Friday, November 21, 2003

49er Week

The Packers' up and down season continues. After the stirring victory over the Vikings 3 weeks ago, they let one slip away against the Eagles the following Monday night. Then they put on a very impressive show to win against the Buccaneers in Tampa, and now here come the San Francisco 49ers to try to spoil things for them.

Before leaving the Buccaneer game, I just have to comment on two things. That 98.5 yard drive to win the game was one of the sweetest drives seen on a football field in a long time. As one of the TV guys said, if that drive happened in a playoff game, it would be as famous as Elway's "The Drive" against Cleveland years ago. It included what was probably Favre's best pass of the day, on third down from the 1, it included Packer dominance in the running game, and it included Mike Sherman's wonderful decision to go for it on 4th and 1 at the Buccaneers' 16 yard line. When Driver was stopped short of the first down, I hoped that Sherman would go for it, but was afraid he would chicken out, as so many coaches would do in that situation. I think he deserves congratulations for making a tough but great decision.

The other thing is the performance of the running game, but especially that of Najeh Davenport. You don't really expect the backup running back to have that kind of impact on a game, but when Green was out in the 4th quarter, the Packers didn't lose a thing when Davenport came in. In fact, it was probably on Davenport's 27-yard gain as part of the game-winning drive that my wife yelled out "That guy is like a truck!" I suppose you might even say that he is like a dump truck, if you were so inclined. But seriously, I like the way all the runners are playing, and of course lots of credit has to go to the offensive line, who also get credit for keeping that idiot Sapp away from Brett Favre, and for ending the Buccaneers' streak of games with a sack.

Moving on to the 49ers, last year I commented on the fact that the Packers have beaten the 49ers 90 percent of the time (9 out of 10 games) starting with that first playoff game played out here in San Francisco in January of 1996. Normally, this would be cause for a fair amount of confidence in Packer fans about this Sunday's game, except for three problems. First, the Packers' home field advantage seems to have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. They have ALREADY lost three games at Lambeau Field this year, never mind that horrible loss in the playoffs in January. Second, there is the little matter of Favre's broken thumb, and the weather forecast for Sunday: cold and rainy. The last time the weather was like that was the Eagles' Monday night game, and that didn't go too well for the Packers.

Third, the 49ers are playing against a backup quarterback on Sunday, Tim Rattay. I have commented on this before, but the Packers have had the weirdest way over the years of making backup quarterbacks look like one-game shoo-ins for the Hall of Fame. You can take any number of examples, but offhand I cannot remember a situation where the Packers played against a backup quarterback, made life miserable for him, and cruised to a victory. (If you can remember one, please email me so I will feel better about the whole deal.) Also, from what I have seen of him in the last two weeks, Rattay has looked pretty good. Last year, at the end of the Packers-49ers game, I thought Jeff Garcia made two critical errors which basically cost the 49ers any real shot at winning the game (and probably cost Mariucci his job, as well). The final mistake was throwing his fourth down pass to the tight end at the Packers' seven yard line. The pass was incomplete, but even if it had been completed, there was almost no chance that it would have resulted in a first down. To me, it was a case of not using the brain power to realize that you had better throw the ball in the end zone in a situation like that, even if the guy in the end zone is covered. From what I have seen, Rattay cannot be counted on to make that kind of stupid mistake, so the Packers need to make sure that the game is not close at the end.

Finally, we learned this week that Bob Harlan has been elected to the Packers' Hall of Fame. This is an honor that is richly deserved. Bob Harlan started the ball rolling that brought Ron Wolf, Mike Holmgren, Brett Favre and Reggie White to Green Bay, and led to one Super Bowl win and another one that got away. He also gets most of the credit for the renovation of Lambeau Field, which, despite the temporary jinx that seems to have caused, was absolutely essential for the long-term health and stability of the Packers. He has my sincere congratulations and thanks.

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