Originally created 11/06/02

Packers cautiously optimistic at 7-1



GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The last two times the Green Bay Packers started 7-1 they won the Super Bowl.

Still, they aren't looking quite that far ahead.

"I think we have a special win," coach Mike Sherman said after the Packers' 24-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Monday night. "You have to ask me at the end of the season if it's a special season."

The Packers own the league's best record, a six-game winning streak and a four-game lead in the NFC North despite a roster that has been riddled with injuries.

"I feel confidence growing," quarterback Brett Favre said. "It's a great confidence. We should be proud of what we've done, but 7-1 can still turn into 8-8."

Nobody expects such a nosedive as long as Favre stays on the field, as he did Monday night with a brace protecting his sprained left knee.

The Packers are on pace to score 454 points, two shy of the team record set in 1996, the last time they won the Super Bowl.

Their four takeaways against the Dolphins increased their NFL-leading total to 27, on pace to tie the franchise mark of 54 set in 1981.

Safety Darren Sharper, returning from a pulled hamstring, capped the thievery with an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown as Favre jumped up and down on the sideline like a little kid at Christmas.

"I had to fight myself not to go on the field and escort him into the end zone," Favre said.

It was the fourth straight game the Packers had four takeaways.

"It's like a feeding frenzy," Sharper said.

And it's no accident, suggested defensive coordinator Ed Donatell.

"They're all intentioned and practiced," he said. "They're part of our culture."

The Packers have allowed just 64 points in their last five games - and just two meaningless touchdowns in their last three - after yielding 100 points in their first three games for the first time in their storied history.

Not since the Philadelphia Eagles in 1933 has a team allowed that many points in the first three weeks and had such a solid turnaround by midseason.

And the Packers are getting their starters back, too.

Tackle Chad Clifton on offense and Sharper, end Vonnie Holliday and cornerback Mike McKenzie returned on defense Monday. All had been out for most of October.

"I really want to credit the backups who stepped in those two games when we were out injured," Sharper said. "They really showed us the way. Now our starters are coming back and we just want to feed off that and keep it rolling."

Holliday wore a shoulder harness and saw extensive action after missing the last four games because of a torn pectoral muscle.

"I am happy to be back out there and part of this football team," Holliday said. "I've been watching this team the last four weeks from the sideline and these guys are going out and having fun and making a lot of plays, doing a great job. And I wanted to be a part of that."

The Packers sustained two more injuries: defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt (knee) and long-snapper Rob Davis (toe).

The swelling on Favre's knee is down, but he said it is stiff and sore. He'll wear the brace for another month to protect the ligament he tore on Oct. 20 when he was sacked by Washington's LaVar Arrington.

The Packers used a lot of quick and underneath passes to keep pressure off Favre, who attempted only five deep throws.

"I found out after some plays I couldn't move like I thought I could," Favre said. "For the most part, I thought I played normal. It didn't affect me mentally."

Favre, however, didn't always heed his coaches' advice not to run around.

"I told him that was not part of the plan," Sherman said. "He's a little hardheaded sometimes."

Favre said he was just being himself but was aware of his injury.

"With every play I was thinking about it," Favre said. "If your knee goes, that's it. I'm one big hit away from being out for good. I probably should have thrown it away and have been more careful. But that is hard for me to do. Your instincts take over."