Wednesday, December 25, 2002

We're Number Two!

“We’re Number Two! We’re Number Two!”

Okay, maybe it doesn’t have the same ring as the more traditional “We’re Number One” cheer, but in the NFL, being the number two seed in the playoffs is a vast improvement over being the number three seed. I didn’t really think that the Packers would move up to the number two seed. The Eagles refuse to lose a game (and they continued to win this week), and even though the Buccaneers have looked a little shakier in recent weeks, I didn’t really expect them to lose at home on Monday night.

As for the Packers’ win over Buffalo, for the second time this month, a Packer player played through a personal tragedy. In this case, Vonnie Holliday learned on Saturday that his second cousin, a rising star high school athlete, had collapsed and died that day. Holliday had to break the news to his relatives, many of whom had flown in on Saturday for the Packers’ game against the Bills. Holliday not only played Sunday, he set a team record for sacks in a game, by sacking Drew Bledsoe five times and forcing three fumbles in the process.

The Packers, by beating Buffalo, became the only team in the league this season to go undefeated at home. That is a matter of pride for the Packers and their fans. Mike Sherman emphasized this point by going around the stadium with several players after the game, to offer “high fives” to the fans, and by stating in his post-game comments that the Packer fans are undefeated this year at home.

The most striking thing about the game itself, other than Vonnie Holliday’s performance, was the wind. Both Sherman and Favre were emphatic in their post-game comments that the wind was MUCH worse than the previous week at San Francisco (not to mention that it was a lot colder). It was swirling, and moving mostly across the field (whereas in San Francisco it moved from one end of the field to the other), so that it was very difficult to either predict, or compensate for it. Sherman said that when the wind affects Brett Favre’s throws, you really know it is windy. Favre said that this was the worst combination of wind and cold in which he has played.

Then on Monday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers, another franchise with a storied history, did their friends from Green Bay an enormous favor by beating the Buccaneers, 17-7. It was the greatest gift from the Steelers franchise since the famous “Yancey Clause” game on Christmas Eve of 1995. In that game, Yancey Thigpen dropped what should have been a touchdown pass in the end zone late in the game, ensuring the Packers would win the NFC Central Division for the first time in the Brett Favre/Mike Holmgren era. The Buccaneers’ loss, combined with the Packers’ win over Buffalo, moved the Packers past the Buccaneers and, at least temporarily, into the number two seed in the playoffs. If they stay there, they will get a week off to get healthy before starting the playoffs at home, and in my judgment a much improved chance of hosting the NFC Championship game.

To maintain the number two seed, all the Packers have to do is beat the Jets in New Jersey on Sunday. That won’t be easy, as the Jets are playing pretty well. But the Packers, overall, are a better team, and therefore can and should win this game. If you want to get a little greedier, you could hope for the Giants to beat the Eagles on the same field in New Jersey on Saturday. If the Packers win and the Eagles lose, the Packers become the number one seed, and then we can all use the more traditional version of the cheer. The Eagles really could lose to the Giants, as the Giants have played very well in recent weeks, but then I have been saying that the Eagles were bound to lose some games ever since Donovan McNabb was injured.

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