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AP Story: Packers Capture Division Title With 31-3 Victory Over Denver


The biggest cheer at Lambeau Field came for a play more than a thousand miles away that got the Green Bay Packers into the playoffs.

Ahman Green reeled off a 98-yard touchdown run and Brett Favre completed a hard week in which he buried his father back in Mississippi to lead Green Bay to a 31-3 rout of the Denver Broncos.

But it was at the 2-minute warning when the Arizona Cardinals completed an amazing last-second comeback to beat Minnesota and give Green Bay an improbable NFC North title that the place went wild.

"I've never heard a crowd cheer that loud for a 2-minute warning before," linebacker Nick Barnett said.

The Packers, who had little hope of playing into January only moments earlier, celebrated wildly on the sideline after their crowd, listening on radios, broke into frenzied elation over the fourth-down miracle.

Favre sauntered over to the stands and twirled his right arm around as if whipping up the crowd with a rally towel.

Instead of going home, the Packers (10-6) will host the Seattle Seahawks (10-6) and former coach Mike Holmgren on Sunday. Green Bay won the first meeting 35-13 on Oct. 5.

Green set a franchise record with 218 yards rushing and ran for two scores, giving him 20 and breaking Jim Taylor's record of 19 set in 1962. He ran for a team record 1,883 yards this season.

Favre finished with the most touchdown passes (32) in the league for a record-tying fourth time.

But it looked as though the Packers would miss out on the postseason party despite a 4-0 December as the Vikings built a 17-6 lead in the waning minutes at Arizona.

Then, Josh McCown threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Nate Poole as time expired to rally the Cardinals to an 18-17 victory. The Packers knew it by listening to their 70,299 fans going wild.

"I thought we fumbled the football," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.

The turnabout was so extraordinary that Favre, still struggling with his father's death, suggested something spiritual was taking place.

"I've been around people who have lost a family member or have lost someone close to them and they say that person's there watching or angels, whatever," Favre said. "I would say two weeks ago I didn't really didn't believe in that, but I think we'd better start believing in something.

"Because the odds were against us and they were really against us at the end of the Arizona game."

The Broncos (10-6) sat seven starters, including quarterback Jake Plummer, after clinching an AFC wild-card berth last week, but it was no cakewalk until late in the game.

With the Packers clinging to a 10-3 lead, Green rumbled 47 yards to set up his 2-yard TD run.

Adrian Madise returned the kickoff 83 yards to the Green Bay 12, however.

After a goal-line stand by the Packers, Green broke free for a franchise record 98-yard touchdown, the longest ever by the Packers and the longest ever against the Broncos.

"I told the guys in the huddle, 'Hey, let's get out of here to give us some room to punt,"' Favre recounted. "I hadn't even turned around from my fake and Ahman was crossing the 50."

On the ensuing kickoff, Madise was stripped at the goal line by James Whitley and Marcus Wilkins recovered in the end zone for a 31-3 lead. The touchdowns occurred 8 seconds apart.

The Broncos, who open the playoffs at Indianapolis on Sunday, won't lose any sleep over the blowout.

"It could have been 100-0, it wouldn't have mattered," defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "They were not the Colts, so who cares?"

Favre passed for nearly 400 yards and four touchdowns in Oakland last Monday, less than 24 hours after the death of his father. He wasn't nearly as sharp Sunday after spending most of the week with his family.

Favre, who returned to practice Friday, was 12-for-21 for 116 yards and a touchdown in strong winds.

Still, the Packers drove 80 yards in 12 plays on their opening possession, capped by Bubba Franks' 2-yard touchdown catch after a deflection by linebacker Jashon Sykes.

"That first drive was the drive that won the game for us as it turned out," Favre said. "We didn't put up numbers like we did Monday night, but we did rush 'em." Ahman Green had an unbelievable game."

And Arizona provided the amazing finish.

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