For the Packers, the running game has been a surging constant since the third week of the season. And it was there again Sunday, Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher amassing the imposing total of 243 yards - the team's second-best effort of the season - behind what has to rank as one of the premier offensive lines in team history.
But there was another, complementary force much in evidence this time as the Green and Gold posted a second straight victory - a smothering defense which held a potent San Francisco offense to less than 200 net yards all afternoon, statistically the defenders' first such effort of the season.
"It was our best performance against a quality offense this season," Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell said in post-game praise of his defense, which held the Prospectors to 192 yards overall - just 73 rushing - and without a touchdown until only 1:33 remained in the third quarter.
Offensively, things had a familiar look - with one early exception. For the most part, the offense pounded the 49ers on the ground, essaying a season-high 48 rushes and averaging an impressive 5.1 yards along the way, but there was a notable - and productive - departure on the Packers' opening offensive series.
On third down, quarterback Brett Favre, working out of the shotgun, launched a strike to wide receiver Javon Walker down the left sideline and No. 84 cantered into the end zone untouched with only 3:19 of the first quarter elapsed. The Packers went up 7-0 with Ryan Longwell's conversion.
A 66-yard collaboration, it was the Packers' longest pass play of the season.
Favre, who essentially had the luxury of throwing the football at his discretion with the running game carrying the load, later authored another TD throw, a 16-yard bullseye to wide receiver Robert Ferguson in the left corner of the end zone at the 6-minute mark of the second quarter to mount a 14-0 Green Bay lead.
The 49ers' Todd Peterson interrupted with a 24-yard field goal with 2 minutes left in the first half but Ryan Longwell then sent his colleagues into the locker room with a two-TD advantage by kicking a 38-yard field goal on the final play of the first half, padding Green Bay's lead to 17-3.
There the score remained until late in the third quarter when 49ers quarterback Tim Rattay found the voluble Terrell Owens in the left corner of the Green Bay end zone with a 24-yard throw as only 1:33 remained in the third quarter.
Longwell, who had been short with a 49-yard effort in the third period, connected from 37 yards midway through the fourth quarter to provide the Packers with a 20-10 lead and a measure of security shortly enhanced when Antuan Edwards intercepted a Rattay pass at midfield to end a budding 49ers drive, a contribution GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman later described as "a huge play."
Favre, closing out the day with a substantial 96.0 passer rating, threw the football only 15 times, completing 10 for 138 yards and the 2 touchdowns, with 3 interceptions.
The record-breaking Green, meanwhile, was spearheading the Packers' relentless rushing attack, harvesting 154 yards in 27 attempts.
Najeh Davenport, becoming more of a factor in the running game with each passing week, also was a major contributor with 62 yards in 11 attempts and Tony Fisher weighed in with 25 yards in 6 attempts.
The bristling defense, meanwhile, was sacking Rattay four times, Na'il Diggs, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Cletidus Hunt and Edwards each felling the 49ers field general. Diggs also emerged as the team's tackles leader with 8 stops, 7 of them unassisted.
THE GREEN FILE: Ahman Green, who has taken it upon himself to largely rewrite the rushing section of the Packers record book, was in rare statistical form Sunday.
By way of his 154-yard performance, he:
- Forged past John Brockington into second place on the team's career list with 5,128 yards;
- Set a new Packers single-season record by rushing for 100 yards for the eighth time this season (he shared the previous record, 7, with Jim Taylor, who set it in 1962); and
- Set another club record by rushing for 100 yards in a fourth consecutive game, breaking a record (3) he shared with Taylor (1962) and Dorsey Levens (1997).
With five games remaining to play, Green already has 1,326 rushing yards, the fifth-most in team history and only 61 yards short of his single-season high, 1,387 in 2001. Green also is only 148 yards short of the team's single-season mark, 1,474 yards, set by Taylor in 1962, and on pace to finish the season with a club record 1,928.
Green, with 1,654 yards overall, also is on pace to break his own team single-season record for total yards from scrimmage (1,981 in 2001). He would finish with 2,405 yards.
THE FAVRE FILE: For Brett Favre, a modest statistical afternoon was enhanced by the latest of innumerable career achievements. By throwing two touchdown passes, he padded his season total to 20 for the 10th consecutive season, thus tying the NFL record set by the Miami Dolphins' Dan Marino (1983-1992).
Favre, by throwing a touchdown pass in a 20th consecutive game, the second-longest streak in Packers history, is now within two games of the record, 22, set by Cecil Isbell over the 1941-42 seasons.
From the durability perspective, Favre closed to within one game of the team record (187 by Forrest Gregg) by playing in his 186th consecutive game.
He also made his 184th consecutive start, extending his NFL record for quarterbacks. It also is the longest current streak for any active NFL player, regardless of position.
THE LONGWELL FILE: It was a day for record-breaking.
Placekicker Ryan Longwell joined in the assault by kicking the 174th field goal of his seven-year career, his second field goal of Sunday's game eclipsing the standard (173) set by Chris Jacke (1989-96).
Longwell surpassed Jacke's record at 7:44 of the fourth quarter with a 37-yard field goal which closed out the Packers' scoring for the afternoon.
With eight points for the day, Longwell also became only the third player in team annals to score 800 points in a career. He now has 802 points and, with five games remaining in the regular season, is only 18 points behind Jacke, second on the career list with 820, and 21 behind record-holder Don Hutson (823).
GM/HEAD COACH MIKE SHERMAN'S COMMENTS:
(on injuries) "Nick Barnett sprained his ankle in the game; he returned to actually play some base downs, but was hampered a little bit. We taped it up on the sidelines and we will have to wait and see tomorrow to see how he turns out. Obviously with a short week there is concern there. Al Harris had a stinger during the game; he left but was able to return there. Kenny Peterson sprained his MCL, he came out of the game, did not return. Sharper, on that great play he made ended up maybe bruising a rib and he was not able to return to the ballgame."
(on rushing game's ability) "Well it's the line, the tight ends, the fullbacks, and the backs, and the receivers as well, blocking. I mean it is not just the offensive line although they have done an outstanding job this season - I can't say enough about them. They have performed up to their level of expectation. I expected us to be like this last year, unfortunately we lost our guys. But they really are doing a fantastic job. Larry Beightol, Joe Philbin, the two line coaches have done a great job with them as well."
(on why the defensive improvement) "Well, when you have transition like we had and I revamped the defense early in the season as you well know, and put that on me, it takes a while for guys to get used to one another; how they are going to fit in to certain schemes and how if we play certain things, and that was a big part of that. I do think, however, that several new faces have brought some chemistry to our defense as well and has been well received by our guys and I think they have helped us. But the guys who have been here are stepping up and making plays on a pretty consistent basis, at least they have for the last three or four weeks."
(on Brett's interceptions, whether the thumb was a factor) "I don't think so. The first one was a bullet throw - he just threw it, I believe, a little high. Bubba was open, he pulled up to make the throw and he missed it. So I don't think the throw was affected by the thumb. Let's face it, he does have a broken thumb, it is sore, and maybe there is something there, but I don't think it effected that throw."
(on success vs. the 49ers) "I take success individually one at a time. I don't look at it cumulatively because things change very dramatically in this league. We have been fortunate to have beaten them; they are always close, hard fought games. This game as well could have been either way, fortunately for us it worked out in our favor. You don't normally throw three turnovers, three picks and win a football game. We're minus two in the turnovers and won. We are very fortunate that that happened. Our defense responded extremely well, but no I don't think we have anything over the 49ers. They are a great organization. I visited with Coach Walsh before the game and Dennis is a great coach. That organization has great history and tradition and I have a lot of respect for all that they have done and accomplished and are still accomplishing."
(on building momentum) "We have won two in a row before once this season, unfortunately only once, so I wouldn't say momentum is anywhere yet. I think momentum is after four games, not two games. But, we haven't lost anything put it that way."
(on Antuan Edwards) "Antuan has been working hard and getting better. One thing about Antuan - he has been an injured player since he's been here so...and he is still is a little bit banged up. Antuan Edwards has really come into this season and worked and worked and worked and made steady progress. I am really happy for him, (he's) very deserving of what he accomplished today and he had a significant role in our win today."
THE PLAYER PERSPECTIVE:
Quarterback Brett Favre: (on offense) "In those types of conditions, that was the type of game we wanted to play. They knew, we knew it, but they were not able to stop us. Talking to some of (the 49ers) the guys the last couple of plays, they were just so impressed with our offensive line and how well they block and how aggressive they are. It's kind of a weekly thing now, but it's not bad. You've got to give credit to our running backs, too. We've got three good ones."
(on role of passing game) "We all know we can run the football, even when the opposing team knows it. Probably sooner than later, they'll come a time when we'll have to throw it and we have the guys that can go get it. I think that's obvious. Javon Walker, the first one that he caught, was actually a 15-yard out and he just ran by the guy and I happened to catch him and he made a great catch. (Robert Ferguson) actually had off-coverage to Donald (Driver) on the other side. I just liked the match-up with Fergy and threw him a back shoulder ball and he made a great catch. We're capable of throwing the ball down the field and making plays, it doesn't have to be perfect every time, but there has to be shot-plays we can design off of our run."
(on running game) "We're 6-5 and we're not exactly where we want to be, but we are fighting our way back. When you have the offensive line that we have and the running backs that we have, we would be dumb not to utilize that in that area. It's not a knock on the rest of our skill guys. When called upon, so far, guys have made plays in the reception department. Javon made a great play today. From my standpoint, I don't mind it a bit. I don't, because when you run the football the way we are, and say they do start stopping us, you're going to have a one-on-one somewhere - like I did today, the one to Fergy. Instead of taking the easy throw to the off-corner, I take the bump-and-run-guy just because I like that match-up. It's kind of lie and wait, which is not a bad thing to do."
(on win at Lambeau) "I think back to last year and the year before, there was just a certain confidence. Even when we didn't play that well, we won. We were able to overcome mistakes or the way the opposing team was playing. The games we've lost this year, we haven't been able to do that here. Last year with Minnesota here, they jump up and for whatever reason we come back and everyone expects that. This year, we kind of lost that a little bit, so it was nice to win."
Running back Ahman Green: (on moving to second all-time) "I'll say I'm proud of it, because I'm in a long line of running backs to play here, so I'm very proud of that, but we still have a job to do in terms of the next month-and-a-half of football to play. Probably when the season is done - late April, March, or May, I'll look at it, but not right now. We've got to look on to Detroit."
(on long plays opening up offense) "Hitting them with a big run early in the game or with a big pass keeps the defense honest from blitzing or a lot of zone or cover 2 pass defense. It just keeps them guessing, which is good, because when you have a defense guessing you can do what you want offensively, running and passing the ball."
(on key to running success) "We're basically just doing our jobs. We practice hard week-in and week-out and basically doing what we're supposed to do and that's what's in the playbook. We're learning our playbook and knowing what guys we've got to block, what guys we've go to read and what guy's I've got to read to get the ball up-field. We've just basically been consistent with that part and that's what's making our job easier. Our heads are in the playbook and we know as long as we keep doing the simple stuff, the consistent stuff, everything turns out better when you look at the big picture."
(on his play being at an all-time high) "There's a lot of different variables from being with the offensive line for four years now, from being with Brett for four years and running this offense for five years, since my second year in Seattle, and all of that coming together. I don't have to think much out there. I know the play as soon as I hear it, so I go run it. It's the same with the guys up front. They've been together for a while now. They know each other, we know each other, so when you have a group like that, it's kind of hard not to go out there and do what we do."
Wide receiver Javon Walker: (on his touchdown reception) "It was a big play on third down. The (defender) was playing bump press. Usually when a guy is playing bump press like that, with no free safety help, you have to try and take them deep and that's what happened."
(on significance of win) "The win put us in a position where we can be where we want to be at the end of the season - in the playoffs. The more we keep going and going and making corrections, the more we'll be where we want to be at the end of the season."
(on receivers complementing run game) "The way the run game is going now, (the receivers) have got to go with it. Whatever we do as receivers, we have to play a part in whatever the running game is doing."
-Still Undefeated: Mike Sherman maintained his "perfect" record against San Francisco with Sunday's victory. He now is 4-0 against the 49ers, record including regular season victories over the Prospectors in 2000 and 2002, in addition to Sunday's success, and a Wild Card Playoff victory in Lambeau Field (25-15) following the 2001 season (Jan. 13).
-Sunday's success was the Packers' fifth in a row over the 49ers, the streak including four regular-season contests and a Wild Card Playoff game, the latter following he 2001 season.
-The victory also marked the ninth consecutive year that the Packers have defeated the 49ers. They are 10-1 against the Prospectors (including playoffs) since 1995.
-The Packers defense, getting off to an explosive start, registered three quarterback sacks in the first quarter, Na'il Diggs felling 49ers quarterback Tim Rattay for a 9-yard-loss, tackle Cletidus Hunt next weighing in with a 7-yard trap of Rattay and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila finishing off the "hat trick" with a sack for zero yards.
-The Packers have averaged more than 4 yards per rushing attempt for the last 8 games, a team record.
-Wide receiver Robert Ferguson, who scored what proved to be the Packers' winning touchdown on a 16-yard reception in the third quarter, also was a potent factor on special teams. He made a resounding tackle on 49er Cedrick Wilson's return of the game's opening kickoff to the San Francisco 24-yard line, then line triggered Ryan Longwell's 38-yard field goal, which came on the final play of the first half, with a 31-yard kickoff return that provided the Packers with excellent field position at their 44-yard line. Ferguson also posted three other special teams tackles.
-Javon Walker's 66-yard scoring reception was the longest of his pro career. It also was the packers' longest pass play since Nov. 17, 2002, when Favre hooked up with Donald Driver on an 84-yard pass-run touchdown against the Vikings at Minneapolis.
-It didn't take running back Najeh Davenport long to make an impact. Inserted to spell Ahman Green early in the second quarter, he settled for 3 yards on his first rushing attempt, then burst off left tackle on a 25-yard excursion to the San Francisco 27, from where the Packers scored two plays later.
-Davenport contributed another key run midway through the fourth quarter, barging for 17 yards to the San Francisco 20-yard line and a first down in a third-and-2 situation. Four plays later, Ryan Longwell kicked his second and final field goal of the game.
-Punter Josh Bidwell enjoyed a quiet afternoon "at the office." Because of the Packers' offensive efficiency, he was not required to punt until 8:12 remained in the third quarter, and finished the day with just 2 punts.
-Antuan Edwards' fourth-quarter interception was his first of the season and the seventh of his 5-year NFL career. It punctuated a career-best performance for the fifth-year professional, one which also saw him throw Terrell Owens for a 4-yard loss on an attempted en-around and shortly thereafter a sack 49ers quarterback Tim Rattay for a 7-yard loss.
-Brett Favre was wearing a Bart Starr jersey (15), a gift from Packers strength/conditioning coach Barry Rubin, when he appeared for his post-game press conference Sunday. "I told him (Rubin) I might as well wear it," Favre said, "because before too long, they'll be wearing mine around here." Starr's number was retired in 1973. It is one of four to be retired, along with those of Don Hutson (14), Tony Canadeo (3) and Ray Nitschke (66).
-David Martin started the game as a second tight, replacing fullback William Henderson.
-Packers captains for Sunday's game included guard Mark Tauscher and wide receiver Donald Driver (offense), safety Antuan Edwards and linebacker Nick Barnett (defense) and running back Najeh Davenport (special teams).
-Packers inactives Sunday included offensive linemen Marcus Spriggs and Brennan Curtin, linebackers Marcus Wilkins and T.J. Slaughter, defensive end Jamal Reynolds, cornerback Derek Combs and safety Curtis Fuller and Designated Third Quarterback Craig Nall.