GREEN BAY, WIS. - Saying the words "Brett" and/or "Favre" in the Packers' Lambeau Field locker room is no longer socially acceptable behavior.
It ranks somewhere between cursing in church and clipping your toenails during a job interview.
Saturday night, even the half-syllable "Bre -- " elicited a glare from friendly Packers receiver Greg Jennings.
"Don't know," Jennings said. "Don't care either."
He wasn't smiling.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, supremely talented and at least a decade from joining the Oak Grove Summer High School Football League, launched even more eyeball darts when asked if the Packers are following Favre's latest offseason saga.
"No," he said.
He wasn't smiling.
Rodgers was then asked if the Packers would prefer to see Favre retire and thereby hand over the keys to the NFC North and a clearer path to Super Bowl XLV.
"He has nothing to do with me or our team this year," Rodgers said.
He wasn't smiling. And he wasn't entirely accurate, either.
In the preseason opener against Cleveland on Saturday, the Packers' inept pass defense picked up where it left off last season, so Favre's decision, like last year, is directly connected to Green Bay's fate in the division. Lest we forget, Favre's numbers against the Cheeseheads last season were: 41-for-59 (69.5 percent) for 515 yards, seven touchdowns, no interceptions, no sacks and two victories that were the difference between the Vikings being 12-4 and the Packers being 11-5.
Before Saturday's game, the assumption was the Packers' pass defense would improve by virtue of being in Year 2 of defensive coordinator Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme. That's tougher to assume following the 27-24 loss to the Browns.
While it's unwise to make conclusions based on a preseason game, Saturday's developments are at the very least worrisome to those who remember the Packers' 51-45 overtime playoff loss at Arizona, the 37-36 meltdown in Pittsburgh or both losses to Favre and the Vikings.
The Browns took the opening kickoff and passed through the Packers with stunning ease. In his only series, Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme completed six of seven passes while the Browns went 80 yards in 11 plays to take a 7-0 lead. By the time most of the starters were gone, the Browns led 21-14 midway through the second quarter.
Rodgers defended his defense, saying starters Clay Matthews (hamstring) and Al Harris (knee) didn't play. But a year ago, the Browns had 11 first downs while being shut out 17-0 in the preseason by a Packers defense missing five starters.
Rodgers went on to argue that the Packers defense shouldn't be criticized since it was purposely vanilla.
"It's the preseason," Rodgers said. "They didn't show anything."
Perhaps. But the Browns' offense didn't reinvent the forward pass either. The first two plays from scrimmage were 17-yard completions to wide-open players running basic routes as the primary targets. This also was the NFL's worst offense from a year ago being run by a quarterback coming off a horrendous season.
At least someone acknowledged the eerie similarity to the Browns' opening drive and last year's playoff loss to the Cardinals.
"We had those types of games last year, and we can't allow that to happen again this year," said cornerback Charles Woodson, the reigning NFL Defensive MVP. "There's some things we're going to have to fix."
The good news is the Packers showed they're still capable of winning shootouts. Rodgers was nearly flawless while completing his first 10 passes and 12 of 13 for 159 yards and a touchdown.
"Don't worry," tight end Jermichael Finley said. "If the defense slacks, they can count on us 100 percent. We're going to put that thing in the air, and we're going to get it in the end zone real fast. Less than two minutes. We know we can score every time we touch the ball."
They might have to. Especially if (when) you know who doesn't retire.
Mark Craig • firstname.lastname@example.org