Throughout the practice week, Mike Sherman repeatedly cautioned his team about the Chicago Bears and their 3-8 won-lost record, warning, "I assure you that we will see their best."
For the better part of 2-1/2 quarters in Sunday's 164th collision between the neighborhood enemies, his words proved prophetic. Midway through the third period, the Bears - who had stepped out to an early 14-3 advantage - were clinging to a 14-13 lead and in menacing position with a first down at the Packers' 1-yard line.
Then, abruptly, the Green and Gold began to turn the tide. Rod Walker, filling in at nose tackle for the injured Gilbert Brown, recovered Chicago quarterback Jim Miller's fumble at the Green Bay 2 to defuse the Bears threat and accelerate a Packers comeback.
Minutes earlier, the revival had been launched at the start of the second half, quarterback Brett Favre guiding the Green and Gold to their first touchdown of the day, finishing off a 7-play, 62-yard drive with a 6-yard strike to tight end Bubba Franks.
Undaunted at setting out from the 2, the Packers swept 90 yards in 13 plays to the Chicago 8 before a third-down Favre pass to Robert Ferguson fell incomplete. Placekicker Ryan Longwell was summoned to kick a 27-yard field goal, a development that sent the Packers ahead to stay, 16-14.
Though the field goal was a relatively modest result, it was an extraordinary drive. Rookie running back Tony Fisher, filling in for an injured Ahman Green, made it so. He launched the march with a pair of first downs, surging for 21 yards in three rushing attempts, then adding a 15-yard run two plays later. He finished off his contributions to the drive by pulling in a 10-yard pass from Favre, thus personally accounting for 46 of the 90 yards en route.
Fisher shortly was back at it after cornerback Tyrone Williams forced a fumble by Bears wide receiver Dez White, recovered by Antuan Edwards at the Chicago 35-yard line. A 16-yard Favre pass to Terry Glenn put the Packers close, at the 12-yard line, and Fisher swept right end for 11 yards to the one, setting up a one-yard Favre scoring pass to fullback William Henderson.
Two exchanges later, Fisher again took a significant hand in the proceedings. Taking charge as the Packers began a possession at their own 42-yard line, he rolled up 43 of the 58 yards en route, finishing off the drive with a 2-yard burst up the middle into the end zone with 1:10 remaining to wrap up a memorable performance. Longwell's third conversion padded the Packers' lead.
It was over but the Bears didn't seem to think so. They proceeded to mount a 4-play, 68-yard scoring drive in the final minute, backup quarterback Henry Burris - a former Packer - unfurling a 45-yard touchdown pass to wideout Marcus Robinson with only 19 seconds remaining.
Favre, back on target, completed 24 of 42 passes for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns, with one interception, distributing the football among 8 receivers. Franks was his most frequent recipient, making 6 catches for 34 yards.
It may have been overlooked by most of the faithful in the final accounting but rookie Javon Walker's chase-down of the Bears' Roosevelt Williams on the final play of the first half was a substantial factor in Green Bay's victory.
On the play, a Favre pass intended for Donald Driver was intercepted by Chicago safety Damon Moore at the Bears' 5-yard line. Moore streaked up the sideline and fumbled when tackled by Driver. It shortly began to resemble a comedy of errors when Packers' Mike Flanagan picked up the loose ball and then fumbled, whereupon the Bears' Roosevelt Williams recovered at the Chicago 41 and set sail for the Green Bay goal, with the fleet Walker in earnest pursuit. Walker finally ran Williams to earth at the Packers' 13-yard line, averting a Chicago touchdown as the first half ended.
The Packers' opportunistic defense forced four Chicago turnovers (a fifth was forced by Donald Driver on the interception return) and the offense converted two of them into 10 points. The defense also limited the Bears to 74 yards rushing, their second-lowest yield of the season, ranking behind only the 45 yards they permitted the Bears in their first encounter of the season Oct. 7.
The Bears triggered three Packers giveaways and one of them, a Favre fumble when he was sacked at the Green Bay 18-yard line in the opening quarter, led to the Bears' first touchdown.
THE FAVRE FILE: When Brett Favre fired a 6-yard scoring strike to tight end Bubba Franks in the third quarter, it marked the 22nd consecutive game in which he has thrown at least one touchdown pass against Chicago. In other words, he has done so in every game that he has faced the Midway Monsters over his 11-year Green Bay career.
The only longer such streak in NFL annals is Dan Marino's 24-game touchdown skein against the New York Jets.
Favre's two scoring throws against the Bears swelled his career total to 309, the third-most in NFL history. Marino is the all-time leader with 420, followed by Frank Tarkenton with 342.
With Sunday's victory, Favre improved his December record to 32-10 (.762), the third-best mark among starting quarterbacks who have launched their careers since 1970 (minimum 20 starts). Only Joe Thiesmann (17-5, .773) and Joe Montana (33-10, .767) own better marks.
THE GREEN FILE: Ahman Green further entrenched himself in the Packers' record book Sunday, becoming only the seventh running back in team annals to amass 5,000 combined yards rushing and receiving. With 78 rushing yards and 45 more receiving against Chicago, Green padded his combined rushing/receiving yardage total as a Packer to 5,053 (3,529 rushing and 1,524 receiving).
Jim Taylor is the all-time leader with 9,712 combined yards (8,207 rushing and 1,505 receiving). Gerry Ellis is second with 6,340 (3,826 rushing and 2,514 receiving; followed by John Brockington with 6,099 (5,024 rushing and 1,075 receiving); Dorsey Levens' 6,016 (3,937 rushing and 2,079 receiving); Edgar Bennett's 5,273 (3,353 rushing and 1,920 receiving); and Paul Hornung's 5,191 (3,711 rushing and 1,480 receiving).
Green, with 5 pass receptions against the Bears, also climbed into the team's all-time Top 20 in receiving, taking over 20th place with 184 career catches, just three behind Hall of Famer Jim Taylor, who ranks 19th with 187.
Green, who suffered a left knee injury on a game-longest 29-yard run early in the third quarter, sat out a portion of the contest. He returned to action early in the fourth quarter, then left the game for good after aggravating the knee injury.
THE LONGWELL FILE: Placekicker Ryan Longwell enlarged his niche in NFL archives, becoming only the third player in league history to score 100 or more points in his first six seasons, joining Denver's Jason Elam and the New England Patriots' Adam Vinatieri. Longwell's 12-point harvest (3 field goals and 3 conversions) padded his season point total to 103.
It also swelled the 28-year-old California alum's career point total to 699, leaving him just one shy of becoming only the fourth player in Packers annals to score 700 points in a career. Longwell, incidentally, has made his last 11 field goal attempts and 47 consecutive points after touchdown. His longest skein in a six-year NFL career is 13, registered twice. He also made 11 straight in 1998.
At home, he is 15 of 16 this season and has converted 13 consecutive field goal attempts.
THE FISHER FILE: Rookie Tony Fisher made the most of his first extended NFL action, churning for 91 yards in 17 carries, a 5.4-yard average, to emerge as the game's leading rusher while posting the first touchdown of his young pro career. He also caught 2 passes or 15 yards, thus contributing 106 yards of total offense to the Green Bay cause.
Fisher's best previous outing statistically came in the Monday night game against Miami Nov. 4, when he posted a 28-yard run from scrimmage. He followed that sortie with a 27-yard rushing effort (in 12 attempts) against Detroit Nov. 10.
GM/HEAD COACH MIKE SHERMAN'S POST-GAME COMMENTS:
(on injuries) "Darien Gordon bruised his sternum on a punt return, but was able to return to the ballgame. Terry Glenn made a great diving catch for us, but had the wind knocked out of him on that diving catch and returned to the game as well. Tyrone Williams did not finish the game with an aggravated hamstring. Ahman Green, thought it was a quad contusion...looked like a knee cap bruise. He returned briefly but showed no strength in the leg, so we took him out."
(on Ahman Green's injury) "He felt good enough to go back into the game, but just lacked strength. We'll further evaluate that tomorrow."
(on RB Tony Fisher's success) "As much as we like to say this is a perfect science, it certainly isn't. I'm glad that we were able to get him to come to us. We recognized his talents at the beginning of the season to keep him on our roster. It is not a perfect science and that is evident by the fact that we have three rookie undrafted free agents on our team."
(on DT Rod Walker's fumble recovery) "That's a significant play. That's a 10-point swing there because they were in fact going in to score seven. We're able to get it (the ball) and drive it 90 yards and kick a field goal. Our offense responded to that turnover. We've been very good in short yardage situations."
(on what's next) "We still have to look at that first half, and go through and dissect why we didn't play very well. We did not convert third down in the first half to the degree that we need to convert third down to continue on where we want to continue. This is a significant one because we came in at halftime and knew we didn't play very well and we're going to go out there and take care of business. I thought we did. We scored on three out of the first four possessions in the second half against what I consider a very good defensive football team."
(on the play to end the first half) "I think it was maybe the biggest play of the game. That would have been devastating going into halftime with them getting those seven points. Walker chasing him down and making that play was very significant to this football game."
(on what he said to the team at halftime) "I said we are not coming back in without a victory. They knew it wasn't warm outside and they wanted to get back in the locker room."
(on the way the Packers started the game) "We certainly didn't execute the way we need to execute. I don't think we were flat - we have nothing to be flat about. You're trying to win the division, you're playing the Bears, you're playing at home...there is absolutely, positively no reason to be flat today. We just didn't perform very well in the first half."
(on the division title) "It's certainly one of the goals we set out to achieve this season. It's very significant, but it's certainly not the ultimate goal that we set for ourselves. If we want to achieve that we have to make some improvements on how we played in the first half of this football game."
(on DT Gilbert Brown not playing) "Gilbert's a force for us. I think that (Rod) Walker and (Steve) Warren did a nice job. I believe Stevie (Warren) traced down a nice screen one time, a big screen play. And Walker obviously had that big stop at the goal line. But Gilbert's a big force out there. He gives us a dimension that we don't have without him."
THE PLAYER PERSPECTIVE:
Quarterback Brett Favre: (on the play of RB Tony Fisher) "What can you say. The guy did an unbelievable job in real tough conditions. Especially when you don't get many reps all week, you don't expect to play, playing the Bears, playing for the division title, physical game...just an unbelievable job."
(on the play to end the first half) "That was a tremendous play for Javon Walker, for our team. Hell of an effort. That could have changed the game completely. For Javon Walker to run that guy down...the momentum at halftime was really for neither."
(on the way the Packers started the game) "We can't come out flat like this. I don't know if I would call it flat, but it would appear that way from the outside looking in. I think everyone on this team knew what was at stake. How can you not get up for the Bears? Division title? At home? And after losing two in a row? I think the weather affected some of our guys."
(on the second-to-last play of the first half) "Take a shot downfield. Of course they played prevent and had four or five guys back there. Just take a shot. I agree with Mike (Sherman) for not trying to kick a field goal. You're thinking worse things can happen by trying the field goal."
(on the Bears defense) "Up to that last drive they played hard. They played good football. They came in like an 8-3 team. We struggled to run the football. Their linebackers are real fast. Once we got up on them, we could stay there and take the speed part out of it."
(on Terry Glenn) "Unbelievable catches. Unbelievable catches. People watching, people at home, maybe even Terry at some point in the game were like 'Where's Terry Glenn? Is he going to show up?' I think if anybody was questioning that, after those catches...Aside from the first Chicago game he really had a background type performance all year. Donald (Driver) has some big plays and Terry has one big catch. But it seems like every catch he has is dramatic."
Running back Tony Fisher: (on his performance) "It felt great. Ahman (Green) went down and they said, 'Look, it's your time.' Coach pulled me off to the side and said, 'I want you to go out there and just play the best you can. Go out there and run hard. I know what you can do.' I'm back there with Brett (Favre), he's giving me confidence. The offensive line is giving me confidence. William Henderson's giving me confidence. The more confidence I get, it makes the game easier for me."
(on getting opportunities) "For any running back I believe the more touches he actually gets on the ball the better he is going to become as the game goes on. At Notre Dame I played running back, tailback -- I lined up as a receiver -- so there were multiple ways I was able to get my hands on the ball. When I had my opportunities at Notre Dame I believe I made the best out of all of them."
(on next week) "I'm just going to continue to do what I've always done. I'm going to go out there, stay focused and do the things that got me here."
(on his first touchdown) "I was able to plunge in for the two-yard touchdown. And the lineman told me to go ahead and take that leap. Just to have the opportunity to score a touchdown, and make my first Lambeau Leap, is a great experience for me."
Wide receiver Javon Walker: (on the tackle at the end of the half) "I just didn't want (the Bears) to get a lead. I felt like I could catch him and so I just took off. It was a huge point in the game if he scored for them; it ended up a big play for us. It really motivated us going in to the half.
"I knew I wasn't going to get the pitch so I was working my way back upfield when I saw they got it. I took off after them."
Cornerback Tyrone Williams: (on his interception) "It was big, for the team most of all. It really turned the game around for us and that's what is important. I was man to man and I feel as though any time I'm man to man I can make plays. I jammed my side, cut him off, and went after the ball. They gave me a good ball to catch."
(on his forced fumble) "It was a route we looked at during the week, and when I got there I felt I was in a good enough position to swat at the ball and knock it lose."
Defensive tackle Rod Walker: (on his recovered fumble on the goal line) "The center stretched the ball out a little more than usual, and I saw motion from the side, so I had a feeling it would be on one. I just took a chance and tried to swipe at the ball after the center attempted the snap. I got a piece of it and then just landed on top of it."
Defensive end Keith McKenzie: (on playing the Bears on Lambeau Field) "I have nothing but respect for the Bears, they did a great thing by bringing me in and helping me get through my injury with rehab and treatment. But it was great to beat them, because we needed this victory. I'm a Packer at heart - I've always been a Packer at heart. It was great to come back home and get a win against my former team, and clinch the division."
-With the clinching of the NFC North Division title, Mike Sherman became the sixth head coach (of 13) to win a division championship.
-The Packers' latest division title is the fourth during Brett Favre's 11-year tenure as Green Bay's resident quarterback. Only one quarterback in Green Bay's storied history has presided at the acquisition of more championships. Bart Starr was the Packers' field general during their acquisition of five titles in the '60s (1961-62 and 1965-66-67).
-The Packers have scored a touchdown on their initial second-half drives three times this season.
-With 820 seats opened for use for the first time, a new Lambeau Field attendance record was set Sunday. The new mark is 64,196, surpassing the 63,363 who attended the Oct. 20 home game against the Washington Redskins.
-Ahman Green, with 967 rushing yards to date, needs only 33 more to post his third consecutive 1,000-yard season and become only the third running back in Packers history to have put together three straight 1,000-yard seasons. Jim Taylor holds the club record, five in a row from 1960-64, and John Brockington is next up with three (1971-73).
-When Green gains those 33 rushing yards, fullback William Henderson will have blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher in five seasons. Only Howard Griffith among fullbacks in NFL history (six with the L.A. Rams, Carolina and Denver) has blocked for more 1,000-yard rushers.
-Henderson established a career high with his fourth touchdown of the season Sunday, substantial scoring for having had only 19 touches thus far this season (18 receptions, 1 carry). He is averaging a touchdown once every 4.75 times he touches the football.
-Linebacker Nate Wayne, posting 6 stops, went over the 100-tackle mark Sunday for the third consecutive year. He now has 104 to his credit, following a 102-tackle season in 2001, when he had to sit out four games because of injury, and a career-high 126 in 2000.
-Rod Walker started for the injured Gilbert Brown (ankle) at nose tackle and Mike Flanagan started at left tackle on offense, with Frank Winters moving in to replace Flanagan as the starting center. It was Walker's first start of the season.
-Walker's key third quarter fumble recovery at the Green Bay 2-yard line was his second recovery of the season.
-Cornerback Tyrone Williams was involved in the acquisition of two turnovers in the second half intercepting a Jim Miller pass at the Green Bay 45-yard line late in the third quarter and forcing an early fourth quarter fumble by Bears wide receiver Dez White, recovered by fellow defender Antuan Edwards. The latter led to the Packers' second touchdown.
-Linebacker Na'il Diggs recovered a Leon Johnson fumble, forced by Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, at midfield shortly before halftime. Three plays later, Damon Moore intercepted a Brett Favre pass, triggering the multiple fumble and possession play which ended the first half.
-Keith McKenzie, continuing to make his presence felt upon returning to Titletown, made a pair of contributions on special teams, recovering a punt fumbled by returner Darrien Gordon in the first quarter and later making an 18-yard return of the second half kickoff. A week earlier, in his first game following his return, he weighed in with 3 tackles, 2 of them solo.
-Racing car legend Richard Petty and his driver-son, Kyle, were in Lambeau Field to root friend Brett Favre and the Packers to victory.
-Packers inactives Sunday included cornerback Bryant Westbrook, linebacker Marcus Wilkins, offensive tackle Chad Clifton, wide receiver Karsten Bailey, tight end David Martin, nose tackle Gilbert Brown, defensive end Jamal Reynolds and designated Third Quarterback Craig Nall.