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Butler: Wild Card Win Should Build Confidence


After Al Harris' 52-yard interception return to beat the Seattle Seahawks in overtime, he walked up to me and said, "You called it."

No, I didn't have anything to do with Harris' outstanding decision to jump Alex Banister's route and make the game-winning pick, but I had told him earlier in the game that he would be the one to win it for the Packers.

Boy, did he!

As a former safety, I can't tell you how good it feels to see Harris make a play like that. Really, it's any defensive back's dream. And the play couldn't have been made by a better guy.

But Harris' interception started with a gutsy call made by defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, who saw the formation the Seattle Seahawks were lined up in, called timeout and decided to bring the house.

The 'Thriller' blitz is an overpopulation blitz where you bring more players at the quarterback than the Seahawks have left to block. The result is usually a quick throw.

Being a veteran cornerback, Harris knew what Matt Hasselbeck was going to do with the ball and jumped the route. From there it was an easy interception.

But make no mistake, if Harris had guessed wrong on that play or the pressure hadn't come fast enough, Hasselbeck might have found a way to get Bannister the ball, and from there it would have been clear sailing for a Seattle score.

Harris didn't let that happen. He also didn't take the conservative route and just play the receiver after the catch.

That play happens so fast that the only way Harris makes the pick is by making up his mind beforehand that he's going to jump the route. On the other side of the field, Mike McKenzie made the same decision and would have been there if Hasselbeck looked right instead of left.

It takes plays like that to win in the playoffs.

I think many fans thought the Packers were going to walk all over the Seahawks because of Seattle's struggles on the road, but nothing comes easy in the postseason.

After the way the Packers came from behind against Seattle, they should feel better about themselves than they have all season.

It was a close game, but the Packers have to be encouraged by the fact that they took all of Seattle's best punches and were able to punch back each time.

Now, I know a lot of fans are ready to jump off the defense's bandwagon since Seattle put up 27 points and made the game-tying drive at the end of regulation. But before you do that, remember the fact that the Packers defense didn't lay down.

In overtime, they didn't just make one stop, they made two. And it was the Packers defense that scored to end the game.

During regulation, the defense also came up with some big three-and-outs.

Sure, Seattle moved the ball well at times and put up points, but they're a good offensive team and other than the final play of the game, Hasselbeck was flawless.

Remember how I said going in that the Seahawks liked to play fast? Well, that caused the Packers some problems early on.

The Seahawks hardly ever lined up the same way twice. Four receivers, three receivers, two tight ends, three tight ends, two backs, no backs, they were full of different formations. And there were times when the Packers had to do the best they could with the guys they had on the field.

That's why sometimes you saw middle linebacker Nick Barnett lined up on a wide receiver. That's the kind of mismatch Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren was looking for.

But on offense the Packers gave Seattle some of their own medicine.

When Shawn Springs got hurt, for example, the Packers went right after backup Ken Lucas.

Completing 26 of his 38 passes for 319 yards, Brett Favre was absolutely tremendous.

I know that he's made throwing in those cold conditions look easy over the years, but it's not. And there were at least five plays during the game when Packers players dropped balls or when Favre's passes were tipped away at the last second.

He really couldn't have been more on the money, and his leadership is second to none.

Meanwhile, Seattle was doing everything it could to shut down Ahman Green and the running game. But give credit to the Packers for grinding it out.

Seventy-eight yards might not sound like much, but it's much better than the 49 of Seattle. And by sticking with the run, the Packers were able to go to play-action and make more plays in the passing game.

Besides, the two biggest offensive plays of the day came in the running game when Ahman Green made 2-yard gains on fourth-and-1.

The 2-yarder near the goal line was one of Green's most impressive runs all season, keeping his legs moving to plow right through Anthony Simmons' attempt at a backfield tackle.

Green wouldn't have been in position to make that play had GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman not made the aggressive call to go for it on fourth down rather than play it safe. And for that the coaching staff deserves high praise.

Having said that, I know many of you are frustrated that the Packers chose to run the ball with Green in the final play before Ryan Longwell's 47-yard field goal attempt at the end of regulation.

A lot of you think the Packers should have passed the ball for an easy 5-10 yards.

But even though I would have put the ball in Favre's hands on that play, I respect the fact that Tom Rossley knows this offense better than anyone and thought he could get the 5 yards the Packers were looking for by running out of the shotgun and catching the Seahawks off guard.

I know it didn't work, but that's football. There are no guarantees that Favre and his receivers would have made the play either, but at this point you have to feel pretty confident in him throwing to any of his top three guys: Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson and Javon Walker.

Speaking of Walker, what a game he had with his five catches for 111 yards! Very quickly, Walker is making the transition from being just a receiver to being a playmaker, and that's exciting to watch.

I was also happy to see Bubba Franks get involved in the passing game again.

I've said all season long that eventually Franks would have his chance to make plays, and he made the best of it against Seattle. The only reason he was open on his 23-yard touchdown catch was because he made a great read against the defense before snagging the rocket thrown by Favre that whistled through the wind.

Time and time again against Seattle, the Packers made plays when they were needed, and that's why they're moving on.

The Philadelphia Eagles are an awfully tough opponent to face on the road, but you have to like the way the Packers are continuing to grow and improve even in the playoffs.

The games don't get any easier from here.

In a match-up between playoff teams, both clubs are going to land punches. When the dust clears, you just hope that your team is the one to get up and punch back.

This Packers team has a lot of fight in it. And Harris' interception showed they also have a knack for the knockout blow.

*LeRoy Butler played 12 seasons for the Green Bay Packers, helping them to two Super Bowls and earning NFL All-Decade Honors for the 1990s, before retiring in July 2002. This season Butler is providing exclusive analysis to with a breakdown of the upcoming game on Saturdays and a column and Q&A session on Tuesdays.

Butler's autobiography, 'The LeRoy Butler Story ... From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap,' is available on his website,*

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