How it happened: Vonnie Holliday gets five cold, hard sacks

Packers defensive end kept Bills at bay in shutout victory

Former Packers DE Vonnie Holliday

In this new series, takes a look back at one of the team's single-game records and how the individual set the mark. The series continues with Vonnie Holliday's five-sack performance vs. Buffalo on Dec. 22, 2002.

GREEN BAY – Sack records are tricky.

Because sacks didn't become an official NFL statistic until 1982, sack records don't encompass as much history as rushing and receiving marks, and the like.

So when defensive end Vonnie Holliday set the Packers' single-game sack record with five late in the 2002 season, it came with the proverbial asterisk.

According to the team media guide, both Ezra Johnson (in 1978 at Detroit) and Dave Pureifory (in '75 at the LA Rams) recorded five sacks in a game for the Packers before the magical "official" date of 1982.

But that shouldn't take anything away from the dominant game Holliday had on a windy and chilly late December day at Lambeau Field.

A 25-mile-per-hour breeze made 27 degrees feel like 13, according to the league's official game summary, though many players told reporters it felt a lot colder than that.

More consequential, the weather made throwing the ball extremely difficult, and therefore offense was hard to sustain, even for two teams like the Packers and Buffalo Bills accustomed to the cold.

The two quarterbacks, Brett Favre and Drew Bledsoe, combined to complete less than 50 percent of their passes (33-of-49) and throw four interceptions. They had less than 300 yards passing between them.

The difference in the game was Holliday, who came into the game with just one sack on the season (he had missed six games due to injury). Yet the most notable element to his five-sack performance might be that he didn't even get his first sack until less than six minutes remained in the third quarter.

At that point, the Packers led just 3-0, and the Bills faced third-and-goal from the 5-yard line. Holliday's 10-yard sack forced Buffalo to try a 33-yard field goal, and kicker Mike Hollis missed it wide left.

Holliday's other four sacks all came fast and furious in the fourth quarter, and he forced fumbles on three of them.

With roughly 10 minutes left, on second-and-7 just after the Bills crossed midfield, Holliday got Bledsoe for a 7-yard loss. On the ensuing third-and-14, he got him again and got the ball out, with Packers teammate Jamal Reynolds recovering in Buffalo territory.

Four plays later, Favre found Donald Driver for an 11-yard touchdown for a 10-0 lead and what proved to be the final points of the day.

During Buffalo's last two possessions, Holliday got one more sack in each.

He forced a second fumble on a third-and-15 sack, which the Bills recovered, but they had to punt.

Then with less than two minutes left, he got sack No. 5 deep in Green Bay territory, and his third forced fumble. Teammate Cletidus Hunt recovered to preserve the shutout, just the second time the Packers had blanked an opponent since 1993.

In all, the defensive effort included six sacks (Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila had the other one), six turnovers, and just 185 total yards allowed.

The victory kept the Packers, who had already clinched the inaugural NFC North title, in contention for a first-round playoff bye and the conference's No. 1 overall seed. That chance was unfortunately squandered in a blowout loss on the road to the N.Y. Jets the following week.

Officially (that is, not including the aforementioned efforts of Johnson and Pureifory), Holliday's five sacks broke the previous team record of 4½ set by Bryce Paup against the Buccaneers in 1991.

Since Holliday got five, the only other Packers defender to record four sacks in a game was Gbaja-Biamila at Chicago in the 2004 regular-season finale. More recently, Clay Matthews (vs. Chicago in 2012) and Za'Darius Smith (at Minnesota in 2019) each had 3½ sacks in a game.

For Holliday, those five sacks actually turned out to be his last as a member of the Packers. The 1998 first-round draft pick had a career-high eight sacks his rookie year and recorded 32 sacks in all over five seasons before signing as a free agent with Kansas City in 2003.



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