The task is clear...
Their record having descended to 6-6 following a Thanksgiving Day misadventure in Detroit, the Green Bay Packers face the need to win their four remaining games to entertain realistic hopes of making the National Football League playoffs for the third year in a row.
They begin the decisive stretch run Sunday (Dec. 7) when they host their primordial rivals, the Chicago Bears, in a Lambeau Field rematch before a sellout crowd (72,515).
Kickoff is set for 12 noon, CST (Wisconsin time).
It will be the 166th regular season meeting between the venerable neighborhood enemies, who have met more often than any two other teams in pro football history, the series dating back to 1921.
While idle over the weekend, the Packers closed to within one game of the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings (7-5), who fell to the Rams in St. Louis, 48-17.
The Bears, meanwhile, continued a late-season resurgence with a 28-3 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, their second win in a row. They thus enter Sunday's contest one game behind the Packers at 5-7.
Following the Bears matchup, the Packers will make back-to-back road trips to the West Coast - to San Diego Dec. 14 and to Oakland for a "Monday Night Football" matchup Dec. 22 before returning to "Lambeau" to host the Denver Broncos in their mutual season finale Dec. 28.
Packers GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman, assessing the challenge at hand for the Green and Gold, says of it, "There was very little room for error before the (Thursday) game and there is even less now."
THE TV-RADIO COVERAGE: Dick Stockton will voice the play-by-play for the Fox Sports Network telecast of Sunday's game and Daryl Johnston will provide the analysis. Bob Stenner produces and Sandy Grossman is the director.
The game also will be aired over the 62-station Packers Radio Network, with Wayne Larrivee calling the play-by-play and Larry McCarren contributing the analysis and commentary. The radio broadcast also will be available on www.packers.com to NFL Field Pass subscribers.
A RECORD-BREAKING DAY: Quarterback Brett Favre, who customarily is in primary focus on any football field, will officially take center stage at the outset of Sunday's 166th showdown with the Chicago Bears in Lambeau Field.
As soon as he takes his first snap, Favre will be playing in his 188th consecutive game and making Packers history. He will thus eclipse the team's all-time record, set by Hall of Famer Forrest Gregg, who played in 187 consecutive games in a Green Bay uniform over a 14-year career (1956, '58-70).
Favre, who tied Gregg's record in the Thanksgiving Day game at Detroit, launched his streak against the Buccaneers in Tampa Sept. 13, 1992, seeing action in a relief role in the second half. He relieved an injured Don Majkowski in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals the following week (Sept. 20), then was called upon to start against Pittsburgh Sept. 27 as Majkowski remained sidelined, and he has been Green Bay's starting quarterback ever since - 185 consecutive games, a total which represents an NFL record for quarterbacks.
THE SERIES: The Packers-Bears rivalry, born at the dawn of the "Roaring '20s," is in a class by itself...in frequency as well as intensity.
No other teams in the history of professional football have approached the perennial animus of the Packers' longtime vendetta with the Monsters of the Midway, which has been nurtured since 1921, when they met for the first time...in the Windy City.
For basic comparison, no other two teams in NFL annals have met as many as 150 times. The closest approximation, poetically enough, is to be found in the Packers' and Bears' respective series with the Detroit Lions, which have seen Chicago square off with the Lions 148 times and the Packers duel the Lions on 147 occasions.
And, although the Packers won the last six meetings with the Bears, the rivalry's intensity over the 82-year span of their "relationship" is well documented by the fact that 69 of their 165 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less.
It also is safe to say that no other series has been as closely contested, the scoring differential over the eight-plus decades of competition being a scant one point per game.
Surprisingly enough, in light of the series' storied intensity, it has generated only one overtime game. The sudden death scenario developed in the 1980 season opener in Lambeau Field, a contest which saw the Packers prevail by way of one of the most fortuitous plays in the Green and Gold's long history.
The score was tied at 6-6 in overtime when Bears defensive tackle Alan Page, a former Viking, barged through to block a Chester Marcol field goal attempt.
Providentially, the football bounced back to Marcol, who promptly took advantage of the opportunity, scooping up the football and sprinting 25 yards down the west sideline for the deciding score, untouched, to seal a 12-6 Green Bay victory.
Since the series' inception in '21, it has been twice interrupted, the first time in 1922, when the teams did not meet, and more recently in 1982, when the customary home-and-home series was expunged by a 57-day player strike.
Despite the storied animosity engendered by the rivalry, both teams have had periods of dominance. Currently, the Packers have won 17 of the last 19 meetings and will be in search of a seventh straight victory over the Bears, having won their first encounter of the year in Chicago's Soldier Field, 38-23 (Sept. 29).
The Bears, on the other hand, won eight straight during the '80s under the bellicose Mike Ditka.
Overall, the series currently is as close to parity as it has been in decades. The Packers have now won 76 games, the Bears 83, and there have been six ties.
THE COACHES: Invariably consistent and impeccably prepared, thoroughgoing Mike Sherman presided over more victories in his first three seasons (33) than any other head coach in Packers history, more than founder Curly Lambeau, more than Vince Lombardi and more than Mike Holmgren.
In so doing, Sherman also entrenched himself in what have become substantially expanded responsibilities (he attached the titles of executive vice president and general manager to his résumé in 2001 after just one season as head coach), leading Green Bay to three consecutive winning seasons and, in 2002, to its first division championship since 1997 en route to a second straight playoff berth, earning Sherman Staples 'Coach of the Year' laurels for the '02 season.
Shouldering the additional duties with typically total commitment, and literally without missing a beat, he maneuvered the Packers to back-to-back 12-4 records in 2001 and 2002, the Green and Gold thus becoming the winningest team in the NFL over that two-year span (24-8).
Moreover, the 12-4 marks have been exceeded by only four teams in the club's 82-year NFL history and the 12-12 parlay was only the second such coupling (12 or more victories in successive years) in team annals).
The possessor of a 39-21 overall record going into Sunday's showdown with the Chicago Bears, the 48-year-old Northborough, Mass., native has rivaled the accomplishments of the storied Lombardi over a comparable span, compiling a 33-15-0 record in his first three seasons (16-game campaigns) as opposed to Lombardi's 26-12-0 record over a similar stretch (two 12-game seasons and one 14-game campaign) while serving as the Packers' head coach and general manager (1959-61).
Sherman also has equaled another Lombardi achievement by leading the Packers into the playoffs in only his second season (2001) at the controls.
Along the way, Sherman has made Lambeau Field a somewhat hostile place for NFL rivals to visit. Since taking up residence at 1265 Lombardi Avenue in 2000, the Packers have forged an imposing 24-6 record in "Lambeau" under his leadership - the best regular season record in the NFL during that span, including the league's only perfect home record (8-0) in 2002.
The first man in a half-century to take on his tri-cornered roles - since founder Lambeau functioned as vice president, general manager and head coach in 1949 - Sherman brings multiple credentials to his responsibilities. They include a Super Bowl following the 1997 season, during which he was a member of the Holmgren coaching staff that led the Packers into Super Bowl XXXII against the Denver Broncos at San Diego.
It was to be the first of three consecutive years in the playoffs for Sherman, who returned to the postseason with the Packers in 1998 and as the offensive coordinator on Holmgren's staff at Seattle in 1999.
Sherman, now in his 26th year in his profession, launched his coaching career at Stamford, Conn., High School in 1978. He went on to coach in the college ranks for 16 years, including one year as offensive coordinator at Holy Cross and terms as offensive line coach at such highly respected programs as UCLA and Texas A&M.
Dick Jauron, who spent nine years as an assistant coach on the Packers' staff earlier in his career, is in his fifth year as head coach of the Chicago Bears and thus the elder statesman among NFC North head coaches.
His Sunday opponent, Mike Sherman, is in his fourth season as Green Bay's field leader, while Minnesota's Mike Tice is in is second full season as overseer of the Vikings and Steve Mariucci is completing his first year as head coach of the Detroit Lions.
Jauron, who coached Packers defensive backs from 1986 through 1994, earned NFL 'Coach of the Year' honors in 2001 after leading the Bears to the greatest single-season turnaround in team history with a 13-3 record (an eight-game turnaround from a 5-11 record in 2000).
En route, Jauron guided the Bears to their first division championship since 1990 and coached the team in its first playoff game since 1994.
Jauron became the first Bears coach to beat the Packers at Lambeau Field in each of his first two trips to Green Bay with a 27-24 win Oct. 1, 2000. Jauron's first Bears team had edged the Packers in "Lambeau," 14-13, in their '99 visit to Titletown.
Earlier, as Jacksonville's first defensive coordinator, he was instrumental in the Jaguars' initial success, which included three playoff berths in the franchise's first four seasons and a run to the 1996 NFC Championship Game against the Patriots.
Jauron began his coaching career with the Buffalo Bills in 1985, moving to Green Bay the following year, serving as defensive backfield coach under three different head coaches: Forrest Gregg (1986-87), Lindy Infante, (1989-91) and Mike Holmgren (1992-94).
As a collegian, Jauron played running back at Yale from 1970-72, where, for 27 seasons, he held the school's career rushing record with 2,947 yards. Drafted by the Detroit Lions in the fourth round of the 1973 draft, he played defensive back for the Lions form 1973-77 and was named to the Pro Bowl after the 1974 season. He joined the Cincinnati Bengals in 1978 and played with the Bengals until retiring after the 1980 season.
THE LAST TIME: The Bears, it seems safe to assume, have not forgotten their most recent encounter with the Packers. They were in the process of rededicating their renovated Soldier Field home on Chicago's lakefront the night of Sept. 29 and the Green and Gold dimmed the historic occasion by dispatching the Midway Monsters, 38-23.
Although a late Bears rally caused some temporary concern, the Packers led all the way in their 165th regular season showdown, sweeping to a 17-0 first quarter lead.
After the Bears pulled to within a touchdown in the fourth quarter (24-16), the Packers proceeded to emphatically settle the issue, quarterback Brett Favre presiding over two more scores, one on a 9-yard pass to wideout Javon Walker and the other on a 1-yard toss to tight end Bubba Franks to establish a 38-16 lead with only 4:21 remaining.
The Bears subsequently settled for a final, consolation TD by way of a one-yard Kordell Stewart run, finishing off a 13-play, 68-yard drive.
The Packers' early impetus stemmed from an explosive getaway by running back Ahman Green, who broke off left tackle on the sixth play of the game, veered to his right and streaked 60 yards down the sideline to a touchdown, with Bears tackle Phillip Daniels in futile pursuit.
Green was en route to a 176-yard rushing performance - the then-third-best in the Packers' 82-year NFL history - and on his way to supplanting Hall of Famer Tony Canadeo in third place on the team's all-time rushing list.
Ryan Longwell finished off the Packers' next possession with a 34-yard field goal, after which second-year pro Marcus Wilkins blocked a Chicago punt - the first such special teams contribution in more than six years - and Bhawoh Jue recovered at the Chicago 20-yard line to set up another score.
Two plays later, the Packers were in the end zone, Green again doping the honors, slashing off right tackle and into the end zone from 6 yards out.
The Bears' Paul Edinger next put the Bears on the board, kicking a 31-yard field goal.
Favre then mounted another major drive, maneuvering the Green and Gold 72 yards in 9 plays and finishing off the process with a 14-yard strike to fullback William Henderson. Longwell's conversion put the Packers up 24-3 before Edinger connected from 38 yards to make it 24-6 at the intermission.
The Packers went scoreless in the third quarter while the Bears managed to position Edinger for a third field goal, this one a 41-yarder that tightened the score to 24-9.
Then the Midway Monsters' Anthony Thomas broke off right guard early in the fourth quarter and cantered 67 yards to a touchdown that brought the Bears close and triggered the decisive, 2-touchdown response from Favre and his colleagues.
Favre, who had been plagued by six interceptions in the first three games of the season, was his old productive self on the road vs. the Bears, where he now owns an 11-1 record (10-1 at Soldier Field) against the Bears (he is 19-4 against them on a career basis).
Linebacker Na'il Diggs spearheaded a stout defensive effort, posting 12 tackles, 10 of them unassisted.
THE (NFL) STATISTICAL UPDATE: According to the latest official statistics from the Elias Sports Bureau, the Packers continue to lead the NFL in rushing with an average of 163.3 yards per game.
The Green and Gold, 22nd in passing overall, also still lead the National Football Conference in inside-the-20 scoring with a 67.6 touchdown percentage (25 TDs in 37 possessions).
Defensively, the Packers stand 19th overall (16th against the run and 20th against the pass). They also rank fourth in the NFC in defense-inside-the 20, having held the opposition to touchdowns on 48.6 percent of their possessions (17 TDs in 35 possessions).
Individually, Ahman Green now ranks second in NFC rushing and total yards from scrimmage with 1,383 yards in 262 attempts, a 5.3-yard average in the former, and with 1,721 yards in the latter, a total including 338 receiving yards.
The New Orleans Saints' Deuce McAllister leads the conference in both categories, with 1,393 yards rushing and 1,756 total yards from scrimmage.
Green continues to lead the NFC in non-kicker scoring with 84 points on 14 touchdowns, as well as in the production of first downs with 94 (78 rushing and 16 receiving).
He also shares conference lead in third-and-one rushing with a 100.0 percent success rate, based upon 7 conversions in as many attempts, and continues to own the top rushing effort of the season, his 192-yard performance against Philadelphia Nov. 10.
Quarterback Brett Favre again ranks fourth in NFC passing with an 83.3 rating, based upon 229 completions in 354 attempts for 2,358 yards and 22 touchdowns, with 18 interceptions.
He stands eighth in third-down passing with a 65.0 rating, his numbers including 59 completions in 102 attempts for 621 yards and 8 touchdowns, with 9 interceptions, and 11th in fourth-quarter passing with a 67.8 rating, based upon 58 completions in 91 attempts for 556 yards and 4 touchdowns, with 6 interceptions.
Defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila ranks eighth in the NFC in quarterback sacks with 6 and linebacker Nick Barnett is tied for 10th in interceptions with 3.
Among the specialists, punter Josh Bidwell ranks seventh in the NFC with a 41.6-yard average for 50 punts; placekicker Ryan Longwell seventh in kicker scoring with 80 points (35 of 35 PAT and 15 of 17 FG); and Antonio Chatman 10th in punt returns with an 8.8-yard average for 22 runbacks.