone scheme he prefers. He said it made more sense against Dallas’ speedy defense. While the Cowboys are almost impossible to outrun sideline-to-sideline, they aren’t nearly as stingy when you run it right at them.

When the Cowboys’ ends tried to blow up runs by penetrating up field, the Packers’ tackles would allow them to go. Then, the guards would block down, creating a natural hole for Jones to burst through.

As the game wore on, and Dallas’ defenders grew weary, Jones would feign a cutback inside … pause … and then explode to the edge.

It was all over but Jones’ waving “by-bye.”

It was a combination of LaFleur’s coaching, Jones’ talent and the blocking unit’s (offensive line and tight ends) execution.

It bodes well for Green Bay because it suggests:

** A – That LaFleur is more than willing to adjust. He hasn’t allowed his ego to get in the way of his judgment, which has been impressive.

At Chicago, LaFleur didn’t get crazy with his play-calling in their 10-3 season-opening win. He recognized the game for what it was – first team to 10 wins – and resisted any temptation to get cute.

In preparing for Dallas, LaFleur correctly judged that the inside zone scheme gave his offense its best chance to unleash Jones. So he changed it up and his staff coached it up.

The Packers’ ability to execute despite losing center Corey Linsley to an early injury, and promoting Tra Carson from the practice squad, was exceedingly impressive. Carson’s NFL experience made him a better choice than seventh-round pick Dexter Williams even though the Notre Dame running back already was on the active roster.

LaFleur decided Williams isn’t ready yet, so he went with Carson, who responded with a solid, mistake-free performance.

** B – That Rodgers is A-OK with handing it off, the more the merrier, as long as the Packers are moving the chains and scoring points.

Green Bay’s ability to run it in the red zone makes Rodgers almost unstoppable. While Rodgers didn’t throw for a touchdown, he operated a mistake-free offense with a certain pizazz when it was called for.

** C – That the defense and special teams are able to bounce back from sub-standard performances in a big way. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s crew was weakened by injuries to Tony Brown and Kevin King coming in, and Darnell Savage and Za’Darius Smith during the game.

Nevertheless, backups such as Will Redmond (nine tackles) and Chandon Sullivan (an interception) were up to the challenge.

Clearly, Pettine and his staff are doing a bit of good coaching, too.

None other than Rodgers appreciates the team’s vibe.

“This team has a great vibe,” Rodgers said. “I like the leadership.”

He also likes where they’re at through Week 5 as they prepare for a Monday night showdown with Detroit for the NFC North lead.

“Preseason, they were talking about Chicago as a playoff team, a tough team with that defense,” Rodgers said. “Then (we) come here, the team has Super Bowl aspirations, which they should, because they’ve got a great quarterback and a great defense. To be 4-1 and first in the division is a real accomplishment.”

The Packers’ challenge will be to sustain and improve from here.

Thus far, they’ve reinforced the NFL’s tried-and-true axiom: A team featuring a balanced, mistake-free offense backed by a strong, stubborn defense is apt to find itself deep in the post-season.

Packers’ Adams likely out;
Brewers’ Hader falls flat

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – While the Packers are fine-tuning a game plan for Dallas that doesn’t include Davante Adams (turf toe), the Brewers and their fans are licking their wounds and asking, “Why?”
Why couldn’t Brewers reliever Josh Hader get through the ill-fated eighth? Why didn’t manager Craig Counsell pull him before it was too late? How come Milwaukee failed to tack on any insurance runs?
The answers don’t seem nearly as important as the result: After a commendable, gutsy and entertaining run the Brewers’ season is over. Its last gasp was a heart-wrenching 4-3 NL wild-card loss to the Nationals Tuesday night in Washington, D.C.
The Nationals were wary of dropping decisive games, and one-run games, having lost eight of their previous nine such playoff games.
Then along comes the game-but-gimpy Brewers.
Milwaukee’s crew had its chances. In a seven-game series against the Nationals? No way. In a one-game, do-or-die affair, though? Indeed.
The Brewers jumped all over Nationals starter Max Scherzer for a 3-0 lead after two innings. Yasmani Grandal’s two-run home run and Eric Thames’ solo shot gave Milwaukee hope. The Nationals’ Trea Turner belted a solo home run in the bottom of the third to make it 3-1 Brewers.
Milwaukee starter Brandon Woodruff did his part.
The big right-hander fired four innings of two-hit, one-run baseball. He struck out three and reached 100 mph on the radar gun several times.
Woodruff was unhittable at times. He hung a slider and Turner nailed it.
Otherwise, Woodruff’s outstanding showing should be among the most positive takeaways for Brewers’ fans.
Speaking of positives, little lefty Brent Suter followed with a clean fifth, and Drew Pomeranz dominated while striking out two in two scoreless innings. Then, just when Brewers’ fans were beginning to have visions of the Dodgers dancing in their heads, the fateful eighth happens.
“The inning was an ugly inning,” Counsell said.
“Crazy things happen,” he added, although I wouldn’t call it crazy.
A broken-bat single, a walk and a hit batter isn’t crazy. It’s baseball. It also was plenty of reason to pull Hader before it was too late.
Hader didn’t have it. Counsell couldn’t see it.
Someone, anyone, would have been more capable at that point.
Frankly, Hader was finished when the Rockies nailed him last Saturday night. His left arm may have been willing, but his mind appeared unable.
Juan Soto, a cool 20-year-old, whistled the game-winning hit into right field with two outs and the bases loaded. He hammered a 96 mph fastball and Brewers rookie Trent Grisham misplayed it into three runs. Grisham was filling in for the reigning NL MVP, Christian Yelich, who was lost last month to a season-ending injury.
A tearful Grisham was inconsolable in the clubhouse after Milwaukee went down with a scoreless whimper in the top of the ninth.
I don’t blame Grisham. I blame Counsell for staying with Hader. What seemed clear to most everyone else appeared lost on the Brewers’ manager: Hader’s slider was ineffective, which meant his fastball was the only option … and the Nationals’ hitters knew it.
It’s too bad Counsell didn’t realize it.
It’s not all doom and gloom though.
The Brewers played an energetic, entertaining brand of baseball from April through Week 4 of the NFL season. That’s a lengthy stretch of top-notch effort and well above-average talent taking the diamond for the Brewers almost every day for six months.
Milwaukee has reason to be proud.
Its back-to-back playoff appearances – despite losing its MVP – coupled with its franchise record-setting home run display and gutsy pitching, add up to a tremendous achievement for the organization.
While the Brewers have numerous questions to answer between now and next April, I only have a simple, one-word statement, “Thanks!”
Meantime, the Packers are busy trying to devise ways to move the football and score points against Dallas’ fairly dominant defense.
The Packers are likely to be without Adams, their Pro Bowl receiver, which begs the question: Who steps up?
To me, it’s got to be a team effort, but beyond that Geronimo Allison needs to have a strong game in order for Green Bay to win.
Allison has a habit of elevating his play in big games. This early-season test at Dallas certainly qualifies as a great challenge and terrific gauge.
The Cowboys (3-1) are coming off a 12-10 road loss to New Orleans. They probably are going to be without Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith, who exited the Saints’ game with a high ankle sprain.
The injuries to All-Pros probably hurt Green Bay more than Dallas.
The Cowboys can merely run the football more and rely on short, quick timing routes in the passing game. If Dak Prescott is accurate, and Zeke Elliott is on his game, the Packers’ defense will have its hands full.
More worrisome for me is the Packers’ offense finding its way.
The Green Bay run game has been a myth thus far.
It’s nothing more than hearsay, because Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams haven’t been up to the task for a handful of reasons.
** The offensive line hasn’t blocked it up very well;
** The new wide-zone blocking scheme is still a work in progress;
** Jones has danced too much, and Williams was injured for all but one play of the Eagles’ game.
When Aaron Rodgers has to pass I can’t see him having success without Allison. They have teamed up for significant plays in big games in the past. They need to do so again on Sunday.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling is an ascending No. 2 receiver, but it’s too much to ask him to assume Adams’ role. Darrius Shepherd, who is returning punts, should have an expanded role as a slot receiver. That would allow Allison to move about or line up on the perimeter.
The tight ends haven’t been reliable in the red zone (see Jimmy Graham) and that has to change against Dallas. I believe Rodgers and Co. will be able to get inside the Cowboys’ 20, but I’m not sure they’ll be able to muster more than a barrage of field goals.
The Packers are 3-1. So am I.
Prediction: Cowboys 27, Packers 23.
I see a close game with Green Bay and Rodgers trying to rally for a late victory at AT&T Stadium. Perhaps Jones will make a huge catch-and-run to lead the upset, but I think Dallas’ defense will be up to the task.

Packers’ D overrun by Philly;

Brewers-Nats in NL wildcard

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Wisconsin’s September sports scene evolved into a month-long victory parade that stretched from Milwaukee to Green Bay with a detour through Madison.

By month’s end, the Packers (3-1) were tied with Chicago atop the NFC North, the Badgers (4-0) were strong and the Brewers (89-73) were set to face Washington (93-69) in Tuesday’s 7:08 p.m. NL wild-card game.

It couldn’t get much better than that.

Or could it?

Frankly, I’ve heard exactly that from numerous fans.

For instance, they are pleased the Packers started 3-0, but …

They feel like the Packers should’ve taken care of business against Philadelphia. The Packers had a 10-0 lead. They were at home. They touted a fierce defense and improving offense going into the game.

Then they lost, 34-27.

Where was the Packers’ defense – run or otherwise? It was AWOL.

What happened to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison and Jimmy Graham when Davante Adams exited with turf toe? They disappeared in general, and in the red zone in particular.

Why didn’t Mike McCarthy … uh, I mean Matt LaFleur, run the football at least once with first-and-goal at the 1? OK, that was a cheap shot. If I was LaFleur, with that run game, I might be tempted to throw it, too.

But I wouldn’t – especially on all four downs.

I understand where these fans are coming from. They’re happy, but they want more, especially when they think it’s there to get.

The Badgers have been beyond reproach.

They opened fast and got faster. They hammered Michigan, 35-14, which was one of the most pleasurable Saturdays in recent memory. They struggled in a 24-15 victory over Northwestern at Camp Randall, but it’s not like the Wildcats haven’t had their own success of late. Northwestern had won 15 of 17 Big Ten games coming in.

Eighth-ranked Wisconsin and Jonathan Taylor have been so impressive they are generating College Football Playoff discussion among experts. It’s certainly possible.

With Wisconsin, it’s a wait-and-see approach, knowing that all things are possible, including playing to get into the national title game.

It’s a different feeling with the Brewers.

When I think of Milwaukee’s fine season and manager Craig Counsell I feel like saying, “Thank you for the energy, enthusiasm and entertainment. Thank you for playing to and perhaps beyond your potential. Thank you for not quitting when Christian Yelich went down.”

The Brewers still have a chance to put one more smile on fans’ faces. Somehow, if they should upset the Nationals on Tuesday night, it would be amazing to see them battle the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers.

I can’t see Milwaukee reaching the NLCS, but I’d love to see them try.

As for the Packers, I see them firmly in the NFC North title chase.

The Bears’ 16-6 victory over the Vikings Sunday at Soldier Field served to remind everyone that Chicago’s defense is the NFL’s best. Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins never had a chance. Khalil Mack played like the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year and completely terrorized the Vikings’ wide-eyed quarterback.

The Bears’ Mitchell Trubisky was knocked out of the game with an injured left shoulder on the opening drive. Chase Daniel came in to replace Trubisky and lead Chicago to a quietly dominant display.

The Vikings are in trouble.

Their offensive line is a sieve and running back Dalvin Cook is taking a beating while butting his head against a wall. Minnesota’s receivers appear frustrated that Cousins doesn’t (A) have time to throw or (B) hit his target when he does. It’s only going to get worse.

Looking ahead, the Cowboys’ 12-10 loss at New Orleans Sunday night likely will refocus Dallas (3-1) when it hosts the Packers this week.

“One loss isn’t going to define our season,” Dallas offensive lineman Travis Frederick said. “We have a veteran group and we understand it’s a long season, so one loss isn’t going to be the end of the world. What this is going to do is show us a lot on film. We’re going to have a chance to see what those guys did on defense and what future teams are going to try to do to us and the things we need to do to adjust and be better.”

That’s just great for Green Bay. The Packers are going to be walking into a hornet’s nest on Sunday.

The Cowboys may be without Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith, who left the Superdome in a walking boot. He reportedly suffered a high ankle sprain and will undergo tests Monday.

Cameron Fleming will replace Smith if he can’t go against Green Bay.

Meantime, I’m still awaiting word on right tackle Bryan Bulaga’s shoulder injury and its extent. It appears receiver Davante Adams should be able to play with turf toe. He could be limited by the pain though.

Packers stop Broncos, 27-16;
Brewers, Badgers on a roll

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – It has become a September to remember given the exhilarating and perhaps surprising success this month of the Packers, Badgers and Brewers.
They are a combined 23-4 thus far.
The Brewers (86-70) are 17-4 in September with no signs of letting up. They lost reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich to a fractured kneecap 12 games ago but have gone 10-2 without him.
The Badgers (3-0) are outscoring their opponents 145-14 on the year. They mauled Michigan 35-14 Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium in a game that wasn’t that close.
The Packers (3-0) rolled the Denver Broncos, 27-16, with a tenacious defense that racked up six sacks and forced three turnovers. Green Bay intends to keep it rolling Thursday night against Philadelphia (1-2). The injury-ravaged Eagles are coming off a 27-24 home loss to Detroit.
None of this success even includes the Milwaukee Bucks, who are the odds-on favorites in most quarters to capture the NBA’s Eastern Conference title and advance to the NBA Finals.
Let’s take a closer look at each team, beginning with the Brewers.
** Milwaukee is red-hot as it opens its six-game, season-ending road trip this week with three at Cincinnati and three at Colorado.
“We’re all feeling it,” first baseman Eric Thames said. “All of us aren’t planning on going home any time soon.”
The Brewers will send Adrian Houser (6-7, 3.83) to the mound against tough right-hander Sonny Gray (11-7, 2.80) tonight in a 5:40 p.m. start.
Milwaukee trails the Nationals by ½ game for the top wild-card spot and St. Louis by 3 ½ games in the NL Central. The Brewers are four games clear of the Chicago Cubs, who have lost five straight one-run games.
Manager Craig Counsell deserves serious “Manager of the Year” consideration given what he’s done despite ace Brandon Woodruff missing seven weeks with an oblique injury and Yelich’s absence.
If the Brewers are depleted in their minor-league system it’s only because all of their top prospects are in the big leagues – either helping the Brewers or other teams (Mauricio Dubon at San Francisco) win.
It has been a crazy season for the home run-record setting Crew.
** While Aaron Rodgers has expressed his excitement over the Packers having a defense, the Badgers are equally thrilled to have a quarterback. Jack Coan has been a strong leader while directing an offensive attack led by the nation’s top running back, Jonathan Taylor.
The eighth-ranked Badgers also feature an extremely fast, impressive defense loaded with youngsters.
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst has a terrific feel for his squad and his low-key, understated approach plays well in the Badger State. This just might be the year Wisconsin reaches the College Football Playoffs.
** Last, but not least, are the Green Bay Packers – America’s Team – doing their thing with a stiff defense and a first-year head coach.
Coach Matt LaFleur couldn’t have envisioned a better start. The Packers already have more NFC North wins than all of last year. They also have as many road wins as a year ago.
Now, LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers need to keep working on the offense until it begins to click. It’s going to happen. The fact is the Packers have played arguably three defenses likely to rank among the NFL’s top 10.
The Packers will have their hands full with the Eagles.
Philadelphia is decimated by injuries to its receiving corps, its running backs group and its defensive secondary. Other than that the Eagles are fine. Clearly, the Packers are getting them at the right time, but that only matters if Green Bay takes care of business Thursday night.
I would expect the Packers to keep doing what they’ve been doing, which is allowing their defense to cut loose while their offense continues to find its way.
As the Wisconsin sports scene goes, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Packers braced for Broncos;
Brewers 2nd in NL Central

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers have gotten off to 3-0 starts six times since Bart Starr’s team did it in 1982.
The Packers (2-0) hope to become the franchise’s seventh team since ’82 to do so when they host Denver (0-2) Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Each of those previous six teams to start 3-0 since 1982 advanced to the playoffs. Will first-year head coach Matt LaFleur’s team make it 7-for-7 by the time the postseason arrives?
History says yes.
First, the Packers need to get to 3-0 at Denver’s expense.
The Broncos’ defense receives a majority of the attention in Denver under first-year head coach Vic Fangio, whose previous job was defensive coordinator in Chicago.
However, the Broncos’ offense has enough weapons to be pesky.
Joe Flacco is a serviceable veteran quarterback at this point.
Flacco has completed 56 of 81 passes (69.1 percent) for 560 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He has been sacked five times while posting a solid 91.6 passer rating.
Flacco thrives on the short to intermediate passing game with a heavy dose of play-action passes to the backs and tight ends. Rookie tight end Noah Fant is a legit weapon. He has six catches for 62 yards thus far.
Emmanuel Sanders, who is cat-quick and clever, is the only veteran receiver on the squad. He has 16 catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns.
First-year offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello comes in after serving two years as the 49ers’ quarterbacks coach. Scangarello’s system relies on the wide-zone blocking scheme to create lanes for their running back tandem of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman.
Lindsay (5-8, 190) rushed for more than 1,000 yards as an undrafted rookie out of Colorado in 2018 to earn a Pro Bowl berth. He is joined by bruising Royce Freeman (6-0, 238) in a true time-share system.
In a 24-16 loss to the Raiders in the season opener, and a 16-14 loss to Chicago last week, the Broncos trailed early and abandoned the run. They passed on 63 percent of their plays, which is upside-down from where Scangarello wants the pass-run ratio.
Lindsley and Freeman are adept receivers out of the backfield, which is a significant part of the offense. Lindsay has eight catches for 53 yards and Freeman six for 53 through two games.
A key for the Packers’ defense is going to be crisp tackling.
The Broncos’ running backs, as well as Sanders and Fant, can cause trouble after the catch. The Packers’ Blake Martinez might have a chance to establish a career high for tackles this week.
Also, Jaire Alexander and Co. can expect opportunities to make plays on the football, especially if the Broncos are trailing in the second half.
Offensively, the Packers are searching for consistency while slowly but steadily trying to improve.
Aaron Rodgers has been good enough to defeat Chicago and Minnesota, but he hasn’t dominated thus far. That could happen against Denver’s defense but it won’t be easy.
The Broncos don’t have any sacks or forced turnovers in two games. That’s surprising given the caliber of their top pass rushers – Bradley Chubb and Von Miller are among the best in the business.
Derek Wolfe, Josey Jewel and Chris Harris all are top-notch defenders. With Fangio’s familiarity with Rodgers and the Packers’ offense, Denver could give them problems.
Aaron Jones will look to build off a strong showing against Minnesota, when he rushed 23 times for 116 yards and a touchdown. The dependable Jamaal Williams continues to share the workload.
Davante Adams is looking for his first touchdown catch of the season, while Jake Kumerow and/or Shepherd should pick up the snaps that previously went to Trevor Davis.
The Packers traded Davis to the Raiders for a sixth-round pick in 2020. They also signed Treman Smith after the Chiefs waived him. Smith was an accomplished kick returner at Kansas City, where the speedster averaged 26.8 yards on 33 returns.
Smith and Darrius Shepherd will vie for the return jobs.
The Packers’ offensive line is going to be critical to their fortunes against the Broncos’ Chubb, Miller and Wolfe. It will be interesting to see how LaFleur handles the duties at left guard. Will it continue to be a time-share arrangement between Lane Taylor and rookie Elgton Jenkins? Or will Jenkins supplant Taylor this week?
Ultimately, the Packers are in great position to stay unbeaten.
If the Packers’ defense is sharp (particularly the tackling) and Rodgers continues to play turnover-free football, Green Bay should get it done.
Prediction: Packers 35, Broncos 13.
Moving on to the second-place Milwaukee Brewers … What a run manager Craig Counsell’s crew has been on.
The Brewers (83-70) moved into sole possession of the NL’s second wild-card berth with a 5-1 victory over San Diego Thursday afternoon at Miller Park.
Milwaukee also has won 12 of its last 14 games, including victories in each of the past four series, to remain just three games behind St. Louis in the NL Central Division.
They received good news with All-Star pitcher Brandon Woodruff’s return after missing seven weeks with an oblique strain. Keston Hiura also returned after being shelved with a hamstring injury.
Both looked terrific against the Padres.
Tonight, the Brewers host the Pirates (65-88) at Miller Park, with lefty Steven Brault (4-5, 4.98) going for Pittsburgh against right-hander Chase Anderson (6-4, 4.50) for Milwaukee.
The Pirates have lost six straight going into this weekend series, a stretch during which they haven’t hit a home run, either.
Here’s the answer to the day’s biggest question: Who should Brewers fans root for – the Cardinals or the Cubs – when they play head-to-head?
That’s easy. The Brewers should be focused on winning the NL Central. They need to get past St. Louis to do that.

Pack thwarts Vikings, 21-16;
Brewers keep pace with Cubs

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers have exorcised several demons with back-to-back wins to open the season.
Victories at Chicago and at home against Minnesota have enabled the Packers to whittle away at their “To Do” list for 2019.
For instance, Green Bay needed a win at the New York Jets late last season to keep from going winless on the road. The Packers notched their first road win by edging the Bears 10-3 in the opener.
The Packers went 1-4-1 in the NFC North a year ago. They doubled their win total in the division by beating the Vikings 21-16 on Sunday.
Last year, opposing quarterbacks combined for a 100.9 passer rating. Basically, every signal caller that faced Green Bay was channeling his inner Joe Montana. Through two games their opponents’ passer rating is almost half that. The Bears’ Mitchell Trubisky posted a 62.1 rating; the Vikings’ Kirk Cousins had a 52.9 rating.
The Bears and Vikings were a combined 0-for-3 in the red zone. That’s really good, but what’s more impressive is that the Packers have allowed opponents into the red zone just three times in eight quarters.
Finally, the Vikings (4 of 13) and Bears (3 of 15) combined for a woeful 7 of 28 (25 percent) on third down attempts.
Offensively, it’s a work in progress.
Fortunately, the Packers are making progress on several fronts.
The offensive line was better in Week 2 with a potential lineup change coming at left guard, where Elgton Jenkins played well in 18 snaps while Lane Taylor was so-so over 56 snaps. Once Jenkins is ready to start full-time – perhaps this week – the time-share will be over. The bright side for Taylor is that he would be a valuable backup.
In pass protection, Aaron Rodgers was sacked a dreadful five times at Chicago. However, the Packers’ offensive line played much better while allowing just two sacks against Minnesota.
Aaron Jones and the running game found its legs in Week 2.
Jones, who played his best overall game in the NFL on Sunday, rushed for 116 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown. His blitz pickup in pass protection was strong, too. He also caught four passes for 34 yards, while Jamaal Williams added three catches for 13 yards and a touchdown on a nifty red zone screen.
Jimmy Graham (54) and Marcedes Lewis (31) combined for 85 snaps. Their run-blocking and help in pass protection were invaluable despite the fact that they were shut out in the passing game. Neither caught a pass, but both were more than capable run blockers.
Head coach Matt LaFleur knows how to use tight ends in the run game. Now that opponents have that on tape, I suspect LaFleur will go back to throwing to the tight ends if that game’s matchups dictate it.
Davante Adams has been productive if not spectacular in the passing game. In fact, as I suspected, LaFleur rode Adams early against the Vikings to allow his offense to get into a rhythm.
It worked fabulously.
Adams made a 39-yard grab on the Packers’ first offensive play. He finished with seven catches for 106 yards. The touchdowns will come.
Geronimo Allison and Marquez Valdes-Scantling are 2 and 2-A behind Adams. Allison’s fumble was unfortunate against Minnesota, but his 12-yard touchdown catch was a thing of beauty.
The Packers (2-0) host the Denver Broncos (0-2) in a noon game Sunday at Lambeau Field. Denver is coming off a tough 16-14 loss to Chicago on a game-deciding field goal. The Broncos will be ornery and with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb to rush the passer it won’t be easy.
Look for LaFleur to throw to the backs and tight ends early to slow the Broncos’ pass rush and control the middle of the field. Then, I suspect he’ll get Adams involved while looking for a shock play downfield from MVS, Trevor Davis or both.
Defensively, Za’Darius Smith is quite familiar with Joe Flacco from their days in Baltimore. Smith and his running mate, Preston, should be able to get to Flacco against the Broncos’ patchwork offensive line.
Prediction: Packers 35, Broncos 13.

Vikings’ OL on hot seat as
Packers’ defense gears up
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Much of the pregame focus has centered on how the Packers’ newly discovered pass rush will give a suspect Vikings’ offensive line and their streaky quarterback fits.
Certainly, it merits conversation going into Week 2’s Vikings-Packers noon game Sunday at Lambeau Field. Kirk Cousins isn’t going to have the luxury of throwing a measly 10 passes any time soon.
Cousins completed 8 of 10 passes for 98 yards against Atlanta. He didn’t have to win the game. He merely had to stay out of the way. Nevertheless, he still managed to fumble twice despite the minimal drop-backs. The Packers’ D is apt to make it a long afternoon for him.
That said it also is true that Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s crew obviously has to account for Minnesota’s running attack, which ran roughshod over an undersized Falcons’ defensive front seven.
The hunch is Green Bay’s defense won’t allow Dalvin Cook to gash it the way he and rookie Alexander Mattison did in Minnesota’s 28-12 victory in Week 1 – at least not to the tune of 170-plus yards.
Either way, I don’t see the Packers’ defense dominating quite like it did against the Bears’ offense. Minnesota has more weapons, pure and simple, plus an offensive line that’s at least as good as Chicago’s.
Granted, that’s not saying much, but it’s something.
The more compelling question for me going into Vikings-Packers isn’t Green Bay’s D versus Minnesota’s offense, but rather Aaron Rodgers against a salty Vikings’ defense that is dangerous.
Green Bay’s key to victory: Use the pass to set up the run.
Head coach Matt LaFleur needs to open the game by going on the attack with the short passing game. He needs to trust that his receivers can beat a short-handed Vikings cornerback crew early and often.
A quick slant here, a short out there, and a screen or two mixed in to use Minnesota’s aggression against itself. After a barrage of completions to Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison and Jimmy Graham – punctuated by Aaron Jones off tackle – take a shot deep to Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
Rodgers must be sharp, of course, but who in their NFL-loving mind would expect anything else?
He’s also going to have to throw it more than he’d like, but that goes with the territory against defenses as good as the Vikings’.
It’s why the Packers’ offensive line, tight ends and fullback are going to be critical to their success, or a lack thereof.
Green Bay can’t afford pre-snap penalties. Holding calls are nearly as bad as sacks (at least the quarterback doesn’t get hit), but an unhealthy diet of third-and-long could be Rodgers’ downfall.
That’s why the Packers need to open with the short passing game, get the Vikings’ defense back on its cleats and then come hard with Jones and the running attack. Trying to establish the run early is a mistake. It’s also going to be a waste of several drives, which gives the Vikings’ offense a chance to either be tied or ahead early.
The last thing Rodgers wants is to be down by 7-plus after one quarter. It would allow the Vikings to tee off a bit more than he’d like. It also would give Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer and OC Kevin Stefanski even more reason to stick with the running game.
Ultimately, I see Rodgers leading the Packers to a narrow win.
Pettine’s defense isn’t going to let the Vikings run wild, and Green Bay’s special teams were rock solid in a hostile Week 1 environment.
Prediction: PACKERS 27, VIKINGS 23
Rodgers may take a pounding, but I suspect he’ll be up to the task. Geronimo Allison should have a big day against safety-turned-slot cornerback Jayron Kearse, and Davante Adams is better than the Vikings’ best cornerback, Xavier Rhodes.
Jones has to be better than the 13-for-39 he got at Chicago. Then again, the Packers’ offensive line also needs to take it up a notch. Look for at least one and probably two huge plays from Jones in the passing game.
After the Packers’ 10-3 win at Chicago, everyone declared that Green Bay has a defense. After Sunday’s victory against Minnesota, everyone will be reminded that Green Bay also has a quarterback.

Brewers win 5th straight, but
Yelich fractures right kneecap
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – It was a terrible Tuesday night for Christan Yelich, the Milwaukee Brewers and their fans.
It was difficult to see Yelich on the ground writhing in pain after fouling off a pitch on his right kneecap. It got worse when the Brewers announced that the National League’s reigning MVP would be lost for the season to a fractured right kneecap.
In his first at-bat during the Brewers-Marlins game Tuesday night, Yelich fouled off a 1-1 slider directly onto his right kneecap. The Brewers’ medical staff immediately went to assist, and it was encouraging to see him walk off under his own power.
The Brewers ultimately staved off a late Marlins’ rally to claim a 4-3 victory – the team’s fifth straight – before receiving the awful news: Yelich would be lost for the season to a fractured right kneecap.
The freak injury likely sucked the life out of Brewers and their fans.
Yelich, only in his second season in Milwaukee, already is one of the most universally adored Brewers along with greats such as Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Hank Aaron.
Manager Craig Counsell spoke to the media after the Brewers’ front office delivered the terrible news.
“Yeah, he’s down,” Counsell said of Yelich’s mood. “He’s disappointed. He’s crushed. It’s awful news.”
Yelich came into the game hitting .329 with 44 home runs, 97 RBI and 100 runs scored. He also became just the 10th player in MLB history to join the elite “40/30” club by hitting 40-plus home runs and stealing his 30th base three days ago.
“I went out there and his whole body was shaking, so I was really concerned,” Counsell told reporters. “It was just different looking. When he got up … I saw him walk down the stairs and I was somewhat optimistic at that point. Obviously, we got some bad news.”
The Brewers (76-68) trail the Chicago Cubs by one game for the NL’s second wild-card berth. They trail St. Louis by five games in the NL Central Division with two games at Miami before a three-game weekend series against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
Trent Grisham and Ben Gamel likely will share playing time in the outfield in Yelich’s absence. Gamel is hitting .255 with 15 doubles, seven home runs and 31 RBI. Grisham, also a left-handed hitter and above-average outfielder, is batting .263 with five doubles, four home runs and 13 RBI.
“We don’t have a definitive time frame, other than we know he’ll be out for the remainder of the season,” Brewers president of baseball operations and general manager David Stearns said. “We also don’t know whether surgery is required. He’ll need some further diagnostic imaging (today) in Milwaukee, then he’ll meet with our doctors and we’ll plot a plan going forward.”
The Brewers, winners in eight of their last 10, try to keep it going tonight with Zach Davies (9-7, 3.69) going against Marlins’ right-hander Pablo Lopez (5-8, 4.75) in a 6:10 start.
Davies has been strong in his last two starts, allowing just one earned run while scattering seven hits over 9 2/3 innings in a pair of Brewers wins over the Cubs.
Lopez fanned seven while tossing six shutout innings in a Marlins’ victory over the Brewers on June 4. He is especially tough at Marlins Park, where he is 3-3 with a 2.68 ERA in nine starts.
COMING FRIDAY: Vikings-Packers preview and prediction

Packers’ defense KO’s Bears
10-3 to get LaFleur’s first ‘W’
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – In the words of a broadly smiling Aaron Rodgers: “We’ve got a defense!”
Rodgers’ post-game analysis expressed what elated Packers’ fans were feeling following Green Bay’s 10-3 victory over the Bears in Thursday night’s 100th NFL season-opener at Soldier Field.
The rag-tag rollout for both offenses made it look as if the defenses were playing with an extra defender. In fact, the vaunted Bears’ defense did indeed have 12 men on the field when Rodgers hit Jimmy Graham on an 8-yard pass that resulted in the game’s only touchdown.
Meantime, the Packers’ suffocating defense held the Bears’ sputtering offense to a measly first quarter field goal. When kicker Eddy Pineiro’s 38-yard attempt split the uprights Bears fans cheered wildly.
By the second half, those cheers became boos as Green Bay’s defense effectively reduced the Bears’ offense to rubble.
“It was fun to watch,” Rodgers said.
The Bears’ Mitchell Trubisky was 26 of 45 for 228 yards and a 62.1 passer rating. He was sacked five times in addition to the Bears being flagged for four holding penalties. Chicago rushed for just 46 yards on 15 carries with a long run of 8 yards and went 3-of-15 on third downs.
“We wanted to make Mitch play quarterback,” Packers defensive back Tramon Williams said. “We know they have a lot of weapons, so we wanted to make Mitch play quarterback.”
The Packers did just that, and Trubisky had no answers.
Indeed, the Bears may have a kicker in Pineiro, but the Packers trumped that with coordinator Mike Pettine’s kick-butt defense.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a performance like that,” Rodgers said of Green Bay’s defense. “I give a ton of credit to Mike Pettine and his staff and to those players … an incredible effort.”
The victory netted Packers head coach Matt LaFleur’s first NFL win.
“I’m proud of our defense and the effort they gave,” LaFleur said. “I thought they were smothering.”
LaFleur and Rodgers agreed that the Packers’ offense needs work. The Packers managed just two scoring drives but it was enough.
“We didn’t do (the defense) a whole lot of favors with our performance on offense,” Rodgers said. “But they came up with big plays every time we needed them.”
Ex-Bears safety Adrian Amos’ end-zone interception of a Trubisky pass intended for Allen Robinson was perhaps the biggest. It came with 5:15 to play and set the stage for Preston Smith’s game-sealing sack on the Bears’ final drive.
“I knew the play based on their formation,” said Amos, who was clearly enjoying the fact that his inside information paid off.
LaFleur said: “Our special teams really picked up the slack. Our offensive has a lot to improve on, but I can’t tell you how proud I am of the effort we gave and to be able to come out of here with a victory.”
The Packers’ first scoring drive was set up by Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s 47-yard reception early in the second quarter. Rodgers followed it up with a 9-yard completion to Marcedes Lewis, a 10-yard dart to Davante Adams and the 8-yard TD to Graham.
Valdes-Scantling beat Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara for the big gainer after Rodgers faked a reverse to Adams. It was just enough trickery to give the Packers’ quarterback time to deliver.
The Packers’ next-biggest offensive play came midway through the fourth quarter. Clinging to a 7-3 lead, Rodgers led Green Bay on a 10-play, 73-yard drive capped by Mason Crosby’s 39-yard field goal.
Facing second-and-9 at its own 7-yard line, Rodgers hit Trevor Davis for a 28-yard pickup.
“A really nice call right there by Matt (LaFleur),” Rodgers said.
Then, Rodgers hit Robert Tonyan for another 28-yard gain to help set up Crosby’s field goal with 5:15 to play.
Clearly, the lack of preseason game action hindered both offenses. However, Green Bay’s defense forced the game’s only turnover while Rodgers proved to be that much better than Trubisky.
Rodgers was 18 of 30 for 203 yards and the touchdown. His passer rating of 91.4 was solid given that he also was sacked five times.
After Rodgers took a knee out of the victory formation, he trotted to the Packers’ sideline and handed the football to LaFleur. He also gave Pettine a hearty “that-a-boy” on the sideline.
“You’ve got to give credit where credit is due,” Rodgers said. “What (the defense) did was spectacular.”
When Rodgers handed the football to LaFleur he “promised to be a lot better moving forward.”
“It’s just sweet, it really is, and I’m so happy for (LaFleur),” Rodgers said. “I hold myself to high standard, didn’t play great tonight, but to watch a defense like that gives you great confidence going forward.”
Then he smiled and added, “That’s going to be a fun plane ride.


Packers-Bears kicks off 100th NFL season Thursday night

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – It doesn’t get much better than this.

Unless the Packers and Bears are playing for the NFC North title or a playoff berth when the square off Dec. 15 in Green Bay, Thursday night’s 100th NFL season-opener is going to be difficult to top.
It is possible the NFC North defending champion Bears will blow out the Packers at Soldier Field, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
When the teams played last December at Chicago, the Bears were intent on claiming the division title while the Packers were merely playing out the string under an interim head coach.
Nevertheless, it was tied at 14-14 going into the fourth quarter. Chicago ultimately prevailed, 24-17, but the depleted Packers made it close.
Now fast forward to Thursday night’s matchup.
The Bears are acting like this is the first step in their Super Bowl run.
It might be.
The Packers’ expectations aren’t nearly so bold. They have a first-year head coach, a new offensive scheme and an infusion of defensive talent that has yet to play together in a regular-season game.
Still, the gap between the Bears (12-4) and Packers (6-9-1) may not be as great as it seems.
The Packers are better at quarterback with Aaron Rodgers, at running back with Aaron Jones and at receiver with Davante Adams. They also have a much-improved offensive line and enough playmakers on both sides of the football to cause problems for Chicago.
When the Bears mauled the Rams 15-6 last season, some said Chicago provided the blueprint to beat Rams’ coach Sean McVay’s offense.
The Bears’ defense took away the crossing routes the Rams favor by lining up their safeties shallow and at the hash marks. They also played plenty of zone coverage and had their tremendous linebackers essentially ignore play-action fakes and proceed directly to the quarterback.
Furthermore, they switched up their defensive fronts to make it more difficult for the Rams to get their wide zone scheme off the ground. With the shallow crossing routes covered, and the running game stalled, the Rams mustered a measly six points in the loss.
So what will the Packers and Matt LaFleur do to counter it?
One possibility is stretching the field with four wide receivers and one running back. Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano may have no choice but to replace linebackers with defensive backs.
The reality is this: The fewer Bears linebackers on the field, the better. In their 3-4 they feature Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd on the edges with Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith in the middle.
When the Bears deploy that personnel group it’s almost impossible to run on them. What’s worse, given the linebackers’ pass rush ability, it’s not that easy to throw against them, either.
Forcing Pagano to replace Trevathan with cornerback Buster Skrine, for example, creates a more favorable matchup. Frankly, the Packers’ second, third and fourth receivers are better than the Bears’ third, fourth or fifth defensive backs.
Here’s the catch: In order for this to work, Jones has to be sure-handed out of the backfield and the offensive line must protect Rodgers. That’s a tall task considering Chicago sacked Rodgers nine times in their two meetings last season.
However, Rodgers isn’t slowed by nagging injuries this time. Also, the Packers’ offensive line – in my opinion – is better equipped to cope.
Bryan Bulaga was coming off a serious knee injury and was beaten badly by Mack in the first half. Bulaga gamely got it together at halftime and went on to shut out Mack in the second half. The Packers don’t rally for a 24-23 victory at Lambeau Field if Bulaga doesn’t play well after the intermission.
The addition of Billy Turner at right guard is a huge upgrade in terms of talent and tenacity, and rookie Elgton Jenkins pushed Lane Taylor and made him a better left guard because of it.
As lethal as Mack and Floyd are, and as adept at rushing the passer as Roquan Smith is, Green Bay’s got more than a fighting chance.
So much of it hinges on playing mistake-free football.
Pre-snap penalties and holding calls will make it difficult for Green Bay’s offense to function. Turnovers will make it impossible.
The Packers must avoid both.
Perhaps tight end Jimmy Graham will be a factor, especially in the red zone. Maybe LaFleur’s wide zone running scheme will be effective and allow the offense to capitalize on the Bears’ indecision.
It’s not going to be easy – it seldom is in the NFL – but that’s the goal.
I’m not nearly as concerned about the Packers’ defense. Coordinator Mike Pettine knows his business. Presumably, he possesses the weapons to make it work.
I can’t see the Bears blowing out Green Bay.
In fact, if the Packers can handle the Bears’ defensive front seven – or at least force Chicago to replace a linebacker or two with defensive backs – Green Bay can do this.
Prediction: Packers 19, Bears 17 in a last-minute thriller.

Brewers-Cards showdown set;
Packers prepare for cut to 53
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – News of Andrew Luck’s abrupt retirement during the weekend shook the NFL to its core. The Colts’ quarterback said the constant cycle of injury and rehab took its toll mentally and physically.
So Luck decided to call it quits just two weeks shy of his 30th birthday.
Some so-called “experts” have chastised Luck, claiming he isn’t tough enough to put in the work required to rehab, and therefore quit on the Indianapolis Colts and their fans.
What a bunch of garbage.
It is Luck’s life. He can live it how he chooses.
In Green Bay, the obvious reaction is to begin wondering how long the great Aaron Rodgers will continue to play. At 35, he already has played 14 seasons, which is twice as long as Luck.
Rodgers signed a $134 million contract extension a year ago this week. He has realized (in real dollars) $80 million of that deal and is currently signed through the 2023 season, when he will turn 40 years old.
But how long will he play? And do so at a high level?
In an interview with NBC Sports’ Peter King last July, Rodgers articulated his intentions.
“My goal is to be able to move like I do or close to how I do now and still be able to do that at 40 … just because nobody’s been able to do that and still move around the same,” he told King. “Steve Young’s career was cut short in his late thirties, John Elway the same – he didn’t really move the same as when he was younger. So to be able to move the same way at 38, 39, 40 would be cool. That’s my aim.”
It is wise for Rodgers to focus on mobility.
It’s a quarterback’s “escape ability” that often determines longevity. As long as Rodgers can move he can extend plays and make terrific throws downfield. Just as important, he can move to avoid taking hits.
Perspective is an interesting thing.
In Green Bay, some fans are griping about how their 35-year-old quarterback needs to play in the preseason. In Indianapolis, the Colts only wish they had the chance to sit Luck for the season opener. Instead, Luck decided to seat himself.
Clearly, Rodgers’ health is the utmost concern. He can’t continue to absorb 49-sack seasons like he did a year ago. Fortunately, the Packers’ offensive line appears to be much-improved from the 2018 group.
That and new head coach Matt LaFleur’s offensive scheme – which allegedly relies on ball control, the running game and moving the chains – should in theory prolong Rodgers’ career.
Meantime, Packers fans should enjoy watching a legend continue to play at an incredibly high level. Does anyone really think the Packers have no chance at upsetting the Bears in the season opener? Of course not, and that’s largely because Green Bay has No. 12 at quarterback.
With Rodgers, anything is possible. Without him, the Packers are the Arizona Cardinals without Kyler Murray.
Speaking of Cardinals – the St. Louis baseball team, that is – the Brewers begin a critical three-game series against St. Louis tonight at Miller Park.
The Cardinals were 44-44 at the All-Star break.
Since then, St. Louis has owned its NL Central rivals, going 18-6 in division play. They also go into tonight’s game seeking their 14th win in the last 17 games.
Meantime, this is an excellent opportunity for the Brewers to close their current 4 ½ game deficit in the division, as well as their 2-game gap behind the Cubs for an NL wild-card berth.
Lefty Gio Gonzalez has been good against St. Louis and hopes to continue that tonight. The Cardinals counter with Adam Wainwright, who they lit up to capture their only victory in a three-game series last week at St. Louis.
The series’ other pitching matchups feature Miles Mikolas (7-13, 4.43) vs. Adrian Houser (6-5, 3.62) on Tuesday and Jack Flaherty (8-6, 3.32) vs. Jordan Lyles (8-8, 4.69) in Wednesday’s afternoon contest.

Rodgers sits versus Ravens; Packers’ tackling hit-or-miss
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers will have to put the champagne on ice for at least another week.
It appeared Aaron Rodgers was going to pop the cork on the 2019 season in the Packers’ Thursday night preseason game at Baltimore.
However, first-year head coach Matt LaFleur delayed the celebration by making Rodgers a late scratch when the QB experienced back tightness.
It may have been LaFleur’s best move of the preseason thus far.
The Packers’ 26-13 loss to the Ravens was a reminder that this Packers team is a work in progress. Playing a less-than-healthy Rodgers would have served no good purpose. If Rodgers had rained touchdown passes on back-to-back drives it would’ve been great. On the other hand, it might’ve glossed over issues the team must work through.
Or worse, Rodgers might’ve been injured in a meaningless game. LaFleur said he expects Rodgers to play against the Raiders in Manitoba Thursday, saying, “That’s the plan, but a lot is predicated on how he feels. I think he feels better, but we’ll see Sunday.”
As it stands, this much I know:
** The Packers’ backup quarterback race is going to be a difficult decision. Tim Boyle is the more talented passer; DeShone Kizer is the more experienced NFL-ready signal caller.
If Rodgers were to be injured, which QB gives Green Bay its best chance to win games in his absence? I would go with Boyle and try to trade Kizer for whatever could be reaped.
Kizer was 5-of-10 for 70 yards without any turnovers. However, he missed several open receivers (his accuracy is scattershot) including Equanimeous St. Brown on what looked like a touchdown.
Boyle was 12-for-21 for 107 yards and a 7-yard touchdown pass to Darrius Shepherd. He hooked up with Allen Lazard for plays of 21 and 25 yards after missing seven of eight throws in one stretch.
Either way, the Packers aren’t going to carry three QBs on the 53.
** The Packers’ J.K. Scott is the bomb.
The Packers’ punter may be the defense’s best friend early in the season.
Scott had six punts and all were boomers. He averaged 52.8 yards (gross) and 44.3 yards (net) with a 5.02 average hang time. Scott has proven to be a fifth-round draft pick well spent.
** One bright spot against the Ravens was the Packers’ offensive line. David Bakhtiari, Lane Taylor, Corey Linsley, Billy Turner and Bryan Bulaga played well against the Ravens’ No. 1 defense.
Rookie Elgton Jenkins, who played both guard spots, was whistled for two penalties that were tough calls. Jenkins certainly looked the part, however, by being strong at the point and also getting downfield. Jenkins’ athleticism and strength are obvious. It will be interesting to see whether LaFleur goes with Taylor or Jenkins at left guard in the opener.
If something were to happen to Bulaga it appears Turner would kick out to right tackle and Jenkins would move in at right guard.
Right now, there is no true backup tackle better than Turner.
** The Packers’ receiving unit is the deepest group on the team. It could be argued that as many as seven receivers will make the 53-man roster.
Clearly, it’s Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Geronimo Allison, Jake Kumerow and some difficult decisions. Darrius Shepherd looks like he can handle the return duties, which puts Trevor Davis in an even more precarious position. Davis (stinger) has been sidelined after a strong showing early in camp. He’s on the bubble. So is St. Brown, mainly because of Allen Lazard’s emergence. Both have great size and should contribute on special teams, but if the Packers have to choose one or the other, I’d suggest going the scientific route and toss a coin.
J’Mon Moore looks to be a goner unless injuries intervene.
** Defensively, the Packers need to clean up the missed tackles.
Green Bay missed 24 tackles last week, and LaFleur said the coaches counted 19 whiffs against the Ravens.
LaFleur said he intends to ramp up the “thud” tackling drills.
“We have to concentrate and have more concerted effort at thudding up and stopping the runner’s feet,” he said.

Brewers still own Pirates;
Packers’ preseason arrives

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – While the pitching-depleted Brewers fight to remain relevant in the NL Central race, the Packers’ preseason home opener versus Houston Thursday night arrives with many questions.
The greatest question is this: Why is Aaron Rodgers publicly second-guessing Packers’ first-year head coach Matt LaFleur? What purpose does it serve Rodgers to tell the media he could wait “another 14 years” to participate in joint practices again?
While LaFleur said he hopes to hold more joint practices in the future, Rodgers went so far as to suggest they do more harm than good.
He was critical of having live special teams (kick return) at practice. Who does Rodgers think OK’d that portion of practice?
I’m cool with Rodgers having an opinion. Clearly, it’s an educated one. The greater issue is what’s best for the Green Bay Packers – not for one player, even if he’s a terrific quarterback – but for the entire squad.
While Rodgers may not feel he got much out of the joint practices, perhaps some teammates would disagree. They may have appreciated the opportunity to test their skills against a non-Packers player.
At any rate, Rodgers is paid to play quarterback, not decide what should or shouldn’t be practiced, and against whom.
If I’m LaFleur, I have a private conversation with Rodgers about setting boundaries. There is nothing to be gained by making each other look bad in public. It only fosters the notion that Rodgers is difficult to deal with, and LaFleur lacks the experience to handle his quarterback.
The situation isn’t critical. It isn’t now, anyway.
That’s why it is critical that LaFleur lay down the law.
Meantime, the Brewers continue laying the wood on the Pirates’ pitching staff.
Even with the great Christian Yelich on the bench, the Brewers’ bats did enough damage to win the first two games in this three-game series.
Yelich sat out last night’s win and quite likely will do so again Wednesday night. His back spasms have been lingering, but Brewers manager Craig Counsell has done a good job of monitoring his star and his roster.
The Brewers trail the Chicago Cubs by 3 ½ games going into Wednesday night’s game. Counsell plans to use a “bullpen game” approach with newly acquired left-hander Drew Pomeranz making his first start in a Brewers’ uniform.
The Brewers had little choice with Zach Davies being placed on the 10-day Injured List.
Rookie Trent Grisham is off to a great start in the big leagues. He is batting .333 with a home run and five RBI.
Grisham will lead off and play left-field in the series finale at Pittsburgh. The left-handed hitter has excellent power and speed. While Yelich rests his back, Grisham has stepped in and delivered, albeit a small sampling.

LaFleur bids hello to season;
Packers say adios to Daniels

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Mike Daniels’ bark was worse than his bite.
Anyone paying attention to the veteran defensive end’s slow, steady decline the past 18 months should’ve known this to be true.
It is why the most shocking aspect of the Packers’ decision to cut Daniels Wednesday was the overreaction by some media and fans. To hear them tell it, one would have thought it was Kenny Clark the Packers released, rather than an aging, injury-prone underachiever.
The headlines refer to Daniels as a former Pro Bowl defensive tackle. The guy was an alternate selection after the 2017 season. Since then, he has missed games with injuries and been mediocre at best.
When Dean Lowry emerged as a capable starter, and Tyler Lancaster played well late last season, Daniels’ release was a no-brainer.
The Packers signed Lowry to a three-year, $20.325 million deal Tuesday. It effectively ended Daniels’ time in Green Bay.
“I wish him well, but we feel really, really good about the group that we have,” Packers’ first-year coach Matt LaFleur told reporters Wednesday. “You know with Kenny Clark, with (Tyler) Lancaster, (Dean) Lowry, Montravius Adams, (Kingsley) Keke … we feel like we have a group in place that can get the job done. You always want to keep good players, but unfortunately that’s part of this business.”
“There’s tough decisions you have to make.”

The fact is there will be a lot more difficult decisions to make than this.
Daniels was due to make $8.5 million this season. The cap space saved could be better spent on a player such as inside linebacker Mason Foster, who was released Tuesday by Washington.
Foster, a former third-round draft pick, played alongside new Packers outside linebacker Preston Smith with the Redskins. Green Bay might consider Foster given the familiarity and his productivity at a position (inside linebacker) that consists of Blake Martinez and question marks.
Either way, Daniels’ release sends the not-so-subtle message to the team that the Packers’ front office and coaching staff aren’t standing pat. It is an indication of a willingness to do whatever it takes to get better, even if it means cutting a player who was a Pro Bowl alternate two years ago.
The Packers spent $56 million in signing bonuses this offseason to revamp the defense. They also drafted two defensive players in the first round, including top pick Rashan Gary, who along with free agent Za’Darius Smith can line up at Daniels’ old position.
The Packers tried to trade Daniels but found no takers at their asking price. It’s likely other teams realized they could get Daniels by merely waiting for Green Bay to part ways with him.
Meantime, LaFleur conducted his first pre-training camp news conference on Wednesday.
His overarching message was twofold:
** Control what is controllable.
** Be prepared to adjust at a moment’s notice.
When asked what his greatest concern was going into his first NFL training camp as a head coach, LaFleur replied: “Maybe the unknown. You’re going through this the first time. You try to prepare for every scenario that’s going to come your way, but just like last year: first-time play caller, first game in Tennessee versus the Dolphins, and we have a four-hour lightning delay. Some things are out of your control.”

LaFleur has worked with first-year head coaches for two seasons in a row, and in three of the last four.
“That did afford me a really unique experience,” he said. “Hopefully being through that there’s nothing that will catch you by surprise, but this is the NFL. You can’t take anything for granted.”
LaFleur imparted that message to his team.
“Knees bent, heads on a swivel … be ready to adjust at any given moment in terms of our schedule, keeping a gauge on the pulse of our team, what we need as a team, but every situation is a bit fluid.”
LaFleur also was asked about Aaron Rodgers and the offense.
“There are so many things I like about (Rodgers),” LaFleur said. “Not only his physical ability, but he’s one of the most competitive players that I’ve been around. You see it on a daily basis, not just on the field but in the meeting room, too.”
LaFleur said he enjoys their communication.
“I enjoy the challenge,” he said. “He’s an extremely intelligent player, so you better know what you’re talking about.”
He said the emphasis is on what Rodgers and he can create together in terms of a new offense – the Green Bay Packers’ offense.
“It’s not necessarily about what we’ve done in our pasts,” LaFleur said. “It’s about how do we make this Packers offense and us coming together to make it function at its highest level.”
Training camp is about evaluating players correctly. That includes determining which players can do what the best.
“It’s about how can we get better each day,” he said. “And along the way it’s finding out what our guys do well – showcasing our strengths – because this game is about the players.”
LaFleur also was asked to reveal what the offense may look like.
“It starts right there with the running game,” he said. “We have a philosophical belief that we need to marry run with pass. Plays that play off one another to keep defenses off-balance. What those plays are … we have a pretty big menu and we’ve got to hone in on it. We’ve got to figure out what we do best and build off that part of the menu.”

Brewers’ downward spiral
continues with loss to Braves
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Brewers are a reflection of their manager.
Right now neither is a very pretty sight.
Craig Counsell has proven to be a good manager, but lately he’s been pressing as much as his players. The most recent example came in the Brewers’ 4-2 loss to Atlanta on Monday night at Miller Park.
Keston Hiura, who is hitting .299, opened the Brewers’ half of the fifth inning with a ground-rule double. Despite trailing 3-0 Hiura tried to steal third base. He beat the throw by a mile, but it wasn’t a wise decision.
Counsell, in a move that smacks of desperation, compounded Hiura’s poor base-running by putting on a “contact” play. It calls for Hiura to race home as soon as the ball is put in play on the ground. In this case, Orlando Arcia topped a one-hopper back to pitcher Max Fried, who easily tagged out Hiura two-thirds of the way down the baseline.
That isn’t bad luck. That’s bad baseball.
I realize Counsell is trying to light a fire under his team. Unfortunately, all he did was extinguish a potential rally.
After Adrian Houser struck out, Lorenzo Cain walked to put runners on first and second with two outs. Christian Yelich promptly drilled a liner to left-fielder Austin Riley to end the inning.
If Hiura had stayed put, it would’ve brought up Ryan Braun with two outs and two runners aboard. Instead, Braun had to wait until the sixth inning to lead off with his 13th home run of the season.
Instead of the game being a 3-3 tie with Yasmani Grandal at the plate, it was 3-1 until later that half-inning when Mike Moustakas singled and Hiura swatted a triple to drive him in and make it 3-2.
Counsell’s impetuous decision to put on the “contact” play was a killer.
The Brewers (48-47) trail the Chicago Cubs (50-44) by ONLY 2 ½ games in the NL Central. That’s the good news. There is ample time to get things straightened out. The problem is the Brewers have been playing sub-standard baseball for more than a month now.
Milwaukee is 9-18 in its last 27 games. Inconsistency has been the downfall. If it’s not the starters getting chased early, it’s the relievers being blasted late. And when the pitching is right, the hitting is invisible.
So it goes for the Brewers in a tightly packed NL Central.
Even Counsell’s post-game comment suggests a bit of desperation.
“We just gotta make more plays,” he told reporters. “That’s what it comes down to. Whether it be better at-bats and stuff or just making a play defensively (or) making a big pitch when it counts … We gotta find a way to make plays. That’s how we kind of break through this. Just make more plays. That’s the only way to do it.”
Counsell is wrong.
In baseball, you don’t “make” plays. You have to be ready to make the play when it comes to you. In football or basketball you can consciously force the action and dictate tempo. In baseball, you must be patient. It may be the most difficult, but important, aspect of the game.
In this case Counsell’s patience, like his team’s, is worn to a frazzle.
It was reflected in Grandal’s reaction to a tough third strike call. Umpire Jordan Baker was a bit quick on the draw when he tossed Grandal for arguing balls and strikes, but ultimately the ejection was deserved.
Grandal’s profanity laced shouts from the dugout after the ejection weren’t just about Baker’s narrow call, either. They were about the frustration Grandal and everyone else is feeling in the Brewers’ dugout.
Milwaukee has lost eight of its last 10.
Tonight, the Brewers send their ace, All-Star Brandon Woodruff, to the mound against Braves right-hander Bryse Wilson (1-0, 6.14 ERA).
Woodruff (10-3, 3.67 ERA) is 8-0 in 10 starts at Miller Park. The first pitch is set for 7:10 p.m.
My advice to Woodruff: Tread lightly when Freddie Freeman steps up to the plate. Freeman hit a home run in each game of the Brewers-Braves three-game series earlier this season.
On Monday night, Freeman’s three-run home run – his 25th – was enough to get the Braves past the Brewers.
Christian Yelich went 2-for-4 to raise his batting average to .332 with 32 home runs and 22 stolen bases. Hiura, who was 3-for-4, came within a home run of hitting for the cycle. Hiura is 10-for-20 with six extra-base hits during his current five-game hitting streak.
The Brewers’ inconsistency has been a problem during their slump.
A year ago, Milwaukee was 27-18 in blowout games (decided by 5-plus runs). Thus far, the Brewers are 9-13 in such contests. The Brewers also were 33-19 in one-run games a year ago. Thus far, they are 14-10.
On a positive note, Milwaukee trailed the Cubs by six games on Tuesday, Aug. 28, last season. So there’s still plenty of time.
What the Brewers need to do is relax and let the game come to them.
That goes double for the manager.
When you put on a “contact” play down three runs in the fifth with nobody out, you’re telling your team, “I can’t trust Arcia, or the pitcher, to drive in a runner from third. So I’ll force the action.”
Counsell has to trust in his players, and himself, if this is going to be fixed. When a starter is pitching well into the sixth, and his pitch count isn’t enormous, let him go. When a reliever is struggling, get him out before his pitch count – and the opponent’s run total – skyrocket.
Obviously, it isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Then again, Counsell is making it harder than it has to be.

Brewers still control destiny
amidst NL Central logjam
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Milwaukee Brewers have had their problems but still remain firmly in contention in a tight NL Central Division.
Milwaukee (47-44) trails the division-leading Chicago Cubs (47-43) by just a half-game with 71 to play. The Cardinals (44-44, two games out), Pirates (44-45, 2 ½) and Reds (41-46, 4 ½) round out the cluster.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the Brewers, who trail Philadelphia for the NL’s second wild-card spot, would be on the outside looking in if the MLB postseason started today.
So where do the Brewers go from here?
Much of that depends upon the success of their starting pitching. The Brewers have used 10 different starting pitchers thus far. Manager Craig Counsell has had to be creative and open-minded while handling a staff that has endured its share of injuries and ineffectiveness.
The Brewers’ starters have a collective 4.82 ERA, which ranks 19th in baseball, and has stretched the bullpen to its limits. Milwaukee’s relievers have pitched 369 innings, which is the fifth-most in baseball.

It’s little wonder the Brewers and trade rumors involving starting pitchers are linked so frequently.
The Mets’ Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler, the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, the Tigers’ Matt Boyd and the D-Backs’ Zack Greinke all have been said to draw interest from Milwaukee.
Greinke, who is 10-3 with a 2.73 ERA, has allowed just 15 walks while striking out 108 in 122 innings pitched. He would be my top choice, although Arizona reportedly wants a king’s ransom in return.
Wheeler, a hard-throwing righty, has more potential than production. Perhaps the Brewers could help Wheeler realize it.
Bumgarner is the perennial choice to be traded to Milwaukee. He is a left-handed starter, which the Brewers desperately need, and he’s a proven winner. His acquisition would put the Brewers in position to make a deep postseason run.
To open the final 71-game stretch Counsell is going with (in order) a rotation of Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Jhoulys Chacin, Adrian Houser and Brandon Woodruff.
Counsell’s rotation is largely based on giving Woodruff maximum rest coming out of the All-Star break. He also noted that pitching Woodruff fifth sets up, in Counsell’s opinion, the best matchups going forward.
The Brewers staggered into the All-Star break at 8-15 in their last 23. The addition of another quality starting pitcher may be essential if they are going to repeat as NL Central champions.
Beyond that, the bullpen will be asked to catch its breath and carry on.
Josh Hader, the bullpen’s top dog, was 1-3 with 20 saves and a 2.09 ERA through 91 games. He has 79 strikeouts in 43 innings pitched while allowing just 15 hits, 13 walks and 10 runs.
Hader’s velocity was down a bit before the All-Star break. It’s a result of fatigue and tightness in his lower back. The rest should rejuvenate him. The Brewers are 28-4 in games that Hader pitches in.
Jeremy Jeffress, Junior Guerra, Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta are hoping to pitch better than they have thus far. Peralta may end up in the starting rotation again if Houser, Chacin or Anderson struggles.
Offensively, the Brewers are poised to build on their first-half success.
Christian Yelich, Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal have been the primary catalysts in the Brewers’ home run-heavy attack.
Milwaukee has hit 155 home runs which puts the Brewers on pace to belt 275 in 2019, which would shatter the previous record of 231 set in 2007. That year the Brewers’ top home run hitters were Prince Fielder (50), Ryan Braun (34), J.J. Hardy (26), Corey Hart (24) and Geoff Jenkins (21).
The 2019 Brewers are led by Yelich (31), Moustakas (25), Grandal (19), Eric Thames (13) and Orlando Arcia and Ryan Braun (12 each).
Yelich, the reigning NL MVP, is hitting .329 with 31 home runs, 67 RBI and 19 stolen bases.
Yelich is on pace to become baseball’s first 50/30 player (50 home runs, 30 stolen bases) in history.
Others who have come close include: Larry Walker (1997, Rockies) with 49 HR, 33 SB; Hank Aaron (1963, Braves) with 44 HR, 31 SB; Alex Rodriguez (2007, Yankees) with 54 HR, 24 SB; Willie Mays (1955, Giants) with 51 HR, 24 SB; and Ken Griffey, Jr., (1998, Mariners) with 56 HR, 20 SB.
Yelich is on pace to hit 55 home runs and steal 34 bases this season.
The Brewers have reason to believe their offense may be even more potent down the stretch. That’s because Lorenzo Cain, Jesus Aguilar and Thames were hitting better leading into the All-Star break.
Cain’s numbers are down in part due to a thumb injury. Cryotherapy seems to have helped, and he should be closer to the .300 hitter that he is. Aguilar heated up right before the break with three home runs and six RBI in his final 10 at-bats. A return to form by both would be a godsend.
In terms of the schedule, the Brewers are set up for a fast start in the second half. Of their remaining 18 games in July, 12 are at Miller Park, where Yelich is hitting .373 with 21 home runs this season.
The Brewers’ most demanding stretch involves the first 18 games of August, when Milwaukee plays nine road games in the division.
They are at Chicago Aug. 2-3-4, at Pittsburgh Aug. 5-6-7 and at St. Louis Aug. 19-20-21.
Milwaukee is 24-18 in the NL Central – the only team with a winning record within the division. Thirty-four of their final 71 games are in the division.
They face the Cubs 13 times (seven home, six away), the Cardinals nine times (three home, six away), the Pirates six times (three home, three away) and the Reds six times (three home, three away).

Brewers stagger into All-Star break; but remain hopeful
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Josh Hader bowed out of the All-Star Game with a sore lower back. Christian Yelich did likewise in the Home Run Derby with a lingering issue of tightness, also in the lower back.
I’m not surprised given the way each has carried the Brewers this year.
Yelich, the reigning NL MVP, is hitting .329 with 31 home runs, 67 RBI and 19 stolen bases. He has 100 hits in 304 at-bats.
Hader, the overpowering left-handed reliever, is 1-3 with 20 saves and a 2.09 ERA. Hader has 79 strikeouts in 43 innings pitched, while allowing just 15 hits, 13 walks and 10 runs.
Yelich and Hader have been the key cogs on a Brewers’ team that enters the All-Star break just ½-game behind the Chicago Cubs. Milwaukee (47-44) can attribute much of its success to Yelich and Hader.
Consider this:
** The Brewers are 16-9 when Yelich hits a home run. They are 23-9 when he has a multi-hit game.
Furthermore, the Brewers are 28-4 in games when Hader pitches.
No wonder Brewers manager Craig Counsell breathed a sigh of relief when it was announced that Hader would skip the game, and that Yelich would sidestep the Home Run Derby.
After watching the Mets’ Pete Alonso swing with all his might to defeat Vlad Guerrero, Jr., and capture the Home Run Derby last night in Cleveland, I’m happier than ever that Yelich didn’t participate.
Yelich made the wise choice by avoiding the needless wear-and-tear.

Hader’s back issues are very real, and very much a concern. That’s why it’s fortunate he also decided not to play. Hader’s velocity has been down lately, from the mid-to-upper 90s to the low-to-mid 90s.
When velocity wanes it’s because of three things: Fatigue, injury or poor mechanics. I see nothing wrong with Hader’s mechanics, and while the back soreness may be considered an injury, it’s probably prompted by numerous multi-inning outings (aka fatigue).
All of that is why Brewers fans are rejoicing in the fact that Hader stepped aside and allowed teammate Brandon Woodruff to represent the National League, and celebrating Yelich’s decision not to participate in the Home Run Derby.
Yelich will be in the National League’s starting lineup tonight.
He will bat leadoff, which is quite an honor, especially given the NL lineup’s potency. I would expect Yelich to have a couple of at-bats before giving way to a sub.
It’s interesting how many baseball fans are wowed by the NL and AL All-Star lineups’ potent hitters. The reality is that great pitching beats great hitting every time. Sometimes, the perfectly placed pitch, with great movement or velocity or both, coupled with being set up by previous pitches, leaves the greatest hitters utterly helpless.
It’s why baseball has the greatest All-Star Game of them all.
The hitter versus pitcher matchup is the ideal challenge.
Consider the 1968 All-Star Game. It was played in two hours and 10 minutes, yet it didn’t lack for drama.
The National League won, 1-0, in a game that featured zero RBIs and just eight hits total. The NL’s amazing pitching featured Don Drysdale, the Dodgers’ overpowering right-hander, followed by the Giants’ Juan Marichal, a clever righty with a mid-90s fastball, and then “Lefty” – Steve Carlton. Oh, Tom Seaver also did some damage before lefty Jerry Koosman came in to strike out Carl Yastrzemski to end the game.
Willie Mays scored the game’s only run. He reached on a first-inning single, advanced on an errant pickoff attempt, went to third on a wild pitch by Luis Tiant, and scored on a double-play ball.

That was it.
The rest of the night was swings and misses and Ks.
It’s not like the AL lineup didn’t have any hitters. Rod Carew, Brooks Robinson, Frank Howard, Harmon Killebrew and Yaz all played. But they were no match for the NL’s overpowering pitchers.
Enjoy pro sports greatest all-star game, the Midsummer Classic.

Brewers win 2 of 3 from Bucs;
Send 4 to NL All-Star Game
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Eric Thames has been here all season.
Now that the slugging first baseman’s bat finally has arrived the Brewers should get more big hits like the one he delivered Sunday afternoon.
Thames’ eighth-inning home run snapped a 1-1 tie to lead Milwaukee to a 2-1 victory over NL Central rival Pittsburgh at Miller Park. The win enabled the Brewers to capture the series, two games to one, and move into a first-place tie with the Chicago Cubs in the division.
Thames, like first base counterpart Jesus Aguilar, has struggled at the plate. Unlike Aguilar, Thames is finding his way back. He tripled and homered in the Brewers’ 3-1 win Saturday night.
“I told myself in spring training that regardless of what happened in regard to playing time, I was just going to stick to my routine, keep working and good things would happen,” Thames told reporters.
“Last year, my thumb got hurt and I wasn’t able to perform as a pinch-hitter. I got so caught up in the results that I spiraled out and didn’t make the (postseason) roster.”
Thames is hitting a respectable .272 with 10 doubles, a triple, 12 home runs and 35 RBI despite striking out 72 times in 180 at-bats.
Meantime, Aguilar is scuffling at .206 with just five home runs and 26 RBI in 175 at-bats. If Aguilar doesn’t get it going by the All-Star break it’s likely the Brewers will wave (or waive) good-bye to him.

Milwaukee (45-39) is tied with Chicago atop the tightest division in baseball. Only 5 ½ games separate the top and bottom.
The Pirates (39-43) were the hottest team in the NL Central before Milwaukee’s pitchers cooled them off.
“They are more than a hitting team,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told reporters.
Indeed, diminutive right-hander Zach Davies delivered a strong performance both on the mound and at the plate. Davies’ two-out, run-scoring single in the fourth inning provided the Brewers’ other run.
Davies also rebounded from several poor pitching outings. He allowed just one run on six hits scattered over 5 1/3 innings.
Jeremy Jeffress (2-2) got the win and Matt Albers picked up the save. Freddy Peralta, Jeffress and Albers combined on 3 2/3 shutout innings.
The Brewers open a four-game series tonight at Cincinnati, where they will face four straight right-handed starters. The left-handed hitting Thames should be the starting first baseman in all four games.
Here are the pitching matchups for Brewers-Reds:
** Monday: Adrian Houser (2-2, 2.94) vs. RHP Tyler Mahle (2-8, 4.35).
** Tuesday: Chase Anderson (4-2, 4.42) vs. RHP Tanner Roark (5-6, 3.36)
** Wednesday: Jhoulys Chacin (3-8, 5.60) vs. RHP Sonny Gray (4-5, 3.94)
** Thursday: Brandon Woodruff (10-2, 3.79) vs. RHP Luis Castillo (7-3, 2.47)
Meantime, the Brewers landed four players on the NL All-Star team: Christian Yelich, who will start, as well as third baseman Mike Moustakas, catcher Yasmani Grandal and reliever Josh Hader.
The game is set for July 9 in Cleveland.

Brewers’ five above .500 and
treading water in NL Central

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – It’s a long season.
It’s even longer when the Brewers are mired in a slump.
How else to classify it?
Milwaukee (42-37) is a modest five games above .500 and treading water while the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals are doing their best to make sure this is a three-team race start to finish.
The Brewers have lost eight of their past 11 games. It feels worse.
Amid the cries for Jesus Aguilar to be replaced as the right-handed hitting first baseman, and GM David Stearns to acquire more pitching – lefty or righty, starter or reliever – help is undeniable needed.
Aguilar has shown a pulse, if not genuine signs of life as a big-league hitter, in recent games. He’ll get another chance to reclaim his eye at the plate tonight against lefty Wade LeBlanc for Seattle. LeBlanc is 4-1 with a 3.82 ERA in four career appearances against Milwaukee.
The Brewers are countering with Adrian Houser.
The hard-throwing right-hander is 2-1 with a 2.27 ERA in 14 appearances for the Brewers. Houser’s mid-90s fastball, curveball and changeup have been effective this season. It would be a huge boost if Houser can succeed in a starting role going into the All-Star break.
It hasn’t helped that Jimmy Nelson has failed in his return from shoulder surgery, as a starter and reliever, while Zach Davies, Jhoulys Chacin and Chase Anderson have all been disappointing lately.
It further complicates matters that center fielder Lorenzo Cain required cryotherapy on his right thumb. The idea is to deaden the nerve that is causing Cain to great discomfort while he attempts to follow through on his swing. The procedure could produce positive results immediately.
A healthy Cain would go a long way toward helping the offense.
Meantime, I’ve got to give manager Craig Counsell an “A” for innovation in term so of having Yasmani Grandal hit leadoff. Grandal is a patient hitter who is prone to draw walks. He also has terrific power, and as a switch-hitter is equally deadly versus righties or lefties.
So the starter’s option is this: Throw strikes to Grandal or risk walking him, which brings the NL’s reigning MVP – Christian Yelich – to the plate with a runner on. If you pitch to Grandal, though, you do so at your own risk because he has the power to make it 1-0 in a hurry.
The Mariners have won five of six and feature a formidable lineup that includes ex-Brewers slugger Domingo Santana.
The Brewers desperately need a strong start from Houser.
If they can get the final two against the Mariners and move to 4-3 with three games to go in the home-stand they may avert a disastrous stretch.
I sense the Brewers are going to regather themselves, refocus and finish strong between now and the All-Star break. The Brewers’ leaders are too good (Yelich, Ryan Braun, Mike Moustakas) and that includes Counsell.
Meantime, the Bucks cleaned up in the NBA’s awards.
Giannis was the MVP, while Mike Budenholzer was Coach of the Year, and Jon Horst GM of the Year. It doesn’t get much better than that, unless you’re talking about reaching the NBA Finals.
That’s the next step. Anything else will be a disappointment


Brewers salvage win at SF;
On to SD to wrap road trip

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Milwaukee Brewers’ current eight-game, nine-day road trip is rounding third and heading for home – but not

before a quick three-game series that starts tonight at San Diego.

On Sunday, Milwaukee relied on its bullpen and a pair of home runs from an unlikely source – the first basemen, of all things – to edge San Francisco 5-3 and avoid being swept by the Giants.

“Our bullpen had a great game today,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “Really good stuff … that was the game, the bullpen today was the game for sure, and they did a nice job.”

Counsell had it half right.

After a so-so start by Chase Anderson, who scattered five hits and allowed three runs in four-plus innings, Matt Albers came to the rescue.

Albers entered in the bottom of the fifth to face a no outs, bases loaded jam. After allowing a sacrifice fly to make it 4-3, Albers settled down and pulled a Houdini act to escape.

After that, Junior Guerra and Jeremy Jeffress built a bridge to Josh Hader, who pitched a perfect eighth and ninth for his 17th save.

However, the N.L. Central-leading Brewers (40-31) don’t win without an offensive surge from first basemen Eric Thames and Jesus Aguilar.

Thames slammed his 10th home run off the right-field foul pole to give the Brewers a 4-2 lead in the fifth. Aguilar’s pinch-hit blast maintained a two-run lead (5-3) in the sixth.

Without Thames’ and Aguilar’s home runs the game might’ve gone to extra innings. With them, Milwaukee escaped chilly San Francisco with a victory while the Cubs were losing 3-2 at the Dodgers. Milwaukee holds a one-game lead over the Cubs and is up 3 ½ on the Cardinals.

While Thames appears to be breaking out of his slump, Aguilar may be doing likewise. He swatted his fifth home run of the season and managed to raise his batting average to .201.

Aguilar has been scuffling at or below .200 all season.

A year ago, Aguilar hit a respectable .274 with 35 home runs. If he doesn’t begin hitting like he did in 2018 the Brewers are going to have to make a move long before the July 31 trade deadline.

The same is true of Travis Shaw.

The left-handed hitting third baseman is batting .176 with five home runs after dealing with a wrist injury. A year ago, Shaw hit 32 home runs while batting .241 with a team-high 78 bases on balls. He also ranked third on the team with 86 runs batted in.

Shaw’s tailspin, like Aguilar’s, has been dramatic.

Still, the Brewers keep slugging and winning.

Christian Yelich belted a pair of doubles and extended his hitting streak to 13 games. He is hitting .472 (25 of 53) with five home runs during the streak. On the season, the NL’s reigning MVP is hitting .343 with 26 home runs and 57 RBI.

Yasmani Grandal has been the most prolific hitting catcher in baseball. Grandal is hitting .282 with 15 home runs and 40 RBI. On top of that, infielder Mike “Moose” Moustakas is batting .280 with 21 home runs and 45 RBI.

Milwaukee’s 125 home runs leads the NL and is on pace to shatter the Brewers’ single-season record of 231 home runs in 2007.

Tonight, the Brewers will start Jhoulys Chacin (3-7, 5.74) versus San Diego lefty Joey Lucchesi (5-4, 4.11) in a 9:15 start.

Chacin has been sidelined with a lower back strain since June 2. He will be making his 13th career start against San Diego.

Lucchesi is coming off a strong start against at San Francisco, where he allowed just two runs in six innings.

The Brewers’ scheduled starters for Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon at Petco Park are Brandon Woodruff (8-1, 3.87 ERA) and Zach Davies (7-1, 2.60 ERA).

After that, the Brewers return to Miller Park for a 10-game home stand including four games versus Cincinnati, followed by a day off and then a pair of three-game sets versus Seattle and Pittsburgh.

Brewers win fourth straight;
Yelich, Moustakas crushing it

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Milwaukee Brewers have the first 20-plus home run duo in Major League Baseball. They also have a four-game winning streak as they prepare for a nine-day, eight-game road trip.
In short, the Brewers are on a roll.
The National League Central leaders completed a three-game sweep of division rival Pittsburgh with a 5-2 victory Sunday in front of a season-high 45,375 fans at Miller Park.
The catalysts were Christian Yelich and Mike “Moose” Moustakas.
The left-handed sluggers each homered to back Chase Anderson’s quality start. Brewers manager Craig Counsell turned it over to the bullpen in the seventh and got a shutout inning each from Adrian Houser, Jeremy Jeffress (1-0) and Josh Hader (16th save).
The Brewers (38-28) are a season-high 10 games over .500 and merely percentage points behind the Cubs (37-27) atop the division. Milwaukee’s weekend sweep of Pittsburgh raises the Brewers’ record to a strong 18-10 in NL Central play, easily tops in the division.
Yelich’s MLB-leading 24th home run in the sixth inning cut the Brewers’ deficit to 2-1. Ben Gamel followed by singling in the tying run. Two innings later, Moustakas drilled a tiebreaking two-run home run that traveled 419 feet and hit the roof of an SUV in center field. That blast won season-ticket holder Mark Gruber the metallic gray SUV.
“That homer won us the game and somebody a car, which is pretty cool,” Yelich told reporters after the game.
Moustakas’ 20th home run gives the Brewers the first 20-plus HR duo in major league baseball.
“That was a first time for me,” Moustakas said of the SUV giveaway. “Definitely something I am going to remember for a long time. I didn’t know that I actually won somebody a car until afterward.”
When the Brewers aren’t giving away bobble heads or SUVs their first basemen are giving away at-bats. The left-right platoon of Eric Thames and Jesus Aguilar continues to struggle after showing signs of life.
Thames is hitting .254 with eight home runs and 26 RBIs. Aguilar is at .195 with four homes – an average of one HR for every 37 at-bats.
The good news is the Brewers face a pair of right-handed starters in their brief two-game interleague series Tuesday night at Houston. That means it will be Thames and not Aguilar at first base. It also means they can get another left-handed bat in the lineup with the DH.
The bad news is the Astros’ two right-handers are pitching lights out.
Brad Peacock (5-3, 3.20) has been outstanding since moving into the starting rotation. In his last six starts, Peacock has 41 strikeouts in 34 innings pitched with a 3-1 record and with a 1.32 ERA.
Brewers’ right-hander Freddy Peralta (3-2, 5.11) will start Tuesday’s 7:10 p.m. opener.
On Wednesday night, it will be Astros ace Justin Verlander (9-2, 2.31) going for his MLB-leading 10th win. Verlander has 110 strikeouts this season, and he’s 34-7 with a 2.73 ERA in 48 career interleague starts.
Brandon Woodruff (8-1, 3.87) is the Brewers’ scheduled starter. Woodruff has piled up 90 strikeouts to only 20 walks in 74.1 innings.
The Astros (45-22) have won eight of their last 10 games and sit high atop the American League West. If anyone can cool off the Astros it might be Milwaukee, which is 7-3 in that span.
Meantime, the Brewers must decide how long they will stick with Aguilar. There isn’t an abundance of options. The best scenario is that Aguilar starts hitting again like he did last season.
After that it gets a bit more complicated.
The Brewers don’t have a “can’t miss” first base slugger in their system. They could call up Keston Hiura to play second base and give them added pop from the right side of the plate.
They could move Ryan Braun to first base and go with Gamel and a right-handed hitting corner outfielder from the minors.
They could start playing Yasmani Grandall at first base against left-handed starters with Manny Pina doing the catching on those days.
Most likely it’ll be a combination of the above if Aguilar doesn’t get it together and soon.

Brewers win 4 of 6 on trip;
Nelson to start Wednesday

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Milwaukee Brewers capped a successful 4-2 road trip with a solid 4-2 victory Sunday afternoon at Pittsburgh.
The NL Central-leading Brewers (34-26) split a two-game set at Minnesota before winning three of four at Pittsburgh over the weekend.
The successful road trip concluded with more good news: Jimmy Nelson was called up from Triple-A San Antonio and will make his first start of the season against the Miami Marlins on Wednesday at Miller Park.
Nelson, who turns 30 on Wednesday, suffered a right rotator cuff strain and a partially torn anterior labrum Sept. 9, 2017. He was ranked among the NL’s top pitchers at the time with a 12-6 record, a 3.49 ERA and 199 strikeouts in just 175 innings.
The Brewers’ roster spot became available when pitchers Gio Gonzalez (arm) and Jhoulys Chacin (back) were placed on the 10-day injured list. Travis Shaw is a candidate to fill the other roster spot.
Nelson, 6-6, 240, made several rehab starts with the Triple-A Missions in preparation for his return.
The Brewers, who are off today, open a three-game series with the Marlins on Tuesday. They play host to Pittsburgh over the weekend.
The pitching matchups for the Marlins’ series feature Chase Anderson (3.0, 3.31 ERA) vs. Pablo Lopez (3-5, 4.99) on Tuesday; Nelson vs. Sandy Alcantara (2-5, 4.08) on Wednesday; and Brandon Woodruff vs. TBA on Thursday.
If Nelson’s return is successful it would be a major shot in the arm, especially with Chacin struggling and Gonzalez unavailable.
In other Brewers news, it seems Eric Thames has rediscovered his swing. The slumping first baseman doubled, homered and drove in three runs to lead the Brewers to victory at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Thames, a left-handed slugger, had been struggling at the plate. He was hitting in the .230s while striking out at an alarming rate going into the Pittsburgh series. His woes have been amplified by the fact that fellow first baseman Jesus Aguilar has been even worse at the plate.
Despite getting almost nothing from their first basemen at the plate, the Brewers still lead the National League with 104 home runs and are hitting a strong .251 as a team.
Thames, 32, raised his average to .254 with seven home runs. Aguilar is hitting .190 with four home runs.
The Brewers have been platooning the duo, but if Aguilar doesn’t start hitting they will begin to explore alternatives such as Yasmani Grandal (with Manny Pina catching) or Ryan Braun (with Ben Gamel in the outfield).
The Brewers’ farm system doesn’t have a clear-cut future first baseman that is hitting in the minor leagues right now. If they’re going to fix the lack of production from the right side of the plate at first base it’ll have to be because Aguilera figures it out, Grandal or Braun can handle it, or they make a move to acquire a veteran from another team.
Making a trade would be the last recourse.

Packers fans mourning death of QB legend Bart Starr, 85

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5 FM

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Wisconsin’s many pro sports fans who adore both the Bucks and Packers have been hit hard the past few days.

Milwaukee’s 100-94 loss at Toronto in Saturday night’s Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals left a decidedly bittersweet aftertaste. The Bucks’ premature elimination triggered disappointment and dismay.

As losses go, the Bucks’ defeat plummeted to a distant second with news Sunday of Bart Starr’s death at age 85 in Birmingham, Ala.

The Bucks will be back.

Starr was one of a kind, a gentleman in every sense, in addition to being one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks of all-time.

Starr ranked among the Packers’ most beloved figures in history.

His memory will live forever.

“A champion on and off the field, Bart epitomized class and was beloved by generations of Packers fans,” Packers president Mark Murphy said in a statement. “A clutch player who led his team to five NFL titles, Bart could still fill Lambeau Field with electricity decades later during his many visits.”

Starr is the third Packers Hall of Famer to pass away in the past year. Jim Taylor died in October and Forrest Gregg died last month.

All three were integral parts on Green Bay Packers’ coach Vince Lombardi’s great teams of the 1960’s. The losses are heartfelt and lasting in Green Bay, where every day is a reminder of them.

While covering the Packers for the past three decades, I have had the privilege of getting to interview many of the team’s all-time greats.

The players from the Sixties were especially fun for me. It was like having your childhood idols spring to life. I got to chat about life with Ray Nitschke at the Golden Basket in Green Bay. I had a chance to discuss the media, and in particular radio, with the great Willie Davis. A bear-hug greeting from Fred “Fuzzy” Thurston was always first on his list, then it was fun, fun and more fun.

God bless them one and all.

That goes double today for Bart Starr.

I had the joy of getting to know him as a reporter for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. In the early 2000s, I wrote an article detailing the health of the Packers’ Glory Years players. I interviewed several players, including Starr.

It seems a fan sent Starr a clip of the article. He responded by sending me a handwritten, signed thank you. He especially liked that I noted how much he truly appreciated having his beloved teammates still with him. He also wrote of his affection for men such as Dave “Hawg” Hanner, Henry Jordan and Lionel Aldridge, all long gone by then.

It was the greatest compliment I’ve ever received.

Several years later, I was contracted to write the book Lombardi: An Illustrated Life.

One of my tasks was to interview Starr, and to inquire if he would be willing to author the foreword.

I reached Ruth McKlosky, his longtime secretary, by telephone. She politely asked me to explain what I would need from Mr. Starr. About a minute in I heard a kind, familiar voice say, “Thanks, Ruth … Chris, this is Bart Starr. How can I help you?”

We chatted about Coach Lombardi, the book project and the possibility of Starr writing the foreword. All told the conversation lasted perhaps a half-hour, with me diligently taking notes the entire time.

During our visit, Starr recalled the article I had written about his teammates’ longevity several years before.

Then, he said, “I think you have a great understanding of how I feel about Coach. Go ahead. Write the foreword. Send me a copy and I’ll proofread it.”

Just like that, I was writing for an audience of one.

It may have been the most painstaking, pressure-packed writing I had done since the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI. Finally, after what seemed like 1,000 rewrites, I sent Starr the foreword.

Imagine my relief, and joy, at receiving Starr’s edited version only to find one minor correction and the words, “Well done.”

As endorsements go it doesn’t get any better than that.

Starr’s passing is a loss of the highest order.

At a time when the world needs leaders such as Starr more than ever, his class, charity and love of fellow man will be dearly missed.

So will Starr.

Raptors hold serve vs. Bucks;
Reds stifle Brewers’ bats, 3-0

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – If Milwaukee doesn’t solve Toronto’s 3-2 zone defense the Bucks are going to find themselves down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Raptors scored a decisive 120-102 victory over the Bucks in Tuesday night’s Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Toronto.
Much of the focus has been on Kawhi Leonard’s offense, but it has been his defense that has shackled Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.
Toronto’s 3-2 zone has suffocated the Bucks’ attack.
When Milwaukee can get out and run – which requires stopping the Raptors’ offense – they have been OK. When they have to play in the half-court setting it’s been painful to watch.
“They did a great job on us defensively,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said after the game. “They took advantage of some of our defensive coverages and just made shots. For the most part, they got anything they wanted.”
What the Raptors wanted most was a victory.
Leonard scored 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 34 minutes. That was on the heels of a 52-minute, 36-point double-OT performance. Kyle Lowry had his back by scoring 25 points, including 18 in the first half to keep the Bucks at bay.
Norman Powell, a noted Bucks killer, added 18 points off the bench. Powell, a 6-4 guard from UCLA, was originally drafted by Milwaukee with the 46th pick in the 2015 NBA draft. They traded his rights and a first-round pick in 2017 for veteran guard Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez played sparingly in Milwaukee and has been out of the NBA 2 ½ years.
Perhaps Powell still holds a grudge. He plays like it anyway.
The Raptors’ Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol each had 17 points and the previously ineffective Fred VanVleet scored 13 points.
The Bucks’ “Bench Mob” was no match for Toronto’s super subs.
Middleton, who played well, scored 30 points to go with six rebounds and seven assists. Giannis added 25 points and 10 rebounds while Nikola Mirotic scored 11 after a hot start.
So how does Milwaukee attack the Raptors’ 3-2 zone?
They have been trying to spread the floor and let Giannis attack from the top of the key. The problem is that means four Bucks and five Raptors are standing around waiting for Giannis to make his move.
It’s essentially 1-on-5 with Toronto already set to stop Giannis.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer needs to rethink it.
The better option would be to have Giannis lurk BEHIND the 3-2 zone. It’s much more difficult to stop him when you can’t see him. Giannis needs to work the baseline and disrupt the zone from inside-out. He needs to be active and flash into the lane, or attack from the baseline.
It’s easier for Giannis to catch it and pass when he’s doubled, rather than dribbling into the double team. It’s a recipe for a turnover in that case.
With either Malcolm Brogdon or Eric Bledsoe at the point, and Middleton and Mirotic working the wings, it would give the Bucks much more freedom offensively.
Defensively, the Bucks need to keep the faith.
Toronto isn’t going to keep knocking down 3’s like it has been and the Bucks’ defense gets a lot stingier when it is playing from ahead.
“I think defensively, just tonight didn’t feel like where we need to be defensively, as good as we need to be,” Budenholzer said. “They got to good spots. They shared the ball. They passed it. They made open shots. They made some high-degree difficulty shots, too, so that’s a bad combination. They’re making open looks, and then they’re making tough ones, too.”
Game 5 is set for Thursday night at Milwaukee. Defending champion Golden State faces the winner in the NBA Finals.
Game 5 prediction: Bucks 111, Raptors 104
Meantime, the Brewers opened a brief five-game home-stand with a disappointing 3-0 loss to the Reds Tuesday night.
Cincinnati backed Sonny Gray’s six shutout innings by scoring three first-inning runs to take control. The Brewers’ leadoff hitter reached base in three of the six innings, but Gray held them to 0-for-6 hitting with runners in scoring position.
Gio Gonzalez took the loss.
Righty Zach Davies starts in today’s 12:10 matinee at Miller Park. He will go against the Reds’ Luis Castillo.
Christian Yelich, who leads the majors with 19 home runs, sat out last night’s game with lower back spasms. The Brewers didn’t submit today’s lineup at the time of this posting.

Bucks up 2-1 over Raptors; Brewers go 5-5 on road trip

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Bucks take great pride in their depth. They even named their unit the “Bench Mob.”
After a grueling 118-112 double-overtime loss in Game 3 Sunday night at Toronto, the Bucks’ bench will be put to the test Tuesday night.
The No. 1 seeded Bucks still hold a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals, but the Raptors seem bent on making it a series.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored a playoff-low 12 points while grabbing 23 rebounds before fouling out with 4:24 to play in the second OT. Giannis hit just 5 of 16 shots from the floor along with eight turnovers.
“They were just playing better than us,” Giannis told reporters. “Whenever we got close they’d hit some shots and take the lead back to seven or eight. At the end of the day, it wasn’t our best game. We can get a lot better.”
The Bucks have room for improvement.
It begins with their team defense on the Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard, who scored 36 points, including eight in the second OT, to lead Toronto. Leonard played a grueling 52 of a possible 58 minutes. When he wasn’t hitting from the floor, he was living at the free throw line (12 of 13).
“I mean, it is 52 minutes and it’s in the playoffs, so you definitely feel it,” Leonard said. “When you play 30 minutes you feel it still … (so) I’ve just got to not worry about it, get my treatment and move on to the next one.”
The “next one” is Tuesday night’s pivotal Game 4.
The Raptors backed Leonard’s play by getting strong showings from a handful of players, including Marc Gasol, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds. It was the first time Gasol asserted himself in the series.
Pascal Siakam had 25 points and 11 rebounds, while Norman Powell added 19 points before fouling out.
The Bucks had plenty of opportunities to win.
“We were right on the cusp of winning a game when we didn’t play that well,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
George Hill (24 points) and Malcolm Brogdon (20 points) kept the Bucks close, but ultimately Giannis’ subpar play on offense, coupled with Khris Middleton’s 3-of-16 shooting, doomed Milwaukee.
The Bucks’ starters shot 19 of 69, including Eric Bledsoe’s 3-of-16 day.
“Just one of those games,” Hill said. “We’re not worried about it.”
Tuesday night we’ll see if the Bucks’ depth is as good as billed.
I thought the Raptors would win one of two games at home. I just wasn’t sure whether it would be Game 3 or Game 4. Look for the Bucks to go up 3-1 with a solid victory in Game 4.
Prediction: Bucks 117, Raptors 113
Meantime, the Brewers remain solidly in contention after going .500 on their most recent 10-game road trip.
Brandon Woodruff, who is quickly becoming the Brewers’ stopper, pitched eight strong innings in Milwaukee’s 3-2 victory in 10 innings at Atlanta.
All five runs came on home runs.
The Brewers got long balls from Christian Yelich (19th), Keston Hiura (1st) and Ben Gamel in the top of the 10th to win it. Gamel’s home run ended the Braves’ four-game winning streak. It also kept Milwaukee within 1 ½ games of NL Central-leading Chicago (27-17).
Josh Hader rebounded from a rough outing by pitching two scoreless innings to claim the victory.
A very economical Woodruff had six strikeouts and zero walks on just 93 pitches.
“I’ve been able to get some strikeouts, but my whole goal this year has been to just get deep into the game,” Woodruff said.
Brewers’ manager Craig Counsell, who was ejected in the fifth inning, liked what he saw from his ace.
“He’s been really good the last four times out and today he even took it to another level,” Counsell said. “It was really good. It was a great performance.”
The Brewers (28-21) host the Reds on Tuesday at 6:40 p.m. to begin a seven-game home stand.

Brewers’ Hiura a hit in debut;
Bucks braced for Raptors;

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Keston Hiura just might be the cure for what has been ailing the Brewers.
The Brewers promoted Hiura, one of their top prospects, on Tuesday to play second base and add some right-handed pop to their lineup. They didn’t have to wait long for a return from their call-up.
Hiura had two hits and played stellar defense in Milwaukee’s 7-4 victory at Philadelphia on Tuesday. The Brewers (25-19) try to make it consecutive wins with lefty Gio Gonzalez (1-0, 1.69) squaring off against Phillies’ righty Jake Arrieta (4-3, 3.78) tonight at 6:05 p.m.
Hiura’s presence couldn’t have come at a better time.
Travis Shaw is mired in a season-long slump that has been sidetracked, for the moment, with a wrist injury that landed him on the injury list.
Hiura’s promotion prompted Brewers manager Craig Counsell to move Mike Moustakas to third base. That is Moose’s normal position, and the double-switch actually improves the Brewers’ defensive infield.
Hiura, who was hitting .333 with 11 home runs at Triple-A, looked comfortable and confident in his major league debut.
Meantime, Yasmani Grandall’s three-run home run and Ryan Braun’s two-run shot lifted Milwaukee to a 6-1 victory Tuesday night. Braun has been a Phillies slayer at Citizens Bank Park.
Braun has 14 home runs and a .406 batting average with 43 RBI in 36 career games at Citizens.
Starter Brandon Woodruff backed the Brewers’ offense with a stellar pitching performance. Woodruff and Zach Davies have been the backbone of the Brewers’ starting rotation. With a fastball in the mid- to upper-90s, a wicked curveball and decent changeup, Woodruff’s talent ranks among the NL’s top 20 starting pitchers.
He has been a difference maker.
The Brewers will match last season’s franchise record 31-19 mark through 50 games if they win their next six straight. Interestingly, the Brewers’ schedule has been a beast. Think about this: How many teams have the Brewers faced when their opponent was tops in its division?
The Dodgers, the Mets, the Angels and the Phillies were red-hot division leaders when the Brewers faced them. That doesn’t even include the Cardinals and the Cubs, and the Pirates are no slouch.
The Brewers are in decent shape going ahead, especially if Woodruff continues to deal and Hiura continues to hit.
Across town, the Milwaukee Bucks are bracing for their best-of-7 Eastern Conference Finals series against the Toronto Raptors.
The Bucks will be looking to atone for a Game 1 loss at home to Boston in the previous round. Clearly, Milwaukee shouldn’t be caught off guard a second time around, which doesn’t bode well for Toronto.
The Bucks, the top seed in the East, are led by Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis has been dominant all season, and especially in the playoffs.
Milwaukee has outscored its postseason opponents by an average of 15.3 points. Meantime, Toronto is leaning on Kawhi Leonard to continue to carry the Raptors, who dispatched the Sixers on Leonard’s game-winner in Game 7 last Sunday.
Giannis was asked about this being uncharted territory. Milwaukee’s last appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals came in 2001.
That’s a long drought.
“We’re really hungry to achieve our goals,” Giannis told reporters. “That’s all we care about. As long as we play hard, we really don’t care about what anybody has to say.”
Tonight’s tip is set for 7:30. The game will be broadcast on TNT.
The Raptors are led by Leonard, of course, as well as guard Kyle Lowry (12.4 ppg) and forward Pascal Siakam (20.8 ppg).
The Bucks’ “Bench Mob” has been amazing in the postseason.
While the starting five gets a boost from Malcolm Brogdon’s return – he’s a “full-go” – Eric Bledsoe, George Hill and Khris Middleton have been taking care of business. When they need a breather, it’s been Pat Connaughton, Ersan Ilyasova, Nikola Merotic and the rest who have hounded opponents’ subs into submission.
Look for the Raptors to be pesky.
Look for the Bucks to win, 119-112, in a Game 1 that wasn’t that close.

Bucks braced for Game 4;
Thompson in Packer HOF

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Ted Thompson began his post-NFL playing days as a scout with the Green Bay Packers. He ended it by becoming the 162nd member of the Packer Hall of Fame.
A beaming Thompson marveled at the honor.
“I appreciate it more than you can ever know,” he said. “This means a lot to me, and I can say, ‘Go Pack Go!’ ”
Thompson, 66, led the Packers to a franchise record eight straight playoff appearances. He also presided over the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV championship in the 2010 season.
Bob Harlan, Ron and Eliot Wolf, John Dorsey and Reggie McKenzie were among those in attendance. John Schneider, Mike Holmgren, Charles Woodson and Aaron Rodgers – Thompson’s first draft pick as GM in 2005 – all sent video messages.
Jordy Nelson, who was drafted by Thompson in 2008, was grateful to the former GM for making him a Packer.
“A great person,” he told ESPN. “I think you can tell by the people he brought into the organization. I think that was first and foremost – the (kind of) people he brought in was more important than the skill and the talent because he wanted the right locker room, the right guys in the community, the right leaders. Obviously, I’m extremely thankful for what he’s done for me and my family, giving us that opportunity. It’s great to be back to see him receive this honor and see him again.”
Thompson, who played at Southern Methodist University, was signed by Oilers head coach/GM Bum Phillips as an undrafted player in 1975. Phillips had briefly coached Thompson at SMU. Thompson played 10 seasons at Houston.
In 1992, Ron Wolf hired Thompson as a scout. He became a relentless talent hound and contributed mightily to the Packers’ ascension and eventual Super Bowl XXXI victory.
After a stop in Seattle, where he helped the Seahawks reach the Super Bowl, he returned as the Packers’ GM in 2005.
To begin the Packer HOF event, four Marines presented the Packers’ Lombardi Trophies in front of Lambeau Field.
Bart Starr Jr. said his parents hope to be in attendance at Lambeau Field for the Week 2 home opener against the Vikings. A video showed Bart Starr, at 85, throwing a football.
It was a delightful update on Starr, and it was a wonderful touch on an evening to honor Thompson, one of the greats in franchise history.
Meantime, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur was putting his rookies through their paces during the weekend.
The Packers’ rookies worked in individual and 7-on-7 drills in preparation for the veterans’ arrival in two weeks.
“We want to integrate (the rookies) into the drill work right away,” LaFleur said. “We don’t want to slow it down for the veterans. It will be great prep for what they’ll do in Phase 2.”
The Packers’ 2019 first-round picks – Gary and Darnell Savage – both played in the Big Ten. As defensive players, however, they didn’t know each other before coming to Green Bay.
Already, according to ESPN, they are developing a friendship.
“I told (Savage), ‘Don’t worry, man. You cover. I’m going to make sure you get a couple of interceptions,” Gary said. “So we’re having fun.”
Gary, who wears No. 52, explained why he chose Clay Matthews’ old jersey number.
“Five minus 2 equals 3. I wore 3 in college. But Clay Matthews was a guy … I used to watch his game a lot. I’m a bigger type of guy, but watching what he used to do, his passion for the game, man I loved it. As soon as I saw it open, I had to take it.”
** BUCKS at CELTICS, GAME 4, Tonight, 6 p.m.
The Milwaukee Bucks’ game plan is as straightforward as a Giannis monster dunk in your face: Stay aggressive.
The Bucks’ 123-116 victory in Game 3 gives Milwaukee a 2-games-to-1 edge in the Eastern Conference semifinals. They also regained the home-court advantage with the win.
The Bucks’ starters survived a 10-2 onslaught to start the game. After a timeout it didn’t take long for Milwaukee to regroup.
Giannis scored 32 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the floor. He also was 16 of 22 from the free throw line. Giannis’ performance was augmented by the Bucks’ bench, which has adopted the moniker and mentality known as the “Bench Mob.”
Boston native Pat Connaughton scored 14 points while George Hill went off for 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting in just 29 minutes.
The Bucks’ bench has been among the NBA’s finest all season.
Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer acknowledged their efforts, and especially Hill’s stellar performance.
“On the road, in this environment, that’s when coaches talk about needing guys who have experience, that have been there and that understand what it takes,” Budenholzer told reporters. “George in his performance tonight is the prime example of that.”
It’ll be interesting to see how the officials call tonight’s game.
The Celtics are griping that Giannis gets too many foul calls. Leading the whining is guard Kyrie Irving, who heavily criticized the officiating after Game 3, but wasn’t fined by the league.
Giannis is too focused to get caught up in the refs.
“I’m just going to keep being aggressive,” Giannis told reporters. “That’s what my teammates want me to do. I love getting to the free throw line. I’ve worked on it. I’m shooting my free throws with confidence, so it’s easy points for me and my teammates. I’m just going to keep being aggressive and making the right plays, and sometimes if I’ve got to take it all the way, then I’ll take it all the way.”
Prediction: Bucks 113, Celtics 110

Bucks, Brewers win;
Packers draft speed

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – For the past few days, at least, all is right again in Wisconsin’s wonderful world of sports.
The Packers look like they got it right in last weekend’s NFL Draft.
They wanted defense in the first round and that’s what they got. After Michigan edge rusher Rashan Gary fell to them at 12, they traded up from 30 to 21 to select Maryland safety Darnell Savage, Jr.
Both were among the fastest, most athletic players at their position. They also showed great emotion when drafted by the Packers and professed their love of football and desire to get to work in Green Bay.
It’s music to any employer’s ears.
In Milwaukee, the Bucks and Brewers got back to their winning ways.
After unceremoniously dispatching the Pistons in four games, the Bucks got blindsided by a Celtics onslaught in Game 1 and lost by 22 points.
Milwaukee bounced back with a 123-102 victory Tuesday night to even the series at a game apiece. Teams have opened series with 20-point losses on each side only three times in NBA playoff history. Fortunately for the Bucks, the team that scored the second 20-point blowout win has gone on to capture the series.
When the Avengers are desperate they call on the Hulk. When the top-seeded Bucks need to rebound (or score, or pass, or play defense) they call on Giannis.
The great Antetokounmpo scored 15 of his 29 points in the third quarter as the Bucks broke open a close game Tuesday night. He also added 10 rebounds and four assists.
Kris Middleton scored a playoff career high 28 points while nailing seven 3-pointers, and Eric Bledsoe added 21.
Game 3 is Friday night in Boston.
Across town, the Brewers have righted the ship after losing an unheard of seven out of eight games.
They won two of three against the Mets during the weekend. Then they opened a 10-game home-stand with back-to-back wins over the Rockies.
The long-slumping Jesus Aguilar woke up to blast two home runs in the Brewers’ 5-1 win Monday night. Then he added a three-run shot on Tuesday night to key a 4-3 win over Colorado.
Aguilar’s resurgence couldn’t have come at a better time.
Christian Yelich, the NL’s reigning MVP, continues to be sidelined with soreness in his lower back. It’s probably from carrying the team for much of April, when he hit a big league record-tying 14 home runs.
Only Albert Pujols in 2006 and Alex Rodriguez in 2007 have hit as many in the first month. Pujols finished with 49 home runs that year, while A-Rod slammed an amazing 54 home runs.
Yelich is expected to avoid going on the injury list. He may return as soon as this weekend.
The Brewers (17-14) improved to 13-0 when leading after seven innings. Much of that is due to Josh Hader, who has been lights out again this year. Chase Anderson, who made five relief appearances to open the season, has worked his way into the starting rotation.
Anderson (2-0, 3.20) starts versus righty Antonio Senzatela (2-1, 3.93) in tonight’s 6:40 game at Miller Park.
Jhoulys Chacin pitched six scoreless innings in Tuesday night’s win and appears to have gotten on track after a shaky start to the season.

Packers draft speed at
edge rusher, safety

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage, Jr., have a lot in common. They also have a lot to bring to the Green Bay Packers.
Both hail from the Big Ten. Both were defensive stalwarts in college.
Both can run like the wind.
Together, Gary and Savage bring speed, swagger and more speed to a Packers’ defense sorely lacking on both fronts. Green Bay’s 18th-ranked defense received a double-dose of talent in free agency and the draft.
First, GM Brian Gutekunst signed a trio of defensive free agents. Outside linebackers Za’Darius and Preston Smith will anchor the edges, while safety Adrian Amos will run the show in the secondary.
Second, he drafted Gary, a 6-4, 277-pound edge rusher whose athleticism shone at the combine. Gary benched 225 pounds 26 times, recorded a 38-inch vertical leap and ran a 4.58 40-yard dash. By comparison, ex-Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix also was clocked at 4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Then, Gutekunst traded up from the 30th pick to acquire Seattle’s 21st pick overall and draft Maryland safety Darnell Savage, Jr.
The Packers’ interest in Gary wasn’t a secret. It’s just that almost every NFL scout and mock draft had him being drafted long before No. 12. When he was still on the board they entertained calls, then pulled the trigger and went with the best edge rusher on their board.
That they passed on Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat and Florida State’s Brian Burns clearly shows which edge rusher they preferred. The fact they didn’t draft one of several highly rated offensive linemen still on the board means they viewed defense as a priority.
When the Lions drafted Iowa’s tight end, T.J. Hockenson, with the 8th overall pick, it all but sealed the Gary-to-Green Bay scenario.
Gary registered 3 ½ sacks last year as a junior, and a total of nine the past two seasons. Some question his production, especially because it doesn’t match up with his talent.
Packers scout Joe Hueber had an explanation.
“He commanded a lot of attention at Michigan. Double-teams, triple-teams, taking on the tight end,” Hueber said. “You saw it in some of his teammates. They got freed up and they were able to get production.
“It’s not like he wasn’t impacting the game. You watch him. He was all over the place, getting off blocks, and getting pressure, too.”
Perhaps one of the most positive traits in both Gary and Savage is their desire to be a conscientious pro who takes his job seriously.
It was reflected in Gary’s emotional response to being taken at 12.
“It comes from my love of the game,” Gary said. “To have an organization like the Green Bay Packers to believe in you and to have them call my name means a lot. I can’t wait to start playing there.”
Gary said his strength was the energy he brings each day.
“Just the energy I bring to the field,” he told reporters. “I’m fun, I like to compete, and I love to get after it. Every play I’m ready to bring it.”
Hueber said the Packers plan to play Gary at outside linebacker, although he lined up at several positions for Michigan.
“I think he’s a guy who’s going to attack this,” Hueber said. “I think he’s going to take it to heart. I think it’s important to him, and because of that, the athleticism and all that is going to shine through.”
The same might be said of Savage.
The 5-11, 198-pound safety doesn’t believe his size is an impediment.
The Packers would agree.
“He’s obviously a premier athlete,” Gutekunst said. “He’s been an impact player for Maryland for a number of years. He’s able to close the gap, from centerfield and the hash. He’s an aggressive, physical player who can take the ball away.
“He fits what we’re trying to do on the back end.”
The Packers coveted Savage so much they traded their 30th, 114th and 118th picks to Seattle in return for the 21st and the chance to take Savage.
He was the fourth-fastest defensive back in the draft and that includes cornerbacks. He clocked a 4.36 40-yard dash and his highlight films showcase that blazing speed. His catch-up speed is blistering.
It’s no wonder he was the first defensive back selected overall.
Most of all, like Gary, he loves to play.
“I feel like I’m extremely versatile,” he said. “I really bring that physical presence to the field and to the game. I’m fast. I like to hit. I like to be around the football. I like make plays. I just love to play the game of football. The game of football is fun to me. Any time I’m out there playing, I’m going to give it my all and just enjoy it.”
Savage will join Amos to give the Packers a potentially strong one-two punch at safety.
Looking ahead to rounds 2 and 3, the Packers still have a chance to snag a tight end, an offensive lineman, a receiver and/or an inside linebacker.
The Packers should consider Mississippi receiver A.J. Brown at 44. San Diego State tight end Kahale Warring may be a possibility further down. It’s the same for Alabama inside linebacker Mack Wilson, who would be a terrific running mate for Blake Martinez.
Mississippi tackle Greg Little, Stanford guard Nate Herbig and A&M tight end Jace Sternberger also seem like possibilities on Day Two.

Packers’ needs clear: O-line, tight end, ILB

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5 FM

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Oh, to be a fly on the Packers’ “war room” wall.

It doesn’t get more interesting, or critical, for Green Bay’s future than the NFL draft this weekend. With six picks among the first 118 selections, the Packers have the ammunition to reload the roster.

The questions are many. The possibilities are endless.

None of that dissuades media and fans from taking their best educated guess at how tonight’s Round One will shake out.

The Packers’ most glaring needs are obvious.

The offensive line is one area that has been neglected, at least high in the draft, for far too long now. The Packers hit the jackpot with David Bakhtiari and Corey Linsley. But it’s been forever since they drafted Bryan Bulaga with the 23rd pick in the 2010 draft.

The selection of Bulaga was panned at the time by some. In fact, it turned out to be a prudent and impactful pick. When Mark Tauscher was lost to a season-ending injury, Bulaga stepped in at right tackle and started the final 10 regular season games and the playoffs. It could be argued that without Bulaga, the Packers don’t win the Super Bowl.

With that history lesson in mind, I submit it’s time for the Packers to select an offensive lineman in either the first or second round.

Ideally, LSU inside linebacker Devin White would fall to the 12th pick. Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat is an edge rusher that must be considered long and hard if he’s available at No. 12.

Perhaps even Michigan inside linebacker Devin Bush is a possibility. If the Packers selected White, Sweat or Bush I would call it a success. Then I’d get busy finding an offensive lineman, tight end and receiver.

The next-best scenario to a top player tumbling is having another team come calling to trade up to 12. If Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins slides to 12 the Packers’ phone will ringing off the hook.

Packers GM Brian Gutekunst could trade back, add at least one more Top 50 pick, and let his scouts’ hard work pay off.

For example, if the Packers trade down from 12 to 17 with the Giants, they would receive New York’s 17th and 37th picks. In return, they would give up the 12th, 75th and 118th picks.

Armed with the 17th, 30th, 37th and 44th picks, the Packers would be in a position of even more flexibility.

With that in mind, my best-case scenario for tonight is this:

** The Packers trade back to 17 and select Oklahoma offensive lineman Cody Ford. The guy is a perfect fit or new head coach Matt LaFleur’s wide zone blocking scheme. He would start immediately at either left or right guard, with the potential to be a starting tackle one day.

The offensive line would have Bakhtiari, Ford, Linsley, free agent Billy Turner and Bulaga. It would give LaFleur a pair of fast, powerful pistons at guard to be the heartbeat of the offensive line.

** At 30, depending on who’s still on the board, I would give strong consideration to selecting Mississippi receiver A.J. Brown. He has a powerfully built six-foot frame that packs 226 pounds. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds and possesses great hands.

The SEC Network was doing its draft preview. As part of that, it was replaying the Mississippi vs. Louisiana-Monroe game. In the first four plays, Brown snagged three passes. The first was a 26-yard snag out of the slot. The second was a 9-yard crossing route underneath. The third was a 20-yard play over the middle.

Brown is a hands catcher who has everything the Packers need.

He is my favorite player in the entire draft.

** At 37, with the Giants’ pick, I would go tight end or inside linebacker. If Alabama tight Irv Smith, Jr., and inside linebacker Mack Wilson are both here, I might just flip a coin. Then I’d hope that whichever player I didn’t draft would be there at 44.

Consider the possibilities.

The Packers could add an immediate starter at left guard, slot receiver and inside linebacker. In addition, under this scenario, they also would have a young tight end to groom behind Jimmy Graham.

That still leaves enough ammo to get a safety, an edge rusher and a “three” technique defensive lineman.

That’s quite a haul in one draft.

Let’s hope I’m right. Better still, let’s hope the Packers are right.

Packers’ home games set

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Roll out the barrel. Let the good times roll.
While Wisconsin sports fans are going crazy over the Brewers and the Bucks, the Packers have been a bit overshadowed since their initial NFL free-agency flurry.
However, the Packers are back in the news with the NFL’s 2019 schedule release set for later today.
Thus far, I have compiled the Packers’ complete home schedule, without times included. I also want to say this is within a fair certainty of being accurate. But it’s not 100-percent set in granite.
Here goes:
Sunday, Sept.15, Vikings
Sunday, Sept. 22, Broncos
Thursday, Sept. 26, Eagles
So that’s three straight home games in an 11-day span following Green Bay’s Thursday night, Sept. 5, season-opener at Chicago.
The Packers have two home games in October.
Monday, October 14, Lions
Sunday, October 20, Raiders
After that, it’s a single game in November, followed by two December home games. Then, the Packers close out the season with a pair of road games including at least one in the NFC North.
Sunday, November 10, Panthers
Sunday, December 8, Redskins
Sunday, December 15, Bears

Packers’ LaFleur Era spurs
team’s curiosity, anticipation

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Matt LaFleur Era is under way.
There’s a fresh coat of paint in the hallways at 1265 Lombardi Avenue. There are new murals on the walls. There’s a new seating chart in the meeting rooms.
There’s a new sheriff in town.
LaFleur, 39, is doing what NFL head coaches from Lombardi to Holmgren have done. They’ve made it a point to accentuate change, to highlight turning the page, to promote moving forward on the path to prosperity – aka the Super Bowl.
The Packers began their offseason workout program Monday under LaFleur’s direction. Players met with media on Wednesday and there was a distinguishable excitement in their voices.
Their curiosity has been piqued.
That’s the starting point of what’s going to be an intriguing journey for the 2019 Packers and LaFleur. The telling moments lie ahead. When adversity hits it’s how LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers react to it, grow from it and get better because of it.
For now, the focus is getting acquainted with each other, getting familiar with the offense, and buying into and building a new dynamic.
With all of that as a backdrop, last week’s Bleacher Report article that was highly critical of Rodgers and Mike McCarthy, the Packers’ previous coach, seems to have rallied players around Rodgers.
It certainly fired up the Packers’ all-pro quarterback.
Rodgers called the article a “smear attack.”
He denied holding a grudge against McCarthy and made it clear any suggestion that he somehow sabotaged the former coach is untrue.
Rodgers responded to the article in an ESPN Milwaukee interview. He made it clear that the alleged comment by Packers president Mark Murphy, telling Rodgers, “Don’t be the problem,” was a lie.
“The two main things I think I really want to talk about and just clear up, which are really central themes to the article, the first is the Mark Murphy conversation because part of the article seems to want to say the Packers are worried about me as the leader of the football team moving forward.
“And before I get into what actually happened in the conversation with Mark, I want to say two things: One, if they knew that, why would they offer me a contract last year? And two, which goes into my second central thesis point that I’m going to take down, is if I really disliked Mike (McCarthy) so much, why would I re-sign knowing that if I play and we do what we do around here – we made the playoffs eight straight years and then I got hurt and we missed the playoffs – it’s going to be me and Mike my entire career. So if I really disliked him that much, do you think I’d re-sign. Is the money that important to me? I’ll tell you it’s not. Quality of life is important.”
Rodgers added that Packers fans should be grateful for everything that McCarthy accomplished in his time here.
“We had a hell of a run,” Rodgers said. “We had 13 years, four NFC Championships, one Super Bowl, eight straight playoffs, 19 straight wins … So instead of trashing this guy on the way out, let’s remember the amazing times that we had together.
“Packers fans, remember this, especially those of you who live in Green Bay: Mike lives here. Mike has young kids here. So Mike has to be here. Think about how difficult that is for him. My favor that I would ask of you, strongly, is if you see Mike, shake his hand. Tell him thanks for the memories … show him the respect that he deserves.”
With that, Rodgers made the right call: He put the Rodgers-McCarthy rift in the past. Then, he spoke of how excited he is to run the Packers’ offense under LaFleur’s direction.
If Rodgers isn’t buying into LaFleur’s scheme it didn’t show.
Despite the unflattering article, the Packers have had a fair amount of good news lately. I take it as good news that the NFL chose to kick off the 2019 season featuring the league’s oldest rivalry: Packers at Bears, on Thursday, Sept. 5.
It’s a terrific way to start the season, and to gauge the Packers’ new coach and new look.
It’s also a nod of respect to both Chicago and Green Bay.
Other good news included Cole Madison’s arrival in Green Bay. The Packers’ offensive lineman – a fifth-round pick last year – sat out the season for personal reasons. The most important thing is Madison’s health, and it’s a bonus for the team to have him in the fold.
Meantime, the Packers are busy in the “getting to know you” stage under their new regime. Rodgers and Co. have effectively left the past in the past. It’s time to focus on the future. In less than a handful of months, the Bears will be waiting to put a hurt on the Packers at Soldier Field.
It’s going to come sooner than people think.

Rodgers, McCarthy ugliness comes out

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – It’s difficult to win in the NFL when the head coach and quarterback are operating entirely on the same page. It’s all but impossible to do so if they’re at odds.
So it was with the Green Bay Packers during the past few seasons.
The alleged rift between Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers wasn’t nearly as bad as Packers fans may have suspected.
It was worse.
When the Packers went 7-9 in 2017 it was widely believed Rodgers’ injury at Minnesota undercut the season. When the Packers followed up with a dreadful 6-9-1 record this much became obvious: The Packers were awful without Rodgers, and scarcely average with him.
The reasons became a bit clearer last week.
First, McCarthy griped to ESPN that he didn’t appreciate the way the Packers handled his firing. He said they couldn’t have handled it worse. That’s his opinion.
McCarthy didn’t like the “how” and the “when” of his dismissal. He said the messenger was cold and the timing (in-season) was unfair to a Super Bowl winning coach.
For some reason, McCarthy avoided the “why.”
Let me clear it up.
McCarthy was fired because he couldn’t get his team to the playoffs in consecutive seasons. He was fired because his offense was increasingly more painful to watch while he grasped at thin air to fix it. Most of all, he was fired because he couldn’t control his quarterback.
Last Thursday, a Bleacher Report article by former Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter Tyler Dunne, shed light onto the epically dysfunctional relationship between the coach and the quarterback.
Here are the three main conclusions to draw:
** No. 1 – McCarthy’s Super Bowl-sized ego didn’t allow him to consider that his offense had grown stale since 2010. He felt it was his play-calling and offensive acumen that led to the Super Bowl. In fact, much of it was due to an offense featuring Rodgers’ incredible talent and an ungodly array of weaponry.
Once the Donald Drivers, Jermichael Finleys, James Jones, Jordy Nelsons, Randall Cobbs and Greg Jennings declined either to age or injury or both, the Packers’ offense wasn’t the same.
McCarthy failed to adjust.
His greatest mistake was giving the car keys to his assistant head coach-offense, Tom Clements, as an overreaction to the Jan. 18, 2015, overtime playoff loss at Seattle.
After that Rodgers ran roughshod over Clements, which meant the quarterback was actually calling the shots – if not the plays.
McCarthy never reclaimed the offense. This was Rodgers’ world and McCarthy was just taking up space in it.
The fact that Rodgers didn’t trust or respect the coach isn’t a surprise. What is a surprise are the details that indicate the extent of their pettiness and selfishness to the team’s detriment.
A team source claimed Rodgers changed McCarthy’s plays an unheard of thirty percent of the time.
The article also indicated that McCarthy would receive massages while his team was preparing for that week’s upcoming opponent. Apparently that didn’t sit well with Rodgers and others in the locker room.
McCarthy didn’t like when and how he was fired.
Who does?
The fact is he had to go, and it wasn’t all because Rodgers undercut him. McCarthy failed to confront his quarterback. That’s on him.
** No. 2 – Packers president Mark Murphy restructured the football operation for a reason. The reason is it needed someone in charge. Former GM Ted Thompson was a non-factor his final three years. He should’ve been removed a lot sooner.
I doubt Murphy will make the same mistake twice.
He moved decisively and quickly in firing McCarthy. Then he did likewise in hiring Matt LaFleur. One of the most important takeaways from the recent “dirty laundry” is that Murphy is serious about winning.
According to a source, when Murphy placed a courtesy call to Rodgers informing him of the LaFleur hire, he added, “Don’t be the problem.”
We’ll know soon enough if Rodgers was listening, and if Murphy’s statement has any teeth.
** No. 3 – The Packers’ roster may not be as bad as 6-9-1 indicates.
With all the selfish, petty antics going on between the team’s “leaders,” how could players – especially rookie receivers – excel in that atmosphere?
One of the most telling stories is that rookie receivers such as Equanimeous St. Brown and Marquez Valdes-Scantling feared being “frozen out” by Rodgers. It’s why they would alter routes in the huddle when asked to do so by the quarterback.
Then, when the coaches heard what was up, instead of going to Rodgers and clearing the air they put more pressure on the receivers. They told them to run the play as called.
That’s not leadership. That’s putting all the pressure on the offense’s weakest links – the rookies.
Perhaps this will change all of that.
It had better or the Packers are going to be staring at another losing season and a whole lot more questions they’d rather not answer.

Brewers, Yelich start
season with a bang
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – In a single weekend the Milwaukee Brewers reminded everyone why they’re such great entertainment.
The Brewers (3-1) won three of four games from National League Central Division rival St. Louis at Miller Park.
In the process, they captured Major League Baseball’s full attention.
In addition to the victories, reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich belted four home runs, Lorenzo Cain sealed one win with a game-saving catch of a would-be home run, and Josh Hader dealt an immaculate inning.
Before the season, Brewers manager Craig Counsell talked about how great it was to win the 2018 NL Central and come within a game of reaching the World Series. But then he spoke of it being a new season.
After Sunday’s 5-4 victory over St. Louis, Counsell flashed a mischievous grin and admitted he changed his tune.
“I was wrong,” he said. “This is like last season.”
There’s nothing wrong with that.
Yelich, 27, is proving to be the catalyst in a potent Brewers lineup.
The right-fielder slammed his fourth home run of the season in the first inning of Sunday’s game. Then, in the ninth, he delivered the tying and game-winning runs with a resounding double.
Ryan Braun, the 2010 MVP, could only marvel at his teammate.
“I’ve never seen anyone this good at baseball for this long,” he told MLB.com. “I mean, maybe (Barry) Bonds in his prime … As great as (Mike) Trout is. I’ve seen (Albert) Pujols. I think everybody should take the time to appreciate it, because what we’re witnessing is greatness.”
The Brewers trailed 4-3 going into the ninth inning of Sunday’s game. Furthermore, they were facing Jordan Hicks and his 100 mph fastball.
No matter.
Ben Gamel led off with a pinch-hit double. Cain followed with an infield single off Hicks’ glove to set the stage for Yelich. That’s when the sweet-swinging lefty delivered a line drive in the gap to left-center.
The resounding double scored Gamel and Cain to seal the win.
Yelich is six for 12 with six walks and eight RBI this season.
“We were just trying to find a way to push one across and tie the game,” Yelich told reporters afterward. “(Hicks) has great stuff. One snuck in the line (Gamel’s double), and Lo’s deflected off his glove and we were able to pull it off.”
Yelich’s fourth home run tied the Major League record for most games with a home run to start a season.
He’ll go for the record against Cincinnati right-hander Tanner Roark, who is starting for the Reds in tonight’s 5:40 p.m. game at Great American Ballpark. Zach Davies will start for the Brewers.
Yelich’s first inning home run came off St. Louis’ Michael Wacha, who settled down to pitch six innings of seven-strikeout, one-run baseball.
Whether Yelich can match his 2018 statistics (.326, 36 home runs, 110 RBI) remains to be seen, but he’s off to a great start.
So are the Brewers.

Brewers open 2019
in style with 5-4 win
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – It is the stuff of Opening Day highlights, if not movie scripts or legends. It reminded everyone all that was special about the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018, while stoking the imagination for 2019.
With the Brewers clinging to a 5-4 lead with two outs in the ninth, St. Louis’ Jose Martinez hit a deep line drive to right-center field. The gasps were audible throughout Miller Park.
Brewers’ centerfielder Lorenzo Cain, who was shading a bit the other way, came galloping into view. Cain timed his sprint, and then his leap, and turned the tying home run into the final out.
It was the perfect finish to a near-perfect day.
The Brewers (1-0) trailed 3-0 for the briefest of moments before Milwaukee’s bats, in particular its MVP, came alive.
Christian Yelich’s three-run home run, an inning after Mike Moustakas homered to make it 3-1 Cardinals, gave Milwaukee a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
The Brewers flashed all the elements that make them a serious National League pennant contender.
Jhoulys Chacin started and was touched for back-to-back home runs to stake the Cardinals to a 3-0 lead. But Chacin stayed calm, stuck to his game plan and stifled St. Louis over the next four innings.
Chacin (1-0) also helped his cause with his first career home run. It proved to be the difference in Milwaukee’s 5-4 win over St. Louis at Miller Park. The Cardinals’ tough righty, Miles Mikolas, took the loss.
Chacin struck out seven in 5 1/3 innings on his third Opening Day start.
Other highlights included Orlando Arcia reminding everyone just how terrific his is defensively at shortstop. He made several high-degree difficulty plays look easy.
Then there is Josh Hader.
The big left-hander mowed down the Cardinals in short order.
He struck out four over two innings. Frankly, he was unhittable. His velocity and movement are truly special.
Afterward, Brewers manager Craig Counsell made it clear he would resist any temptation to overwork Hader. He also said the Brewers had enough arms in the bullpen to overcome the absence of Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel.
Hader faced the heart of the order and whittled it down to size with a steady diet of fastballs ranging from 96 to 98 mph. Even the Cardinals’ newest acquisition, Paul Goldschmidt, couldn’t catch up with Hader.
The Miller Park crowd of 45,304 got to witness a microcosm of last season. It featured solid starting pitching, quality relief work, timely hitting, power and great defense.
What more could a fan want?
Tonight, the Brewers’ Freddy Peralta will tangle with the Cardinals’ Jack Flaherty in a battle of tough right-handers in Game 2. The first pitch is set for 7:10 p.m.
I can only imagine what drama awaits in tonight’s game.
The Brewers have now won 15 of 19 games dating back to last season. They have been excellent in the clutch moments, while their starting pitching has been above-average, their defense strong and their power-hitting awesome.
What’s not to like about the Brewers?
Jerry Augustine, the Brewers’ FOX Sports analysts extraordinaire, said that he feels there are enough quality arms on the current 25-man roster. He doesn’t feel there’s a great, urgent need to go get a top-end starter from another organization.
A year ago, while singing the praises of Chacin and Wade Miley, among others, Augustine said the Brewers should be patient. He was right.
For now, I’m sticking with Augie’s assessment another season.

UW, Marquette limp into ‘March Chaos’
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – A few weeks ago, Marquette was thought to be a strong No. 2 seed, and Wisconsin was perceived as a solid No. 4.
So much for that rosy prognosis, as it turns out.
The NCAA Tournament selection committee gave the Golden Eagles and Badgers exactly what they deserved: They put them on the wrong side of the dreaded No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup.
If you’re a fan of either or both state teams you may find a quick scan of the Internet to be rather depressing. A majority of the quote/unquote “experts” have Marquette struggling to get past Murray State and Wisconsin flat-out losing to Oregon in the first round.
This time, the “experts” may be right.
Google the words “NCAA Tournament upset alert!”
You’ll be able to read all you want about Marquette and Wisconsin.
The Golden Eagles (24-9, 12-6 in the Big East) have been in a tailspin since a week or so before the Big East tournament. It began with Markus Howard being limited by a pulled groin muscle and continued with a pesky wrist injury.
Howard hasn’t been the same ever since for two reasons.
First, I’m not convinced that he’s completely healthy. He doesn’t have the same explosive first step that he displayed before the injury. In addition, he aggravated the wrist injury in the Big East tourney.
Second, opposing defenses have been gearing up to thwart him.
While other Golden Eagles have tried to fill the scoring void, the overall team defense has suffered. That added up to a lot of frustration and confusion at the worst possible time. While other Big East teams were playing their best basketball, Marquette was struggling to keep pace while losing five of their last six games.
Now comes Murray State (27-4) and NBA lottery pick Ja’ Morant in Thursday’s 3:30 p.m. game (TBS) in the West Region.
Morant, the Ohio Valley Conference’s Player of the Year, averages 24.6 points and 10 rebounds for the Racers.
Morant will face Howard, the No. 6 scorer in the nation and Big East Player of the Year, in what figures to be a scintillating matchup.
The Racers feature three double-figure scorers including freshman Tevin Brown and junior Darnell Cowart. Brown, a 6-5 guard, shoots it at a 37-percent clip from 3-point range. Cowart leads in rebounding at 6.5 per.
The Golden Eagles won 23 of their first 27 games before the slide.
To get right, Marquette needs better play from Howard, to be sure. Junior Sam Hauser has played well while scoring at least 20 points in eight straight games. Brother Joey is a 43.3 percent shooter from beyond the arc. Sacar Anim, Theo John and Ed Morrow are solid role players.
Marquette hasn’t made it out of the first round since going to three straight Sweet 16s in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
That streak is threatening to continue.
In the South Region, the Badgers (23-10) look to regain their mojo against what figures to be a pesky Oregon squad. Tip is set for Friday at 3:30 p.m. on TBS.
Ducks head coach Dana Altman is an experienced tournament coach who got his team on the right path after losing star freshman Bol Bol – a likely NBA lottery pick – to a foot injury nine games into the season.
After struggling to find itself, the Ducks closed with an eight-game win streak including three double-digit wins in four days to win the Pac 12 Conference Tournament and earn the automatic berth.
Oregon and Wisconsin are meeting for the third time in five years. The Badgers KO’d the Ducks in 2014 and 2015 on their way to consecutive Final Four appearances.
If only these Badgers had the offensive firepower of their predecessors.
Ethan Happ (17.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists) has had a rollercoaster senior year. While he has dominated at times, opponents have managed to thwart him down the stretch.
His poor free throw shooting has become an albatross around his neck. Teams have intentionally fouled him late in games and it has worked. It is likely Oregon will do the same if circumstances dictate it.
Senior forward Khalil Iverson, who averages 6.7 points and 4.5 rebounds, has been playing his best basketball of late.
The Badgers’ Achilles heel has been inconsistent guard play.
The backcourt of Brad Davison, D’mitric Trice, Kobe King and Brevin Pritzl has been substandard for a while now. Nate Reuvers has been solid down the stretch, but the guards need to play much better if Wisconsin intends to advance.

Packers’ defense adds pass-rush duo, safety

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – True to his word Packers GM Brian Gutekunst is willing to pay in order to play in free agency.
Now we’ll see how effective he is at it.
In a single day the Packers shored up their defense by reportedly signing two edge rushers and a safety in free agency, according to multiple reports. An added bonus is that the safety, Adrian Amos, is leaving the division-rival Chicago Bears in order to get paid to help get the Packers’ defense right.
As I wrote last month, Green Bay would do well to double-dip on Smiths – the ex-Raven Za’Darius and the former Redskin Preston – to upgrade a dreadfully inadequate pass rush.
Lo and behold Gutekunst answered the call.
Now the question is this: How much of an impact can Amos and the Smiths make on defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s unit?
If Gutekunst’s evaluation of his free-agent trio is correct this is how it will play out: Za’Darius Smith will replace Clay Matthews as the defense’s primary pass rusher, while Preston Smith will take over for the just-released Nick Perry.
Za’Darius Smith, the former Baltimore Ravens’ outside linebacker, is attractive for several reasons.
The 6-foot-4, 272-pound edge rusher had a modest 10 sacks in his first three seasons. However, he came up big in his contract year with 8 ½ sacks in 2018. He also had 25 quarterback hits and 60 pressures on the NFL’s top-rated defense.
Smith, 26, has more sacks than Vikings outside linebacker Anthony Barr, who reportedly spurned the Jets to stay in Minnesota.
An ESPN report offered an interesting stat: Za’Darius Smith had quarterback hits on 25 of 485 pass rush snaps (5.2 percent), which is more than the Chiefs’ Dee Ford (4.7 percent). Ford is being shopped as trade bait by Kansas City and will require a significant draft pick in return.
Za’Darius Smith may prove to be an equal talent at a bargain cost without having to surrender a draft pick.
Za’Darius Smith’s contract is a four-year, $66-million deal that includes a $20 million signing bonus and $34.5 million in the first two years, according to ESPN.
Preston Smith, the former Washington Redskins outside linebacker, signed a four-year deal worth $52 million, with $16 million guaranteed, according to ESPN.
Whereas Za’Darius is the more accomplished edge rusher, Preston is suited to replace Perry.
Preston Smith, 6-5, 265, is as durable as it gets in the NFL. He has started in 64 of a possible 64 games in his career. He also ranks among the NFL’s best at setting an edge against the run.
Preston Smith had 24 ½ sacks in his four years at Washington. He has some pass rush ability, especially when lining up opposite an end that can bring it.
A rotation of the Smiths on early down, with Kyler Fackrell joining Za’Darius Smith on passing downs, makes sense.
Amos is set to sign a four-year, $37 million deal, according to ESPN. He will receive $14 million in the first year and $21 million in the first two seasons combined.
Amos, 25, started 56 of 60 games played in Chicago, where he was a fifth-round pick in 2015.
Last season, Amos started 16 games on the Bears’ third-ranked defense. He had two interceptions, nine passes defended, one sack and 73 tackles. Pro Football Focus ranked Amos as the eighth-best safety in the NFL.
The Amos addition paves the way for Green Bay to draft a potential play-making free safety to line up opposite him. In Chicago, Amos was the orchestrator while Eddie Jackson was the ball-hawk. A similar situation with Amos and a young, talented safety would be a huge upgrade in Green Bay.
Still, Gutekunst wasn’t done.
The Packers also signed ex-Broncos offensive lineman Billy Turner, according to multiple reports. Turner, who has the athleticism new head coach Matt LaFleur prefers among offensive linemen, has started at both guard and tackle.
Turner’s four-year deal, according to reports, is worth $28 million with a maximum of $29.5 with incentives, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The Packers may not be done yet.
It’s still possible that they might add a veteran slot receiver such as Golden Tate to the mix.
Stay tuned.

Packers’ defense must add talent at all levels

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ offseason has been all about acquiring an edge rusher or three for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s linebacker-challenged unit.
I’m here to tell Packers’ fans the defense needs to be better at every level. Edge rusher is merely the most obvious, immediate need on a rather lengthy list.
Last season, the Packers’ defensive front seven was so-so versus the run and worse versus the pass. Opposing offenses took advantage of the Packers’ new scheme under Pettine, numerous injuries to solid starters and a general lack of playmakers.
The defensive line was the most experienced unit, the linebackers (hard as it is to believe) the most productive and the cornerbacks the most talented.
Yet each of the defense’s levels is flawed.
It is why the Packers’ game-plan for building a dynamic defense needs to be multi-pronged.
** First, the returning players must be better. While fans love to daydream about drafting Player X, trading for Player Y or signing Player Z in free agency, the reality is this: If the current players don’t improve the defense is still going to struggle.
That means Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels, Mo Wilkerson, Tyler Lancaster and Dean Lowry have to either recapture past success (Daniels, Wilkerson) or continue to upwardly ascend (Lowry).
Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell are half of the linebacker corps in the 3-4 and critical to a strong 2019 season. Martinez is positioning himself to rank among the NFL’s top tier inside ‘backers. Fackrell needs to show his double-digit sack total wasn’t an outlier, but that it reflects the player he has become.
Kevin King, Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson flashed success. They could be molded into an upper-echelon cover trio, but it requires that King stay healthy.
With Alexander’s skill set on the other side, King has an opportunity to finally fulfill his promise. Frankly, I haven’t given up on King. In fact, I’m predicting he’ll have a breakout season because of Pettine’s scheme, Alexander’s presence and his own considerable but untapped potential.
** Second, the Packers need to score at least three defensive players among the first six selections (out of the top 118). That means drafting an edge rusher such as Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat, to be sure, but don’t discount an inside linebacker (Michigan’s Devin Bush) or an interior defensive lineman (Michigan’s Rashan Gary).
The Packers’ defense needs playmakers regardless of position.
Interestingly, a sideline-to-sideline linebacker such as Bush, when paired with Martinez, could control the middle of the field. That’s something Green Bay’s defense hasn’t done for the past several seasons.
Presumably the top edge rushers will be gone by the time the Packers are on the clock with the 12th pick. Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, Kentucky’s Josh Allen, Florida State’s Brian Burns and Sweat likely will be drafted before the Packers are up.
If that’s the case, I’d think long and hard about Michigan linebacker Rashan Gary, Houston defensive lineman Ed Oliver, LSU linebacker Devin White, Clemson edge rusher Clelin Ferrell and LSU cornerback Greedy Williams.
My guess is the Packers select Gary (my favorite), Oliver, White or Ferrell at No. 12. If the right team comes calling, crazy as it sounds, I could see Packers GM Brian Gutekunst dropping back a few spots, drafting the best defensive player on their board (even if it’s the cornerback) and getting on with it.
Williams, Alexander and King would give Green Bay one of the NFL’s top cornerback trios (or quartet if you include Jackson) to build around. Add Bashaud Breeland plus a veteran safety and that’s suddenly an intriguing secondary.
** Third, free agency MUST be a positive force for Green Bay’s D. That’s where an edge rusher and a safety come into play.
My preference would be Anthony Barr and Tashaun Gipson. Barr, the ex-Vikings linebacker, has been underutilized as a pass rusher. Barr’s a complete, high-end linebacker with considerably unexplored potential as a pass rusher. At worst, he’s still a strong every-down linebacker. At best, he becomes a beast.
Gipson, at safety, makes a ton of sense. The Jaguars released him in a cost-cutting measure. The veteran has 20 career interceptions and is still in his prime. Furthermore, he played for Pettine in Cleveland in 2015. When Pettine was fired, the Browns chose to let Gipson sign a hefty free-agent contract with the Jaguars.
A Pettine-Gipson reunion would be good for Green Bay.

Bucks run NBA-best record to cool 47-14

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – All the Bucks do is win games.
Milwaukee ran its NBA-best win-loss record to 47-14 with a frenetic 141-140 overtime win at Sacramento Thursday night. The Bucks’ blend of brilliance, balance and sense of purpose was on full display in a gritty gut-check against the Kings.
While Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has been judicious with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s minutes, due to right knee soreness, others have risen to the forefront.
On Thursday night, it was the animated Eric Bledsoe and the impassive Malcolm Brogdon leading the way.
While Giannis sat, and Khris Middleton was battling cramps, Bledsoe and Brogdon carried the Bucks in overtime. Bledsoe scored five of his team-high 26 points in OT, while Brogdon chipped in with a clutch 3-point shot late.
“It builds a lot of confidence,” Budenholzer told reporters afterward. “All year we’ve been talking about different guys can step up and make plays. For Malcolm to make a shot, for Bled to make all the big plays he did, it speaks well for us going forward.”
Bledsoe finished with 13 assists and 12 rebounds to go with his 26 points, while Brogdon scored 25 and proves to be a perfect backcourt mate.
Together, they bring defense, the ability to hit 3-point shots, the willingness to pass and be a team player, and an explosive first step on drives to the basket.
They’re as good as there is in terms of NBA backcourts.
Bledsoe seems to be maturing by the minute.
He has been clever about when to be aggressive and when to maybe dial it down a bit. He picks his spots. He plays to the moment and his passion is unquestioned.
Brogdon’s value can’t be overstated. Think about this: Whenever a team wants to make a trade with the Bucks which player do they invariably request? It’s Brogdon. Also, Brogdon’s left quad injury in 2017-18 forced him to miss 30 games. It showed how much the Bucks truly rely on him.
Oh, by the way, Middleton and newcomer Nikola Mirotic each scored 21 points in the victory. It has to be frightening for opponents when Giannis has the ball at the point, Middleton and Brogdon are on the wings, and Brooke Lopez and Bledsoe are screening for each other along the baseline.
Will Giannis drive and score? Will he drive and kick to one of the wings for an open 3-pointer? Will the wing nail it or abstain and hit a cutting Bledsoe for an easy two points?
It’s quite the challenge.
Giannis chipped in with 17 points in 25 minutes while also further adding nuance to his game. His monitored minutes – I think – force him to really focus when he’s on the court. And it’s not like he isn’t focused anyway. It’s just that he also continues to grow and advance his sense of overall game awareness.
It’s a beautiful thing. It’s also a treat to be a Bucks fan and have a front-row seat for this.
“We’ve got the best record in the league for a reason,” Bledsoe said. “Even though those are our two best players (Giannis and Middleton) we still have a full, complete team out there playing.”
The Bucks have won nine straight road games. They’ll put it to the test Friday and Saturday in back-to-back games against the Lakers and the Jazz.
Right now, Budenholzer has the Bucks humming along.
It didn’t take but a second for Mirotic to fit in. The 6-foot-10s ability to drill 3-point shots is a considerable weapon. He’s also agile enough to back down defenders and score in the low post.
Mirotic’s presence gives the Bucks incredibly flexibility.
Watching the Bucks do their thing is a beautiful thing. Why do I have the feeling they’re going to be doing it into June? It’s because of games like the Bucks win over the Kings.

UW, Marquette hoops teams net solid wins

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – As college basketball’s February grind yields to March Madness the Badgers and Golden Eagles are poised for strong tournament runs.
Wisconsin (19-8, 11-5 Big Ten), which had dropped two of its last three games, held off feisty Northwestern 69-65 on Saturday night in Evanston, Ill.
Badgers guard Brad Davison scored two of his team-high 16 points on a step-back jumper for a 65-62 lead with 1:56 to play. Wisconsin’s suffocating defense then held Northwestern to a pair of Vic Law free throws to close out the win.
“You want to play in the best conference from top to bottom in the country because you get challenged each and every day,” Davison told reporters. “At the end of the day we’re all playing for March and this game got us better for March for sure.”
Meantime, No. 11 Marquette (23-4, 12-2 Big East) continued to build its NCAA Tournament resume for seeding purposes with a strong 76-58 victory Saturday afternoon at Providence.
While Markus Howard struggled with a groin injury and scored just 14 points (12 below his average) his teammates stepped up.
Sam Hauser snapped a mini-shooting slump to score 18 points and grab 13 rebounds against the Friarse. Sacar Amin also scored 18 for the Golden Eagles, while Hauser’s little brother, Joey, scored 15 points and hauled in seven rebounds.
Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski was proud of the way his team rallied around its leading scorer to win on the road. The Golden Eagles improved to 6-1 in Big East road games.
“Markus certainly wasn’t himself, but it was clear Providence’s game-plan was to make life really difficult for him,” he said. “Markus has gotten a lot of credit and he’s worthy of it. He’s had a magnificent year, but I truly believe the strength of our team is our team. We have a number of guys who are capable of playing very well and have bought into their roles.”
Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s resident “bracketologist,” projects favorable seeds for Marquette and Wisconsin.
Lunardi has the Golden Eagles as a No. 3 seed in the East, where it would face 14th-seeded Old Dominion.
The Badgers are projected as a No. 4 seed in the Midwest, where it would face 13th-seeded Vermont.
Wisconsin is at Indiana on Tuesday night, while Marquette travels to Villanova to face the defending national champions on Wednesday night. The Golden Eagles edged the Wildcats 66-65 when they met Feb. 9 at Fiserv Forum, where Marquette is 16-1.
Here are several keys down the stretch for both teams.
** The prevailing wisdom is that Wisconsin will only go as far as Ethan Happ and his free throw shooting will take them.
That’s a gross oversimplification. It’s the Badgers’ guard play, and their defense, that will carry them in the tournament.
Davison and especially D’Mitrik Trice have to continue to pick up their games at both ends. If Wisconsin’s guards aren’t up to the task it will be a brief tournament stay. Perhaps Brevin Pritzl or Kobe King will emerge in the final weeks, but it’s unlikely.
Nate Reuvers is the X-factor. While he remains a strong inside presence on defense, his shooting has been off-target of late. When he’s hitting 3-point shots the Badgers are dangerous.
** Marquette’s only loss since Jan. 1 – and its only home loss of the season – was a 70-69 nail-biter against St. John’s on Feb. 5.
Howard’s offensive brilliance has been the catalyst. He came into Saturday’s game averaging 26.6 points per game. When Marquette spreads the floor with Howard out top and the Hausers and Anim on the wings it puts tremendous pressure on opposing defenses.
Howard can slash to the basket, pull up for the “three” or kick it out to one of his 3-point triggermen on the wings.
Marquette’s best defense is putting offensive pressure on its opponents. When the Golden Eagles get a lead it tends to force other teams into quick shots, which often are poor shots. Despite its lack of a bona fide inside presence, Marquette’s defensive rebounding is more than adequate. That’s because it is blessed with quick leapers and athletes who pounce on loose balls.
Anim, a 6-5 junior forward, has been playing especially well of late. He is averaging 12.5 points in the past four games, including two 18-point efforts in that stretch.
All of this sets the stage for what should be an exciting NCAA Tournament for college basketball fans throughout the state.

Packers’ fans may get FA wish this offseason

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5 FM

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The names are tantalizing to Packers fans.

What damage might be wrought by an Aaron Rodgers-led offense that added Golden Tate, III, and re-acquired Jared Cook in free agency?

Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison, Tate and Cook along with youngsters Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown and J’Mon Moore would be an upgrade. And that’s with or without Jimmy Graham, which makes the Cook signing interesting.

Tate, 30, would be ideal as Randall Cobb’s replacement. He has ranked among the NFL’s leaders in YAC (yards after the catch) and forced missed tackles in recent seasons.

The 5-foot-10, 197-pound veteran played in 10 games at Philadelphia last season. He would be a nice fit here.

Cook also would be an upgrade at tight end.

The speedy veteran had great chemistry with Rodgers in what mostly was an injury-plagued season. A healthy Cook would give first-year head coach Matt LaFleur a potent one-two punch at tight end if Green Bay chooses to keep Jimmy Graham.

Either way, Cook proved to be an explosive, downfield weapon in his brief time with Green Bay. In a second go-round, there’s no reason to believe Cook couldn’t put up a monster season.

On defense, my dream one-two punch would be Anthony Barr and Earl Thomas. The Vikings’ linebacker and Seahawks’ safety would bring instant experience and immediate impact to defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s unit.

Barr, 26, only has 13 ½ sacks since being a first-round draft pick out of UCLA in 2014. However, some suggest the Vikings have miscast Barr throughout his career by too often having him drop into coverage rather than attack the quarterback.

A Barr signing brings the delightful double-whammy of taking from the Vikings to help the Packers.

Thomas is on the south side of his great career, but he can still use his terrific mind and his above-average speed to read and react to plays. He’s never been a prototypical big-hitting safety at 5-10, 200, but he could and still can run and play the football with the best of them.

He’s also a tremendous leader.

The Rams’ Joyner is younger, more explosive and likely more expensive than Thomas. None of that means the Packers shouldn’t explore signing him. Joyner, who can line up near the line or deep with equal aplomb, would be an immediate upgrade to a unit desperately in need of a last line of, well, defense.

Whatever Packers’ fans prefer, clearly this sampling of available players should whet their appetite until the start of free agency. Free agency begins on Wednesday, March 13.

On to other topics:

** The NFL’s 100-years commercial aired during Super Bowl LIII was a hit among fans, although there was one glaring oversight. The two-minute commercial didn’t include a single Packers’ player, or prominent ex-player, among the 50-plus shown. It also made no mention of the Lombardi Trophy, or its depiction, during the commercial.

The Packers are an integral part of the NFL’s 100-year story. In fact, I believe it’s impossible to adequately depict its history without including the Packers.

Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees, the NFL did include its first female official, and a small girl who aspires to play in the NFL. That’s terrific, but it’s no excuse for failing to include Green Bay.

Where was LeRoy Butler doing a Lambeau Leap into the cake? Or better still, how about Brett Favre throwing a TD pass over Brian Urlacher’s outstretched arms? You know, like old times?

Oh well, like the Packers have said in 2017 and again in 2018: Maybe next year.

** The 19th-ranked Badgers absorbed a rugged 61-52 loss at seventh-ranked Michigan Saturday afternoon.

Wisconsin (17-7, 9-4) sits in fourth place in the Big Ten after a game that saw the Badgers’ Ethan Happ plagued by foul trouble. Happ missed nine minutes after picking up his third foul early in the second half. The Wolverines’ Jon Teske benefited most by scoring 17 points and grabbing 12 rebounds while largely outplaying Happ.

The Badgers only shot two free throws and missed both.

On the bright side, they beat Minnesota earlier in the week, and they were locked in a 51-50 slugfest at Michigan until the Wolverines ran off eight straight points to take the lead for good.

Wisconsin hosts Michigan State on Tuesday night. A win will keep them among the NCAA’s top 25.

** The Alliance of American Football debuted during the weekend to much fanfare and positive feedback.

Frankly, it warms the heart.

It reminds everyone that this country’s appetite for quality football is nearly insatiable. The AAF outdrew the NBA’s Rockets vs. Thunder on ABC, according to Darren Rovell of the Action Network.

That’s pretty good.

The eight-team league features players of all backgrounds working on three-year, $250,000 non-guaranteed contracts.

In full disclosure, I watched about 10 minutes of the AAF. The teams seemed to function pretty well, with the quality of play being better than what I expected.

Furthermore, veteran coaches such as Steve Spurrier and Mike Martz re-emerged to remind everyone just how good they were once upon a time.

The AAF, at least based upon early returns, is here to stay.

Packers’ LaFleur has work cut out for him

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Super Bowl LIII can wait a second.
It’s Friday afternoon approximately 48 hours from the kickoff of the NFL’s marquee moment featuring New England vs. the Los Angeles Rams at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Let the buildup continue a bit longer.
First, I’d like to tell those Packers’ fans who felt Mike McCarthy shouldn’t have been fired – in-season or otherwise – need to hear what David Bakhtiari had to say.
In an interview on ESPN Wisconsin radio, Bakhtiari revealed a level of mismanagement and in-house control that can be devastating to a team.
“The one thing that always rubbed me the wrong way, and I guess it can kind of parallel with complacency, is accountability,” Bakhtiari said to ESPN Wisconsin this week.
“The one thing that would really grind my gears was guys being late for the plane (leaving for road games) and no one holding those guys accountable or even fining them for being late. (Someone) should have said, ‘Hey, we’re leaving at 1:30. You’re not there, the door is closed.’ That’s how it needs to be.”
That was a mouthful.
One question that comes to mind is this: Why didn’t Bakhtiari be the one to say something to the late players? Was he told not to rock the boat? Where were the coaches in that situation?
Clearly, it smacks of a head coach who has lost control of the locker room. That’s an easy blanket statement but it covers a lot of ground. Where were the veteran leaders? Do the Packers have enough of those types of players?
This much is sure: Packers head coach Matt LaFleur has his work cut out for him. He is inheriting a roster with players who thought they could run the show.
Those days had better be over.
Frankly, I’d have liked Bakhtiari to speak out earlier – like during the season – as opposed to later, but it’s nice to at least get a head’s up as to the level of dysfunction.
Fortunately, LaFleur has a clean slate in his endeavor to move away from the recent past and create his own culture. It was time.
On to Super Bowl LIII … the Patriots are the favorite for two reasons: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
I would like to submit five other reasons: Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon. That is the Patriots’ offensive line, left to right, and it’s been amazing.
Brady has had airtight pockets for the most part, and he’s been able to use strong protection and a quick release (among the NFL’s top six release times) to stay out of harm’s way.
The Patriots also can run the football.
Sony Michel displays great vision and a good burst to find the seams in the Patriots’ zone blocking scheme. Michel could rush for 100-plus yards Sunday and I wouldn’t be surprised.
James White, the Patriots’ “other” back, is merely the single-game record holder for catches in a Super Bowl with 15.
The ex-Badgers back is Brady’s safety valve and he’s a good one. My guess is that the Rams will be able to control Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski, who might be used as a diversion – to a degree – with in-line blocking and short passes early on.
Then, once the Rams are frustrated at having devoted significant resources to preparing for Gronk and turn their attentions elsewhere, he’ll hit a big play.
The Patriots’ defense has Donta Hightower, Trey Flowers and highly regarded defensive coordinator Brian Flores to lead them. There’s that, and Belichick’s defensive expertise.
Jared Goff is going to be nervous and struggle early on. The Patriots will jump on him and they won’t let him off the hook the way the Saints did.
Sean McVay is an excellent head coach and his Rams will be well-prepared. Los Angeles might be the more talented of the two teams, but the Patriots and Brady are impossible to bet against.
I’m seeing New England 31, the Rams 27 in an epic game.

Rams, Pats advance;
Packers filling staff
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – That worked out well for me.
The Saints and the Chiefs were my picks to defeat the Rams and the Patriots, respectively, to advance to Super Bowl LIII.
So close and yet, so far, while I am left to wonder, “What if?”
The NFC Championship’s catastrophic non-call on what clearly was a pass interference/hit to the helmet penalty marred an otherwise entertaining game. That is if you’re not a Saints fan. They responded with venom and in some cases litigation.
The NFL subsequently admitted it blew the call in the Los Angeles Rams’ 26-23 overtime victory last Sunday at New Orleans. Newsflash to NFL: The posthumous admission of guilt only further enrages the fans who feel they’ve been wronged.
In the AFC, the roughing-the-quarterback penalty on the Chiefs that sustained New England’s game-extending drive was a joke. That is if you weren’t a Kansas City fan. The back judge – with a clearly obstructed view no less – penalized the Chiefs 15 yards on what would’ve been a third-and-8 incompletion deep in New England territory with less than a handful of minutes to play.
Instead of a difficult fourth-and-8, and perhaps the Chiefs claiming a 28-24 victory, New England’s drive was extended. It eventually led to a late touchdown to make it 31-28 Patriots.
Patrick Mahomes responded with an epic game-tying field goal drive, but he never saw the field again thanks to the NFL’s ridiculous overtime rules.
The NFL needs to play one 10-minute overtime during the regular season – no rule changes needed – to determine a winner. If after 10 minutes it’s still tied that’s how it ends.
In the postseason, the league could play a 15-minute quarter with the winner being whoever is ahead at the end.
It’s sad that we’ll never know whether Mahomes could’ve matched Tom Brady’s great drive.
While the NFL contemplates its officiating woes and its ultimately unsatisfying overtime rules, fans are left with a Los Angeles Rams-New England Patriots Super Bowl LIII matchup to consider during the all-hype, all-time-time run-up in Atlanta.
As a service to Hanging with Havel readers, I am going to offer my early read on Super Bowl LIII: The Rams’ Jared Goff was shaky early at New Orleans. The Saints and Drew Brees let him off the hook by not capitalizing.
I suspect Goff is going to be at least as nervous on the NFL’s grandest stage. I also suspect New England coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady are going to make the Rams pay.
This might be one of those rare Super Bowls when the Patriots and Brady may be put in a position to protect a lead, rather than having to come from behind.
Super Bowl LIII: Patriots 31, Rams 27.
** Back here in Green Bay, first-year head coach Matt LaFleur is assembling his staff. It’s an important first step in laying the foundation for what’s to come this season and beyond.
Currently, the staff looks like this:
** Offensive coordinator: Nathaniel Hackett in; Joe Philbin out.
** Quarterbacks coach: Luke Getsy in; Frank Cignetti, Jr., and Jim Hostler, out.
** Running backs coach: Ben Sirmans returns.
** Offensive line: Adam Stenavich, in; James Campen, Jeff Blasko, out.
** Wide receivers: Vacant; David Raih, out.
** Tight ends: Justin Outten, in; Brian Angelichio, out.
** Defensive coordinator: Mike Pettine returns.
** Defensive line: Jerry Montgomery returns.
** Linebackers: Kirk Olivadotti, in; Patrick Graham, Scott McCurley, out.
** Defensive Backs: Jason Simmons, in; Joe Whitt, Jr., out.
** Special teams coordinator: Vacant; Ron Zook, out.

Saints get past Rams;
Chiefs outlast Patriots

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The NFL’s top playoff seeds invariably crow about the importance of owning “home-field advantage.”
The reason is valid and twofold:
** First: It is the regular-season achievement award – you get to play in front of your fans, in your stadium, for the right to go to the Super Bowl – because you were the conference’s best team once the wins were counted and the tiebreakers sorted out.
** Second: In any conference title game, but especially when the teams are so evenly matched as in Sunday’s games, ask yourself: What’s going to be the decisive element? What’s going to tip the scales? What’s going to be the great intangible?
At the risk of oversimplification, but not wanting to miss the forest for the trees, I’m not going to overthink it.
The decisive factor is going to be home-field advantage.
The Saints got it by edging the Rams, 45-35, in a Week 9 matchup at New Orleans. It was one of those “closer than the score indicates” kind of games. It was high drama, with the game tied at 35-35 in the fourth quarter.
New Orleans prevailed.
The Chiefs got the home-field edge by having more wins than the Patriots (13 to 12). However, in head-to-head play New England edged K.C., 43-40, at Foxboro in a Week 6 thriller.
The matchups are compelling because they’re so close.
The offenses in general and the quarterbacks in particular rate among the NFL’s finest. A strong argument can be made for each of the remaining offenses as being the best because they’re all so explosive. They’re also incredibly balanced.
The Rams’ defense may have inched past the Saints’ ‘D’ as the best still in the field given Los Angeles’ health and New Orleans’ loss of Sheldon Rankins. The Rams didn’t have Aquib Talib the last time around, either.
Otherwise, it looks like it’s going to be whoever has the football last, or has built up enough of a lead to hold on, is going to win.
Here’s a closer look:
L.A. Rams (13-3) at New Orleans (13-3)
2:05 p.m. CT; Fox TV; Line – New Orleans -3, Total – 56 ½
If I had to bet it, I’d take the “over 56 ½” while planning for a push against the line. But if “push” comes to shove, I’ll have to go with Saints 33, Rams 28.
The Rams can win if Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson can grow legs in the running game. Gurley, who is healthy and raring to run, will have his chance. It helps that he’ll be doing it against a Saints’ defense without Rankins, a stud on their defensive line.
Gurley will most assuredly keep the Rams in the game.
The problem is the 40-year-old quarterback for the Saints. Brees isn’t going to let this chance slip through his grasp. He’s been gunning for a second Super Bowl title and this is his chance.
Betting tip: The Rams were favored in every game this season. However, Jared Goff is only 2-8 as a starter in an underdog role in his first two seasons. As good as Goff and the Rams have been all season, I’ll put my money on the Saints and Brees.
N.E. Patriots (12-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (13-3)
5:40 p.m. CT; CBS TV; Line – KC -3, Total – 56
It pains me to go against tradition, otherwise known as the Patriots owning it in past AFC Championship Games, but this matchup feels a bit different.
It’s in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, one of the most electric venues at which I’ve ever covered a game. In a word, it’s loud, and Chiefs’ fans are lusting for a Super Bowl berth.
Furthermore, they’ve got one of the all-time great coaches in Andy Reid, a man who’s shown the ability to adapt in what’s become increasingly a younger man’s game.
Patrick Mahomes is a once-a-generation player, or so it seems. Quarterbacks like him appear less frequently than events like Sunday night’s “Blood Wolf Super Moon,” although Mahomes does light up the scoreboard in similar fashion.
If Tyreek Hill were a superhero, he’d be The Flash. He’s incredibly, inhumanly fast on a football field. Damien Williams has done an amazing job of making Chiefs’ fans forget about running back Kareem Hunt, once an unimaginable thought.
Furthermore, the Chiefs’ defense isn’t all bad.
Dee Ford and Justin Houston can be nasty pass rushers, and the Chiefs’ special teams also are on top of their game.
It is true New England’s Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are the most successful head coach-quarterback duo in NFL history.
In fact, I’d say the next closest is Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr, with a nod to Bill Walsh and Joe Montana and an honorable mention to Chuck Knoll and Terry Bradshaw.
As great as Belichick and Brady are they simply don’t have enough of the other pieces to get to the Super Bowl.
Sony Michel has been a terrific ball carrier, and Julian Edelman is always pesky and then some, but Rob Gronkowski hasn’t been the same great weapon he once was.
I’ll go with the Chiefs 30, Patriots 26.
So sit back, relax and enjoy a great weekend of NFL football.

Packers hire LaFleur to ‘get back winning’

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Mark Murphy was beyond satisfied.
The Packers’ top dog was fairly bursting Wednesday while he retraced the steps that led him to hire Matt LaFleur as the 15th head coach in team history.
LaFleur, 39, will join general manager Brian Gutekunst and money man Russ Ball to complete Murphy’s handpicked trio.
Whether Gutekunst, LaFleur and Ball can return Green Bay to its place among the NFC’s elite will decide Murphy’s legacy. It also will go some toward determining Aaron Rodgers’, too.
Perhaps the most positive development for Packers fans is this: There aren’t any excuses left. Thompson’s out of any decision making here, and McCarthy’s out of football.
It’s all on Murphy, his lieutenants and his quarterback.
They couldn’t be more tied at the hip than cartridges jammed into a six-shooter’s gun belt. They are in it together.
Beyond that Murphy, Ball and Gutekunst (albeit the GM’s is a small sample size) have met or exceeded expectations. Ball has the Packers swimming in $50 million-plus in salary cap space. Gutekunst showed he’s willing to play in free agency. In addition, the Packers’ first-year GM had a strong inaugural draft that included the acquisition of New Orleans’ first-round selection. The Packers own six of the top 112 picks this spring. That’s plenty of ammo.
Meantime, the Packers’ president has been a forward thinker while keeping the team fiscally strong. Off the field, the Packers are thriving under Murphy.
On it, lately at least, it’s been not so much.
The greatest criticism of Murphy is that he stayed with previous GM Ted Thompson a year or three too long.
Ultimately, he fixed it by nudging aside Thompson and hiring Gutekunst last offseason. He followed that up with the in-season firing of Mike McCarthy that led to LaFleur’s hire.
Clearly, the most unproven of the Packers’ football trinity is the new head coach, although LaFleur’s acumen, ascension and affability suggest he’s the right man for the job.
LaFleur’s first task is assembling a staff.
It seems likely that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and perhaps several staff members will return.
Then, he and his staff plan to critically assess the current roster. That’s when they’ll forge their collective vision. Then they’ll get with Gutekunst and the scouts to share that vision in terms of acquiring personnel best-suited for the task.
Through it all, LaFleur’s ability to click with his quarterback is essential to the team’s success. Much was made of the fact that Rodgers called LaFleur before the Packers offered him the job.
I say so what.
The sooner they begin their dialogue the better.
“The conversation went great,” LaFleur said. “I can tell he’s a passionate guy, and he wants to win. And I think that holds true for me as well. So I think we’re in alignment there because, like I said before, this game is about winning. I know that he wants to add to his legacy, and the only way we’re going to accomplish that is to win a world championship.”
Murphy said he was impressed by LaFleur’s preparation and performance during their interview. LaFleur, the Titans’ offensive coordinator and play caller for one season, was the 10th and final candidate to be interviewed.
Clearly, LaFleur’s experience working for Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay was a factor. So was his work with quarterbacks such as Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan, Jared Goff and Jay Cutler, all of whom played well under his direction.
The possibilities of a Packers’ offense that relies on balance, throwing to the running backs and tight ends, and a heavy dose of play-action is the cure for what ailed Rodgers.
And the reality is that Rodgers wasn’t all that bad in 2018.
The Packers were.
Rodgers undoubtedly has to be all in on the LaFleur hire. The Packers’ front office didn’t cede hiring power to their quarterback, but rest assured they knew enough not to hire a coach that Rodgers felt he couldn’t work with.
“Any time you’re the play caller, you want that collaboration with your quarterback,” LaFleur said. “Certainly we’re going to have a foundation in place of how we run our system. I think it’s a system that’s really predicated on building the run game with the pass game. We like to have plays … we like to say plays that start off looking the same but are different, plays that play off of plays. It lessens the predictability of what you’re trying to do, and it keeps a defense more off-balance.
“And if there’s one thing I can say in regards to a guy like Aaron, if you give Aaron time and you are unpredictable, he’s going to excel because we all know the talent he has. That’s how we’re going to build this thing.”
Offensively, everyone seems excited at the prospects under LaFleur’s direction.
The greater question is this: Can he handle a locker room? Can he coach up the entire team? Can he inspire a collection of the world’s most talented athletes to accomplish great things?
Murphy believed it or he wouldn’t have made the hire.
“In talking to (players) I think they wanted somebody that would hold players accountable,” Murphy said. “And the other thing that, and Brian can speak to this as well, he was there … (the players) talked a little bit about how they felt a complacency had set in among some players and coaches. So in my mind, that was something that as we went through the process, was kind of in the back of my mind. Is there something that we can do that can kind of shake people up so we don’t have the complacency?”
If McCarthy’s firing didn’t shake things up, LaFleur’s hiring will see to it.
Let the revamping begin.

Lions rout Packers;
Search for coach is on

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ regular season finale served to reaffirm all that is wrong in Green Bay.
When a kicker beats you with his arm, rather than his leg, you know it’s time to call it a season. Matt Prater’s wobbly, wind-blown 8-yard touchdown pass to Levine Toilolo on a fake might’ve been a laser beam for all the difference it made.
The Packers, on that play and in general, were outplayed, outcoached and outscored in a 31-0 shutout loss to Detroit in Sunday’s regular-season finale at Lambeau Field.
The Packers (6-9-1) weren’t able to win back-to-back games all season. They earned the 12th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and little else in an underwhelming effort against the Lions (6-10).
The day’s biggest surprise wasn’t the score, but the fact that the Packers would still bother to interview interim coach Joe Philbin after that debacle.
“Yeah, it was hard,” Philbin said afterward. “We just didn’t have any rhythm.”
They didn’t really have much of anything going.
Aaron Rodgers suffered a resounding, helmet-wrenching hit on the game’s second play. Philbin said he apologized to Rodgers for making such a terrible play call.
Apology accepted, I guess.
Two series later, Rodgers was out of the game with a concussion. I suspect even he couldn’t stomach what was to unfold. The Lions embarrassed the Packers at Lambeau Field, and it isn’t the first time that’s happened lately.
How far the Packers have fallen since the days when they ruled the NFC North.
Now, they’ve got to hope they figure it out while the Bears and Vikings either self-destruct or are exposed as being mediocre teams in a less-than-stellar division.
Presumably help is on the way.
The Packers’ president and CEO, Mark Murphy, is conducting an exhaustive search in conjunction with GM Brian Gutekunst. The list of candidates to replace Mike McCarthy is at least interesting, if not overwhelmingly impressive.
There isn’t a surefire hire in the bunch.
My wish list is topped by Adam Gase.
Gase did more with less at Miami than most NFL coaches could have and he has experience in the NFC North. He has an even disposition, is wicked smart and knows offense inside and out.
Gase would be the last of my interviews because I’d stop there.
After that, it’s pretty wide open, although I’m very intrigued by the Titans’ offensive coordinator, Matt LaFleur. He has coached with Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, and he has had a hand in developing and helping quarterbacks have career years.
LaFleur is intelligent and one of the new breed of offensive minds, although what impressed me most was his ability to stick to the running game, and to be productive on offense despite a ridiculous amount of injuries.
I’m not a fan of anyone who worked under New England’s Bill Belichick. They tend to oversell and underperform. They act like they’re the hoodie but they’re not even close.
That rules out Josh McDaniels, the Patriots’ offensive coordinator, and Brian Flores, the defensive coordinator.
To me, it’s Gase, LaFleur and good luck, Mr. Murphy.

Bears crush Packers’ playoff hopes, 24-17

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5 FM

GREEN BAY, Wis. – In Carolina the Panthers’ owner made the decision to sit quarterback Cam Newton for the final two games. Newton’s sore right shoulder made it a fairly obvious call.

In Green Bay a similar decision remains unmade, like a bed.

Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers said he wants to play – and even if he didn’t want to play, it’s the correct public position – so interim head coach Joe Philbin signed off on his wishes.

If Packers’ president Mark Murphy agrees he should say so.

That way Packers’ fans, season-ticket holders and anyone else who sees the absurdity of playing Rodgers against the Jets knows who to blame.

This one isn’t on Rodgers. It isn’t on Philbin.

It isn’t even on GM Brian Gutekunst.

“Gutey” took the job with the understanding that he answered to Murphy on everything from who to hire as the next head coach to whether to play or sit Rodgers in a meaningless game.

Rodgers is listed on the injury report with a knee/groin issue. Either would suffice as a logical reason to sit him down. The Packers’ team doctors, among the best in the league, could step in and sign off on it. I’ve got to think Rodgers is sufficiently beat-up to make it way beyond legitimate.

So why play Rodgers? The better question is, “Why sit him?”

Here’s why:

** The Packers (5-8-1) are at the Jets (4-10) Sunday for a noon kickoff. Neither team is playing for a post-season berth. There aren’t any NFL-related “integrity” issues at stake.

Nobody can claim the Packers “threw” the game to increase their draft position, or just as bad, to tilt another team’s playoff possibilities in a certain way. That’s not happening here.

** Some say Rodgers needs to play to earn his fat new contract. The truth is Rodgers’ ability to earn his salary is predicated on his ability to stay healthy. That incurs serious risk by playing him against a feisty, capable Jets’ defense in New Jersey.

It exposes him for what purpose? It’s not to prove his worth, so why risk the chance of diminishing it?

Season-ticket holders, at least the ones I’ve talked with, say they don’t want to see Rodgers exposed to unnecessary risk. They realize that their tickets, precious as they are, will be practically worthless if the star quarterback is out with an injury.

** The argument that the Packers’ quarterback needs to get on the same page with his young receivers is ludicrous. By that logic, why sit Rodgers the final two weeks of the preseason? Isn’t it important to get on the same page before the opener when the post-season is still in play?

It’s hypocritical to take the risk now but not then.

** What’s to be gained by playing Rodgers? Let’s say the Packers to New Jersey, beat down the Jets, 35-7, and fly back home for the holidays.

Again, I ask, what’s to be gained?

Lord knows Rodgers has suffered enough this season. He gets sacked more often than groceries at a supermarket.

Besides, he doesn’t need to work on his game. He needs to work on his attitude. He needs to stop with the immature gesturing and frowning whenever he throws an incomplete pass.

It’s a bad look.

It’s also not being a good leader to show up teammates, especially the most likely to screw up – the young receivers.

Rodgers can ponder that while watching DeShone Kizer take snaps. Speaking of Kizer that’s another reason Rodgers’ sitting is beneficial to the Packers.

Frankly, I’m curious to see how much – or perhaps if – Kizer has improved since the atrocious first-half showing against the Bears in the regular-season opener.

Perhaps Kizer’s positive development will be one of Mike McCarthy’s parting gifts.

** Ultimately, if Rodgers plays, Philbin’s No. 1 job is to make sure he doesn’t get nearly so often. Get the football out of his hands. Run the football. Realize that it’s OK to punt if you must and live so your quarterback can fight another day.


The Jets’ defense sacked Houston’s Deshaun Watson six times in last week’s 29-22 loss to the Texans. Watson still posted a 130-plus passer rating, but it wasn’t easy. If the elusive Watson was hit that many times by the Jets, how often will Rodgers be getting blasted?

Packers 34, Falcons 20 Five takeaways …

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5 FM

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ 34-20 victory over Atlanta ended a three-game losing streak and launched what they hope will be a strong finish under interim head coach Joe Philbin.

Here are five takeaways from the Packers’ victory:

** 1 – It appears Philbin is eminently qualified to guide this ship through the season finale. His temperament, experience and belief in himself should make for a smooth exit.

He has to go some to enter the picture as a serious candidate in the search to replace Mike McCarthy. That begins with Sunday’s game against the Bears at Soldier Field.

The Packers’ 5-7-1 record has spurred the debate: Are the Packers in a full-blown rebuild mode? Or aren’t they that far away and could contend next season?

The answer will be provided to a large degree on Sunday.

If the Packers aren’t that far from being a contender they should at least go into Soldier Field and make a battle of it.

They have their All-Pro quarterback, terrific No. 1 receiver and enough weapons to give Chicago some trouble. On the other hand, if the Packers get hammered by Chicago it suggests a greater gap in talent and potential than some want to believe.

** No. 2 – The Vikings’ 21-7 loss at Seattle on Monday Night Football is another example of the similarities between Green Bay and Minnesota.

The Packers (McCarthy) and Vikings (John DeFilippo) both fired their play callers during the season. That’s significant in that both teams have experienced quarterbacks, talented receivers and ample weapons in the backfield.

That said Kirk Cousins has been a major disappointment in Minnesota. Cousins’ numbers are OK but the win total leaves a lot to be desired. Cousins’ win-loss record is 4-24 as a starter against teams with a winning record.

Aaron Rodgers hasn’t been the problem in Green Bay. It’s more about not having receivers Geronimo Allison and Randall Cobb for a majority of the season. It required younger receivers to step up before their time, and with tight end Jimmy Graham being a disappointment, Rodgers’ list of weapons was too short.

Both teams’ offensive lines have been decimated. At times they’ve been short no less than three starters, which is difficult to ask of any team.

Excuses aside, the Packers and Vikings are playing for more than a wild-card berth. They’re playing to reaffirm their status as an upper-echelon team in the NFC.

Both have a considerable way to go and three games to get there.

** No. 3 – Bashaud Breeland is a player. So are Jaire Alexander, Kenny Clark and Blake Martinez. Josh Jackson has flashed potential, and Dean Lowry continues to slug it out in whatever role he’s asked to fill.

The defense has some pieces to build around, and I believe coordinator Mike Pettine has done a very good job.

Pettine should be given serious consideration to replace McCarthy.

** No. 4 – Philbin did several things a bit different than McCarthy. For example, he made a concerted effort to get the football out of Rodgers’ hands as quickly as possible. Rodgers was still sacked four times against the Falcons, but he took more snaps under center and threw more short passes.

He also seemed to get his players to concentrate. The Packers had six penalties for 37 yards, which is down from their season averages.

The Packers’ offense also played with more rhythm and tempo. The plays were sent in a lot quicker under Philbin, which is especially impressive in that he hadn’t called plays since 1996.

** No. 5 – The offensive line is in tatters. Like it or not the Packers are going to have to bite the bullet and draft an offensive lineman in the first or second round next spring.

Rodgers needs to have better protection and the offensive line has been neglected for some time. It’ll be interesting to see how Jason Spriggs holds up against Leonard Floyd or Khalil Mack on Sunday against the Bears.

Good luck to Spriggs, and the Packers.

Nevertheless, I’m taking the Packers in a thriller: Green Bay 24, Chicago 23.

McCarthy fired after Packers’ brutal loss
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN 107.5 FM
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Packers fans awoke Sunday with hopes that Green Bay would defeat Arizona and launch a five-game winning streak to finish with a flourish and reach the playoffs.
They went to bed wondering who will be the next head coach.
The Packers’ uninspired 20-17 loss to the lowly Cardinals at Lambeau Field served to hasten the inevitable.
Less than three hours after the debacle, Packers president Mark Murphy issued a statement declaring McCarthy’s firing, effective immediately.
Unassuming Joe Philbin, the Packers’ offensive coordinator, will serve as the interim head coach.
It is the first time the coach has been fired in-season in the Packers’ 100-year history.
Some fans celebrated the move, while others agreed with it but were quick to criticize Packers president Mark Murphy for departing from tradition.
If fans want to criticize Murphy, it should be for aiding and abetting GM Ted Thompson’s slow descent into oblivion. Thompson’s horrible drafts from 2014-2016 sank McCarthy as much as the coach’s own poor decisions.
Murphy’s apparent reluctance to fire Thompson was a massive oversight. In some corporations it would’ve cost him his job. With the Packers it merely means he gets to preside over a coaching search while Thompson goes into the Packer Hall of Fame this summer. Too bad it wasn’t three summers ago.
Now, Murphy better do the right thing and give current GM Brian Gutekunst total control of the football operation. Murphy, and others, should consult but it’s got to be the GM’s call.
Anything beyond that makes it look like I was wrong about Murphy and that he did indeed orchestrate a power play. As Packers president he’s no more qualified to hire a coach than his predecessor, Bob Harlan. The difference is that Harlan was wise enough to support his GM by staying out of football decisions.
At any rate, McCarthy deserves thanks for 12 ½ mostly successful seasons, including a victory in Super Bowl XLV.
His teams won 125 games, reached the playoffs eight straight seasons and advanced to the NFC Championship three times.
However, McCarthy’s critics suggested his offense had become stale and outdated. It’s hard to argue the point in an NFL season in which scoring is on a record pace.
Clearly, McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers weren’t on the same page. Part of that is because Rodgers did little to present a unified front. I can’t recall a time when the Packers’ quarterback defended his coach from the naysayers.
On the contrary, Rodgers’ perpetual pout and sub-par play only punctuated his unhappiness. It would be too strong to suggest Rodgers sabotaged the season, but he made no effort to conceal his displeasure with McCarthy’s offense and play-calling.
At times, Rodgers appeared to treat McCarthy like an intellectual inferior, at least in terms of offensive football.
After the Packers’ loss to Arizona, a game in which they were two-touchdown favorites, Rodgers played it cool.
When asked if he thought a coaching change would be made, he chose to dwell on the four games remaining and little else.
“I’m just thinking about these next four games and realizing how important leadership is in the tough times, trying to get guys to dig deep and play with that pride,” he told reporters.
“The conversations will take care of themselves down the line. I know my role is to play quarterback to the best of my abilities. That will be my focus the next four weeks, and then we’ll go from there.”
In what proved to be his final post-game news conference, McCarthy seemed at a loss as how to address his team following the ugly loss Sunday and a disappointing 4-7-1 season.
“I mean, I’ve never been in this spot,” McCarthy said. “I’m not going to act like I know what the hell I’m going to do tomorrow (Monday) when (the players) get in here. So we’re going to do what we always do: We’re going to represent the Packers the right way, I know that. Other than that, we’ll focus on what’s in front of us.”
Today, what’s in front of McCarthy is his next coaching job. It’s doubtful he’ll stay unemployed for long given his resume.
For the Packers the search is on while Philbin leads a team on a four-game journey to nowhere.

Packers-Vikings game ‘winner-take-all’ deal


By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN 107.5 FM

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers haven’t won on the road. The Vikings can’t afford to lose at home.

It’s a “winner-take-all” matchup Sunday night when the Packers and Vikings square off at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Packers’ loss at Seattle still stings.

Green Bay sent Ty Montgomery packing for taking the football out of Aaron Rodgers’ hands late against the L.A. Rams. Some fans believe Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy did likewise by punting on fourth-and-2 late at Seattle.

Now, McCarthy is coaching for his job, and his team is playing for its post-season life.

The Packers blew a 14-3 first half lead and scored three points in the second half. A victory would’ve thrust them into the playoff picture. Now, a loss at Minnesota puts them squarely out of it.

Minnesota (5-4-1) and Green Bay (4-5-1) are separated by one game, and linked by one tie. Sunday night’s winner will garner all head-to-head tiebreaker scenarios. If the Vikings win, they basically bury the Packers. If Green Bay wins, it puts the Packers one game ahead of Minnesota for the NFC’s second wild-card spot with five games to play.

The NFC playoff chase shakes down like this:

** No. 1 seed: New Orleans (9-1) – The Saints are all but certain to be the NFC’s top seed and the NFC South’s champion.

** No. 2 seed: L.A. Rams (9-1) – The Rams will win the NFC West in a landslide. The only question is if they can finish one game ahead of New Orleans, which seems like a longshot.

** No. 3 seed: Chicago (7-3) – The Bears’ defense makes this team a definite NFC Championship Game contender. It remains to be seen how much QB Mitchell Trubisky can continue to develop between now and the regular season finish line.

The Packers’ chances of catching Chicago rest of winning their final six games to go 10-5-1 and hope the Bears finish 3-3 to go 10-6. That’s a mighty thin line to win the NFC North, but it’s still possible.

** No. 4 seed: Washington (6-4): The Redskins are the most vulnerable of the division leaders given QB Alex Smith’s season-ending broken ankle. Colt McCoy played well in Smith’s absence, but still couldn’t avoid a tough 23-21 loss to Houston.

It’s likely the Redskins will fade out of the playoff picture.

** No. 5 seed: Carolina (6-4): Why head coach Ron Rivera elected to go for the winning 2-point conversion, rather than a 20-20 tie at Detroit, is beyond my thinking. The Panthers were the better team. Overtime would’ve favored them. Kick the PAT. It was giving away a game that shouldn’t have been lost.

At any rate, every Panthers’ loss helps the Packers’ chances.

** No. 6 seed: Minnesota (5-5-1): The Vikings must win at home against Green Bay to keep pace with the Bears. A loss to Green Bay, and the tiebreakers that go with it, would be a low point in QB Kirk Cousins’ brief time with the Vikings.

** The rest: Seattle (5-5) – The Seahawks own the tiebreaker with Green Bay and are a threat to edge Minnesota out of a wild-card berth. Dallas (5-5) – The Cowboys have a better chance of winning the NFC East (with Smith’s injury) than capturing a wild-card berth. Green Bay (4-5-1) – For the Packers it’s all about winning at Minnesota on Sunday night. A Packers’ loss makes it all but impossible to find a path to the playoffs.

If that’s the case, we’re watching Packers head coach Mike McCarthy’s final season.

Some suggest Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers isn’t exactly thrilled with his head coach, and in turn isn’t performing at his typical high level. On the other hand, Rodgers’ statistics are still among the NFC’s best in spite of McCarthy’s obvious gaffes, a month-long knee injury and deficiencies at wide receiver and in the offensive line. Tight end Jimmy Graham’s broken right thumb only complicates matters.

That said, McCarthy and Rodgers still have a tremendous opportunity to make something special of this season.

A victory at Minnesota, however it happens, would be that “moment” that Rodgers has been waiting on.

It’s up to McCarthy to set the two Aarons up for success. He needs to get the ball out of Rodgers’ hands quickly, and he needs to get the ball into Jones’ hands early and often.

It’s easier said than done, unless McCarthy steadfastly clings to the passing game and either abandons or leaves unexplored the running attack. Jones’ skill set is too unique to go unused.

Given time, Jones and the running game will make Rodgers’ life easier. It’ll also make the offensive line – and the offense – better.

Obviously, the Packers didn’t target Graham as much as I thought they would. Still, another five to seven targets have become available. Where should they go?

I would look to give at least four to Jones and the rest to Davante Adams. Those are the Packers’ top two play-makers and they’re going to need to make them to beat the Vikings.

The Packers need to jump on the Vikings after their beat-down at the hands of the Bears. I’m going Packers 31, Vikings 30, in an old-fashioned NFC North thriller.

That said, I’ll predict the Packers lose if:

** A) Aaron Jones has fewer than 20 touches;

** B) Aaron Rodgers has more than 42 pass attempts;

** C) The defense doesn’t register at least one turnover and three sacks.

Is that too much to ask?

It’s easier said than done, unless McCarthy steadfastly clings to the passing game and either abandons or leaves unexplored the running attack. Jones’ skill set is too unique to go unused.
Given time, Jones and the running game will make Rodgers’ life easier. It’ll also make the offensive line – and the offense – better.
Obviously, the Packers didn’t target Graham as much as I thought they would. Still, another five to seven targets have become available. Where should they go?
I would look to give at least four to Jones and the rest to Davante Adams. Those are the Packers’ top two play-makers and they’re going to need to make them to beat the Vikings.
The Packers need to jump on the Vikings after their beat-down at the hands of the Bears. I’m going Packers 31, Vikings 30, in an old-fashioned NFC North thriller.
That said, I’ll predict the Packers lose if:
** A) Aaron Jones has fewer than 20 touches;
** B) Aaron Rodgers has more than 42 pass attempts;
** C) The defense doesn’t register at least one turnover and three sacks.
Is that too much to ask?

Packers aim to put
Seattle woes in past

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ recent trips to the Pacific Northwest have wrought drama and disaster.
Let’s face it.
The Seahawks have had the Packers’ number in Seattle, where the weather will be mild (mid-50s, no rain) and the famed “12th man” will be hostile Thursday night at CenturyLink Field.
The Seahawks kick off a stretch of five homes games in the next seven weeks, which qualifies as great news to Russell Wilson. The Seattle quarterback has thrown 13 touchdown passes to just one interception in his last six home games.
The Seahawks (4-5) also come in with a two-game losing streak, one they intend to snap against Green Bay.
The Packers (4-4-1) are under no illusions.
“I like our chances at home, but we’ve got to win some road games or we’re going to be at home in January – for good,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Sunday.
The Packers pummeled the Dolphins 31-12 in a “must win” game Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Rodgers threw for two touchdowns to Davante Adams and Aaron Jones rushed 15 times for 145 yards and two scores to provide the offense with a much-needed semblance of balance.
“We needed that,” Rodgers said of Jones’ ball carrying. “If (the Packers’ defense) plays like that, and we run the ball like that, we’ll be tough to beat.
“(Jones) got going, he really did,” he added. “He’s a really good back, a slasher, fast (and) tough to take down. The first guy doesn’t bring him down a whole lot.”
Jones was suspended the first two games of the season. It’s been a slow, steady grind ever since toward the inevitable: The role as the lead running back in Green Bay’s offense.
“He’s a slashing running back,” Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “His ability to see the hole and hit it at full speed and to cut pretty much at full speed is what makes him special. Any time you have playmakers like that, you always want to make sure to give ‘em as many touches as possible because they can always make magic happen.”
Jones’ 67-yard thunderbolt against the Dolphins is an example.
“This league has always been about big plays,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. “You can’t score points without big plays and you have to make big plays to win the game.”
Jones’ 6.8 yards per carry leads the NFL.
Adams, his offensive counterpart, upped his touchdown reception total to nine to tie for the league lead. Adams’ 31 touchdown catches since 2016 also ties for the league lead.
Offensively, the Packers appear to be more balanced than at any time in recent memory. It’ll be the first time in a while that they’ll actually be packing a running attack for the trip.
It certainly helps that Seattle’s defense currently is yielding 5 yards per carry.
Defensively, the beat-up Packers made strides against Miami.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s unit recorded its first red zone takeaway in 25 games when Reggie Gilbert recovered a Brock Osweiler fumble on Miami’s opening drive.
The Packers got their first red zone sack in 31 games on Miami’s next drive when Kyler Fackrell got to Osweiler.
The Dolphins had to settle for four field goals.
“For sure this is the type of game we needed from our defense,” Rodgers said. “We held them to four field goals. Every time there was the potential for momentum swings … those were big plays from them.”
Bashaud Breeland had an interception in just his second game after being sidelined to that point with a leg injury. Breeland aggravated his groin in the game, though, and it’s unclear whether he’ll be ready for the Seattle game.
Kentrell Brice, Nick Perry, Kevin King and Randall Cobb didn’t make the trip.
Perhaps safety Ibraheim Campbell or cornerback Will Redmond will make their Packers’ debuts.
Most important will be Green Bay’s ability to stop the run. Wilson is one of the NFL’s best at play-action passes. He also ran for 95 yards in last week’s 36-31 loss to the Rams.
The Packers made several necessary strides against Miami. Given Jones’ success, Adams’ ability to get open and Rodgers’ right arm I’m taking Green Bay to win: Packers 35, Seattle 31.

Packers’ season on the brink at its midpoint

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers have reached both the season’s midpoint and its crossroads.
It’s going to go one of two ways.
Either Green Bay’s 3-4-1 season begins to ascend toward its expected landing in the playoffs, or it continues with it stacking of failures – rather than successes – until the inevitable end.
Which direction the Packers take is up to head coach Mike McCarthy, his staff and the players.
The preseason prognosticators – the so-called experts – had the Packers and the NFC North’s defending champion Minnesota Vikings locked in a death struggle until the regular season’s end.
Well, that hasn’t happened. (In full disclosure, I thought the Packers and Vikings would be neck-and-neck until the end, too).
In a season that’s been dissatisfying and disappointing, there have been far too many lows and not nearly enough highs.
Predictably, the head coach’s future has come into question.
Like the sad sighting of spring’s first robin, frozen to the turf, the inevitable, “McCarthy’s on the hot seat” headlines begin.
McCarthy isn’t new to defending his reputation and his team’s honor. His detractors typically appreciate his brilliance in guiding the upstart 2010 Packers to a Super Bowl. But after a 15-1 follow-up that flamed out early in the playoffs, it’s been the story of a perennial playoff team slowly eroding due to subpar drafts, ineffective player development and so-so coaching.
So it goes this season, where the Packers’ weaknesses are the same now as they were at the beginning. The pass rush, run game, use of tight ends and a “scrubbing” of the playbook were supposed to fix what ailed the team.
Looking back, it was asking too much, too soon.
Packers’ first-year GM Brian Gutekunst has made numerous shrewd decisions in his relatively brief tenure. There is the 2017 draft that produced Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson and the Saints’ first-round draft pick in 2019. There also is the decisive action in trading Ty Montgomery and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
In addition, he signed tight ends Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis, defensive tackle Mo Wilkerson (out with an injury), and defensive back Tramon Williams in free agency.
The offseason looked like the running start McCarthy needed.
It’s why my partner on Sports Line, three-time Super Bowl champion Harry Sydney, answered thus when asked in the offseason: Who is truly on the hot seat in Green Bay?
Sydney replied, “Mike McCarthy.”
The rationale was sound. Gutekunst set up McCarthy with a reasonable roster, including several players at new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s request, to revamp the team.
An influx of young receivers, the advent of young running backs and the (cross your fingers) health of the offensive line – and by extension the quarterback – were all looking good.
Then came the narrow season-opening victory over the Bears, which nearly claimed Aaron Rodgers, and it’s been a struggle ever since.
The Packers, at the most critical moments, have been their own worst enemies. That’s noteworthy because as Rodgers has said in the past, “We have to be at our best in the biggest moments.”
It has been anything but thus far.
So where does it go? How does it end?
What has the season still in store?
Frankly, it’s going to be a study in perseverance. I’m talking about McCarthy’s, Rodgers’ and the fans’ because it’s not going to be easy. If Rodgers stays healthy, and that’s a big if, the Packers remain a dangerous team despite all odds.
What has to happen around Rodgers is threefold:
** No. 1 – McCarthy needs to be at his creative best from here on out. By that, I mean he has to be willing to take risks, rather than putting it all on Rodgers’ shoulder pads. Get Davante Adams in motion more often. Find ways to twin Graham and Lewis to do some serious damage in both the run and pass game. Figure out how best to get the ball into Aaron Jones’ hands.
** No. 2 – Veteran players such as Clay Matthews, David Bakhtiari and Blake Martinez must take the lead come Sunday’s game against Miami. Make no mistake – this is a “must-win” game. Of that there can be no question.
It isn’t going to be easy even with Brock Osweiler starting at quarterback. Don’t laugh because Osweiler’s completion percentage is actually better than Rodgers’ right now.
The veterans need to get it done Sunday.
** No. 3 – The defense has to force turnovers. That hasn’t happened in forever. The Packers’ turnover ratio is a joke. Rodgers NEVER throws interceptions – he’s got one – but the defense can’t force turnovers to save its collective souls.
That has to change.
Ultimately, if the Packers get past the Dolphins, I can see them gathering steam at Seattle for a strong late run.
A loss to Miami, however, will go down as the game that ultimately sealed McCarthy’s coaching fate in Green Bay.


Packers suffer second ‘Ty’ in season on edge

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – With scarcely two minutes to play the stage was set for a thrilling, game-winning Packers’ rally, save for the final act.
Enter Ty Montgomery.
That’s when the (now former, thank God) Packers’ part-time running back/default kick returner decided to take things into his own hands. Despite being told to take a knee on the kickoff, he elected to go off script.
Montgomery’s ensuing return and lost fumble cost the Packers dearly in a well-played, hard-fought 29-27 loss to the Rams Sunday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
The tie against Minnesota was bad. This ‘Ty’ felt worse.
“The plan there is to stay in the end zone,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. “… But that’s what those games come down to. There are decisions and Ty’s in that ‘decision situation’ and I’m sure Ty was trying to make a play.”
I hear what McCarthy is saying, but one question lingers: Where’s the accountability?
That question was answered Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline when Packers’ GM Brian Gutekunst traded both Montgomery and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Montgomery was sent to Baltimore in return for the Ravens’ seventh-round pick in 2020. That’s the NFL’s closest thing to a bag of scuffed footballs. The seventh-rounder, two years from now, meant he was either going to be traded or released.
Clinton-Dix brought a 2019 fourth-round pick from Washington, who will pair him with D.J. Swearinger to form a fairly stout safety tandem. Clinton-Dix, who was in the final year of his contract, also had to go. Why? He’d already discussed not returning next season.
I believe he’d already checked out. Besides, it’s either a fourth-round pick or nothing in the way of compensatory picks due to the way Gutekunst talked Wednesday. He described not recouping picks in 2020 (when Clinton-Dix would’ve applied) because Green Bay sounds like it intends to play in free agency. They have an estimated $43 million in cap room to work with.
Beyond future considerations, I never felt Clinton-Dix’s play rose to the level of Pro Bowl, not even close. While it’s true he played on every snap since forever, you could look at it another way: He was on the field for every snap while playing for a weak defense. How much was Clinton-Dix the common denominator?
At rate, a change of scenery will do both Montgomery and Clinton-Dix a world of good.
McCarthy tended to let things slide, especially if he appeared to have a fondness for a player. That misplaced sense of loyalty gets NFL coaches fired.
It didn’t go that way in Green Bay. Not this time. Not with a new GM on the case.
Montgomery had to go.
He bordered on being a divisive force in the locker room. With the Packers precariously teetering at 3-3-1 this isn’t the time for dissension, doubt and finger-pointing.
There was no reason to have Montgomery returning kicks. He’s too slow to be a threat to take it to the house, and he’s obviously not to be trusted with ball security or decision-making.
Other than that he was a great option.
There is no such thing as a moral victory. There is only victory, defeat or a tie. Right now the Rams (8-0) are unbeaten and untied. The Packers (3-3-1) are neither.
Aaron Rodgers correctly noted that Montgomery’s fumble didn’t lose the game, but it did cost them a chance to win it.
Who didn’t think Rodgers-to-Davante Adams would be unstoppable in the final minutes? Perhaps the Rams and the amazing Aaron Donald would’ve stymied the Packers like they did on the previous drive. Sadly, we’ll never know.
So what now?
Well, there were numerous positives despite the loss.
Aaron Jones looks like he’s ready and able to take over the primary ball carrying duties. He rushed 12 times for 86 yards and a touchdown, but only had four carries after the half.
Why McCarthy didn’t use him more is a mystery.
The Packers’ defense played its best game of the season.
Kenny Clark had five tackles, two sacks and one heck of an impact. Jaire Alexander had an NFL season-high five passes defended. If not for Alexander it’s fairly certain Jared Goff would’ve made multiple big plays throwing to Brandin Cooks.
Blake Martinez, with a sack and 12 tackles, also played well while being tasked with covering the Rams’ Todd Gurley. The trouble is that Gurley is so good he still finished with 114 yards rushing and another 81 yards receiving plus a touchdown.
Clay Matthews also had his best game of the season with seven tackles and a sack, and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s decision to play dime (six DBs) was right on the money.
Further, the Packers were whistled for just two penalties.
All of that was squandered by Montgomery’s poor judgment.
Now Montgomery, Clinton-Dix and the Rams’ game are in the past. What matters is this: Green Bay has a chance to go to Foxboro and knock off the Patriots on Sunday Night Football.
It won’t be easy, but New England hasn’t been nearly as dynamic as it has in recent seasons.
Furthermore, the trading of Clinton-Dix and Montgomery should be addition by subtraction. Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams likely will embrace the 1-2 role and Tramon Williams and perhaps Bashaud Breeland will see time at safety. They may tighten up the coverage and qualify as an improvement.


Brewers’ magical
season finally ends

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – What if?
What if Christian Yelich’s fifth-inning drive to left-center hadn’t been caught?
What if Jeremy Jeffress hadn’t reverted to being a mere mortal?
What if Jhoulys Chacin hadn’t struggled early in Game 7 so Josh Hader and the bullpen could see the finish line?
The Brewers’ magical 2018 season ended too soon, of course, with a tough 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the NLCS Saturday night at Miller Park.
Still, that loss and those questions lead to another question: How good are the Brewers going to be in 2019?
Answer: Really, really good.
How do they make that happen? They continue on the path set by GM David Stearns, assistant GM Matt Adams and the entire front office, minor league scouts and Brewers manager Craig Counsell and his staff.
The Brewers enter the offseason as an established contender. They are set at catcher, first base, shortstop, third base and the outfield. The starting rotation is a bit in flux, but it’s because there are numerous qualified candidates, as opposed to no one that’s worthy. The bullpen is, well, the bullpen.
It’s the best in the big leagues.
Milwaukee should expect big things.
In fact, the Brewers are among MLB’s best bets to go deep into the post-season, and perhaps the World Series, next season.
Las Vegas sports books have posted odds to win the 2019 World Series and the N.L. and A.L. league championships.
The Red Sox and Astros, both at 6-to-1, are the early favorites to win next year’s World Series. The Dodgers and Yankees are next at 7-to-1, followed by the Cubs and Indians at 10-to-1.
The Brewers and Braves are tied for seventh at 12-to-1 to win the 2019 World Series. The Brewers are 6-to-1 to win the National League, trailing only the Dodgers (7-2) and Cubs (5-1).
“We won 96 games – 95 games in the regular season,” Counsell said. “We won our division. We finished one game from the World Series. In a lot of ways, there’s another series after this we’d like to be playing in. But you do this again and you put yourselves in these situations again, that’s all you can ask.”
The Brewers’ future appears bright.
It begins with Yelich, who hit .326 with 36 home runs, 110 RBIs and 118 runs scored. Yelich, the sweet-swinging lefty, is the National League’s Most Valuable Player.
Yelich was clutch. He also sustained excellence for a significant stretch. He was good from the All-Star Game until the National League Championship Series.
It wasn’t just his bat.
His even-keel demeanor is priceless. Yelich is a leader by example. The moment is never too big. The highs are never too high, and the lows are never too low.
Yelich’s work with his glove also was Gold Glove quality.
Lorenzo Cain, who was signed as a free agent the same day the Brewers traded for Yelich, also was a baseball godsend.
Cain hit .308 as a leadoff man and was the consummate pro. He played centerfield like a Gold Glove winner, was patient at the plate, and also stole 30 bases.
Ryan Braun, after a slow start, finished strong.
His future is in question, but his bat remains viable. He hit .254 and finished with 25 doubles and 20 home runs. Travis Shaw also was strong again, with 32 home runs and the willingness to move from third base to second base to accommodate Mike Moustakas.
Speaking of Moustakas, he brought a steadying influence and would be welcome back.
Orlando Arcia merely is pushing to become the heart of the team, and the diamond of the infield. Arcia has MVP talent, especially if he continues to swing the bat like he did during a thrilling post-season.
Arcia finished with as many home runs in the playoffs (three) as he hit in the regular season. His upside is unlimited.
The pitching staff is loaded.
Brandon Woodruff will be a top-flight starter in the rotation. Freddy Peralta also will be there, as well as Chacin.
Wade Miley will have a spot, which leaves Zach Davies, Gio Gonzalez and perhaps Jimmy Nelson to contend. Brent Suter is also a candidate when he gets healthy.
The bullpen is Josh Hader, Corey Knebel, Corbin Burnes, Jeremy Jeffress and Joaquim Soria is loaded.
The front office is superb, and owner Mark Attanasio is always willing to do what it takes to upgrade his franchise.
Where will the Brewers finish in 2019? It depends on their ability to retain their nucleus and have players continue to ascend. They need to find a full-time second baseman.
They may need a catcher, depending how far they think Eric Kratz can go. They have needs, without question, but they also have a track record. They came within a game of the playoffs in 2017. This year they came within a game of the World Series.
What if? Now the better question is, “What next?”

Packers’ struggles continue at Detroit, while Brewers roll

By Chris Havel

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It’s been 11 days since the Packers won, and 11 games since the Brewers lost.
The stats and status of Wisconsin’s NFL and MLB franchises aren’t lost on frustrated Packers’ fans, many of whom also are ecstatic Brewers’ fans.
Once upon a time, the Brewers’ primary purpose was to remain relevant until the Packers kicked off training camp. Anything of importance or relevance after that was all gravy.
Well, this Brewers’ season it’s been all gravy, plus mashed potatoes, turkey, dressing, sweet corn, cranberry salad and dessert. It’s been an entire feast that continues Friday night, when the Brewers host the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS.
The Brewers’ sweep of Colorado, after their do-or-die victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field, captivated an entire state’s fan base and has dominated the headlines.
It’s been a beautiful thing, especially given the Packers’ struggles. Instead of entirely obsessing over “What’s wrong with Green Bay?” it’s been about, “Yeah, the Packers got problems, but we’re OK dealing with it after the Brewers’ season.”
I can’t say that I blame them.
This isn’t the first time the Packers have come out limping, figuratively or (in Aaron Rodgers’ case) literally.
Green Bay (2-2-1) has time to get its act together.
In fact, I’m still leaning toward a Packers’ playoff berth despite the gruesome, almost farcical 31-23 loss at Detroit last Sunday. The Packers’ most disappointing loss of the season had it all:
** Another 12 penalties for a staggering 112 yards against Green Bay. Where’s the discipline? Where’s the accountability? It begins with the coaching staff and a zero tolerance policy.
Well-coached teams don’t have players receiving “taunting” penalties for any reason, especially undrafted, free-agent cornerbacks who celebrate finally making a play by standing over an opponent and shouting at them.
And it’s not the first time it’s happened in Green Bay.
** The Packers surrendered four more sacks, which puts them on pace to give up a whopping 64 this season. Is it little wonder that a beat-up Rodgers has been less-than-thrilled with the plan?
Frankly, the plan so far has been, “Have Aaron run for his life until he makes something happen, or can’t run anymore.”
I mean, why have Aaron Jones run the football when there’s Rodgers on one leg? Better still, how about having Jones touch the football at least 15 times a game? It’s time for the Packers to deploy their top play-makers and the head coach to figure out how best to use them.
When has the Packers’ offense had a defense back on its cleats? I can’t remember the last time it’s happened, it’s been that long.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy hasn’t exactly had memorable games thus far as a play caller. The idea in bringing back Joe Philbin to be the offensive coordinator – at least I thought – was to allow McCarthy to focus more on his play calling and less on the nitty-gritty game plan details. If Rodgers is unhappy who’s to blame? What’s changed?
Either way, I’ve got to believe Rodgers and McCarthy will be on the same page coming out of the bye week. Between now and then, they face a San Francisco 49ers team on Monday Night Football with the entire league watching.
The storyline, now that 49ers’ quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is out with a season-ending knee injury, is this: Two once-proud NFC franchises are struggling to regain their place among the conference’s elite teams. If the 49ers pull off an upset – and San Francisco is a 9 1/2 –point underdog – it most surely signals another step downward for the Packers.
That can’t happen if Green Bay plans to play in the postseason. Right now, I can (generously) see the Packers at 5-5-1 with five games to play. A 4-1 run to the finish, which is possible, still leaves Green Bay at 9-6-1.
That’s cutting it close for a wild-card.
I suspect Green Bay handles the 49ers behind Rodgers’ right arm and a havoc-causing defense more resembling the group that shut out the Bills.
Meantime, the Brewers keep rolling along their merry way.
Milwaukee is a legitimate threat to reach the World Series. Clearly, the star-studded Dodgers are no slouch, but there’s something about the Brewers’ chemistry that’s special.
I’m going to pick Packers 35, 49ers 13, on MNF.
As for the Brewers, I think they win the opener, 3-2, behind a Jesus Aguilar home run off Clayton Kershaw. Then, they get busy to win the series, 4-3, in epic fashion.


Packers blank Bills, Brewers in playoff

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – One down … two to go.

That is where the Packers and Brewers find themselves after one of the state’s most interesting sports-related weeks in years.

The Brewers need two more wins to capture the best-of-five NLDS. The Packers need two more wins to go 3-0 in a pivotal stretch before a bye that’s followed by a brutal five-game stretch with games at the Patriots, Rams and Vikings.

Green Bay hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 2010. Milwaukee hasn’t gone to the post-season since 2011. Yet here it is, early October, with history threatening to repeat itself.

Let’s start with the Brewers.

Milwaukee (96-67) reeled off eight straight wins – including a one-game playoff – to clinch the NL Central Division title. It was capped by a 3-1 victory over the Cubs Monday at Wrigley.

After Colorado eliminated Chicago in Tuesday’s wild wild-card game, the Brewers got past the Rockies 3-2 in 10 innings in Thursday’s gut-wrenching Game 1 of the NLDS.

Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell started Brandon Woodruff in a so-called “bullpen game.” It is when a team elects to start a reliever (although Woodruff has done both) and play the game inning-by-inning while riding fresh arms throughout.

The advantages are reduced pressure on the starter. After all, he’s only expected to go a handful of innings. The relievers are in their element – coming into a tight game – so there’s nothing new for them. Furthermore, a team can get an extra bat in the lineup by use of the double-switch and hitting for the pitcher.

Woodruff was near-perfect in three innings. He allowed no runs, no hits and only one walk. After that Corbin Burnes, Corey Knebel and Josh Hader combined to blank the Rockies through eight innings.

Meantime, Christian Yelich’s two-run home run in the third gave Milwaukee its narrow 2-0 lead.

Enter Jeremy Jeffress in the ninth. Exit the Brewers’ lead.

The Rockies rallied for two runs in the top of that inning and missed a great opportunity to plate more runs. Give Jeffress credit for not blowing the lead.

Besides, what’s to fear so long as Milwaukee’s MVP is here?

Almost on demand, Yelich coaxed a walk to lead off the 10th. Two outs later, Mike Moustakas lined a two-strike single to right to send Yelich home and fans into delirium.

The Brewers’ Jhoulys Chacin starts tonight’s Game 2.

The Packers, like the Brewers, kicked off the week by pitching a shutout. Green Bay blanked the Bills, 22-0, while the Brewers shut out the Tigers, 11-0, to set up their one-game playoff.

Afterward, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers made it sound like the Packers had won by the score of 2-0.

Rodgers had his reasons.

Green Bay’s offense had five dropped passes on four different drives. They also ran sporadically and rotated Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery to no great effect.

However, they did attempt 27 rushes, which is progress. They also managed to pick up 110 yards on the ground. It’s at least a step, so to speak, in the right direction.

Rodgers hit 22 of 40 passes for 298 yards, a touchdown and an interception. His 76.9 passer rating is almost 30 points below his career average. Understandably, he wasn’t pleased.

In particular, Rodgers took exception to what he called limited targets to their most potent weapons.

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy addressed Rodgers’ concerns, saying they had talked.

I think it’s a positive sign. If they don’t talk now, then when would they? This is a critical three-game stretch in terms of finding an offensive identity and ultimately a rhythm.

Defensively, the Packers took a significant stride forward.

After being dreadful on opening drives, the Packers forced the Bills into eight punts and three turnovers on their first 11 drives. LeShon McCoy rushed five times for only 24 yards, and Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen played like the rookie that he is.

The Packers registered seven sacks, including three by Kyler Fackrell, and need to build off that success.

This Sunday, the Packers (2-1-1) face the pesky Lions (1-3) at Ford Field in Detroit. They did incur several injuries though. Davante Adams (calf), Randall Cobb (hamstring) and Geronimo Allison (concussion protocol) all missed practice Thursday. The only good injury news is that Jimmy Graham (knee) did return to practice and was upgraded on the injury report.

The Lions have troubles of their own under first-year head coach Matt Patricia. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has been streaky, perhaps because he’s been hit way too often. The running game also has been underwhelming.

However, the Lions do have several dangerous weapons, including Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, while the Packers’ secondary is hurting with Jaire Alexander and Kevin King both struggling with groin injuries.

It’ll be up to defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to patch it together and give Rodgers and the offense time to figure it out.

Prediction I: Brewers 6, Rockies 3 in Game 2.

Prediction II: Packers 27, Lions 20.

Packers brace for Bills to kick off key stretch


By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – If you have the Packers penciled in for a post-season berth, Green Bay’s next three games will play a pivotal role in determining if that’s likely to happen.

In fact, its importance goes beyond the obvious need for wins.

The Packers (1-1-1) have a sketchy identity at this point.

Who is Green Bay? Through three games it looks like a playoff wannabe with a great but gimpy quarterback, no real running threat or interest in developing one, and a substandard defense.

Other than that it’s all good.

That is why the next three games are critical.

The Packers host Buffalo (1-2) on Sunday. After that they’re at Detroit (1-2) before coming home for a nationally-televised Monday Night Football encounter with San Francisco (1-2).

That’s three winnable games. It’s also three chances to define players’ roles, develop a semblance of offensive balance and get new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense on track.

Clearly, it’s an opportune to gain confidence and momentum in an NFC North whose forecast is suddenly mostly cloudy.

The Vikings (1-1-1) are good but not great. The Bears (2-1) are holding down first place with a Top 10 defense. The Lions (1-2) are coming off a 26-10 upset win over New England.

It’s crazy. It’s also time for the Packers to focus.

Starting with Sunday’s noon kickoff at Lambeau Field, the Packers must turn their “To Do” list into a “Ta Da!” list between now and a brutal five-game stretch beginning Oct. 28 with a game at Los Angeles against the undefeated Rams. After that it’s Tom Brady’s Patriots at New England, the undefeated Dolphins’ stout defense, the pesky Seahawks and the most important game of all – at Minnesota.

Here’s the Packers’ “To Do” list:

** No. 1 – Keep the opponent from scoring a touchdown on its opening drive. Is that too much to ask? The Packers’ defense has set a tone thus far – it’s an interest in getting tough only after falling behind (and/or) in the second half.

Pettine’s defense has had its injuries, to be sure, but so has every other NFL team’s units.

It’s time for Pettine to decide how he’s going to proceed: By getting aggressive and using unconventional means to pressure quarterbacks? Or by focusing on the down-and-distance battles while employing a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy?

The signing of cornerback Bashaud Breeland to replace Davon House, who was placed on IR, is an upgrade. Breeland should fit in nicely with the Packers’ secondary, especially when Kevin King returns from a groin injury.

The loss of Muhammad Wilkerson to a dislocated ankle was costly. It’ll be interesting to see how Dean Lowry responds. My guess is he’ll be active and make an impact against the Bills.

The problem is the Packers’ defensive line can’t afford to absorb another key injury. It’s also time for Montravius Adams to get more snaps and show his pass-rushing talents.

Reggie Gilbert also has to emerge as a true pass-rush threat. Right now he’s an afterthought with Clay Matthews’ roughing-the-passer penalties distracting focus from the reality that the pass rush is weak.

Safety Kentrell Brice needs to pick up his play or be relegated to a reserve-special teams’ role.

** On offense, it’s time for head coach Mike McCarthy to commit to the running attack. I’m not talking Aaron Rodgers with run-pass options (RPOs) either. I’m talking about handing it or tossing it to Jamaal Williams with some frequency, and riding Aaron Jones when down-and-distance maximizes it.

At any rate, Ty Montgomery’s role would be diminished.

Rodgers also needs to bear responsibility for abandoning the running game. It’s OK to hand off and let the offensive line gain a foothold for the day.

Obviously, the offensive line needs to quit putting the offense in terrible down-and-distance situations with penalties. A holding call on a quick-hitting 2-yard run is ridiculous.

So are the frequent holding penalties on passing downs.

As McCarthy said, the Packers (and the offense) need to clean up their house because it’s way too messy.”

** In the next three games, McCarthy needs to use rookie Marquez Valdes-Scantling as a kick returner and a deep threat in the passing game. He also needs to find ways to implement the double-tight end formation with Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis, who has been largely ignored thus far.

I don’t get it.

The double-tight end would balance up the opposing defense, provide the run-pass option, and create obvious mismatches.

If McCarthy has an explanation I’d love to hear it. After three games, I’m not buying the old song and dance about having so many great receivers that they have to get their hands on the football. You mean like Randall Cobb got his hands on it?

That doesn’t wash.

Last week, I predicted a 31-13 Packers’ victory. I had the “31” correct, but was dead wrong on the outcome.

This week, I’m seeing a Packers’ win that (hopefully) both addresses and answers some of the above: Green Bay 27, Buffalo 16.


Golf, anyone? Packers sloppy in 31-17 loss


By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The painful loss, uncharacteristic drops, shoddy defense, rampant penalties and blown calls compelled me to consider Green Bay’s long-range forecast.

It proved to be surprisingly good news.

Temperatures this Sunday are expected to reach into the upper 50s with a slight breeze and little chance of rain.

It’s prime golf weather.

Seriously, it’s also a prime opportunity for the reeling Packers to pull themselves together and get a grip on the season.

Green Bay’s 31-17 loss to Washington Sunday on a rain-swept FedEx Field in Landover, Md., was distressing on several fronts.

Specifically, there was the Packers’ inefficient offense, sloppy defense and substandard (again) officiating. It has become the unholy trio in Green Bay, where the Packers’ notion of balance isn’t offense-defense, or run-pass, but rather a 1-1-1 record.

To be fair, it wasn’t just Green Bay’s ineptitude that led to defeat. It was hastened by a Redskins team that managed to get its stuff together just in time for the Packers’ arrival.

Allegedly beat up, unloved and unwanted by some Redskins’ fans, Washington came out and took charge from the start.

Green Bay’s defense aided and abetted by finishing the first half the way it started, which is to say, it finished by playing awful.

The Redskins (2-1) became the third team to score a touchdown on its opening drive against Green Bay. Then they closed it out with a lengthy touchdown drive with just 2:17 left in the half.

It gave Washington a commanding 28-10 lead and proved too deep a hole for the Packers to dig out of.

“The first half was bad,” Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said. “I don’t know how else to put it. The first half was bad … a lot of inconsistent play. We came out in the second half and did better, but it was a little too late at that point.”

The Packers’ defense surrendered first-half touchdown drives of 75, 79, 98 and 74 yards.

Safety Kentrell Brice displayed poor leverage on Paul Richardson’s 46-yard touchdown catch to cap the Redskins’ first scoring drive.

On Washington’s second touchdown drive, the Packers committed three pass interference penalties, and all three were the correct call in my opinion.

The Redskins’ third touchdown drive was launched by Alex Smith’s 34-yard pass to Jordan Reed on third-and-6 at the Washington 6-yard line. A few plays later, Adrian Peterson set up the first of two short-yardage touchdown runs with a 41-yard burst off right tackle.

Peterson finished with 120 yards on 19 carries while Smith did just enough (12 of 20, 220 yards and two touchdowns) to win it.

Meantime, Washington’s defense battered Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense.

Rodgers finished 27 of 44 for 265 yards and two touchdowns for a 93.5 passer rating.  He was sacked four times and hounded constantly behind a suspect offensive line. Bryan Bulaga (back) and Justin McCray (shoulder) were replaced by Jason Spriggs and Byron Bell, both of whom fared no better.

The Packers also committed 11 penalties for 115 yards.

“Way too many holding calls,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said afterward. “A lot of long down-and-distances … we had a lot of opportunities in the second half to get the game back to one score and didn’t get it done.”

Three dropped passes, including two in the second half, conspired to thwart each of those drives. A Randall Cobb fumble killed another.

“We have to clean our own house,” McCarthy said. “It’s sloppy right now.”

Rodgers, speaking for the offense, agreed.

“We put ourselves behind the sticks with a lot of negative-yardage plays,” he said. “The next thing I know we’re down by three scores. That’s kind of how the game went.”

Cobb took responsibility for his sloppy play. He had two drops, the fumble and just four catches (in 11 targets) for 23 yards.

“I didn’t give us an opportunity to win,” he said. “A third-down drop on the first drive, the fourth-down drop, a fumble … I played terrible and didn’t give us an opportunity to win.”

Lance Kendricks’ drop on a perfectly thrown deep pass by Rodgers also was frustrating for the Packers.

For a third straight week a Clay Matthews’ roughing-the-passer penalty grabbed headlines. Matthews’ sack of Smith appeared to be text book, but he was flagged nonetheless.

“I think Clay did what he’s supposed to do there,” McCarthy said. “How it’s being officiated are questions for other people. He hit him with his shoulder, he’s coming full speed off the block, he braced himself … I was fine with what Clay did.”

Matthews was frustrated afterward.

He charged that the fans don’t like the direction the league is going, and that the NFL might be getting soft.

Sadly, the same could be said of the Packers.

Packers can use tie to motivate going ahead


By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers are listed atop the NFC North standings – not because of merit following a tie with the Vikings – but solely because the letter “G” (Green Bay) comes before “M” (Minnesota) in the alphabet.

Sole possession of first place, for now, must wait.

On the bright side, the Packers (1-0-1) remain undefeated in the wake of an infuriating 29-29 tie with Minnesota last Sunday.

The officiating was substandard, even by NFL standards, and it left such a bad taste in the mouths of players and fans that their initial inclination was to gargle, spit, rinse and repeat.

Another way to cleanse the pallet would be a victory Sunday against the Redskins (1-1) at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

While Washington’s defense has been pesky in its first two games – a 24-6 win at Arizona and a 21-9 loss to the Colts – the Redskins’ offense has been woefully ineffective.

Alex Smith, the No. 1 pick in the 2005 NFL draft, was selected 23 spots AHEAD of Aaron Rodgers.

After an up-and-down stay in Kansas City, Smith was traded this offseason to the Redskins to replace … drum roll … Kirk Cousins, who left for Minnesota.

Smith has completed 54 of 76 passes for 547 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in two games. Most of the Redskins’ offense has been runs and short underneath throws.

Frankly, the Packers get the Redskins at a good time because Smith is directing a beat-up attack.

On Monday, Rob Kelley (toe) became the third Redskins’ running back placed on injured reserve this season. It leaves Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson to man the backfield.

Peterson started strong in the opener at Arizona, but managed just 20 yards on 11 carries in the loss to the Colts.

The ex-Vikings star knows all about Rodgers.

So does Thompson, who told reporters, “It’s very important to improve (each week). I mean that’s Aaron Rodgers coming in. We don’t have it together, we get embarrassed again.”

Tight end Jordan Reed is Washington’s best weapon. He has 10 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown this season.

Beyond Reed it’s been one injury after another at wide receiver. The depleted Redskins signed Breshad Perriman and Michael Floyd, a pair of former first-round picks, on Tuesday.

Paul Richardson, the ex-Seahawk and their No. 1 receiver, is dealing with a sore shoulder.

The Redskins’ receivers have combined on just 18 catches for 173 yards and zero touchdowns through two games.

The Packers’ Randall Cobb has 13 catches for 172 yards and a touchdown by himself. Green Bay’s receivers have combined for 38 catches, 460 yards and four touchdowns.

Defensively, the Redskins may be better equipped to deal with Rodgers and Green Bay’s offense.

Safety D.J. Swearinger had two interceptions against the Colts’ Andrew Luck last week. But despite giving his team great field position twice, the Redskins managed just three points.

Up front, the Redskins have top pick Daron Payne and veteran Ziggy Hood to man the D-Line. A linebacker group of Ryan Kerrigan, Mason Foster and Zach Brown is the D’s strength.

Of course, cornerback Josh Norman can still play – and talk – at a high level.

“When you get the opportunity to face one of the top quarterbacks in this league – if not No. 1 then No. 2 – we have to key in on everything they give us,” Norman told reporters.

What the Packers plan to give the Redskins is fits.

While cornerback Kevin King battles a groin injury, safeties Josh Jones (foot) and Oren Burks (shoulder) should play. It will give defensive coordinator Mike Pettine more options to defend the middle of the field.

On offense, Rodgers and tight end Jimmy Graham are getting on the same page, which is bad news for the rest of the league.

Also, the Packers will have running back Aaron Jones at their disposal following his two-game suspension. Jones’ speed and explosiveness gives Green Bay’s offense a key element.

The Vikings host the dreadful Bills this week.

If the Packers expect to stay atop the NFC North – whether by merit or alphabetically – they need to dispatch the Redskins.

Prediction: Packers 31, Redskins 13.

Missed calls, chances lead to Packers’ tie

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Last week, the Browns made a tie almost feel like a win against Pittsburgh. This week, the Packers made a tie most definitely feel like a loss against Minnesota.
Through the maze of blown calls and missed opportunities the Packers can take solace in this: With a gimpy quarterback and a developing defense, Green Bay went toe-to-toe with the vaunted Vikings to forge a 29-29 overtime tie Sunday at Lambeau Field.
It isn’t a win in the standings, but it’s better than a loss.
On a day when the officiating was substandard, even by NFL standards, the Packers proved several things.
First, that Aaron Rodgers can play at a high level despite having to do so with a sore and heavily braced left knee.
Second, that the Packers’ defense can limit the Vikings’ Dalvin Cook to just 38 yards on 10 carries with a long run of 9 yards.
Third, that Green Bay’s woes – from the disastrous 1-for-5 in the red zone to recording a mere two sacks in 48 pass attempts – appear to be correctible.
The Packers’ lesson of the day is this: Take care of business instead of leaving it to the officials.
Clay Matthews’ roughing-the-passer penalty was absurd.
What clearly was a legal hit instead drew a penalty to extend the Vikings’ final possession, which resulted in a game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion. Matthews hit Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins in the midsection just as he released a pass that was intercepted by the Packers’ Jaire Alexander.
At that point, it would have been game over.
Instead of celebrating a 29-21 victory and a 2-0 start, the Packers’ nightmare trundled on into overtime. After 10 minutes, two missed field goals by Minnesota and a Packers’ botched second-and-1 at the Vikings’ 37, the game ended in a tie.
It was like receiving an award posthumously: Thanks, I guess.
A frustrated, perplexed Matthews tried to sort it out afterward.
“I have so many emotions running through as far as what a terrible call it was,” Matthews told reporters. “At the same time, I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know. You let me know. You tell me. Did I put pressure on him? I thought I hit him within his waist to chest. I got my head across, put my hands down. To call it at that point in the game is unbelievable.
“Last week, OK, shame on me,” he went on. “This week, that’s unbelievable. The worst part is, we’ll probably send it in and you know what they’re going to say? They’ll find fault on me because they’re going to agree with the refs. I don’t know. It’s a difficult call to call. You see how it changed the game. I know there’s an emphasis on protecting quarterbacks, but it’s gotten out of control. I don’t know what else to do. It’s frustrating because Jaire’s interception, that’s game (over), right? Instead, they go down and score, overtime, this and that.
“We had opportunities to win the game, no doubt about it, but it’s frustrating to allow a call which I feel like I did the right thing to influence the game. I don’t know. I’m trying to bite my tongue, but obviously I don’t agree with it.”
The Packers’ missed opportunities were numerous.
Mason Crosby delivered on five straight field-goal attempts, but with a chance to seal the victory from 52 yards out, his kick stayed wide of the left upright to force overtime.
Despite the loss, or rather, the tie, there is reason for optimism:
** Rodgers finished 30 of 42 for 281 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating was 97.4. He was sacked four times, which was too much even with his lack of mobility, but he proved he can play at a high level despite the injury.
** Tight end Jimmy Graham caught six passes for 95 yards. He also had a touchdown catch wiped out because of an absurd holding penalty on left guard Lane Taylor.
Graham is going to be a force for the Packers this season.
** Geronimo Allison is settling in as a key special teams’ performer and wide receiver. He caught six passes for 64 yards on six targets and also blocked the punt that teammate Josh Jackson turned into a touchdown.
Allison is a player on the rise.
** The Packers’ defense did a lot of good things.
They only sacked Cousins twice in 48 pass attempts, but constantly harassed and hounded him. The effort wasn’t lacking.
Furthermore, they limited Dalvin Cook to a long gain of 9 yards in 10 attempts. The run defense held up well.
Individually, Kenny Clark, Blake Martinez and Alexander stood out on a defense that has the potential to be a Top 10 unit.
Ultimately, the tie is painfully disappointing given the circumstances, including the poor officiating.
Nevertheless, the Packers have no time to cry over it.
They have a trip to Washington, D.C., to face the Redskins on Sunday afternoon. The best way to get this tie behind them is to raise the record to 2-0-1 and get ready for the Bills at Lambeau.

Packers shock Bears
with epic comeback
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Chicago’s Khalil Mack – the NFL’s highest and second-highest paid players – earned their keep Sunday night.
In turn, Packers fans got their money’s worth and then some.
Down 20 points late in the third quarter, Rodgers threw three touchdown passes to spark the Packers to a 24-23 victory over the Bears. It tied for the fourth-largest come-from-behind win in Packers’ history, which is a whole lot of history for a team kicking off its 100th anniversary season.
The comeback was amazing in its own right.
That Rodgers spurred the rally after being carted off before halftime with a knee injury only amplified its magnificence.
Rodgers was just 3 of 7 for 13 yards when he injured his left knee while being sacked in the second quarter.
Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy compounded the woes by having backup quarterback DeShone Kizer throw with less than a minute to play in the second quarter. Instead of running out the clock and regrouping, McCarthy’s call for a screen pass resulted in a Mack interception and 27-yard touchdown return. That put the Bears up 17-0 as the Packers were booed off the field at half.
Mack, who signed a six-year, $141-million contract after being traded to Chicago from Oakland last week, was a one-man wrecking crew in the first half. He had a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and the pick-six before intermission.
The Bears had every reason to think this was a “W”.
Re-enter Rodgers to start the second half.
With only one good leg but one terrific right arm, the two-time MVP gamely walked out of the tunnel and into history.
Rodgers completed 17 of 23 passes for 273 yards and three TDs after intermission. He kept the Bears’ vaunted pass rush at bay with a no-huddle attack that relied on quick passes, short runs and big plays.
“Aaron Rodgers was remarkable,” McCarthy told reporters. “I just can’t tell you how proud I am of him.”
Trailing 20-3 early in the fourth quarter, Rodgers capped an eight-play, 81-yard drive with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Geronimo Allison to make it 20-10.
Allison beat the Bears’ best corner, Kyle Fuller, on the play.
With 9:01 to play, Rodgers avoided pressure and hit Davante Adams for a 12-yard touchdown to make it 20-17.
The Bears added a field goal but it wouldn’t be enough.
Facing third-and-10 at the Green Bay 25 with less than three minutes to play, Rodgers made the play of the game: He rolled left, threw back over the middle to Randall Cobb and watched as No. 18 ran 75 yards for what would be the winning touchdown.
“We went exclusive no-huddle (in the second half),” McCarthy said. “The two-minute drill is the best thing (Rodgers) does.”
Cobb was bumped off his original rout by Bears safety Eddie Jackson, but stayed alive to make the night’s biggest play.
“I saw Aaron scramble and I tried to break free,” Cobb said. “Once I caught it I just saw green grass and did what I could to get in (the end zone).”
Cobb caught nine passes on 10 targets for a career-high 142 yards and the touchdown. Adams added five catches for 88 yards and Allison another five grabs for 69 yards.
Cobb reacted as if he’d died and gone to Packers heaven.
“I love the fact that (Rodgers) came back out there and played the way he did,” Cobb said. “We knew once he came back on the field we were in a great position and we just had to get it done. We never gave up hope.”
At halftime, Rodgers told his defense, “If we don’t give up any more points we’ll win.”
The Bears managed just two field goals in the second half. Second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky was 23 of 35 for 171 yards and a 77.2 passer rating.
He was sacked four times by a Packers’ defense that had its ups and downs. Veteran Clay Matthews looked old and was largely ineffective. Matthews had one tackle and one bone-headed play that could’ve cost the Packers the game.
With less than two minutes to play, the Packers thought they’d turned the ball over on downs to seal the victory. Instead, Matthews inexplicably launched himself at Trubisky well after he’d thrown the football. The unnecessary roughness penalty extended the last-ditch drive but ultimately didn’t prove costly.
Nevertheless, the Packers won in spite of Matthews’ poor play and McCarthy’s awful decision to have Kizer throwing late in the first half.
Now it’s on to a noon showdown against the Vikings next Sunday at Lambeau Field. Rodgers predicted he will play against Minnesota. For his sake, let’s hope the Packers’ offensive line plays like it did in the second half against the Bears and Matthews plays like he did once upon a time.


Most Wanted List!
What the Packers need to see…

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ preseason has been impressive on several fronts.
First, the injury situation is almost non-existent compared with past training camps. With two games to play, the Packers should be able to reasonably protect their key players without undermining the critical final stages of the evaluation process.
Second, the quarterback play has allowed Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy and his assistants to accurately assess the talent at receiver. Aaron Rodgers, DeShone Kizer, Brett Hundley and Tim Boyle have been a sharp quartet.
Ultimately, the Packers have put themselves in position to be adequately prepared for the regular-season opener. They also have set themselves up to finalize a strong 53-man roster.
That said there’s still plenty of work to be done. Here is a sampling of our listener’s thoughts on the question, “Most Wanted: What they need to see between now and the opener?”
** DeShone Kizer and Brett Hundley need to settle the backup quarterback question. Hundley has played much better than a year ago. Without that obvious improvement this job would be Kizer’s right now.
For his part, Kizer also has played well in a new scheme. I suspect Kizer will continue to perform at a high level and earn the best backup job in the NFL.
** The tackling has been substandard, at times, and needs to be sharper. Clay Matthews recognized as much, but also said that’s what the preseason is for and they’ll get it tightened up.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine also acknowledged the sloppy tackling, but shed some light on the reasons. Mostly, he said players are thinking instead of reacting at this point. He also said the teaching points and corrections will be made.
It’ll be interesting to see how sharp the Packers’ defense is in Friday night’s third preseason game at Oakland.
** Pettine identified his top four outside linebackers: Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Reggie Gilbert and Kyler Fackrell. Matthews and Perry can play, but can they stay healthy? Gilbert is promising but has yet to do it on the biggest stage. Fackrell has been better than last year, but he seldom flashes and leaves observers with the feeling that he’s just a guy.
The pass rush will be OK if Matthews and Perry stay healthy, Gilbert is the real deal and Pettine’s scheme creates opportunities to make plays.
That’s all.
** How does Ty Montgomery fit? The reality is that he’s a receiver-turned-running back and plays that way. His ball security, especially when running between the tackles, is iffy.
He also has struggled to stay healthy. He takes direct shots when a more experienced running back would naturally reduce those to glancing blows.
Montgomery’s best chance to contribute is as a receiver out of the backfield, either in the slot or the screen game. He has value and better start fast. With Aaron Jones suspended the first two games, Montgomery’s play is going to be crucial against the Bears and the Vikings in Weeks 1 and 2.
** The Packers’ backup tackles need to step up. Byron Bell, Jason Spriggs, Kyle Murphy and others have yet to wow. They need to tighten it up in the next two games, or the Packers may be in the market for a veteran tackle as an insurance policy.
Stay tuned.

Stop by Mr. Golf, located at 3111 Monroe Rd., De Pere, and say hello to owner Jeff Aubry. Give him a call at 338-9535 or stop out and try their great range. It’s the best way to sharpen your game.

The FAN website column for Tuesday, Aug. 14

Chris Havel’s sports columns appear during the week on The FAN’s website. The columns are brought to you by these fine advertisers (click on hyperlink to go to website/Facebook)

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Packers’ young WRs

in serious competition

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Preseason games have been known to deceive observers regarding a team’s true depth, identity and potential.

With that qualifier, here’s what I can say with a fair amount of certainty following the Packers’ 31-17 victory over Tennessee Thursday night at Lambeau Field:

** No. 1 – The Packers’ backup quarterback will be vastly improved from a year ago. It’s the insurance policy a team prays it never has to use, but in Green Bay’s case it isn’t likely to be the disaster it was last season.

Brett Hundley, DeShone Kizer and even Tim Boyle showed some poise and pizzazz in the exhibition opener.

They also facilitated the evaluation process by completing 25 of 47 passes for 372 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. There were a ton of opportunities for the young receivers.

Hundley’s accuracy and decision-making seems to have progressed, although he remains skittish at times in the pocket. He’s playing for his NFL career in Green Bay, at least, and seems ready to put up a battle against Kizer.

Hundley completed 9 of 14 passes for 108 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

For his part, Kizer looked comfortable in a new offense and seems to have profited from the tough lessons learned in Cleveland last year. As it stands, the No. 2 quarterback job is Kizer’s to lose, regardless of the current pecking order.

Kizer was 9 of 18 for 134 yards with two sacks.

Boyle is an intriguing prospect. The kid throws a better deep ball than either Kizer or Hundley. He hit rookie J’Mon Moore in stride for what would’ve been a 40-plus yard gain only to see the fourth-round pick drop it. Boyle rolled with it and continued to play well in his debut.

Boyle hit 7 of 15 for 130 yards, two touchdowns and a 116.7 passer rating.

That leads me to …

** No. 2 – The receiving corps – top to bottom – is much-improved from last season.

That’s a bold statement based on training camp practices and one preseason game. That doesn’t mean it isn’t accurate though.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling stole the show.

The 6-4, 206-pound rookie from South Florida caught five of seven targets for 101 yards and a touchdown. He also hauled in a 51-yard bomb in stride from Kizer.

It’s a strong start.

It’s the same for Jake Kumerow. The 6-4, 209-pound undrafted free agent caught Aaron Rodgers’ eye early in camp for all the best of reasons. Then Kumerow went out and caught three passes for 76 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown.

Valdes-Scantling and Kumerow have the inside track … for now. J’Mon Moore has proven he can get open. He’s also proven to be unreliable catching the football. As strong as he looked early in training camp, his margin for error is shrinking.

Equanimeous St. Brown had four catches for 61 yards, including a nifty 28-yard catch-and-run. St. Brown is a smooth, tall (6-5, 214) athlete with strong hands.

Furthermore, second-year pro DeAngelo Yancey also has been solid in camp.

** No. 3 – The Packers’ defense remains something of a mystery in terms of the big picture. New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine rarely blitzed in the preseason opener. He also lined up without perhaps eight of 11 starters.

Nevertheless, several players stood out.

Montravius Adams, the big defensive tackle, was very active. He held the point of attack and hustled to chase down plays from the back-side. If Adams’ flashes become more frequent he could become a formidable contributor as an interior pass rusher.

Rookie Oren Burks, a hybrid linebacker/safety, tackled well and played with confidence in his debut. Burks is going to rack up a ton of plays this season.

Second-round pick Josh Jackson is a battler. He received a lot of work with first-round pick Jaire Alexander and others out. He struggled early with a penalty, and surrendered a couple completions, but just as important fought back.

** No. 4 – J.K. Scott is the real deal. Those who criticized the Packers’ new GM, Brian Gutekunst, for drafting a punter in the fifth round can admit they were wrong any time now.

Also, the disaster that was the snap, the hold and the kick last year has been fixed. Hunter Bradley, a rookie, has been so solid he’s gone under the radar. That’s perfect for a long snapper.

Scott is an adroit holder and Mason Crosby is, well, Crosby.


Stop by Mr. Golf, located at 3111 Monroe Rd., De Pere, and say hello to owner Jeff Aubry. Give him a call at 338-9535 or stop out and try their great range. It’s the best way to sharpen your game.

The FAN website column for Tuesday, August 7, 2018

From: Chris Havel, Sports Line
The FAN website column for Tuesday, August 7th!

Chris Havel’s sports columns appear during the week on The FAN’s website. The columns are brought to you by these fine advertisers (click on hyperlink to go to website/Facebook)

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Just a short “drive” north of Green Bay on Hwy. 41, Pine Acres has an awesome Friday Night Fish Fry. This 9 hole gem is in terrific shape. Check them out on Facebook.

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This is THE classic sports bar, restaurant and banquet facility. Located in Howard-Suamico, Townline features home-made pizza, fajitas and the best burgers and wings around. See the daily specials at www.TownlineOnline.com.

** Chrysler World
Just 10 minutes north of Green Bay on Hwy. 41 come and see the 500-plus car inventory including new and used models. When you stop out tell them, “Havel sent me!” Check them out at www.chryslerworld.com.

Packers’ O linemen
in spotlight Saturday

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers received some good news on the offensive line injury front.
On Friday, Bryan Bulaga was cleared to practice after rehabilitating a serious knee injury last year.
On Saturday, David Bakhtiari apparently dodged a bullet when he twisted his left ankle late in the Family Night practice. Early reports, according to ESPN sources, say Bakhtiari will be able to go in the regular-season opener.
Meantime, Packers’ legend Jerry Kramer, another offensive lineman, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Kramer’s long-overdue induction was the highlight of the evening. It was great news one-two-three for Packers’ offensive linemen, past and present.
For a while there it didn’t look so good. In fact, it looked bad. It appeared that:
** Bulaga might be done due to his constant injuries. He has missed 43 of a possible 128 games during his career. That said, there’s no question the Packers’ offensive line is better off with him at right tackle.
** Bakhtiari’s ankle injury reminded everyone just how important the All-Pro left tackle is to the team’s fortunes. The fact that he’s going to miss an undisclosed amount of practice strikes me two ways.
First, I’m alright with him being out of harm’s way between now and the Sept. 9 season-opener versus the Bears. It will provide Kyle Murphy, Jason Spriggs and Byron Bell the reps they dearly need.
Second, I’m concerned because it’s never good when Aaron Rodgers’ blind-side protector is out. That’s even true in the preseason. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy must decide how much time Rodgers is going to see given Bakhtiari’s absence.
DeShone Kizer needs to be ready in case of emergency, and Brett Hundley is fighting for a roster spot.
For both the more snaps, the better.
In other Packers’ developments:
** Rookie receiver J’Mon Moore continues to impress. I liked him early in camp and that hasn’t changed. He made a difficult, 5-yard touchdown catch in the Packers’ Family Night practice that stood out. He also had a drop early on, but rebounded to make that big play.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown also flash play-making ability to go with their impressive size-speed ratio. The Packers’ young receiving trio appears to be on the right path to help the offense sooner than later.
** Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery have managed to stay healthy and get their work in thus far. That’s been important given hamstring injuries to Aaron Jones and Davante Mays.
Williams and Montgomery have the potential to be a decent one-two backfield tandem. My guess is Williams will be used on early downs and in tandem with a fullback, and Montgomery will be the single back most-often deployed in obvious passing situations.
** Montravious Adams showed up and played well.
The second-year defensive tackle’s forte is quickness as an interior pass rusher. He showed exactly that in the Saturday night practice.
Adams should have a role in the Packers’ sub-packages as an interior pass rusher in a 4-3 alignment, as well as lining up wide in a 3-4.

Stop by Mr. Golf, located at 3111 Monroe Rd., De Pere, and say hello to owner Jeff Aubry. Give him a call at 338-9535 or stop out and try their great range. It’s the best way to sharpen your game.


Packers’ camp heats up Saturday as pads are on

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Jimmy Graham splits out wide and looks unstoppable. Aaron Ripkowski lines up in the I-formation as lead blocker for Jamaal Williams and splatters folks. Mo Wilkerson explodes off the edge as a pass rusher during the “team: no huddle” period.
There was a lot to see as the Green Bay Packers put the pads on Saturday at Ray Nitschke Field.
The tempo was brisk, the hitting selective and the message clear: Go hard, play fast and get after it.
The Packers’ defensive coaches are more vocal, demonstrative and demanding than the previous group.
The urging, teaching and coaching are incessant. It begins on the quick jog to the next drill, intensifies as the action unfolds and continues on and through the whistle.
Whether this translates into a better defense remains to be seen, but it unquestionably is a louder outfit.
Harry Sydney, my co-host on Sports Line, noted the defensive staff’s passion Saturday as “impressive.”
“I like it,” Sydney said. “They’re teaching and communicating and getting their message through to the players.”
The intensity is accompanied by focus.
Other defensive standouts:
** Wilkerson, at 6-4, 315, flashed a burst off the edge. If he can bring juice as a “5” technique in a 3-4 or as an end in a 4-3 it would be a boon to the defense. This veteran doesn’t act like an old eight-year veteran, but rather a player on a mission.
So far, big No. 96 looks really good.
** Blake Martinez jumps out without even trying. He’s seemingly everywhere doing everything. It’s not going out on a limb to see the Packers’ linebacker having a big season.
** Jaire Alexander fears no receiver.
The first-round pick has got moxie and speed to spare, and it appears he genuinely loves to compete at cornerback. He dares receivers to run past him and fights like crazy in “jump-ball” situations.
Meantime, second-round cornerback Josh Jackson goes through his paces smoothly. He does come off as a bit hesitant, at times, but perhaps he’s more cautious by nature.
He’ll pick it up.
On offense, two receivers stood out: rookie J’Mon Moore and second-year pro DeAngelo Yancey.
Moore caught a slant pass from Aaron Rodgers in stride and while he was being assaulted by a defensive back. Moore’s quickness and ease in-and-out of breaks is striking. He also appears to possess rock-solid hands.
I really see a huge upside for Moore.
As for Yancey, the powerfully built 6-1, 220-pounder from Purdue was inconsistent and injured a year ago. So far, Yancey has used his upper-body strength to battle cornerbacks, and his speed to get behind them. Oh, and he’s also caught it cleanly, too.
** Running back Jamaal Williams looks terrific. I have him as the regular-season starter at running back. He made a slick move in the hole to cause a defender to whiff. Williams also catches it with ease out of the backfield.
Devante Mays made several sweet moves in team drills, and showed really good balance and feet. However, he struggles to catch it cleanly and remains a work in progress.
NOTE: Next post following Monday’s practice. The Packers are off Sunday.

Stop by Mr. Golf, located at 3111 Monroe Rd., De Pere, and say hello to owner Jeff Aubry. Give him a call at 338-9535 or stop out and try their great range. It’s the best way to sharpen your game.

Brewers in good place four games to midpoint

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Milwaukee Brewers hold a 2-½ game lead over National League Central Division rival Chicago with four games to play until the MLB season’s midpoint.

Who’d of thought it? The Brewers in first place as they round second and head into July?

It is one of baseball’s best stories.

It also is one that receives scant national attention.

The Brewers (45-32) don’t seem to care about accolades. They seldom, if ever, play the “we get no respect” card. In fact, they present themselves as a confident team that realizes it hasn’t actually accomplished anything yet.

The view from the Brewers’ dugout appears to be twofold:

** 1 – That they are playing fairly inspired baseball for themselves, their manager and each other. The bench-wide euphoria when the Brewers belt a decisive home run or deliver an inning-ending strikeout appears genuine.

They also appear to be welcoming of new teammates. It is reflected in the way call-ups tend to perform well early on. If they weren’t comfortable it would much more difficult.

Freddy Peralta, the 22-year-old who pitched his way into Brewers history with a 13-strikeout debut, is pitching tonight. It’s his first start at Miller Park. He’s excited. His teammates are excited. Even manager Craig Counsell is anticipating the start.

Peralta would’ve had a tough time being so overpowering at Colorado, and again in his most recent start, if he didn’t feel the chemistry – especially with catcher Manny Pina.

In a162-game season chemistry matters and the Brewers appear to have it.

** 2 – The other conclusion is that the Brewers’ talent looks as real as their chemistry.

At last glance, Milwaukee was among baseball’s top three teams in runs scored after two outs. It suggests the Brewers’ hitters are capable in the clutch.

The Brewers also are among the league leaders in home runs. Led by Jesus Aguilar’s 16 bombs, and backed by Travis Shaw, Eric Thames, Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, the Brewers’ offense is plenty potent.

They’ve been shut out 10 times this season, which is cause for alarm if/when the Brewers reach the postseason, where they would face top-flight starting pitching.

Frankly, Milwaukee fans shouldn’t stress about whether the Brewers are good enough to win a postseason series. Reaching the postseason would be a great accomplishment.

It’s do-able though.

The Brewers have back-to-back games against a weak Kansas City squad at Miller Park before going to Cincinnati to face the Reds, who’ve gone from slumping to surging.

These next four games could set the tone for the second half.

Consider this: If the Brewers take three of four they’ll finish at 48-33 at the halfway point. That puts them on pace to win 96, which should put them in the playoffs.

The Las Vegas betting line for the Brewers’ win total was 81 ½. Milwaukee should blow that number away.

It sets up for a great second half. It’s likely to be one that will keep Packers/Brewers fans’ interest well beyond training camp.


Stop by Mr. Golf, located at 3111 Monroe Rd., De Pere, and say hello to owner Jeff Aubry. Give him a call at 338-9535 or stop out and try their great range. It’s the best way to sharpen your game.

Thoughts on Packers’ second public OTA
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Here’s a “sports math” quick quiz:
Question: What does 80 plus 85 equal?
Answer: Seven (as in seven points).
For all of Green Bay GM Brian Gutekunst’s offseason moves, the incredible upgrade at tight end tops the list. The Packers may not have the NFL’s highest-scoring offense this season, but they have a great chance to be one of the most dominant.
When the Packers’ Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis stand shoulder pad-to-shoulder pad they blot out the sky.
Green Bay’s veteran tight end duo is enormous. They also bring a combined 20 years of experience to the position.
All of that leads to this educated guess: Graham (6-7, 265) and Lewis (6-6, 267) are going to be a handful for opposing defenses this season. That’s based on just a glimpse of the Packers’ second public OTA practice Thursday at Ray Nitschke Field.
Everyone from the fans in the stands to Aaron Rodgers and DeShone Kizer found the big tight ends impossible to miss.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy spoke at length to the media about the offseason acquisitions at tight end.
Graham and Lewis aren’t kids anymore. They don’t run like they once did. That’s OK because the reality is this: Graham still runs plenty fast, and Lewis is so skilled and smooth he’ll be able to get open, too. Best of all, they catch it. At least they showed the ability to catch it with ease at the OTA practice.
Tight ends aren’t like receivers.
They don’t have to maintain high-end speed to be effective. McCarthy said there isn’t an edge rusher in the league that Lewis can’t block. And Graham is as dynamic a threat in the red zone as there is in the game.
Further, the Packers appear to be serious about using them.
They ran multiple “stack” or “bunch” formations with their tight ends, including holdover Lance Kendricks, who shouldn’t be discounted as a valuable third cog.
Rodgers threw to both Graham and Lewis frequently.
Once the pads come on we’ll see exactly what they can do in terms of blocking in the run game, but for now I’ll take McCarthy’s word for it.
Other OTA observations:
** Jamaal Williams is going to be the lead dog in the backfield.
The second-year running back looks like a man on a mission. The way he carries himself in practice, interacts with teammates and goes about his business professionally suggests he’s going to be the No. 1 back for a while.
Ty Montgomery has receiver skills, and Aaron Jones has breakaway speed, but it’s Williams who drew my eye. He’s so smooth and focused you would swear he’s a six-year pro.
I predict Williams will be the starting running back with Montgomery and Jones – if they stay healthy – providing a nice changeup to him.
Frankly, the running back position looks better than it has in a long time, and it starts with Williams at the top.
** The right side of the offensive line no longer looks like a mess.
The signing of veteran Byron Bell (6-4, 320) gives the line some much-needed depth at tackle. On Thursday, Bell rolled at right tackle and Justin McCray at right guard with the No. 1 unit.
That still leaves rookie Cole Madison to compete and either start or provide depth. Meantime, Bryan Bulaga, Kyle Murphy and Jason Spriggs can heal up.

Stop by Mr. Golf, located at 3111 Monroe Rd., De Pere, and say hello to owner Jeff Aubry. Give him a call at 338-9535 or stop out and try their great range. It’s the best way to sharpen your game.



Brewers’ rookie makes
‘M’emorable debut

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – It’s tough to know which was nastier:
Chase Anderson’s stomach virus, which caused him to miss a start, or Freddy Peralta’s stuff, which caused the Rockies to miss most everything in the Brewers’ 7-3 victory Sunday at Colorado.
Peralta, a wiry right-hander, was called up from the AAA Pacific Coast League when Anderson had to be placed on the disabled list.
The 21-year-old delivered a Mother’s Day dandy.
Peralta – not to be confused with ex-Brewer Wily – mowed down the Rockies as if they were dry grass being cut by a razor-sharp blade. He carried a no-hitter into the sixth and got the win.
He finished with a Brewers’ rookie record 13 strikeouts.
“The pitching coach told me to smile, breathe and pitch,” he said. “So that was what I did.”
Travis Shaw and Jesus Aguilar hit home runs to back Peralta, and the Brewers won three of four to take the series.
Milwaukee (24-17) is at Arizona (24-16) Monday night.
The first-place Brewers got a shot in the arm from Peralta, who threw 98 pitches (90 of them fastballs) to confound the Rockies. Before being called up Peralta led the Triple ‘A’ Pacific Coast League in strikeouts with 46.
“He settled down after his first three pitches,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “After that he just kept getting better.”
Counsell seemed almost as if in awe.
Peralta’s 13 strikeouts were tied for the third-most by a rookie making his debut. Stephen Strasburg fanned 15 in 2010. Before that, powerful righty J.R. Richard of the Astros K’d 15 in 1971.
Aguilar was impressed with the 21-year-old’s debut.
“It was unbelievable,” he told MLB.com. “I’ve never seen their second baseman (D.J. LeMahieu) look like that, or (center fielder Charlie) Blackmon. They didn’t see the ball. It was unbelievable. Good for him. These guys are really good hitters, and he dominated, easy, with the fastball.”
Peralta came through with Anderson and Zach Davies both battling to get back from the DL.
Also, the Brewers’ bats came through, Saturday notwithstanding. Milwaukee’s eighth shutout this season – a 4-0 loss Saturday – ties last year’s season total.
Nevertheless, the Brewers won three of four at Colorado to move into first place in the National League Central.
Junior Guerra will open the series at Arizona, who has struggled of late while losing five straight games.
Milwaukee would be more than happy to extend that string.

Stop by Mr. Golf, located at 3111 Monroe Rd., De Pere, and say hello to owner Jeff Aubry. Give him a call at 338-9535 or stop out and try their wonderful range. It’s the best way to sharpen your game now that the weather is cooperating.

With the 14th pick, the Packers select …Vea?

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Few declarative sentences will stir as much anxiety and anticipation as this one: “With the 14th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Packers select …”

The fans’ reaction depends upon Green Bay’s choice, of course.

If it’s a receiver they’ll raise eyebrows. If it’s an offensive lineman they’ll raise hell. If it’s a defensive stud they’ll raise their glasses to toast the new GM.

So who’s it going to be?

The checklist seems fairly straightforward.

The Packers’ greatest needs are a pass-rushing linebacker and a bookend for cornerback Kevin King.

That’s it.

The top two are Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith and Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward.

The next-best two are Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and Alabama cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Odds are Smith and Ward will be selected in the top 10. The cost to Green Bay – to move up from 14 to 7 – would be its first, second and third-round picks. That’s a high price to pay for a single player, as starter-ready and talented as he may be.

It is likely Edmunds and Fitzpatrick will be “top 12” selections.

The cost to Green Bay – to move up from 14 to 10 or 11 – would be its first- and third-round picks plus considerations such as current players (Brett Hundley?) and late-round picks.

If Edmunds somehow slides to 10, the Packers should seriously consider pulling the trigger on a trade to acquire him. He would provide immediate pass-rush help while offering a long-term alternative to Clay Matthews and/or Nick Perry.

Ultimately, the Packers will probably sit tight, consider how great life might be with Fitzpatrick and King at cornerback, and do a lot of praying.

Indeed, if Fitzpatrick is there, the Packers shouldn’t hesitate. They should take him and count their blessings.

Fitzpatrick is a top five talent that will be a Day One starter opposite King. The Packers’ defense has to face Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford and Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky six times each season.

Good luck stopping that without strong cover corners.

However, if Smith, Ward, Edmunds and Fitzpatrick are all off the board when the Packers are on the clock, the choice is easy: They should select Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea.

The Packers’ defense needs disruptors.

Vea, at 6-foot-4, 347 pounds, is exactly that.

He is a powerful man who possesses a rare combination of size, speed and strength. His legs are compared with tree trunks. He is the immoveable object. His heart also appears to be in the right place because he plays with passion.

When Vea is compared to players, rather than trees, the name mentioned is the Eagles’ Haloti Ngata, which is high praise.

Imagine a 4-3 defense that’s front four includes Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Vea and Muhammad Wilkerson, with Dean Lowry available in the rotation.

Vea’s sheer strength and size allows him to collapse the pocket.

That enables the pass rush to work all the better.

Clearly, the Packers would need help at cornerback and outside linebacker if they did choose Vea.

The drop-off, or cliff, at cornerback comes after the top four: Ward, Louisville’s Jaire Alexander, UCF’s Mike Hughes and Iowa’s Josh Jackson. Ward’s a top five pick, while the others are perceived as really strong mid- to late-first round picks.

After that the best options are LSU’s Donte Jackson, who ran a 4.32 at the combine, and Colorado’s Isaiah Oliver.

Green Bay could select Vea at 14, trade back into the late-first round and still grab a starting-caliber cornerback.

Another scenario has Boston College edge rusher Harold Landry slipping into the 25-to-30 range, in which case Green Bay might be obliged to go that route and trade up.

Three outside linebackers the Packers should consider in the second round are South Carolina State’s Darius Leonard, Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter and USC’s Uchenna Nwosu.

All three would be upgrades to the front seven.

A receiver and an offensive lineman are in demand, too. Fortunately, the Packers can bolster both areas with quality players in the fourth round and beyond.

Look for the Packers to select Fitzpatrick if he’s there at 14.

If he’s not, they should select Vea with apologies to no one.


Stop by Mr. Golf, located at 3111 Monroe Rd., De Pere, and say hello to owner Jeff Aubry. Give them a call to reserve time on the indoor simulator – a great way to beat the muddy blues.

Give Mr. Golf a call at 338-9535 or stop by and use the outdoor driving range to work out the winter kinks.

Bucks, Brewers cure for ‘Cabin Fever’ – sort of

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Those were my thoughts somewhere between Sunday’s umpteenth inch of record snowfall in Green Bay and the Bucks’ awesome second-quarter run against the Celtics.

About that time, the Brewers were taking a 2-1 lead on the Mets despite striking out an incredible eight straight times against New York’s ace right-hander, Noah Syndergaard.

For snowbound Wisconsin sports fans – especially those of the Bucks and Brewers – the noon starts were a godsend.

Obviously, the outcomes were especially disappointing.

The Bucks lost 113-107 in overtime despite Khris Middleton’s incredible 35-foot bomb with 0.5 seconds to make it 99-99 at the end of regulation. That came after the Celtics’ Terry Rozier feigned Eric Bledsoe out of his sneakers to nail a 3-point shot and give Boston a 99-96 lead with 0.5 to play.

Enter Middleton, who scored 31 points, as the Bucks’ big-shot maker. He nailed the 3-pointer and gave No. 7 seeded Milwaukee hope in its opener at No. 2 seed Boston.

That’s when the Celtics’ defense clamped down, the Bucks cooled off and Boston corralled its late victory.

The question is this: Are Bucks fans encouraged by the team’s second-half rally and late comeback? Or are they discouraged because the Bucks had a real chance to win and let it get away?

Frankly, the Bucks were fortunate to take it into overtime.

They committed 20 turnovers and were outscored 22-4 on second-chance points. They played better-than-I-expected defense, but when it mattered most Jayson Tatum hit the huge through-the-lane, over-the-head left-handed prayer that went in, and Al Horford played like a man on a mission.

Rozier’s 3-pointer was typical of the day. When the Celtics needed a big basket they got it.

Tonight, I suspect things will be different.

Markus Morris can’t possibly be as hot as he was Sunday. He could’ve made shots blindfolded. Also, the Celtics got too many second-chance points, which surely was a point of emphasis for the Bucks between then and now.

Furthermore, I can’t imagine Jabari Parker playing only 15 minutes. The Bucks can’t beat the Celtics in a seven-game series without Parker’s offense, especially the 3-point shot and slashing drives to the basket.

The Bucks will get Boston’s best shot early. It’s going to require an active Giannis, a much-better Bledsoe and Parker to stave it off, regroup and go on to register an upset.

It’s possible.

My two greatest takeaways from Sunday’s Bucks loss:

** No. 1 – They were way too sloppy to beat almost anyone.

** No. 2 – The Bucks are the more-talented team and should – that’s right – should win this series.

Tonight’s final: Milwaukee 102, Boston 99

The Brewers, 8-9, need to keep treading water until they get healthy and find a way to add another starting pitcher.

Brent Suter and Junior Guerra don’t appear to have what it takes to go deep into games (six innings or beyond) as a starter. I like Guerra’s chances better than Suter’s because his split-finger fastball – when it’s right – is the equalizer against left-handed hitters. Suter is incredibly effective getting out left-handed batters, which is why opposing managers stack their lineup with right-handed hitters against him.

Suter is better-suited to being a situational lefty out of the pen.

On another topic, manager Craig Counsel needs to understand that five innings out of Jhoulys Chacin is a bonus. The pitcher appears dreadfully out of shape, and his half-hearted jog to first base on a ball hit in the hole at shortstop – he was thrown out by a half-step – was regrettable. The Brewers had the go-ahead runner on third base at the time.

Also, it’s time that Jesus Aguilar becomes the full-time starting first baseman. The platoon with Eric Thames is hurting Milwaukee at the plate and in the field.

It’s not even so much that Thames (five home runs) is playing poorly, but rather Aguilar always hits, is a superior defensive first baseman and has more than enough power.



Stop by Mr. Golf on Green Bay’s east side located just off GV where they have great deals on golf clubs, shoes and apparel.

Say hello to Jeff and tell him “Havel” sent you.

The tip this week is to be patient, continue to do flexibility and strength exercises, and create a check-list of goals this golf season. So often we seek to improve, but where are we trying to take our game? Without a plan the odds for success go way down.

At Mr. Golf, Jeff will help you create a plan to get your golf game in tip-top shape by the time the Green Bay-area weather cooperates.

Brace for Brewers,
Bucks & NFL draft
By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Villanova did it in dominant fashion. Notre Dame did it on a last-second shot.
Both were incredibly fun to watch.
Congratulations to the Wildcats and the Lady Irish on capturing NCAA basketball championships this weekend. A very special mention goes to Milwaukee native Arike Ogunbowale, who hit the game-winners against UConn and Mississippi State.
It capped off a crazy men’s tournament that saw top seed Virginia and its terrific coach, Tony Bennett, fall to the 16th seeded University of Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers. It also featured the ascension of Loyola-Chicago and Sister Jean in what became the tournament’s top storyline.
Bennett, the AP’s Coach of the Year, will be fine. The 2017-18 Ramblers and Sister Jean will be immortalized, right along with the Retrievers, if only in Baltimore and Chicago, respectively.
Meantime, a potentially epic Master’s waits to tee off Thursday.
Tiger Woods chipped in for eagle during his practice round, perhaps an ominous foreshadowing for the rest of the field. Then again, the rest of the field looks pretty capable. Phil Mickelson is swinging it, Jordan Spieth and Ricky Fowler are hungry and Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and others are eager to tee it up.
That leaves the Bucks, who continue to founder, and the Brewers, who ate up the Padres for three straight wins before choking on dessert (aka St. Louis) in the home opener.
The Bucks’ flashes of first-rate play are routinely interrupted by lengthy lapses unbefitting this team. Giannis and the Bucks are fun to watch, to be sure, but don’t expect much this post-season.
The defense is too inconsistent, the offense is too loose and current head coach Joe Prunty will be gone at season’s end.
The Brewers’ fortunes are much brighter.
Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich are a dynamic duo at the top of the batting order. In fact, Cain, Yelich, Travis Shaw, Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana are as potent a top five as any in all of the National League.
Corey Knebel, Josh Hader and Matt Albers all have thrown it well out of the bullpen. The staff’s ace, Chase Anderson, was excellent in a one-hit, six-inning no decision at San Diego. Anderson will be looking for his first win tonight in the Brewers’ second game against St. Louis at Miller Park.
Oh, by the way, there is also this event called the NFL Draft April 26-28. The Packers, who have been successful in free agency, are doing their due diligence as the draft draws near.
It was interesting to hear GM Brian Gutekunst and head coach Mike McCarthy discussing the team’s efforts in free agency.
Both seem pleased with the acquisitions of DeShone Kizer, Mo Wilkerson, Jimmy Graham, Tramon Williams and improved draft position in the fourth and fifth rounds.
I can’t say that I blame them for being pleased.
Graham’s impact on Green Bay’s offense is flying under the radar. The fact is it can’t be overstated. Seattle’s Russell Wilson threw for an NFL-high 38 touchdowns last season. Ten of those went to Graham, who seems to be on every Seattle highlight that doesn’t feature the Seahawks’ defense.
Graham is going to have Packers’ fans singing Gutekunst’s praises for signing him and McCarthy’s for feeding him. This isn’t going to be Martellus Bennett 2.0.
It doesn’t mean they’re going to rest on any laurels. That’s hardly the case given the sense of urgency and commitment shown by both men in terms of upgrading the Packers’ roster.
Gutekunst and McCarthy are under no allusions.
They know all the work that needs to be done in Green Bay, and obviously they’re paying attention to significant upgrades made by the rest of the NFC North.
While the GM and coach keep working, the rest of us can sit back, enjoy the Master’s and the Brewers, and count the days until the NFL draft.


I have been disciplined about going to Mr. Golf’s driving range this spring. I have made at least 10 visits to the driving range, which is more than twice as many as all of last season.
The benefit is that my swing truly looks and feels better than it has in years. The problem is while my mind is willing, and I’m making the effort to practice, my body is saying, “Whoa!”
This week’s tip is simple: Make an effort to increase your strength, flexibility and endurance. PGA.com professionals can’t overstate the importance of getting your body right, too.
The trouble (excuse) is that there isn’t enough time.
If that’s the case, focus on increased flexibility. Go to PGA.com or merely Google the words “golf exercises” and you’ll have plenty of ammo to work with. Now you’ve got to get to it!

Golf Fitness Tip
Of the three major components of fitness (strength, endurance and flexibility) flexibility is probably the most important for having a powerful and effective golf swing. A good way to develop flexibility is Yoga. Take a class or even get a book. It will make a big difference in your game, especially in the long term. It will also help you with your overall fitness and general health. (Hey, that sounds good!)
Yoga Book for Golfers
Yoga Video for Golfers
Find a Yoga Instructor
I’ve been doing regular stretching since 1976 (…wish I would have started earlier! ), on the average of at least 5 days per week. If I could only afford the time for one type of exercise stretching or Yoga would be it — not because I’m a California weirdo, but because it is the one that has the most noticeable positive impact on my game and the way I feel, physically and mentally. Continue below for more suggestions.

CB leapfrogs DE as

Packers’ No. 1 need

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The NFL’s free-agent cornerback pool has effectively dried up.

Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, Tyrann Mathieu, Mo Claiborne and Rashaan Melvin are among the biggest names to get big pay-days with new teams.

The Packers aren’t among them.

That’s despite the fact that Green Bay’s first-year GM, Brian Gutekunst, has been extraordinarily active this offseason.

The Packers traded cornerback Damarious Randall to Cleveland for quarterback DeShone Kizer and improved draft positioning.

They also signed tight end Jimmy Graham, an impact player on offense, to give Aaron Rodgers a dynamic red-zone weapon. In addition, they added Muhammad Wilkerson to shore up their defensive front. Wilkerson, a veteran who brings toughness, immediately improves the Packers’ rotation at defensive end.

Despite the obvious upgrades at tight end, backup quarterback, defensive end and draft positioning, fans shrug and say, “Yeah, but what about cornerback?”

What about cornerback?

The Packers currently have Kevin King, Quinten Rollins, Josh Hawkins, Herb Waters and a couple of other unknowns.

Clearly, they are going to add to and upgrade the position between now and the start of training camp.

The question is how?

Veteran E.J. Gaines, formerly of the Bills, reportedly plans to visit the Arizona Cardinals. Another veteran, Delvin Breaux, reportedly plans to visit the Denver Broncos. Gaines, a sixth-round pick in 2014, has just three career interceptions. Breaux, who had a strong 2015 season in New Orleans, has suffered with back-to-back broken fibulas each of the past two seasons.

But despite these causes for concern, one or both could be off the market by the time this is published.

Bashaud Breeland, formerly of the Redskins, reportedly received interest from Green Bay before signing with Carolina (and subsequently failing his physical). Breeland remains a free agent, but reports indicate it could be several months before he recovers from a ATV accident and is able to pass a physical.

The Packers signed Chicago cornerback Kyle Fuller to an offer sheet on Friday. The Bears had five days to match. They took five minutes, or so it seemed, to elect to pay Fuller big money.

At least the Packers are aware of the holes at cornerback, and are trying to explore all avenues to plug them.

The best guess here is this: The Packers add a veteran cornerback or two (how about Tramon Williams and Davon House)?

The Packers also will draft an edge pass rusher at No. 14 plus two cornerbacks and a receiver among their next three selections. They are positioned to make that happen with top 100 prospects.

The Packers’ fans have their fingers crossed.


(From the PGA.com website)

How to choose a golf instructor?

By John Hughes, PGA

The programs the men and women of the PGA or LPGA complete are intense, include first-hand experiences over a longer course of time, and are constantly required by the organizations to re-educate themselves on a regular basis.     When seeking a golf professional to help you with your game, insure that the individual has an active accreditation with the PGA or LPGA, or another accreditation association that places more value on education over a longer period of time, versus just a couple of weeks of training.  Be sure the instructor is remaining active in the association he or she belongs to and is constantly educating themselves on the latest innovations of technology and instructional methodology.  And most important is to be sure that the instructor has a history of creating positive results for the clients he or she serves.

No matter what affiliation of accrediting association the instructor is part of, asking for and receiving references from the instructor is a great way to confirm if this is the instructor for you.

To find an instructor near you, please visit PGA.com and enter your zip code.

Packers sign Graham,

Mo; say bye to Jordy

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers mean business.

That’s the overriding message as the NFL’s free agent-signing period opened today, with Green Bay acquiring Jimmy Graham and Muhammad Wilkerson to lead the way.

The Packers’ defense improved significantly especially if Wilkerson can reclaim his pass rush-ability that he flashed with the Jets. Wilkerson (6-4, 280) gives Green Bay a formidable front with Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry.

Furthermore, I expect the Packers to add at least more two cornerbacks in the draft, one cornerback in free agency, an edge rusher in the draft and free agency, and a receiver in the draft.

Early Tuesday, the Vikings reportedly agreed with quarterback Kirk Cousins to a three-year, $84-million guaranteed contract, while the Bears landed receiver Allen Robinson on a major deal.

Meantime, Green Bay’s “aggressive” new regime had done nothing. That left the Packers and their fans to fear the worst: new GM Brian Gutekunst – despite what I have been saying on The FAN – is Ted Thompson 2.0!

All I can text is OMG.

Or, I suppose, “I told you so!”

Gutekunst is his own GM. He has had a front row-seat to “The Best & Worst” of the Packers under Thompson. It appears to me he has embraced the best, discarded the worst, and adopted his own overarching principles and beliefs to run the show here.

If there’s a GM in recent memory – Packers or otherwise – that has been this impressive, this soon, I can’t recall.

Wilkerson gives stability and credibility to the defensive line.

Graham makes the offense deadly in the red zone.

Graham, the 6-foot-7, 266-pound tight end, reportedly was in talks with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers before he signed. Apparently, the future HOF quarterback wasn’t leaving anything to chance, or perhaps the new front office encouraged his recruitment of a top-end talent at a position of need?

That’s purely speculation, but whatever the means the end result is that Graham is the weapon the Packers’ offense has sorely needed for far too long.

He can move the chains, stretch the defense and attack in the red zone. Last year, he caught 15 of 24 red-zone targets for 10 touchdowns in Seattle. If he can continue to play at that pace, and with Rodgers at quarterback it’s more likely he’ll be even better, the Packers have acquired a big-time offensive weapon.

This is the team’s most explosive tight end since an aging Keith Jackson, or perhaps the speedy Jackie Harris, or maybe the ultra-dangerous Jermichael Finley.

Whomever he compares with, it’s sure to be favorably.

The Packers’ other momentous roster move Tuesday was the release of surefire team Hall of Fame receiver Jordy Nelson.

One of the Packers’ all-time greats, Nelson’s $10.25 million contract became too much to absorb this season. Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy alluded to this move in his post-season remarks at the combine when he suggested Nelson and Cobb weren’t quite the same players they once were.

Nelson ranks third in Packers’ history with 550 catches, fifth in receiving yards (7,848) and second in touchdowns (69). Rodgers and Nelson teamed up for 65 touchdowns, surpassing the team record of Brett Favre-to-Antonio Freeman for 58 touchdowns.

Now, it’s up to Graham to replicate the mojo Rodgers shared with Nelson, and Wilkerson is being paid to be a nasty lead dog on the newly revamped defense.

That’s a terrific day’s work for Gutekunst.

And free agency is just beginning.


Packers trade Randall

to Browns for Kizer

By Chris Havel

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers capped the NFL’s crazy, carousel-like week Friday by taking a spin of their own.

Green Bay sent cornerback Damarious Randall to Cleveland in exchange for quarterback DeShone Kizer. The Packers and Browns also swapped their fourth- and fifth-round picks, meaning Green Bay chooses first in each of those rounds.

Almost as an aside, ex-Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson made a free-agent visit to Green Bay before going ahead with planned visits with New Orleans and Oakland.

Meantime, Packers first-year GM Brian Gutekunst and head coach Mike McCarthy presented a unified front this week.

The key conclusions to draw:

** No. 1 – It is clear the Packers ARE going to be players in free agency. Whether or not they sign Wilkerson doesn’t change the fact that they brought a quality player in BEFORE free agency. The Packers’ 53-man roster for 2018 is far from set.

Before fans criticize the Packers for trading Randall they would be wise to wait for the other cleat to drop. Who knows? Perhaps ex-Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman will read David Bakhtiari’s tweet for help and come to Green Bay.

If you think there’s no way, you haven’t been paying attention. Whether it’s Sherman or another cornerback help is on the way.

** No. 2 – The Packers aren’t going to suffer players that tend to be disruptive finger-pointers (see Randall).

McCarthy made his displeasure with Randall clear last season. He benched the cornerback in Week 4 against the Bears and had him removed from the sideline in the second half.

Randall appeared to get the message.

He picked off a pass in three straight games and finished with a team-high four interceptions. Then he sat out the final two games with a knee injury and according to ESPN reports, some within the team felt he could have played through the injury.

The topper was Randall’s criticism of ex-defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who was fired after the season. It prompted McCarthy to share this after the season:

“I’ll tell you what I told Damarious: He needs to focus on himself. He’s got to clean his own house. That’s what I look for him to do in the offseason. We all understand what happened in the Chicago game, but I thought from the Chicago game on, he played at a very high level. He probably played the best football of his career, but then he didn’t play the last two games.

“He needs to go home and self-evaluate and clean his own house. We all need to clean our own house.”

It turns out McCarthy’s own housecleaning included Randall. Now Randall can clean his new house in Cleveland.

** No. 3 – Gutekunst isn’t afraid to pull the trigger. I won’t be stunned if he continues to use trades as an avenue to upgrade the roster. It seems to be the wave in the NFL right now.

Frankly, the first-year GM is doing what strong GM’s should do by supplying the coach with players best-suited to win a title.

Clearly, McCarthy’s patience with Randall had run out.

What the head coach perceived as a distraction, the GM perceived as a means to upgrade in three ways.

First, he sent Randall packing, which also reinforced this message to the team: The GM is going to support his head coach in terms of not keeping a player he may not want.

That’s significant.

Second, Gutekunst leapfrogged a total of 25 draft picks by swapping spots with Cleveland. Gutekunst still has 12 draft picks, but he now holds four of top 101, plus the first pick in the fourth round when the NFL Draft’s Day 3 kicks off.

That means Green Bay will have all night to decide which player still on the entire board is best-suited to help them. It also means other teams will have all night and the next day until 11 a.m. to also draw their conclusions and perhaps come calling.

Third, Gutekunst heard McCarthy’s plea for help at backup quarterback and responded in a big way.

Please don’t confuse DeShone Kizer with Brett Hundley.

Kizer starred at Notre Dame, was the 52nd player taken in the 2017 NFL Draft, and played OK given the almost impossible, trial-by-fire situation he faced as a rookie on the worst team.

Hundley had three years in the system and looked lost at times.

Kizer, who just turned 22 in January, started 15 games at Cleveland last season. That alone deserves a meritorious achievement award.

He was sacked 38 times (eighth-most) and constantly under pressure. His quarterback rating of 60.5 was bad, and his league-high 22 interceptions were even worse.

However, he still threw for 11 touchdowns and 2,894 yards while keeping the Browns competitive in numerous games.

I expect Kizer to outplay Hundley in training camp, although that presumes Hundley will be here. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hundley is part of a draft-weekend trade.

Hundley was 3-6 as a starter, but twice needed overtime to win, and that against NFL weaklings Cleveland and Tampa Bay.

When Aaron Rodgers griped about HIS quarterbacks coach, Alex Van Pelt, being let go he forgot about Hundley’s apparently substandard preparation as well as performance.

That was on Van Pelt.

Ultimately, the Randall trade creates a temporary void in the Packers’ defensive secondary.

They have Kevin King, Quinten Rollins returning from Achilles surgery, and Lenzy Pipkins and Josh Hawkins. Whether Davon House will be back after his one-year deal expired is unknown.

That’s it at cornerback.

I should clarify: That’s it for now. Give it a few days.

Free agency hasn’t even officially begun yet.

Brewers keep rolling;

No NCAAs for Bucky

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The question speaks to both the promise and potential for Wisconsin’s sports fans: Which of the in-state teams will best-satisfy their fans’ fondest wishes this year?

It merits debate between the Packers, Badgers (football and basketball), Brewers and Bucks.

Historically, the easy answer has been, “The Packers.”

So long as Green Bay has its front office and head coach in place, and Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the Packers have to be considered a legitimate threat to go deep into the playoffs.

On the other hand, the Packers are coming off a 7-9 season.

Reality bit as the Vikings’ Anthony Barr KO’d Rodgers to effectively end Green Bay’s season on Oct. 15. Many might’ve suspected as much, but watching the “worst-case scenario” unfold was a brutal dose of reality.

There was only one logical conclusion. The Packers’ roster needs work. In fact, it needs lots of work.

The Packers’ frenetic-but-necessary offseason of change gives hope that Green Bay will recapture its place among the NFC’s elite, but as last season proved there are no guarantees.

A championship is possible for the Packers, I suppose, but right now an NFC North Division title looks like it’ll require a whole lot of heavy lifting. I’ll have to see the draft and free agency before I can honestly say I think Green Bay is up to the task.

The Badgers’ football team is another story.

Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst led the Badgers to one of their finest seasons in history. While Wisconsin missed its chance to participate in the College Football Playoffs, it did finish on a strong note by hammering the Hurricanes, 34-24, in Miami, to close the season.

Jonathan Taylor is one of the top running backs in the nation, and he’ll be working behind what is annually one of the top offensive lines in the Big Ten, if not the nation.

Quarterback Alex Hornibrook needs to find consistency. If that happens, and the defense can replenish its depth chart (it should be able to), the Badgers should be a serious playoff contender.

To me, the Wisconsin football team has the best chance to make its fans drunk with delight.

The Badgers’ basketball team is a close second. In the past month, I have come to regard head coach Greg Gard as one of the finest around. He took an injury-ravaged, senior-absent team with a target on its jerseys and made it better.

In fact, he made it a lot better.

Wisconsin (15-18) won four of five down the stretch by riding Ethan Happ, Brad Davison and a determined group around them. The Badgers’ Big Ten Conference Tournament win over Maryland was impressive, followed by a rugged 63-60 loss to the eventual NCAA Champion Michigan State Spartans.

With D’mitric Trice, Kobe King and Trevor Anderson being available next season, the Badgers should be a Top 4 team in the Big Ten, and a surefire NCAA Tournament qualifier.

I think the Brewers are going to win more than the 86 games they did a year ago.


Let me count the ways: ** No. 1 – They are significantly better defensively.

The outfield added Gold Glove athletes in Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. Shortstop Orlando Arcia is going be better defensively with an entire big-league season under his belt. Already, he ranks among the most sensational shortstops.

** No. 2 – The pitchers and catchers have had a season together. Manny Pina, Stephen Vogt and Jett Bandy have worked, at one time or another, with Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Brent Suter, Brandon Woodruff and the rest.

It also matters with the relievers, Josh Hader and Corey Knebel, when late-inning jams leave no room for miscommunication.

** No. 3 – The hitters have shown exceptional plate discipline. I realize that it comes and goes, but the Brewers appear to take each at-bat seriously. That comes from having keen competition. There are several key jobs up for grabs (second base, first base, etc.) and the bats likely will decide who starts and who doesn’t.

** No. 4 – I know it’s early, but Chase Anderson and Zach Davies have looked strong thus far. That’s not surprising. However, the sharp early showings of Yo Gallardo and Junior Guerra do qualify as pleasant surprises.

Gallardo’s velocity is back in the low-to-mid ‘90s, which is plenty fast enough for him to be effective.

Guerra, you may recall, was the Brewers’ Opening Day starter who injured himself trying to get out of the batter’s box. Guerra’s season played out the like opener: It was a disaster.

The good news is Guerra’s velocity and control have returned – he threw 22 strikes on 24 pitches the other day. He also had three strikeouts and is positioning himself to win a spot in the rotation.

Then there is the Milwaukee Bucks, a team guaranteed to make you leap off the couch and shout superlatives and/or epithets with equal regularity.

The Bucks can be great and awful all on the same possession.

Right now, it appears Milwaukee is trying to be too cute on the offensive end, while leaving the dirty jobs undone.

The rebounding is atrocious. Turnovers have come too common. Tough defense is left for only the most crucial moments, which lately has been code for “too little, too late.”

The Bucks have great potential this post-season, but I’m not sure they’re gritty enough to battle the big boys.

There you have it: The Badgers’ football team, followed by the Packers and Badgers basketball as the teams most likely to have terrific 2018 seasons.

That, of course, means the Bucks will go deep into May, and the Brewers will win 92 games.

Brewers’ bats busy;

Bucks inconsistent

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It’s suddenly become a busy sports week, what with the Packers preparing for the NFL Scouting Combine and the Badgers bracing for Maryland in Thursday’s first round of the Big Ten Conference basketball tournament.

First-year GM Brian Gutekunst’s news conference Wednesday in Indianapolis will be of great interest. I’m curious to learn how far he will go in discussing his team’s philosophy in terms of player acquisition.

Gutekunst has said the Packers will be thorough in researching potential free-agent acquisitions. That way, if a player becomes available, they won’t have to hesitate to make the deal.

The resurgent Badgers gave top seed Michigan State a bit of a scare in a 68-63 loss in Sunday’s Big Ten regular-season finale.

The Badgers tackle Maryland in the first round with the winner facing top seed Michigan State in Friday’s quarterfinals. I predict Wisconsin KO’s the Terps before being eliminated by the eventual NCAA Champions.

Meantime, the Brewers’ bats are banging away in spring training while the Bucks are spinning their wheels down the stretch.

The Brewers, 3-1 in Cactus League play, have been strong at the plate at the outset.

They outlasted the Cleveland Indians 7-6 on Monday in a game that featured Hernan Perez driving in a pair of runs while Keon Broxton and Jesus Aguilar had two hits each.

Last week, I tuned in to see Eric Sogard line a triple to right field, and Jonathan Villar drive a double off the fence in left.

Let the competition at second base – which also means at the plate – begin between Perez, Sogard and Villar.

Even Ryan Braun could get into the act: His assorted baseball gloves for this season arrived from Wilson. They included an infielder’s glove in case Braun gets time at second base.

Chase Anderson pitches Tuesday for the Brewers, the latest expected to throw an inning while knocking the rust off.

It’s only 30 days until the Brewers’ opener at San Diego. Between now and then, Anderson and Zach Davies need to be ready to go in order for Milwaukee to get off to a decent start.

Milwaukee’s Bucks are trying to start fast during the stretch run. They opened with an impressive overtime victory at Toronto, which came into the game as the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed.

Giannis has been amazing and the Bucks’ ball movement and defense were outstanding against the Raptors. It carried over for one half into the New Orleans game Sunday, with the Bucks leading 66-49 at the half.

The Pelicans promptly erased the entire deficit and went on to beat the Bucks, who are 33-26 with 23 games to play.

Milwaukee’s interim head coach, Joe Prunty, has the Bucks on the right path. Jabari Parker’s return has been significant and his role will continue to grow in the coming weeks. By the playoffs, Parker will be a player for opponents to reckon with.

While Tyler Zeller is finding his way, Khris Middleton is finding his range. Middleton has been shooting the lights out, and Eric Bledsoe seems to be more comfortable each night out.

The Brewers’ outlook is sunny and the Bucks are at least more interesting than they’ve been in recent memory.

Packers face key calls;

Brewers’ outlook sunny

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – This is the quote/unquote “Dead Zone” on the 2018 sports calendar.

The Daytona 500 has come and gone, the Eagles clinched Super Bowl LII and NCAA men’s and women’s basketball is still awaiting the conference tournaments and March Chaos.

The NHL and NBA playoff chases haven’t truly begun in earnest, while Major League Baseball teams are a still days away from spring training games.

The NFL’s offseason hasn’t started yet.

Free agency is still in its early stages, while the NFL scouting combine hasn’t been held yet.

It begs the question, “So what’s there to talk about?” My answer: Are you kidding me? There’s always more to talk about than time to cover it.

Let’s start with the Packers and free agency.

The name that should make Packers’ fans leap with joy is Jimmy Graham. The 6-7, 265-pound tight end is going to be a hot commodity in free agency, with teams such as New England (if Rob Gronkowski does indeed retire), the Houston Texans (whose WR, DeAndre Hopkins, has already started recruiting the TE on Instragram), the New Orleans Saints (who have $32 million beneath the cap) and of course the Packers.

Graham would be a perfect fit.

He caught 56 passes for 520 yards and 10 touchdowns last season in Seattle. He isn’t quite the deep threat that he used to be with his 4.53-second 40-yard dash time out of college, but he is a deadly weapon in the red zone and over the middle.

Packers’ GM Brian Gutekunst said he plans to be in on every available player, including free agents. He can send a strong message by courting Graham and perhaps signing him.

I’m certain Aaron Rodgers would be on board.

If the Packers sign Graham, extend Rodgers and add a veteran offensive tackle and edge pass rusher in free agency, it would set them up sweet for the April 26-28 NFL Draft.

Beyond impending free agency and dreaming big, the state’s sports fans have been treated to some unexpected but much welcomed strong play by the Badgers.

Wisconsin’s 73-63 victory in overtime Monday night at the Kohl Center wasn’t always pretty, but it ended beautifully. It was Wisconsin’s second straight win and assured the Badgers of being no worse than a No. 10 seed going into the Big Ten Conference Tournament.

On the heels of the Badgers’ 57-53 upset of sixth-ranked Purdue last week, it appears head coach Greg Gard has his team playing defense much more to his liking.

Wisconsin held the Golden Gophers to zero field goals in the final 5:56 of regulation. It allowed the Badgers to overcome what at one point appeared to be an insurmountable deficit. Wisconsin closed on a 22-5 run to seal it after trailing 58-51 with less than six minutes to play.

Ethan Happ had a modest 10 points and four rebounds, but his five assists out of double teams – coupled with Brad Davison’s and Brevin Pritzl’s 3-point shooting saved the day.

Today, Marques and I will talk Badgers with the great Matt Lepay, which is always a treat for us and the listeners.

We’ll also have heavy-duty Bucks talk as the Giannis-led Milwaukee squad heads into its 25-game stretch run. Milwaukee has been a pleasant surprise since Joe Prunty took over for Jason Kidd as interim head coach.

The Bucks have responded by playing much stouter defense, and the return of Jabari Parker and the addition of big-bodied Tyler Zeller have taken some rebounding-interior defense pressure from the rest of the squad.

I’ll be disappointed if the Bucks don’t finish 15-10 or better down the stretch. They’ve had time to relax and come together under Prunty, and they should be able to maximize the return of Parker, the addition of Zeller, and the chemistry that has been built between Eric Bledsoe and his teammates.

A glance at the rest of this week:

** Thursday: The Packers and free agency have been strange and rare dance partners. Who will be available in terms of “realistically” being pursued by the Packers? It’s a question of how much money the Packers will spend.

We’ll discuss the Packers’ best options.

** Friday: Our “Badger Breakdown” segment with Andy Coppens will focus on the Big Ten Conference tournament in, of all places, New York’s Madison Square Garden.


Eagles’ Pederson


By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – While the Eagles and their fans joyously parade through the streets of Philadelphia let’s sift through the Super Bowl II confetti for a few tidbits, nuggets and leftovers …

** The Eagles’ 41-33 victory over New England at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis signals the NFC’s resurgence.

It is the stronger, deeper conference in every way.

It boasts the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles.

It features the lion’s share of the best and brightest quarterbacks, both young and old alike. Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and a QB to be named (DeShaun Watson, perhaps?) doesn’t quite compare with Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Carson Wentz, Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson and Jimmy Garappolo, not to mention Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, Jared Goff and the Super Bowl MVP, Nick Foles.

The Patriots have ruled the NFL roost forever.

But the loss to the Eagles had a ring of finality, and truth, to it.

New England’s dynamic duo of head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady is the next-greatest tandem this side of Green Bay’s Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr.

But even the great “Glory Years” Packers faded into folklore.

For the Patriots to reach eight Super Bowls in 17 seasons is ridiculous. To win five of the eight is amazing.

To sustain it for much longer is impossible.

Perhaps the Patriots get to one more Super Bowl with Belichick and Brady, but I doubt it. If it does happen, it’ll be as much about a weak AFC as it is a dominant Patriots team.

** The obvious question, in terms of the NFC’s return to power, is this: Where does it leave the Packers?

ESPN’s “way-too-early” power rankings have the Vikings fourth, the Packers eighth, the Lions 20th and the Bears 31st.

Green Bay’s offseason stands as recognition that significant changes needed to be made. It would’ve been irresponsible for the Packers hold tight while the rest of the NFC’s best swept past like they’re standing still.

President Mark Murphy, GM Brian Gutekunst, head coach Mike McCarthy and the rest need to be at the top of their game.

This is as pivotal and vital offseason as I can remember.

On Monday’s edition of Sports Line, Harry Sydney and I compared the Eagles’ and Packers’ opening rosters for the 2017 season. The gap was considerably in favor of the Eagles then, just as it is now.

Green Bay’s defense especially didn’t have nearly the horses that Philadelphia had to run the race.

That needs to change beginning with free agency.

At least two position units must be overhauled with significant help via free agency: The tight ends and the receivers. A lineup of Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams isn’t reliable enough to believe it can be trusted an entire season.

Age, injury history and recent performance are factors that weigh against the Packers’ previously brilliant WR trio.

Now, Adams (and his concussion history), are all that stand between Aaron Rodgers and next-to-nothing to target.

Drafting a tight end within the first four rounds would be a logical move, but even that wouldn’t be enough to buoy the position group. Right now, it’s Richard Rodgers and nothing.

** Doug Pederson, who was Brett Favre’s understudy for seven seasons in Green Bay, turned in a brilliant coaching performance. If coaches could be the game’s MVP, Pederson would deserve thoughtful consideration.

Pederson’s gutsy 4th-and-1 decisions to go for it are ready examples of tremendous preparation, trust and execution. The Eagles’ head coach conveyed a calm, cool confidence that seemed born out of great faith in his program.

His aggressive play-calling resonated with Philadelphia fans and had some Packers’ fans wanting to see McCarthy be that forceful with his play calling.

The reality is Pederson’s personnel are much better right now.

The offensive line lost its best player in left tackle Jason Peters, and still out-played everyone including the Patriots.

The linebackers lost Jordan Hicks, their play-caller on defense, and still were able to close out New England.

Then, Wentz went down for the season.

Nobody panicked. They merely picked up the pace.

Foles stepped in, worked through a brief adjustment period, and led the Eagles to their first championship in 57 years.

Pederson kept it rolling along throughout.

To those who worked with him during his seven seasons in Green Bay, his performance in Super Bowl LII wasn’t a surprise.

In 2006, Sherman Lewis and Gilbert Brown talked about Pederson’s role as backup QB on the Super Bowl XXXI winner. Those comments were made in the book, “A Year of Champions: The 1996 Green Bay Packers.”

Lewis described Pederson as extremely confident and a natural born leader, great attributes to have as a head coach.

“Doug showed he has outstanding leadership qualities,” Lewis said. “He showed the staff he can move the team and win. He’s got a nice presence about him in the huddle. In addition, he has a good strong arm with the ability to throw on the run.”

Brown appreciated Pederson’s professionalism.

“A pro’s pro,” Brown said. “Doug understood the game as well as anybody, and he used that knowledge to help Brett and the offense in every way possible. He didn’t get much attention, but he didn’t need any. He was great in the locker room.”

In his quiet, understated way, Pederson was a vital resource to Packers’ head coach Mike Holmgren, Favre and the offense.

Clearly, Pederson was paying attention to everything going on.

Today, he stands as one of the NFL’s top head coaches, and his Eagles appear on the brink of a successful run.

The torch has been passed.

** For what it’s worth, I picked the Eagles 27-24, which covered both the spread (Eagles plus 4 ½ and the over/under 48), which puts me at 2-0 on the year.

Going forward with Hangin’ with Havel, I’m going to include a “rock solid lock” pick of the day.

Today’s game: Bucks (29-23) at Knicks (23-31)

Milwaukee, a two-point favorite, has won six of its last seven since ex-coach Jason Kidd’s firing. That includes a 92-90 nail-biter over the Knicks Friday night in Milwaukee.

Giannis sprained his ankle late in the game, but sounded hopeful that he’d be available for tonight’s game.

My pick: Bucks to win by 3 and cover.

Rooting for Eagles

easy call in SB LII

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It isn’t often that my head and heart actually agree with one another.

Super Bowl LII happens to be one of those moments.

Only a fool would bet against New England’s mythical head coach, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots’ ageless wonder at quarterback, Tom Brady.

OK, I’m a fool.

The Patriots are gunning for their third Super Bowl title in four seasons. That’s the stuff of greatness … the 1960’s Packers, 1970’s Steelers, 1980’s 49ers, 1990’s Cowboys … and so forth.

Standing in New England’s way is Philadelphia, the NFC’s No. 1 seed in name only according to many going into the playoffs. The Eagles are led by a second-year head coach, a backup quarterback and a defense that is too headstrong, too stubborn, too resilient, to realize when it’s finally met its match.

That’s OK because head coach Doug Pederson has been unflappable thus far, Nick Foles has been exceptional and the defense has been terrific.

Good for Philadelphia.

If anyone is able to stand up to the Patriots it’s a team that has had to endure a fair share of adversity to get here. The Eagles most assuredly qualify.

Injuries claimed Jason Peters, one of the NFL’s top left tackles, elusive third-down back Darren Sproles, and inside linebacker Jordan Hicks. All of that occurred before the Eagles lost MVP candidate Carson Wentz in Week 15 against the Los Angeles Rams. Wentz’s season-ending knee injury led to Nick Foles’ taking over at quarterback.

After a so-so start, Foles got comfortable and confident. He’s completing an unheard of 77.8 percent of his passes (49 of 63) in the post-season, many coming on RPO’s (Run-Pass Options).

He has three touchdowns and zero interceptions in victories over the Falcons (15-10) and Vikings (38-7).

Jay Ajayi, the lead running back, is a tough, no-nonsense ball carrier. He is perfect for big games and the spotlight because he doesn’t over-think it. He takes the toss or handoff, slides to a crease and then hits it.

Ajayi doesn’t shy away from contact and gets stronger as the game wears on. The Falcons had nothing like him to milk clock and salt away a 28-3 lead on the Patriots last year.

Legarette Blount is a goal-line and short-yardage banger, while ex-Wisconsin back Corey Clement is athletic and effective either between the tackles or as a receiver out of the backfield.

Eagles’ center Jason Kelce – brother to Travis Kelce of the Chiefs – is the best in the business. He should be able to neutralize much of what the Patriots’ defense tries to do in terms of pre-snap adjustments.

He’s also terrific sideline-to-sideline always hunting blocks, and he gets to the second level in a hurry.

Alshon Jeffrey and Zach Ertz lead a deep and capable receiving corps (wide outs and tight ends).

Then there’s the Eagles’ defense.

Philadelphia has given up a total of 17 points in two playoff games. The Falcons and Vikings were expected to put up that many points each in a single half.

Fletcher Cox is a man-eater in the heart of the defensive line. His supporting cast is active, relentless and well-oiled. The secondary is capable, especially if the Patriots’ wondrous tight end, Rob Gronkowski, is slowed by injuries.

In the end, I get why the Patriots are favored by 4 ½ points.

It’s New England. It’s the hoodie. It’s Tom Brady.

All that said, I’m going with the Eagles to win, 27-24, in what’s certain to be a thriller.

Ex-Badgers’ RBs in

SB LII limelight

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Corey Clement and James White find themselves in the center of the NFL universe this week.

The ex-Badgers’ running backs will play key roles in Super Bowl LII – White with New England and Clement with Philadelphia. The two “quote/unquote” third down backs are critical to their teams’ offensive success in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Feb. 4.

While both starred at Wisconsin, Clement and White have taken different paths en route to their NFL success.

White was the Big Ten’s 2010 “Freshman of the Year” and had a strong college career despite splitting time with John Clay, Melvin Gordon and Montee Ball.

Because of that, perhaps, White slid to the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Patriots. He felt his way, learned the Patriots’ way, and continued to develop his first two seasons.

Last year, he capped a strong showing with a superlative Super Bowl LI performance. He set the Super Bowl records for most receptions (14) while scoring three touchdowns, including the first one scored in overtime in NFL history.

Clement, 5-10, 220, was part of the most successful class in Wisconsin football history (41-13). He finished eighth in career rushing average (5.4) and ninth in rushing touchdowns (36).

As a rookie in Philadelphia, Clement’s size and strength enabled him to be a competent ball carrier between the tackles, while his speed and athleticism made him a genuine threat as a receiver out of the backfield.

Clement rushed 74 times for 321 yards with four touchdowns this season. With Jay Ajayi grabbing the lead role, and LeGarrette Blount manning the short-yardage and goal-line situations, Clement became a third-down back.

It isn’t a crazy stretch to think that either Clement or White – and more likely both – will have a significant impact on the Super Bowl.

The Eagles boast the NFL’s No. 3-ranked rushing attack at 132.2 yards per game and a 4.5-yard average. The Patriots have the No. 20 running attack at 114.8 yards per game, but an ultra-effective 4.7 yards-per-carry average.

It’s an interesting difference in philosophy and style.

The Eagles are more content to bang away with Ajayi, Blount and Clement while relying on a truly clever run scheme. The Eagles’ center, Jason Kelce, is the best in the business. He sets the tone and the running backs follow it.

They trust Eagles head coach Doug Pederson to call running plays and stick with that part of the attack. The Eagles supplement that with the short passing game while relying on the tight ends and backs out of the backfield.

It’s a perfect fit for Clement’s diverse skill-set.

It’s much the same with White in New England.

The 5-foot-10, 205-pounder is adept as a receiver and a runner in an attack that coordinator Josh McDaniels insists on throwing out of the backfield.

White’s forte is moving the chains and turning what appears to be an inconsequential 6-yard grab into a huge play.

In a bit of irony, the Packers’ offense has been lacking a back with similar talents to Clement and White.

Both starred down in Madison, and both could’ve been had for a tremendously reasonable price. Either would look terrific in a Packers’ uniform.

Both will be key to their team’s success in Super Bowl LII.

Packers’ Murphy

gets unfair grief

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy on Monday introduced a new general manager and a new way of doing football business.

He named Brian Gutekunst the Packers’ general manager.

Then, he announced a new structure that splits former GM Ted Thompson’s previous job in half.

Gutekunst will be in charge of the Packers’ personnel department, which includes presiding over the NFL draft and having final say on the team’s 90- and 53-man rosters.

Russ Ball will be responsible for negotiating contracts and managing the Packers’ salary cap.

Mike McCarthy will continue in his role as head coach with largely unchanged duties. The difference is that the team’s president, rather than the GM, is in charge of hiring and firing the head coach.

Some in the media have portrayed this as a triangular structure fraught with peril. Talk about melodramatic. The reality is the Packers are the 16th NFL team to adopt this structure. It should be commended as the Packers getting with the times.

Instead, Murphy has been roundly criticized by those who wish to portray this as a power grab.

They say, “Oh no”“ the sky is falling because the coach, GM and financial manager all are reporting to the president!”

To that, I say, “What’s your point?”

Either you trust Murphy or you don’t. To my knowledge, Murphy has been an exemplary team president the past decade. The success on and off the field is undeniable.

Nevertheless, Murphy seldom stepped into the spotlight, not once showing any indication of having an ego to match the magnitude of his position.

It’s embarrassing to think those media members who had zilch to say about Murphy before Monday’s news conference suddenly have all kinds of negative opinions and assertions.

Where is this coming from?

I have the answer: Shortsightedness is one reason. Cryptic thinking is another. Believing the worst of a person in a position of authority may be a third.

The suggestion that Murphy – by having his three key football people reporting directly to him – is somehow his way of grabbing control makes no sense.

Unless the trio is Curly, Moe and Larry, the personalities involved matter far more than the distribution of power.

Putting Gutekunst, McCarthy and Ball in charge of their areas of expertise, and allowing them to proceed as they see fit, makes perfect sense.

That’s called leadership. It’s called giving direction. It’s called being on top of the franchise that’s been entrusted to you.

Yet, Murphy is getting flak on some fronts.

It is true Murphy could’ve given Gutekunst the power to hire and fire the head coach, but he elected to seize control and remove that element from the coach-GM working relationship.

He did it for a reason, my best educated guess being that it creates a dynamic of Gutekunst and McCarthy truly being in this together.

Murphy has taken clear steps to improve the communication and collaboration at 1265 Lombardi Avenue.

One might quibble about the personalities involved, be it McCarthy as a coach, or Ball as a salary guy, or Gutekunst as a talent evaluator, but to criticize the structure is knee-jerk.

This is nothing like what’s happened in the Packers’ past.

That’s because it’s known as forward, progressive thinking.

Trust me, at some point in the next two seasons, I’ll be kind enough to refrain from saying, “I told you so … or not.”

Job No. 1 for Packers’ next GM: Build a “D”

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Mike McCarthy’s fire was on full display during Thursday’s season-ending news conference.

Too bad the Packers’ pass rush didn’t bring it like that.

McCarthy talked a lot about “fits” though he never mentioned the “fits” fans often had watching Dom Capers’ defensive unit being skewered by opposing offenses.

In an informative Q&A session with media, McCarthy offered several telling and insightful comments. Among those that jumped out at me was the belief that Green Bay’s defense needs to be better than its offense.

McCarthy said exactly that to reporters, adding that there are four ways to accomplish that: Player acquisition, player instruction, player finances and player performance.

Aside from the alphabet, that might be the first time “D” came before “O” in Green Bay.

It was a necessary and refreshing statement.

Aaron Rodgers, at 34, isn’t the same quarterback he was at 29. He has had more wear and tear, including the broken right clavicle this past season.

McCarthy needs to go back to square one: Do everything he can to make the quarterback position successful. If that happens, the team wins.

To make it happen, the defense has to be significantly upgraded. It begins with a new defensive coordinator and the culture and mentality he sets in place.

Frankly, the Packers need pass rushers, pure and simple. Right now, they can’t get to the opposing quarterback consistently. Against the best teams that isn’t going to be good enough.

The Packers’ next GM must be able to recognize and acquire high-end pass rushers, the more the merrier.

If my math is correct, and the Packers do indeed receive a third round compensatory pick for the departed T.J. Lang in free agency, Green Bay would select at 14, 36, 78 and again somewhere in the mid-90s. That’s four Top 90 players, including two in the top third.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Green Bay went for edge rushers with both selections. The only exception might be if a Top 3 quarterback somehow becomes available at 14.

McCarthy also needs to mold an offense designed to rely on the run almost as much as the pass. It also has to have a dynamic that allows it to move the chains and eat the clock. Ball control is going to be more critical as Rodgers gets on in years.

Rodgers has to be able to throw when he wants to, as opposed to because he has to.

A No. 2 receiver to go with Davante Adams, a high-end tight end and continued development of the running backs are all critical on McCarthy’s “To Do” list.

McCarthy and the Packers’ next GM face a big task: Rebuilding the defense. McCarthy needs to make the right choice at coordinator and the GM needs to acquire enough talent at pass rusher.

That alone sounds like two big jobs for one offseason.

Packers clean house:

Thompson steps aside

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Packers president Mark Murphy’s assessment of outgoing GM Ted Thompson was spot on.

“I think his record speaks for itself,” Murphy said Tuesday. “I realize that he’s a little bit of a lightning rod for our fans, but when you step back and look at it, what he’s accomplished as a GM speaks for itself. It was never about him. He’s a very humble man. He’s tremendously loyal to the Packers.”

Murphy’s comments came after news that Thompson was no longer the Packers’ GM but would continue with the title, “Senior Advisor to Football Operations.”

Of all Thompson’s personnel moves the best was his first: He drafted quarterback Aaron Rodgers with the 24th pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

Now, it seems like a no-brainer.

Back then, it was more than a bit controversial to spend a first-round pick on a quarterback when the legendary gunslinger, Brett Favre, was still able to play at a Pro Bowl level.

That set the stage for one of the great handoffs in NFL history: Favre to Rodgers.

B.J. Raji, Nick Collins, Clay Matthews, A.J. Hawk and so many other draft picks were key figures on the 2010 Super Bowl championship team. All were selected by Thompson.

Murphy will be hiring the Packers’ next GM.

Clearly, the Packers’ director of operations, Eliot Wolf, is among the leading candidates to replace Thompson.

For my part, I’d like to see Wolf in the role for many reasons. Here are two: ** He knows the inner-workings of the franchise, including the personnel department, coaching staff and roster. He would hit the ground running for the 2018 NFL Draft in late April.

** Wolf has had a front-row seat to Thompson’s way of doing things. He also has input from his Hall of Fame father, Ron, and certainly fresh ideas of his own he’d like to implement.

That’s all good stuff.

Thompson also cleared up reports that suggested the Packers’ Board of Directors pressured Murphy into the change.

“There’s no truth to the story that I was directed by the board (of directors) to make a change,” Murphy said Tuesday. “Our board doesn’t operate that way. It was my decision to move the way we have, and this is going to be my hire. I keep our executive committee (apprised).”

The Packers also parted ways with several members of the defensive staff, including coordinator Dom Capers.

Murphy made it clear that head coach Mike McCarthy was in charge of that hire, and that it was independent from his own GM search.

“Mike has that authority (to hire),” Murphy said. “Things move quickly on the coaching side. You don’t want to put yourself at a disadvantage.”

The Packers also extended McCarthy’s contract through 2019. There’s no lame duck here.

“Mike is our man,” Murphy said. “He is our coach. We have all the confidence in the world in Mike that we’re going to have great success moving forward.”

My preference would be hiring a defensive coordinator from outside, although defensive backs coach Joe Whitt and assistant head coach, defense, Winston Moss, also is a possibility from within.

At any rate, the winds of change are sweeping through 1265 Lombardi Avenue. Thus far, the moves are not only solid, but necessary.

Packers-Bears game

early tipping point in

NFC North Division


By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Bears (1-2) enter tonight’s NFC North Division matchup against the Packers feeling ecstatic in the wake of a rugged 23-17 overtime win against the Steelers.

The Packers (2-1) aren’t feeling nearly so frisky.

The offensive line is in tatters following a bruising 27-24 overtime win against the Bengals. The top five tackles are out: starters David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and Bryan Bulaga (ankle) are unavailable tonight. Also out are Kyle Murphy, Jason Spriggs and Don Barclay, all of whom are on injured reserve.

That leaves Adam Pankey at left tackle, Justin McCray at right tackle and newly acquired Ulrich John to back them up.

None is a household name beyond his own house.

The Packers must rely on Aaron Rodgers’ nimble feet to avoid disaster and powerful right arm to win the day.

So what’s new?

The combination has been successful, but it puts great stress on both the quarterback and the available weapons.

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy must walk a fine line.

He needs to be aggressive and creative in his play-calling in order for the Packers to lead with their best punch: The offense. Likewise, he has to be careful not to put Rodgers in harm’s way.

Frankly, there aren’t many NFL teams that could expect to win despite losing their top five offensive tackles.

In Green Bay the mantra is: Rodgers will conquer all.

So how do the Packers get past the upstart Bears?

Here’s a roadmap to victory:

** The Packers need to play an up-tempo style on offense. The no-huddle might be too much to ask, given the number of new players and moving parts, but a “sugar” huddle could work.

By “sugar” huddle, I mean getting the play in, hustling to the line of scrimmage and snapping the football. The idea isn’t so much to create great mismatches – although it’s one goal – but rather to prevent the new tackles from “over-thinking it.”

Pankey and McCray are in an unenviable situation.

They are expected to protect the franchise – aka Rodgers – without missing a beat, or a block. On the other hand, if they were that sure-fire dependable they would’ve been starting long before this.

** Take shots deep against the Bears’ secondary.

Obviously, that suggests Rodgers will have time to take shots downfield. But how can that be given the Bears’ above-average pass rush and the Packers’ lack of experienced tackles?

That’s simple: Go into the play knowing Rodgers is going to have to buy time – almost like a “Hail Mary” situation – and rely on roll-outs, boot action and misdirection.

If Rodgers is going to extend plays better that they’re planned rather than off the cuff. It’s like the “apparent” chaos in the red zone when a play breaks down. In truth, the Packers have practiced for the inevitable red zone breakdowns that may occur.

** Employ an array of single-, double- and yes even triple-tight end formations to keep the Bears’ defenders guessing.

Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks and Richard Rodgers represent a deep, experienced and talented tight end group. I wouldn’t be surprised if all three have key roles tonight.

They are adept at setting an edge in the run game, finding the soft spots should the Bears play zone and making big plays when split wide against linebackers.

The tight ends are critical to the Packers’ success tonight.

** As much as the Packers need to run the football with a modicum of success, this isn’t the game to push that goal.

Green Bay’s running attack may grow legs as the season rolls along, but to expect Ty Montgomery and perhaps Jamaal Williams to penetrate the Bears’ front seven to great effect is akin to whistling while you pass a cemetery. It might bring comfort in the moment, but it’s not going to save the day.

** Rely on brisk special teams’ play to be an asset, rather than a liability. The Packers can’t afford special teams’ miscues. Muffed punts, poor snaps, missed field goals and blown tackles are going to be difficult to overcome with such a slim margin for error going in.

Prediction time: I suspect tonight’s Bears-Packers game will be similar to the Bengals’ game. If you’re looking for the Packers to be in mid-season form forget it. They’re in survival mode.

Fortunately, they’re also in Green Bay.

If this game were scheduled for Soldier Field, rather than Lambeau Field, the challenge may be too much to overcome. As it stands, the Packers should find a way to come out on top in a close one: Packers 24, Bears 23.

The reward will be a 3-1 win-loss record, first place in the NFC North and a 10-day stretch to heal up for what’s to come.


Brewers-Pirates ties,

Clemente on mind as Hurricane Maria punishes Puerto Rico


By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – While the Brewers wrap up a three-game series tonight at Pittsburgh, I’ll pause to say a prayer for the earthquake victims in Mexico City, as well as those in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that were ravaged by Hurricane Maria.

The natural disasters’ aftermath is difficult to watch on TV.

In Mexico City, neighbors and family members are pulling loved ones – some alive, some dead – from beneath the rubble of a 7.1 monster’s devastation.

In San Juan, the hearty citizens are coping with neither water nor electricity while surviving in the aftermath of a 140-mph demon.

Meantime, in Pittsburgh, the Brewers are trying to defeat the Pirates and pull even with the Colorado Rockies in the National League wild-card race.

The juxtaposition of life and death is painfully obvious.

What matters? What doesn’t?

The Brewers’ hunt for October is paramount to long-time fans, and understandably so. I count myself among them.

But I also would like to count myself among those who pause to be grateful for everything we have in this great country of ours.

Baseball, in general, and the Brewers in particular, represent one of my favorite diversions from life’s occasional difficulties.

Ever since Robin Yount was dubbed “The Kid” by the great Bob Uecker, the Brewers have been a welcome outlet despite the wide range of emotions they evoke.

Tears of joy, tears of sadness … they make you feel it all.

They make you feel alive.

Tonight’s game at Pittsburgh is intriguing on its own merit, although I wouldn’t discount the ancillary stories.

In many ways, they rise to a higher level of importance.

While Hurricane Maria’s viciousness is being unleashed upon San Juan, I can’t help but think of one of my childhood heroes, and one of Puerto Rico’s national heroes, Roberto Clemente.

Clemente, perhaps the greatest Pirate of all-time, died at age 38 in a plane crash. He was on an aid mission to help victims of a mammoth earthquake that ravaged in Managua, Nicaragua.

The Dec. 31, 1972, plane crash that killed Clemente and three others occurred shortly after takeoff, landing in the waters of Puerto Rico not far from where Hurricane Maria made landfall.

While Clemente was boarding the ill-fated flight, Expos pitcher Tom Walker (who was playing winter ball in Puerto Rico) asked to join him on his mission of mercy.

Whether it was because of the plane’s load limit, or the fact that Walker was single and Clemente wanted him to enjoy New Year’s Eve is unclear, but Clemente told him to stay.

Tonight, in Pittsburgh, Neil Walker is going to be in a Brewers uniform trying to help them defeat his former team – the Pirates.

Obviously, that wouldn’t be the case had his father not heeded Clemente’s words.

Walker has been a godsend for Milwaukee. The switch-hitting second baseman has been a guiding veteran force while the young Brewers find their way in an unexpected pennant race.

Walker’s story just might be recounted on tonight’s broadcast.

Another story undoubtedly will focus on baseball’s all-time rise in home runs. Hitters are swinging for the fences – and belting baseballs over them – at a record rate. Last night, the previous single-season record for total home runs was crushed.

Some say the home run rise is due to a nasty return of PEDs. Some say it’s because the baseballs are wound tighter. Some say it’s because the hitters are being encouraged to swing away and say, “Oh, well,” if they strike out in the process.

The “modern” analytics suggest it’s best to take your hacks. Strikeout totals, not surprisingly, also are at an all-time high.

Interestingly, the great Roberto Clemente weighed in on this very topic many seasons ago.

Clemente hit .317 during his 18-year career.

The 15-time All-Star also smacked 240 home runs and drove in 1,305 runs.

Clemente’s view on hitting was this: “I am more valuable to my TEAM hitting .330 than swinging for home runs”

At the 1971 All-Star Game, a reporter asked the 12-time Gold Glove winner when he was going to get his 3,000th hit.

Clemente replied, “Well, uh, you never know. I, uh, if I’m alive, like I said before, ‘you never know because God tells you how long you’re going to be here. So you never know.”

Clemente swatted a double for his 3,000th hit on Sept. 30, 1972, at Three Rivers Stadium.

It was the final at-bat of his career.



opener a severe

stress test for both


By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Expect the unexpected.

As contradictory as the statement may be – after all it’s not unexpected if you expect it – it does seem to be great advice, especially when it comes to NFL season openers.

Just ask New England.

If those first three paragraphs seem familiar, if not redundant, it’s because that was the opening of my Seahawks-Packers preview column.

The Packers’ 17-9 victory over Seattle Sunday at Lambeau Field proved the point.

When the Las Vegas odds-makers are that far off – Las Vegas had the Packers as a 3-point favorite in a high-scoring (51 point over/under) game – it suggests the unexpected.

A defensive struggle against the Seahawks is the rule. The Packers’ defense being the unit causing fits is the exception.

Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers can be proud of his defense’s performance in the opener. They dominated on third down, held their ground on first down, and played fast, smart football for the most part.

Mike Daniels was the game’s MVP, but it wouldn’t have happened without big efforts from Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry and especially Nick Perry.

Early on, Perry and Daniels set the tone.

They had a meeting at the quarterback on every other down, or so it seemed in the first quarter.

The Seahawks’ Russell Wilson never had a chance to get his feet set and throw it downfield. In fact, he didn’t have many chances to slide out of the pocket and make plays downfield, either. To the Green Bay defense’s credit it played sound, consistent, fundamental football.

Safety Kentrell Brice was on the field a lot. So were Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett and even Josh Jones to a lesser extent.

Offensively, the Packers and Aaron Rodgers were able to do enough in the second half to claim victory. The positives:

** Ty Montgomery had 24 touches, including 19 carries, in what qualified as a good day’s work.

Montgomery needs as much experience as he can get. That’s especially true in the run game and in pass protection. On one occasion, he knocked right tackle Kyle Murphy off his block in a weak attempt to provide help.

On the whole, Montgomery played well though.

The best thing is he hasn’t even scratched the surface.

Here’s a prediction: In the next three weeks, Montgomery’s headlines will be all about his great versatility. He’ll be catching passes out of the backfield, and out of the slot, and creating match-up nightmares for opposing defenses.

Montgomery is a byproduct of his past and the Packers’ future.

Green Bay has elected to utilize the running back position in a more unconventional way. They’ll hand it off or toss it and run between the tackles, to be sure, but that alone isn’t enough.

The Packers demand that Montgomery be strong in pass pro, a rugged runner inside and a threat in the passing attack as a receiver.

The great thing he possesses the skills.

As the season unfolds, and Montgomery gets more established as a running back, I suspect Jamaal Williams’ role as a runner will expand. In turn, Montgomery may have fewer snaps on obvious run downs, but be more dangerous the rest of the time.

** Murphy played well enough to give the Packers’ offense hope that it can survive without the services of Bryan Bulaga at least on a limited basis.

The Packers’ offense would love to have Bulaga for Sunday night’s game at Atlanta. The more experience a line has in a loud, hostile environment the better.

If necessary, though, Murphy appears to be able to bridge the gap.

** Finally, the Packers’ offense still has to utilize its double-tight end formation to the fullest.

Perhaps Sunday night’s game will be a coming-out party for the tight ends, and in particular Martellus Bennett.

The Packers’ defense looks promising, the special teams’ look solid and the offense is teeming with proven talent and unlimited potential.

Final score: Packers 30, Falcons 28.



opener a severe

stress test for both


By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Expect the unexpected.

As contradictory as the statement may be – after all it’s not unexpected if you expect it – it does seem to be great advice, especially when it comes to NFL season openers.

Just ask New England.

The Patriots waltzed into Thursday night’s regular-season home opener as the reigning Super Bowl champs and 9-point favorites over an allegedly overmatched Kansas City squad.

They walked away in resounding defeat.

The Chiefs’ 42-27 victory left Patriots quarterback Tom Brady questioning his team’s effort and many NFL observers questioning the Patriots, period.

To believe this is the beginning of the end for New England head coach Bill Belichick’s rule over the NFL is a gross overreaction. The Patriots will be near the finish line. Whether they cross it first remains to be seen.

However, New England’s loss should be a cautionary tale as the Packers go into Sunday’s 3:25 p.m. regular-season opener against Seattle at Lambeau Field.

The perceived gap between the Packers and Seahawks (Green Bay is a 3-point favorite) is much closer than that between the Patriots and Chiefs.

I doubt anyone in the Packers’ locker room is taking Seattle for granted. On the other hand, if they needed a ready reminder of what could happen, the Chiefs-Patriots game provided it.

Frankly, I believe the Packers are going to beat the Seahawks. I see something along the lines of 31-20 for a final.

It isn’t that I don’t believe Seattle is capable of winning. In fact, the Packers couldn’t have been given a more difficult two games to open the season than Seahawks and at Atlanta.

The Seahawks are among the NFC’s top teams.

Eight of their 11 defensive starters have played in at least one Pro Bowl. They can rush the passer, stop the run and play terrific defense on the backside.

Safety Earl Thomas is a special player who covers ground the way former Packers’ safety Nick Collins did back in the day.

Thomas missed the Packers’ 38-10 blowout victory over Seattle a year ago. He is healthy this time and ready to roll. His presence alone is the single-greatest difference in a year.

The Seahawks’ offense still features Russell Wilson, Jimmy Graham and a cast of receivers who are better than most casual fans suspect. Toss in (or to) Eddie Lacy and/or Thomas Rawls and the Seahawks’ offense remains a handful.

The Packers would be in a difficult spot without the offseason acquisition of seven battle-tested veterans, including four on defense. Ricky Jean Francois and Quinton Dial bring size, talent and toughness to the defensive line.

Ahmad Brooks brings pass rush ability.

Davon House is an experienced, above-average cornerback who will be a strong addition to the position.

Former Falcons’ linebacker Chris Odom also should play a role. Add right guard Jahri Evans and tight ends Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks, and the Packers had one heck of an offseason.

Each fills a key role.

The intriguing aspect is seeing how it all unfolds.

Seattle is renowned for being a rugged, physically imposing defensive team with KO capabilities on special teams and an offense that’s built to go hand-in-hand with that style.

In the not-too-distant past the question would be: Will Aaron Rodgers and the offense put up enough points to KO Seattle?

Coming into Sunday’s game the question is: How much trouble might Green Bay’s double-tight ends, healthy backs and receivers and robust offensive line cause for the Seahawks?

I suspect plenty.

The Packers will score at least 30 points. Take it to the bank.

I can’t see the Seahawks’ offense keeping pace. Seattle may try to play keep-away from Rodgers by being conservative and utilizing the clock. That’s where the Packers’ revitalized defense comes into play.

From Kenny Clark to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix the Green Bay defense appears to be built on a strong foundation. For the first time in a while I’m sure defensive coordinator Dom Capers has the horses to run the race.

Win or lose, the Packers’ fans are going to learn a lot about their team in the season opener. I’m confident it’ll be a win and what they’ll learn is the Packers truly are “all in” for the 2017 season.

Are you ready for some football?

I thought so!



Packers preseason

ends with a blessing,

rather than a bang

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers’ pre-season finale served a handful of purposes.

First, it wrapped up what has been a productive, mostly drama- and injury-free training camp and pre-season.

The Packers’ 24-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in Thursday night’s Shrine Game at Lambeau Field was low key as finale’s go.

Second, the Packers will field a team better-equipped to do battle with the Seattle Seahawks in the Sept. 10 season opener, and again the following Sunday night in Atlanta.

The injuries have been limited.

Bryan Bulaga and Nick Perry are expected to return from ankle injuries in time for the Seattle game. Clay Matthews has experienced groin tightness but nothing that will sideline him.

Dean Lowry’s knee injury proved to not be serious. He also is expected to go against the Seahawks.

Damarious Randall returned from the concussion protocol, Ty Montgomery battled through some soft-tissue issues and Davon House missed time with a hamstring pull but is now a full go.

In terms of being a better team, let me count the ways:

** 1 – The addition of defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois and linebacker Ahmad Brooks has given the Packers’ defense a decidedly tougher mentality.

Both played on a first-rate 3-4 defense at San Francisco. The Packers’ linebackers won’t be confused with Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Brooks.

On the other hand, the Packers at least HAVE Brooks.

Francois also is a rugged veteran who reminded everyone of it during training camp and the pre-season games. Guys like Francois come in, do their job well and play to win. There’s no drama, no assembly required and no missing time with hurts.

** 2 – The Packers’ defense has a new look that will be unveiled as the regular season unfolds. That is the ability to deploy multiple safeties both in and behind the front seven who are fast, strong and in most cases experienced. They also have – for the most part – excellent ball skills.

Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a terrific tandem. Factor in Kentrell Brice, Marwin Evans and rookie Josh Jones and it’s loaded with potential.

It’s a way for Capers to combat offenses that utilize running backs, tight ends and occasionally big receivers (the Falcons, for example) to control the middle of the field.

With Burnett, Clinton-Dix and Jones and/or Brice lurking it’s going to be more difficult for quarterbacks to be certain of a receiver’s being open.

It’s better to play defense on the attack – by that I mean bringing up tough, big safeties that can blitz, fill run gaps or cover a wide receiver if necessary – as opposed to dropping linebackers and corners into zones.

** 3 – Aaron Rodgers and the offense are ready to roll.

It’ll be interesting to see how head coach Mike McCarthy chooses to deploy his tight ends and running backs against the Seahawks. He could use a heavy dose of double-tight end with Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks. He could deploy two tight ends and three receivers. He could even go four wide receivers and a tight end.

The options are many. We’ll find out how readily available the Seahawks will have answers.

** 4 – The kicking game in particular and the special teams’ units in general look good.

Special teams’ coordinator Ron Zook deserves high marks for getting his units up to speed.

This is such an improvement over his predecessor that I won’t even bother to mention the ex-teams coach by name.

Also, it’s time to have Trevor Davis return kicks as well as punts. Jeff Janis isn’t the answer.

** 5 – The Packers were active in free agency, at least compared to past forways, and continue to try and improve. It shows in the signing of Brooks within days of his release from the 49ers.

The next step is deciding on the final 53-man roster and 10-man practice squad.

I’ll hit all of that in a Sunday column.


Packers preseason shows potential for double-TE domination


By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis.  Through two pre-season games the Packers appear to be on track with just 19 days between now and the Sept. 10 regular-season home opener against Seattle.

Injuries have been held to a reasonable minimum, especially with word that defensive end Dean Lowry’s knee injury isn’t serious.

The rookies and undrafted free agents are displaying genuine quality competition as they battle to make the 53-man roster. Young players such as cornerback Josh Hawkins and others have forced the coaching staff to take notice.

All four quarterbacks – top to bottom – have looked sharp.

Even head coach Mike McCarthy and his staff have kept mistakes to a minimum while searching for answers as the season fast-approaches.

Here’s what we know with a fair degree of certainty:

** Aaron Rodgers has had an excellent off-season, training camp and pre-season.

The perennial Pro Bowl quarterback looks like a man on a mission to realize his stated goal for the Packers.

“We need to play our best football in the biggest moments” Rodgers said this off-season.

That was a mouthful.

The Packers trail only the otherworldly New England Patriots in terms of sustaining success. Now, in the wake of eight straight post-season appearances, Green Bay wants more.

It needs more.

The thought of winning just one Super Bowl with Rodgers running the show is difficult to accept. The majority of Packers fans realize how challenging it is to win a championship.

In the mid-to-late ’70s and ’80s the Packers existed in a baron wasteland devoid of any meaningful success.

Thanks to the Packers gods that has changed.

Green Bay’s fans fully expect their team to flatten the NFC North, capture the conference title and KO whichever team the AFC sends to meet it in the Super Bowl.

It’s a lot easier said than done, of course, but that’s the expectation and for good reason.

Here are two of the best:

** 1  The defense simply can’t be as bad as it was a year ago.

Kenny Clark and Lowry have elevated their games. Clay Matthews comes in healthy, and Nick Perry looks like a player who is going to kick butt after a breakthrough season.

Kevin King, Josh Jones and Hawkins have all flashed, and it appears King is going to be in the starting lineup.

Situational pass rushers such as Kyler Fackrell and Jayrone Elliott need to step up, and safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett can’t be forced to do all the heavy lifting.

The rush-cover balance needs to get in sync. The good news is the Packers have options in the secondary, unlike last year, and a stout front with Mike Daniels, Clark and Lowry.

** 2  The Packers double-tight end formation is going to be a major pain in the butt for opposing defenses.

I’m not sure how you defend Martellus Bennett, Lance Kendricks, Jordy Nelson, DaVante Adams and Ty Montgomery in the red zone.

In the Packers 21-17 victory at Washington, Rodgers hit Bennett for a touchdown when the big tight end beat Redskins linebacker Zach Brown in the corner of the end zone. Brown is one of the best cover linebackers in the league, so it mattered.

Frankly, Rodgers could’ve gone to Kendricks, who was open on the other side, or even Adams in the slot.

The options were many. The answers were few.

Clearly, there is plenty of work to be done, and nobody in their right mind believes the Seahawks and Falcons are going to bring anything less than their best against the Packers.

The challenge is real. Thus far, the Packers look up to it.


The FAN website column for Friday, Aug. 11

Packers’ preseason opener a positive
for defense, teams

By Chris Havel
Special to The FAN
GREEN BAY, Wis. – It was 21 pre-seasons ago when a former and soon-to-be-again famous receiver/return specialist was about down to his last at-bat with the Packers.
Green Bay’s GM, Ron Wolf, loved Desmond Howard.
He believed the former Heisman Trophy winner could be a valuable player as both a return ace and a slot receiver. It turned out that Howard simply couldn’t cut it as a wide-out.
He was too small, too slow and too iffy on difficult catches.
Then, in a single pre-season game, Howard captivated his critics and proved the future Pro Football Hall of Fame GM as being correct. Howard won a roster spot as a return specialist, and went on to have one of the greatest seasons in team history.
The Packers went on to win Super Bowl XIII, Howard would be named the game’s Most Valuable Player, and perhaps none of it would’ve happened if not for a “meaningless” game in August.
Today, I am looking at an aspiring NFL receiver/return specialist named Trevor Davis with similar thoughts.
Davis, a second-year receiver out of Cal, was determined to do everything in his power to make the Packers’ 53-man roster. With that in mind, he sent video of each and every punt return he made during this past off-season to special teams coach Ron Zook. He intended to show Zook and the Packers just how serious he was about returning punts and playing football.
The extra effort paid dividends Thursday night when Davis corralled a long punt, feigned left, cut right and exploded past would-be tacklers for a 68-yard touchdown return.
The Packers went on to a 24-9 victory over Philadelphia in their pre-season opener at Lambeau Field.
Davis picked up several excellent blocks along the way, including a dandy by second-year safety Marwin Evans.
If Davis continues to have a strong camp and plays well in the remaining three pre-season games he quite likely set the stage for work as the full-time punt returner against the Eagles.
Other observations from the Packers’ pre-season opener:
** Kenny Clark is the real deal.
The second-year pro out of UCLA scarcely resembles the young pup that showed up a year ago. Clark, at 6-3, 314, was active and explosive as he shoved around the Eagles’ offensive line.
I really liked Clark as a rookie. He was just 20 years old when he arrived in the NFL, which is a tall task when you’re facing grown men in the trenches.
Clark responded by learning, taking his lumps and finishing strong. This past off-season he was dedicated to becoming stronger and it has paid off.
** Dean Lowry is right there with Clark.
It all starts up front for the defense and Mike Daniels, Clark and Lowry are a good place to begin.
Lowry has made great strides and Daniels appears to be his same old ornery self.
The defensive line may be the second-most improved unit behind the tight ends.
** Rookie running back Jamaal Williams is going to have a significantly positive impact on this season if he stays healthy. Williams, as predicted, is a tough runner inside the tackles. He makes what appears to be a 2- or 3-yard gain that actually turns out to bring up second-and-5.
Ty Montgomery also looked good in spite of the fumble.
It’s better to be reminded about ball protection in the pre-season opener as opposed to the regular season.
Montgomery will be OK, especially as a pass catcher out of the backfield. It’s my best guess that Williams will become the so-called “four-minute back” when the Packers have fourth quarter-leads and are trying to work the clock.
** Justin Vogel had a strong night as a punter.
In fact, he’s so good that I’ll cut him slack for wearing the legendary No. 5 on his jersey. That’s so long as he changes it so something more appropriate after the final roster cut.
** The snap, the hold and the kick were good last night.
It was all in sync and nothing to see there.
Mason Crosby is quietly becoming one of the great players – that’s right, I said players – in team history.
** Everyone who likes Josh Jones and Kevin King raise your hands? OK, you all can put them down now.
As I suspected it was unanimous.
Jones flashed the awareness and physicality that he has become associated with. He will be interesting to watch as the season progresses.
King, the lanky, 6-3, 200-pound cornerback, is a willing hitter. He got beat a couple of times but that’s the best way to learn.
They make the secondary faster, stronger and more athletic. They are the type of pieces to grow with and build around.
** Injuries were the night’s only dark side.
Malachi Dupre took a shot that forced him out on a stretcher, but the rookie receiver sent out a tweet that he’ll be OK.
Don Barclay, the journeyman offensive lineman, appeared to injure his ankle. Barclay, who was a disaster as a back-up tackle, was actually a very do-able back-up center.
Now that plan has been turned upside-down.
I’ll be curious to see how McCarthy and the personnel people respond.

The FAN website column for Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017

Packers’ preseason opener offers shot at roles, playing time,

especially QB Hundley

By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Pro athletes aren’t the only ones who can be superstitious. Fans and even ex-pro athletes also have their moments.

When Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill suffered a season-ending knee injury the question was posed: Who should the Dolphins sign – Jay Cutler or Colin Kaepernick?

Frankly, I would have stayed with backup Matt Moore as the starter and signed a lesser quarterback not named Cutler OR Kaepernick but that’s just me.

The Dolphins went with Mr. Sour Puss for $10 million in addition to another possible $2-to-$3 million in incentives.

So I posed the question during a commercial break on Sports Line: What would the Packers do if they were in a similar situation?

Crickets chirping … silence … more crickets … nothing.

Finally, my running mate, Harry Sydney, says, “C’mon, man. We can’t go there. It’s bad luck.”

Eric Fischer, our producer/intern, agreed.

He acted as if he’d rather be sprayed by a rabid skunk than pose that question in “Last Caller Standing” format to listeners.

OK, let’s forget the potential nightmare of a Rodgers injury.

However, there is the reality of what to do in terms of his backup, Brett Hundley, this year and beyond.

Hundley, a fifth-round pick in 2015, has played well in the preseason. He has been everything the Packers thought he could be when they drafted him out of UCLA to be Rodgers’ understudy.

Hundley drew praise during his rookie preseason.

Last year, he was beleaguered by an ankle injury and did little.

Hundley’s understanding of the offense, strong arm and quick feet make him a valuable commodity. He played well in the Packers’ Family Night practice at Lambeau Field, when he connected with tight end Richard Rodgers for a long touchdown.

He played in four regular-season games in 2016 in mop-up duty.

“It’s a little hard when you get put in at the end of games and you get a drive or two to get out there,” Hundley told reporters earlier this week. “I feel like this is the time I’ll be able to get some rhythm down (rhythm) is the big word or key word for it, and be able to get going and get into a rhythm as a quarterback and get back out there and have some fun and maybe get hit once or twice.”

Nobody wants to see Rodgers or Hundley get hit.

It’s why Rodgers likely won’t play Thursday night against Philadelphia in the Packers’ pre-season opener at Lambeau Field.

For Hundley, it means an opportunity to sharpen his game, and to shine for his current team and other teams’ scouts.

There has been talk that the Packers had received offers during the draft for Hundley, but nothing good enough to make GM Ted Thompson bite.

Frankly, if Hundley was going to be traded, that would’ve been the most likely time.

Each day that the regular season draws nearer is another day it makes less sense to trade Hundley. He is the best option to keep the Packers’ offense afloat for a quarter, a half or a handful of games if necessary.

Hundley is the prototypical “draft and develop” success story. He’s too valuable to trade until either this season’s mid-point – depending on how the Packers are playing – or next spring.

My advice right now is to do nothing.

There is no precedent for another team to come offering a first- or second-round pick for the Packers’ backup QB. However, a third-round pick is reasonable based on Green Bay’s history with Matt Hasselbeck, Aaron Brooks, Mark Brunell and others.

The third round appears to be the cutoff. I might be tempted, but I still would feel better with Hundley on the roster, as opposed to a big question mark at backup QB and an extra pick next spring.

For years, some Packers’ fans greatest criticism of Thompson was his apparent aversion to “going for it” by being aggressive in free agency. The reality of the Hundley situation is that by keeping him, the Packers ARE being aggressive. They’re making the statement that this season is more important than next spring’s draft.

If Rodgers were to miss a handful of games, I believe Hundley would still give Green Bay a chance to win, which could be crucial to staying in the playoff hunt.

Hundley’s presence – regardless of the obvious fact that Packers’ fans hope he never has to play – gives Green Bay its best chance to survive without Rodgers on a short-term basis.

If the Packers truly believe they are going somewhere this season, the best move is to make sure Hundley goes nowhere.


The FAN website column for Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017

Packers’ Rollins has ‘outplayed’ everyone at the corner position


By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN


GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Packers get back to work tonight at 6:15 p.m. at Ray Nitschke Field.

After two padded practices and a day off Wednesday here are several early conclusions:

** Quinten Rollins is recapturing the confident, consistent play that made him a contributor in the Packers’ playoff win at Washington two post-seasons ago.

Rollins, who battled injuries during a slump-ridden sophomore season, has been accountable and available thus far.

Joe White, the defensive backs coach, had high praise for Rollins while admitting it should be fairly obvious.

“He’s pretty much outplayed everybody,” Whitt said.

Rollins, who is entering his third season of organized football, seemed to struggle with the physical and mental demands of an NFL season.

In his third season, he appears to have matured in all ways.

Clearly, Rollins’ strong play makes for an interesting situation among the cornerbacks.

Davon House has been very good since his return after a stint in Jacksonville. House prepares and practices like the veteran he is and that’s had to be a positive on the position group.

Rookie Kevin King is dealing with a shoulder injury, but when he’s been on the field he’s played well. He has flashed the range (a wiry 6-foot-3 frame), the ball skills and the speed that made him an early second-round pick.

Whitt told reporters he’s going to ask Aaron Rodgers to start testing the Packers’ top pick.

“I’m going to ask Aaron to throw more his way. When you see 6-foot-3 over there pressed up, the ball’s going to go the other way.”

Meantime, rookie safety/linebacker Josh Jones continues to impress. Jones’ ball skills are a pleasant surprise for me.

I knew he was a legit hitter and willing tackler.

What I’ve been impressed with is his ability to drop into coverage in zone, or to turn and run with running backs or tight ends in man-to-man coverage.

Jones’ awareness belies his inexperience, at least early on.

** Packers GM Ted Thompson has no timetable or date or plans to announce his retirement. Thompson, 64, teased the media by noting that the only time he’s asked about retirement is during news conferences in Green Bay.

He also joked that the media “would have to wait to see the end of the movie” to find out.

Joking aside Thompson said he feels “good to go” which is welcome news for Packers fans.

** On another front, Thompson said he has long supported the new roster reduction change in which teams’ rosters go from 90 to 53 in a single cut.

“I think it gives you more opportunity to see things, to weigh what you think you have against what other people might have … there’s a lot of mistakes made on that cut down to 75 and it helps you get through that last (preseason) game.”

** Defensive linemen Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry have been really strong thus far.

Both second-year pros appear stronger, more confident and more active in camp so far.

The offseason programs seem to have had an impact in terms of quickness and explosiveness.

** Meantime, rookie defensive lineman Montravius Adams’ foot surgery to repair a stress fracture qualifies as a major disappointment. I thought Adams could generate interior pass rush, which is something defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ unit could really use.

Instead, we’ll have to wait and see with Adams.

It’s unfortunate.


Pads come on, turf flies as Packers turn up the heat at camp


By Chris Havel

Special to The FAN for Sunday 7/30/17

GREEN BAY, Wis. – True to its namesake Ray Nitschke Field bore the brunt of the punishment during the Packers’ lively, first-time-in-pads popping Saturday morning practice.

Pads smacked and turf flew as the Packers’ players leapt helmet-first into the initial padded practice of camp.

The pace appeared quick without being hurried.

After all these years it’s still impressive to see how much teaching, coaching, learning and training head coach Mike McCarthy’s staff and players accomplish in minimal time.

While the half-line running drill was pitting running backs and offensive linemen versus the defense’s front seven over here, the wide receivers and defensive backs were dueling 1-on-1 over there.

It is fast-paced and furious, if all too brief compared to the NFL’s training camps of old, although much can be learned.

For instance, my initial disappointment in rookie Montravius Adams’ inability to practice was impossible to hide.

I had ghastly flashbacks of Datone Jones, Jerel Worthy, Khyri Thornton and other not-so-illustrious defensive ends who were oft-injured and painfully inconsistent when healthy.

Because McCarthy’s daily briefing occurred before practice, rather than after, I’m not sure why Adams sat out. Clearly it’s unfair of me to draw any serious conclusions, but I’ve got to admit it’s a setback when a rugged, tough, exceptional looking athlete such as Adams works through two non-padded practices, only to be unavailable when the lights (and the pads) come on.

I guess I’ll have to chill, though I am curious as to Adams’ status.

Other first day in pads observations:

** The running backs position group appears to be deeper, more decisive and more talented than any in recent memory.

Not since Eddie Lacy’s first few seasons has the position been this diversely skilled and seemingly polished.

Subsequent practices, the Family Night Scrimmage and preseason games will determine the backs’ pecking order, but early on Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Davante Mays seem prepared to stage a serious battle to back up Ty Montgomery.

By the way, Montgomery looked smooth as silk – both his hands and his feet – as he snatched quck tosses, snared checkdowns in the flat and hauled in wheel routes down and up the sideline.

So far, all I can say is so good with the running backs.

For whatever it is worth two previously nondescript backs – William Stanback (43) of Virginia Union and Khalif Phillips (34) of Charlotte – looked to have nice acceleration, hands and awareness.

You heard it here first.

** Martellus Bennett and Lance Kendricks are an imposing duo when they stand side-by-side in the huddle. Bennett looks like he’s a half-foot taller than everyone else. Kendricks is strong, wide and quick.

You’ll like it when you see it.

Trust me on that.

** The Packers’ secondary featured Kevin King (20) at right cornerback and Davon House (31) at left cornerback in their first-team base unit.

King competes and his quickness and skills are apparent to the most novice football aficionado.

House just steps into the huddle as if he belongs. I can’t imagine House not being a key player in the defense.

Speaking of key players, rookie Josh Jones (27) lines up pretty much with every group and sub-package the Packers play.

He’s at safety, in the slot and at inside linebacker (a lot) throughout the course of practice. Jones is like that thoroughbred that you let have its head and fly. He appears to be of the belief that “the more, the better” and so forth.

I am intrigued by Jones’ upbeat attitude, range and attention to what he’s doing on and off the field. It’s early but Jones really and truly looks the part of an NFL defender.

** It’s always great to see familiar and friendly faces such as Johnny Gray at training camp. Gray, one of my running mates on Green Bay Game Day, looks and feels great.

He’s the best at mixing fun (surprise) with business – what’s going on during the practice – and it’s always an honor.

El Syd, aka Harry Sydney, also was bopping up and down the sideline with both the music during TV timeouts and the action when it warranted. El Syd and I will be back at it Tuesday on Sports Line as Harry will be hosting the Harry Sydney Open on Monday at Fox Hills Resort in Mishicot. Harry’s My Brother’s Keeper benefits men of all ages and is a necessity here.

I’ll be manning the mike with Eric the Intern on Monday as the Packers are off Sunday but get back to work Monday morning.

Until then ….