This was one for the memory book...
There was, fittingly, high drama at the suspenseful end. With the Packers holding a vulnerable, 20-14 lead and the 49ers at the Green Bay 11-yard line in the closing seconds of the game, the Packers' defensive pressure harassed quarterback Jeff Garcia into throwing a harmless, fourth-down incompletion, sealing a Green Bay victory.
Along the way, there also was a classic, close-to-the-vest first half, which saw the 49ers leading at the intermission, 6-3 (two field goals to one) on a day when "taking care of the ball" was of the highest priority, swirling 18-to-35 mph winds making the process tricky at best.
Then, in sudden contrast, there was a freewheeling third quarter offensive display by the Packers, quarterback Brett Favre presiding - with a major assist from defensive colleagues Hardy Nickerson, Vonnie Holliday and Na'il Diggs - a collaboration that shot the Packers into a 17-6 lead less than 10 minutes into the period.
And then, inevitably, retaliation by the 49ers via wideout Terrell Owens, that trimmed the Packers' advantage to a field goal.
The Packers mustered one final drive midway through the fourth quarter, settling for a second Longwell field goal and, as it turned out, setting the stage for the 49ers' last-ditch bid.
Statistically, it was a relatively close contest, the Packers emerging with a 39-yard edge (302 to 263), but the Green and Gold had a marked advantage in time of possession, controlling the football for 36 minutes, 3 seconds, to the 49ers' 23 minutes, 57 seconds.
Much of the latter was traceable to Favre, the author of a remarkably efficient performance under the capricious conditions. He emerged from the soggy session with an impressive 100.7 passer rating, based upon 25 completions in 33 attempts for 201 yards and a touchdown - without an interception.
Although hampered by unfavorable field position in the early going, the Packers struck first, Longwell connecting from 48 yards out late in the first quarter to give Green Bay a 3-0 lead.
San Francisco's placekicking specialist, Jeff Chandler, then proceeded to kick the Niners into the lead in the second period, drilling home a 47-yard field goal at 9:34 of the period and a go-ahead, 41-yarder with only 7 seconds left in the first half.
The tempo picked up dramatically at the start of the second half. With Favre completing four of five throws en route, the Packers swept 79 yards in 9 plays to the game's first touchdown, registered by Ahman Green, who bolted through the middle into the end zone with only 3:58 gone in the third period.
The Packers were soon to strike again. The 49ers had just posted a first down following the ensuing kickoff when Nickerson deflected a Garcia pass at the line of scrimmage, the errant throw bouncing off the 49ers' Matt Willig and into the air. Holliday promptly picked the ball out of the air and set off to his right, shortly lateraling to Diggs, who rambled all the way to the San Francisco 29 before being run out of bounds, completing a 33-yard maneuver.
Favre had the Green and Gold in the end zone six plays later, firing a 5-yard dart to split end Donald Driver for the score.
If taken aback by this abrupt turn of events, the 49ers quickly regained their composure, winging 73 yards in 8 plays to score, a 45-yard Garcia-to-Owens collaboration completing the project. The 49ers then essayed the 2-point conversion and Garcia converted, slipping through the middle on a "draw."
The Packers next mounted a modest drive but it ended without profit when Longwell's 47-yard field goal attempt veered wide right early in the fourth quarter.
On the Packers' next possession, however, Favre orchestrated an 11-play, 53-yard march culminated by Longwell's 28-yard field goal.
And back came the 49ers for a final but fruitless foray.
In winning, the Packers overcame a halftime deficit to win on the road for only the sixth time since 1992. Three of those six games (including Sept. 30, 2001, at Carolina and Dec. 3, 2001, at Jacksonville) have come under Mike Sherman.
THE FAVRE FILE: Although weather conditions were hardly conducive to the production of imposing statistical numbers, quarterback Brett Favre managed to scale another significant plateau Sunday.
This time, he threw his 25th touchdown pass of the season, thus marking the seventh time in his 11-year Packers' career that he has thrown 25 or more TD passes in a season.
Favre, closing out the day with an imposing 100.7 passer rating (also made his 171st consecutive start, extending his NFL record for quarterbacks, and played in his 173rd straight game, second-longest streak in team annals behind Forrest Gregg's 187 straight).
Speaking of durability and longevity, Favre is rapidly approaching his 2,000th career drive. He enters Sunday's game against Buffalo having presided over 1,978.
THE GREEN FILE: Running back Ahman Green, rushing for 90 yards, made another visit to the Packers' record book Sunday in surpassing the 1,000-yard mark in rushing for the third consecutive year.
Green thus becomes only the third running back in team history to do so, following Jim Taylor, who had five such seasons in succession (1960-64) and John Brockington (3, 1971-73).
Green, who rushed for 1,175 yards in 2000 and 1,387 last season, has 1,057 to date this season, giving him a career total of 3,619, currently good for eighth place in Packers annals.
Ahman, with three pass receptions against the 49ers, also tied Jim Taylor for 19th place on the Packers' career list with 187 catches.
THE DRIVER FILE: Split end Donald Driver, easily having the best season of his four-year NFL career, lifted his game to a new and lofty statistical level, surpassing 1,000- yards in receiving for the first time.
Driver, with 4 catches for 42 yards against San Francisco, swelled his season total to 1,002, with two games remaining.
THE BARRY FILE: Rookie offensive tackle Kevin Barry, an undrafted free agent from Racine, Wis., and the University of Arizona, is the latest to enter the Packers' spotlight because of the team's ongoing injury "epidemic."
The 6-4, 325-pound Barry suddenly found himself starting the game at right tackle Sunday when veteran Earl Dotson's back locked up, forcing him to sit out.
Following the game, Barry said, "They came to me about an hour before the game and said, 'You're starting at right tackle,' and I said, 'OK.' "
GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman, meanwhile, had high praise for Barry's impromptu performance, asserting, "I thought he did a heck of a good job."
GM/HEAD COACH MIKE SHERMAN'S COMMENTS:
(on the performance and the result) "We were better and we obviously ran the ball better, converting on third down...That happened a bunch of times in our drives...I really felt like the thing that hurt us was that we only had four possessions (in the first half). The game was going so fast, I told them, 'This game's going to be over before you know it. It's flying by'.
"The fact that we were able to convert a touchdown on their turnover, with us being able to put up 14 points in the third quarter made a difference there."
(on the 49ers) "I felt that those guys were very determined to win the football game. We have a lot of respect for this organization as a football team - they have been putting points on the board, they've been moving the football...their defense is very multiple...they give you numerous problems. They do a fabulous job. I can't say enough about Steve (Mariucci) and his team.
"(Jeff) Garcia is a great quarterback, (Terrell) Owens is a great receiver...They have a bunch of great players that played hard today. I think both teams played hard. It was a heck of a football game and someone had to win and someone had to lose. It was that type of ball game...It could've happened to us, but it didn't."
(on the strategy) "It was a game of field position and possibly field goals. I knew a field goal could tie it up and put it into overtime and I don't like being in overtime on the road...We're pretty good at home, but winning on the road doesn't favor the visitor very often."
(on Brett Favre and the offense) "I thought Brett played a patient game...I thought our entire offense did some nice things when you consider the fact that right before the game, (offensive right tackle) Earl Dotson can't go and we had to go with another undrafted free agent rookie in Kevin Barry. That was a last-minute deal we had to contend with an hour and a half before the game. Coaches did a good job of getting Kevin ready and he had a heck of a ball game. We need to do more free agent work and not draft people, I guess, because our free agents are obviously doing a great job for us as well as our draft picks."
(on the game's ending) "We didn't break. We bent a little bit, but we didn't let them score the touchdown they needed to score to win the football game, so it ended perfectly."
THE PLAYER PERSPECTIIVE:
Quarterback Brett Favre: "I've played in a lot of games but that's one of the best games I've played in, on both sides of the ball...both San Francisco and the Packers. It was a well played game in terrible conditions."
(on Vonnie Holliday's interception) "The first drive in the second half was huge but the interception was the spark we needed. Both teams executed well and that was the only turnover that I can remember. It was just a freak thing. I was hoping that he would score. But we got a good drive out of it and got some points...But that was something that we needed because they played extremely well."
(on the difference in the game) "We just made some plays. That was the bottom line. They made some and we made some. I could point to any number of guys that made a catch, a run or a block. The difference in the game was that we made one more play than they did."
(on the conditions) "I was more conscious of taking care of the ball. We made some plays and that was nice to see. I don't think anyone anticipates that kind of rhythm."
Running back Ahman Green: (on the Packers-49ers rivalry) "It's a great rivalry. I'm a football fan and I've had an opportunity to watch it before I got to Green Bay. I followed it through my development in the NFL. I've watched the playoff games between these two teams and now to be a part of it, it's a great thing."
(on the conditions) "I had fun in these conditions when your whole uniform is soaked with dirt, mud and everything. You just go out there and be a kid, horse around and have fun."
Safety Darren Sharper: (on the significance of the win) "It was huge. We showed we could beat a quality team on the road in a playoff-like atmosphere."
(on stopping the 49ers on their final drive) "Stopping them in that situation gives us a boost of confidence. It's something that we needed to as a defense, shut them down in the final moments."
Defensive end Vonnie Holliday: (on his interception) "Hardy (Nickerson) hit him (Garcia) just as he threw, and the ball was deflected. I was able to pull it in. I tried to give a stiff arm, but that's not my forte. I pitched it (to Na'il Diggs) and, what do you know, he got caught by an offensive lineman. He's going to hear about that this week."
(on the 49ers' last drive) "All I could think of was 1998. But this time it wasn't Steve Young back there. It was Jeff Garcia. He too is a good quarterback. Fortunately, we were able to put some pressure on him. And you saw what happened when we did...We were able to stop them in the end."
-With Sunday's victory, the Packers edged ahead of the 49ers in their all-time regular season rivalry, one of the NFL's most tightly contested. They now have won 26 of their 52 meetings, the 49ers have won 25 and there has been one tie.
-The Packers own a 4-1 advantage over the Prospectors in postseason play.
-Under Mike Sherman, the Packers now are 20-3 when scoring first.
-The Packers have trailed at halftime in three consecutive games and, in each contest has engineered a touchdown drive on their initial second-half possession.
-Despite injuries at four of five positions along the offensive line, the Packers are rushing for 121.4 yards per game, their most in 17 years. They averaged 138.0 yards in 1985.
-Donald Driver went over the 1,000-yard receiving mark with a flourish, scaling the prestigious plateau with his 5-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter - his final catch of the day.
-Fellow receiver Terry Glenn has averaged 18.0 yards per reception over his last five games
-Brett Favre has been flashing an especially hot hand on third down of late, having completed 16 of his last 18 third down passes for 152 yards, 12 first downs and two touchdowns, with no interceptions (a 138.9 passer rating).
-With Sunday's game against the Niners being the second of the '02 season, the Packers have posted multiple turnover-less games in the same season for the first time since 1993, when they registered four. The Packers' first game this year without a turnover was at New England Oct. 13. Both were played in wet conditions.
-Vonnie Holliday's key, third-quarter interception was the second of his five-year NFL career.
-Nose tackle Rod Walker made his third consecutive start, his fourth of the year, stepping in for Gilbert Brown (knee).
-Offensive tackle Earl Dotson, meanwhile, saw an 11-game starting streak come to an end when his back locked up prior to the game and forced him to sit out.
-Defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt set a resounding tone for the Packers' defense on the opening play of the game, throwing 49ers running back Garrison Hearst for a one-yard loss.
-Ryan Longwell's 48-yard field goal in the first quarter was his 14th straight success, a personal career high. His string ended on his second attempt of the afternoon, a 42-yard effort which went wide right early in the fourth quarter.
-Wide receiver Terry Glenn made a key "defensive" play on a pass from Favre, coming back to the ball and batting it down to prevent an interception by San Francisco safety Tony Parrish, already in the waylaying process.
-Tight end Tyrone Davis was a major contributor on the Packers' drive to their first touchdown early in the third quarter, making 23- and 11-yard receptions to account for 34 of the 79 yards on the drive.
-J.J. Moses, added to the 53-man roster Saturday, made his debut as the Packers' designated returner Sunday, running back 6 kicks. He averaged 20.0 yards for 4 kickoff returns and 2.0 yards for 2 punt returns.
-Darren Sharper and Na'il Diggs paced the defense with 8 and 7 tackles, respectively, Sharper making 6 unassisted stops and Diggs 7.
-Defensive end Keith McKenzie made his second kickoff return of the season, returning the last KO of the first half 7 yards.
-Packers inactives Sunday included wide receiver Karsten Bailey, offensive tackle Earl Dotson, tight end David Martin, running back Maurice Smith, defensive linemen Gilbert Brown and Jamal Reynolds, linebacker Marcus Wilkins and designated Third Quarterback Craig Nall.