It is not an original thought to call yesterday's 31-23 victory over the Baltimore Ravens a "statement game." Others have used this phrase, both before, during and after the game. But that is exactly what it was. The statement has been made, and the message has been received around the NFL: the Packers look like a legitimate Super Bowl Contender. From Chris Berman's gushing on ESPN Prime Time last night ("Wow!" and "Favre is the best"), to MSNBC ("Packers Looking Super") to CNN/SI's Peter King (" we will never see this edition of the Ravens' defense carved up as it was Sunday at Lambeau by Dr. Brett Favre"), everyone is starting to see that there is something special about the way this team is playing. What a shame that they could not quite get the job done last week at Tampa.
And, as those of you who saw it know, it was not nearly as close as the final score. The Packers led 31-10 with about 4 minutes left in the 4th quarter. A soft, prevent-type defense led to one touchdown, and a recovered onside kick led to another, but the game was not in any serious jeopardy.
There were so many great moments from this game. The much-maligned Antonio Freeman catching pass after pass, including a touchdown at the end of the first half, and finishing off the game by recovering the last onside kick attempt, jumping around like a little kid in excitement. Darren Sharper's missed interception in the first half being redeemed by his interception in
the second half. (His mother's look of horror at the missed interception was matched by mine watching the game at home.) Santana Dotson's sack and forced fumble saving 3 or 7 points in the second quarter. Driver's fabulous catch on the next play, even if the ground may have assisted him a little in gathering in the ball. Corey Bradford's catch of a long ball coming straight down over the top of his head, on the same play that led to an interception the week before. Brett Favre's nearly-perfect day, including the astounding total of 337 passing yards, 391 total yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions against the Ravens' defense. Touchdown drives of 59, 74, 80 and 82 yards against the league's number 1-rated defense. Favre cheerleading in the hail in the fourth quarter.
I loved some of the post-game comments, too. Brian Billick (head coach of the Ravens) saying that he hopes the Ravens never play the Packers again. Brett Favre, telling the story about how Tom Rossley (offensive coordinator of the Packers) told him early in the week that the Packers would gain 400 yards against the Ravens. Favre, politely, said "OK, Tom, you're right," but admitted after the game that he was thinking "This guy is crazy. He must be drinking."
So where do we go from here? Ironically, winning more games, in a way, does nothing but put even more pressure on the team. The Packers seem to be in great shape for a trip to the playoffs, so now some thought about playoff positioning and home field advantage becomes inescapable. The official position of the Packers is that they focus on one game at a time. But maybe the Packers' fans can be excused if they take a little peek at what lies ahead.
The game this week at Minnesota becomes a big game on so many levels. There is the "house of horrors" aspect. The Packers have lost so many games there in the Brett Favre era, that one could not even think of becoming complacent about a trip to the Dome. And a team with the weapons the Vikings possess is always a scary prospect. And the Vikings game, being a division andconference game, counts for a lot more than the game against the Ravens, for tie-breaker and playoff position purposes.
On the other hand, Mike Sherman is 2-0 as a head coach against the Vikings, and the Vikings are struggling, so there is every reason to hope for a good outcome. When I looked at the schedule before the season, I figured that the Packers would probably lose the Tampa game, the Ravens game, and the Vikings game, meaning a three-game losing streak leading into the bye week.
Now, I am predicting that the Packers will win this game, by a score of something like 34-21. If they accomplish that, and thus achieve a 5-1 record before the bye week, I hope that Mike Sherman gives them the whole week off. They will certainly deserve it.
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