Surprising Packers still have plenty of room for improvement

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Each week, Mike McCarthy must find new ways to keep his Packers focused. With a young team, it's been easy for the second-year coach.

Green Bay is the surprise of the league at 4-0, but while waiting to leave for Minnesota, one of the players didn't show up.

"He thought he may be inactive, so he just figured, 'Well, I guess I don't have to go,"' said McCarthy, declining to name the culprit.

Luckily, a weather delay allowed the offender to join the team in time and watch the Packers beat the Vikings 23-16 on Sunday to give Green Bay its best start since 1998.

"It's a daily education, I'm not going to deny it. We're very young," McCarthy said Monday. "To me, that's a perfect example of my responsibility as a head coach, that you have to make sure you address every little thing."

McCarthy has seen anything but perfection on the field, and said that he was "sore" after the victory because of a sloppy performance that included five fumbles, one with 1:40 left that gave Minnesota another chance.

"That's unacceptable," he said. "We had a couple instances where guys just didn't have the ball high and tight, and we're not happy about it. You can't play like that. We had the ball on the ground five times and lost two of them, so we need to get back on the track."

Green Bay has won eight straight games dating back to last year, but the Packers have succeeded so far this season with a completely unbalanced offense, throwing 68 percent of the time and relying on spread formations that include three wide receivers and two tight ends to keep the offense moving.

The Packers are averaging 54 yards rushing a game and 2.7 yards per attempt. They haven't found a trusted runner from a group that includes veteran Vernand Morency, first-year player Ryan Grant and rookies Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn. None of the four have rushed for 100 yards total.

"It's not about how many yards you rush for, it's not about how many you throw for, but doing things effectively and efficiently and we're just not there in the running game," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "We've got so many things to get better at and the season's so young, I don't know that anybody should be looking at what the record is right now."

Green Bay's resurgence has come thanks to Brett Favre's patience and the chemistry he seems to have developed with his receiving corps even without acquiring Randy Moss in the offseason, much to the dismay of the three-time MVP.

Instead of getting Moss, the Packers drafted James Jones to go along with second-year player Greg Jennings and veteran Donald Driver.

"We don't worry about Randy Moss. We don't worry about breaking in other players," Jones said. "This is what we got so this is what we have got to work with. We come in every day with that mentality and there are a lot of great players here, and a lot of players are making plays and we have to keep it up."

The receivers have allowed Favre to spread the ball around more, and he has completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 1,205 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions.

Favre, the NFL leader in career touchdown passes, moved ahead of Dan Marino on Sunday with No. 421 to Jennings in the first quarter and No. 422 to Jones in the fourth quarter. Favre has thrown 119 passes without an interception.

"Our quarterback is making excellent decisions, spreading the ball around to 10 different receivers (against the Vikings)," McCarthy said. "We're doing a lot of positive things in the passing game."

That's led to more confidence, and McCarthy said his young team is building on each win.

"I feel like our football team has a very good understanding of where they are as far as the progression of being a great football team, a championship football team. It's something that we talk about all the time," he said. "I'm not a psychology major. I'm not into false confidence, just trying to build them up real high one week. I just tell them the truth."

Leave that to linebacker Nick Barnett.

"Call us whatever you want to call us, but don't forget to call us 4-0 right now," he said.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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