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Packers are among the no-shows

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As setbacks go, this one was a 401-K. You wouldn't have thought the Green Bay Packers could lose so much in so little time.

Along with home field advantage, Brett Favre's most valuable player chances, Donald Driver's services and momentum, they lost their swagger Sunday. They go into the playoffs a week earlier than they'd planned looking much less than special, and now is no time for time for that.

"Some teams can win just because of who they are," Favre said. "We're not one of those teams."

The New York Jets aren't either, but they were good enough at home to reacquaint the Packers with the warts they've been hiding for a month. A struggling offense, a dual-personality defense and a return game still taking applications surfaced against an opponent with more at risk.

Starting next weekend, the stakes are the same for everybody, and the talent isn't all that different, either. The Packers' edge has been Favre and their own stubbornness. One left early Sunday, and the other never showed up at all.

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Mike Sherman admitted that he didn't see much passion from the help, but he figured that was mostly the Jets' fault. He said when the Packers couldn't make plays, they couldn't find much to get excited about.

"I'm proud of our football team," the coach said. "We've won 12 games this year, and we don't have a whole lot to hang our heads about. But we have to scratch our heads a little to figure out how get better next week."

Either that or have them headed to them. That's never been a problem in the post-season at Lambeau Field, but this team can take nothing for granted, including statistics or the frozen comforts of home.

It didn't help the Packers Sunday to have won their last eight regular season finales, and it didn't impress New York that they'd held opponents to an average of 15.5 points in the last 12 games. That was history. This was current events.

"We can't play anywhere, whether it be home or away, and give an inch," said Favre, who speculated that the Jets just might have wanted this game more than the visitors. "We're just not that good. We're not a bad football team. We've earned those 12 wins, but we have to take advantage of every opportunity."

They passed on a platinum plated one here, squandering the home ice that Philadelphia tried to hand them Saturday at the same time that the Jets were taking advantage of another contender's misfortune. While New York was completing its recovery from a 1-4 start, Green Bay was reverting to September, when it gave up 100 points in three starts.

After the Buffalo shutout last week, the Packers' defense looked too good to give up 42 points to anyone, let alone a team averaging half of that. But they struggle against talented quarterbacks, and this was the best one they've seen since the opener.

They struggle against good kickers and punters, too. Also bad ones, mediocre ones, young ones and old ones, and if there were any one-legged ones they'd have trouble with running the ball back against them, too.

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Eric Metcalf, the latest savior, fumbled two of the first three punts that came his way and averaged a negative-1 yard in three tries. Sherman said it wasn't all Metcalf's fault, but that's become a familiar line.

"He got better as the game went along," he said. "It's always a concern until we solve it at that position, and I wouldn't say we've totally solved it."

That or anything else.

"I hope everyone in our locker room can walk away from this game, and say they gave everything they had," Favre said. "If that's the case, then we're not nearly as good as we think we are."

It wasn't too late to learn that.

Dale Hofmann is a sports columnist with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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