Monday, January 7, 2002

Unfinished Business

The Packers' offense had a nice little tune-up for the playoffs on Sunday. [Ed. note - the Packers beat the Giants, 34-25.] The offense, at times, looked really sharp, with even the normally-missing-in-action Corey Bradford playing a big part (mostly because Antonio Freeman was held out of the second half with a rib injury). Ahman Green gained over 100 yards, Schroeder and Bradford each had over 100 yards receiving, and Favre had over 300 yards passing, 2 touchdowns, no interceptions, and one sack . . . sort of.

The defense was a little shakier. They gave up a ridiculous number of yards (524), including allowing the longest running play of the year for the Giants, and Ron Dayne's longest run of his NFL career (61 yards). On the other hand, it is hard to get too worked up about this, since for most of the game the Packers had the game pretty well in hand, and to that extent a lot of the yards were of the bend-but-don't-break variety. It looks like Gilbert Brown will be back for the playoffs, and man, oh man, is his presence needed to stop the running game.

Even the special teams were productive. Dorsey Levens had the longest kickoff return of the year for the Packers (and his longest career kickoff return) in the first half, only to have an even longer one at the start of the second half. Not much punt return yardage for the Packers, but at least Freeman caught the ball this week instead of letting it bounce right by him as he did last week.

Now, as for the sack. For over 57 minutes, the Packers did not give up a sack, despite the fact that Michael Strahan's pursuit of the sack record was about all the Giants had to play for. In the closing minutes of the game, Favre kept the ball on a naked bootleg to the right side, Bubba Franks whiffed on a block, and Favre flopped to the ground right before Strahan (gently) jumped on him for the sack. The whole thing looked like a dive to me, even watching it the first time live. Then when FOX showed a replay of Favre and Strahan chatting before the play, well, let's just put it this way . . . you don't have to believe in a second gunman on the grassy knoll in order to understand that this sack was a setup. I am not getting all worked up about it, but I do think it cheapens the record.

And this brings us to: the Packers and the 49ers, in the playoffs. According to Brett Favre, Steve Mariucci called him, earlier in the season, to wish him a happy birthday. Mariucci said that he would see Favre in the playoffs in San Francisco. Favre replied that they would see each other in Green Bay for the playoffs. It has seemed likely for a couple of weeks now that it would come down to this. And it is really fitting, too, given that the Packers started their run to greatness in the 1990's when they came out here to San Francisco after the 1995 season and knocked off the defending champion 49ers. They beat the 49ers in the playoffs three years in a row, before finally getting beaten by the 49ers after the 1998 season, on the famous Terrell Owens catch (which I will see about 100 times on the San Francisco TV stations this week).

That catch left a really bad taste in my mouth, as my family and I rushed out of 3Com Park that day as the scene there started to get ugly. That day was the end of the road for Mike Holmgren and Fritz Shurmur as Packer coaches, it was Reggie White's last game as a Packer, it was the last game announced by Jim Irwin and Max McGee, and it was the last time the Packers were in the playoffs, until this Sunday. This time, the game will be in Green Bay, and we will just have to wait and see if the Packers' record of never having lost a playoff game in Wisconsin remains intact. I like the Packers' chances.

Anyway, how is this for a pipe dream? Packers beat the 49ers in Green Bay this week, and the Bucs beat the Eagles. The following week, Green Bay goes to Chicago and wins, while the Bucs knock off the Rams in St. Louis, as they did earlier this year. The following week, the NFC Championship game is Tampa Bay at Green Bay. OK, I will grant you that it is improbable, but it could happen.

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