Ah, man, what a victory
At 3-4, there's still hope for the playoffs Monday, October 16, 2000
Green Bay Press Gazette

At 3-4, there's still hope for the playoffs

By Bob Berghaus

Just a few years ago, a game between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers would have been one that could have given the winner home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

But this isn't 1996 or 1997. It's 2000, and both of these two former Super Bowl champions are likely headed to a second consecutive year of missing the playoffs.

The Packers, though, by virtue of their 31-28 victory on Sunday before a crowd of 59,870 at Lambeau Field, will at least be in the periphery of this year's playoff picture longer than the 49ers, who dropped to 2-5.

The Packers broke a two-game losing streak, go into the bye week with a 3-4 record and are among a handful of teams that can realistically talk about the playoffs.

"We've got a chance to make a push for the playoffs," safety LeRoy Butler said. "That would have been hard to do at 2-5."

But it's still going to be difficult at 3-4 because the Packers have the light part of their schedule out of the way.

Following the bye, the Packers play Miami, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Indianapolis -- all considerably better than this year's version of the 49ers.

Trying to evaluate Sunday's victory is hard because the 49ers aren't a good team. The Packers' point production, a season high, came against a defense that entered the game ranked last in the NFL.

What did stand out, though, is that the Packers didn't start poorly like they did in losses to Chicago and Detroit, and they played four quarters without committing a turnover, which was a huge accomplishment.

"We didn't bury ourselves in the first quarter like we have in the past," Packers coach Mike Sherman said. "We went up 7-0 and for the most part held the lead for the game.

"Not burying ourselves with turnovers certainly helped us."

But the Packers weren't able to put away an inferior opponent after leading 21-7 and 28-21.

San Francisco quarterback Jeff Garcia effectively used his talented group of receivers to pass for 336 yards and four touchdowns. He was sacked twice and pressured several times, but still completed 27 of 42 passes and led the 49ers to 21 points after halftime.

Garcia was barely outdone by Packers quarterback Brett Favre, who completed 20 of 27 passes for 266 yards and guided the Packers on a nine-play, 44-yard drive that set up Ryan Longwell's game-winning, 35-yard field goal with 54 seconds remaining.

After a 10-yard offensive pass interference penalty on Bill Schroeder on the first play of the drive put the Packers in a first-and-20 situation on their 29, Favre completed a 14-yard pass to tight end Bubba Franks, then scrambled for 11 yards and a first down on the 49ers' 46.

Three plays later, the Packers were at the 25 and Favre called three straight running plays to set up the field goal that capped his 17th game-winning drive, tying him with Bart Starr for most in Packers history.

"I've told our guys, 'We can score, we can do whatever we want,' " Favre said when asked about an offense that's lacked consistency this season. "You just have to believe in it and you have to make plays when the opponent is there. It's not always going to be the way it's practiced or the way it's drawn up on the board, so you have to be able to react. Today was one of those days. You hope you can build for this and carry it over into the next week."

Favre, who turned 31 last Tuesday, didn't flinch when plays broke down Sunday.

On a 67-yard touchdown connection with receiver Antonio Freeman in the first quarter, Favre stepped up to avoid a blitz and threw to Freeman as he cut across the field. Freeman gained 51 yards after the catch and used a terrific downfield block by receiver Donald Driver to get into the end zone.

I was able to find a crease in their defense," Freeman said. "Brett jumped up and was improvising and hit me on the run. I was able to catch it and stay in stride and enough can't be said about the block Donald Driver gave me downfield. He stayed with the guy 3 to 5 seconds and that's a long time to stay with a block."

In the fourth quarter, Favre was being chased toward the left sidelines when he stopped and threw back across the field to running back Dorsey Levens, who turned a broken play into a 37-yard gain. That helped set up the Packers' last touchdown and broke a 21-21 tie.

"Favre has been taking the slack," Freeman said. "He's still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL."

"We let Favre make a couple plays on the last couple drives, getting out of the pocket and doing some of those miraculous things," 49ers coach Steve Mariucci said.

In addition to Favre, the Packers received nice offensive performances from Levens, who rushed for 57 yards and caught four passes for 42 yards; Ahman Green, who ran for two touchdowns; and Freeman, who caught six passes for 116 yards.

"I always say and I stand firm in my belief that if I can get the ball in my hands five to six times a game I can do something productive for our offense and put us in situations where we can win games and be successful," Freeman said.

The Packers were successful Sunday, which was important for them going into the bye week.

"I'm certainly happy we won this game," Sherman said. "It certainly makes the bye week a little more enjoyable. It builds our confidence and hopefully we can take another step."

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