After loss to Tampa, Pack needs to rebound
Despite two losses to Brett Favre and the division rival Minnesota Vikings in the first half of the season, at least the Green Bay Packers were beating the teams they're supposed to. Until now. Green Bay was reeling Monday after blowing a fourth-quarter lead to a previously winless Tampa Bay team starting a rookie quarterback. Now 4-4 at the season's halfway mark, a team expected to make a serious playoff push now finds itself on the verge of a free fall going into Sunday's home game against Dallas. The problems are the same: Too many sacks allowed, not enough pass rush and costly special teams lapses. But as fans holler for change on barstools and sports radio call-in shows across Wisconsin, they probably won't be happy to hear that Packers coach Mike McCarthy is calmly staying the course. McCarthy maintains that the mistakes are correctable and insists the season isn't a lost cause. "We're disappointed and we're 4-4," McCarthy said. "We're at the halfway point of our season. I'm very disappointed, but that's our work to this point. I take full responsibility. I'm at the point of this football team. I have all the confidence in this team that we'll get ready and we'll move on and win a big game here at home against Dallas." But the Packers might have to face the Cowboys without outside linebacker Aaron Kampman and right tackle Mark Tauscher. Kampman said he sustained a concussion after taking a blow to the head on the fourth play of the game, but wasn't taken out of the game until the fourth quarter. Speaking briefly to reporters Monday afternoon, Kampman said he still wasn't feeling quite right but just needed rest. "I've been better," Kampman said. His availability this week remains unclear. Kampman played into the fourth quarter before coaches realized he wasn't OK. Even amid increased awareness about the dangers of head injuries in football, defensive coordinator Dom Capers said coaches trust players to tell them when they're not feeling right. "You have to kind of depend on them, you know," Capers said. "And most guys that play this game, they think they can just shake it off. It's part of the game, you know. To a certain degree they can shake it off, it's no problem. And I think that's probably the approach that Aaron took until maybe in the second half, he saw that things weren't right." Tauscher, meanwhile, sprained his left knee - the same knee that sustained a major injury in December. Tauscher tore his left anterior cruciate ligament and was out of football until re-signing with the Packers last month. McCarthy said Tauscher has a "slight" chance of playing this week. That, plus the back injury that landed center Jason Spitz on injured reserve over the weekend, leaves the Packers to once again shuffle an offensive line that has given up a league-worst 37 sacks - including six on Sunday, all in the second half. McCarthy said the Packers aren't about to change they way their linemen are coached. Or, for that matter, who's doing the coaching. "We don't need wholesale change," McCarthy said. "We may need to adjust some things and that will be our focus. But as far as going outside the building, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I have all the answers, but I'm very confident in the issues that we've had in pass protection, that they are correctable." And the blame for the Packers' sack total goes beyond the line. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers still needs to get rid of the ball more quickly in certain situations, and McCarthy hinted that the wide receivers weren't getting open on Sunday. The Green Bay defense, meanwhile, continued to stop the run but didn't get enough pressure on rookie Josh Freeman and struggled in the fourth quarter. But for the second week in a row, the Packers' biggest problems were poorly timed lapses on special teams. A week after giving up two long kickoff returns to Minnesota's Percy Harvin, the Packers gave up a 83-yarder to Tampa Bay's Clifton Smith to set up an early fourth-quarter touchdown and swing the game's momentum in Tampa's favor. Despite talking about all-too-familiar problems Monday, McCarthy said the Packers don't need major changes. "To have a new message or a new messenger, I'm confident that's not what our football team needs right now," McCarthy said. "They have a very loud, direct, clear message in the team meetings day in and day out. So there is no question or uncertainty of what we are asking everybody to do, coaches and players, and the accountability of what needs to be done."