Sunday, December 28, 2003

All on the Line

Is it any wonder that I hate the 49ers so much? This is being written Saturday night, after the 49ers failed, miserably, to offer the slightest bit of assistance to the Packers in their quest to make the playoffs. The Seahawks had a 1-6 record on the road going into this game, and the 49ers were 6-1 at home. Sounds like a good matchup for the 49ers, eh? And if the 49ers had won, the Packers would have been in the playoffs, period, no other games required, no strength of schedule analysis. Plain and simple.

So what did the 49ers do? After jumping off to a 14-0 start, they were outscored 24-3, and lost the game. This was not quite as outrageous a situation as the one I can recall from the 1980's, when the 49ers just had to play a decent game against a lesser opponent, which would have gotten the New York Giants into the playoffs, but, in the immortal words of Phil Simms, the 49ers "laid down like dogs", lost the game, and kept the Giants out of the playoffs. This time, they just played without any spark or inspiration from the second quarter on, apparently thinking more about their trips home than about the game at hand.

As a result, Packer fans need to buckle their seatbelts tomorrow, follow not just the Packer game, but get out their schedules and calculators to keep track of the other games as well. The only simple scenarios are these: (1) if the Packers win and the Vikings lose (not likely to happen), the Packers will win the division. (2) if the Packers win and the Cowboys win, then the Packers are the 2d wild card (unless the Vikings lose, in which case the Packers win the division). (3) if the Packers lose, they are out. Beyond, this, if the Packers win, the Vikings win, and Cowboys lose, it will come down to the strength-of-schedule tiebreaker, and the Packers will probably
be left out of the playoffs.

I can't go on any longer without acknowledging the awe-inspiring way Brett Favre and the Packers played on Monday night. I thought, Sunday night, that it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Favre would play Monday night,for reasons having nothing to do with his games-started streak, and having everything to do with his loyalty and commitment to his team and teammates. The thing I was less sure of was how he would play. I could imagine him playing really well (but not as well as he actually played), but I could also imagine one of those games where everything goes wrong, like that playoff loss at St. Louis two years ago. The result was unforgettable, and
I am happy that we were there to see it. Even my kids, who don't follow football as much as they used to, were quite impressed.

But to me, just as impressive as the way Favre played was the way his teammates played - especially the receivers. I have been watching these receivers all year, and they NEVER play as well as they played Monday night. With the exception of the potential touchdown pass at the start of the second half, the receivers seemed to catch anything anywhere near them. This game was a fitting tribute by Brett Favre to his father, and a great show of support from his teammates to Favre. As Mike Sherman said, he wishes he could put what they had going that night in a bottle and pull it
out any time it is needed.

A couple of comments about the scene at the Network Associates Coliseum. When the Packers' offensive starters were introduced, the first ten were booed (as expected) by the crowd, and then Favre got a semi-cheer from the crowd. I was listening to the Raiders radio guys at the time, and they characterized it as a "standing ovation" for Favre. A lot of people were standing (throughout the introductions), but to call it a standing ovation was quite a stretch in my view. It was nice, but let's not get carried away.

Then, when I watched the tape of the TV broadcast later in the week, I noticed that Madden and Michaels made quite a point at the beginning of the game about how they expected a lot of Packer fans, but not many showed up. One of them said "about 400 of them are here." Well, that is way off-base. I would guess maybe 20% of the crowd was made up of Packer fans. I was a bit disappointed with this - I really thought the crowd would be 30 or 35% Packer fans. But there were a lot of us there, and Madden and Michaels missed the boat. Finally, at the end of the game, my daughter noticed one of the Packer players was high-fiving people over in the Black Hole area, and she wondered what that was about. I was shocked, too, until I realized that it was Grady Jackson, a former Raider.

My predictions for Sunday, December 28. The Packers will win, I think pretty easily. There could be a letdown after the difficult and emotional week, but I think that the enthusiasm of the home crowd for Favre and the team will provide enough of a boost to keep things going. I think the Vikings will also win. They have had a lot of problems in the second half of the season, but I do not expect them to fall to the Cardinals like the Packers did back at the beginning of the year. And, I think the Cowboys will beat the Saints, even though the Cowboys, as I understand it, have now clinched a playoff berth as a wild card, and cannot be the division winner. So there is a chance of the kind of letdown by the Cowboys that could kill the Packers, but I don't think it will happen. These results would put the Packers in the playoffs as the second wild card.

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