Packers-Broncos Preview

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Mike Sherman put it in prideful and heartfelt perspective…

"You couldn't draw up a script better than was drawn up today," he said, with quiet appreciation for the magnitude of the accomplishment he had just witnessed.

The Green Bay Packers' general manager and head coach, speaking during his post-game press conference in Oakland's Network Associates Coliseum, Monday night, was openly marveling over the classic performance of quarterback Brett Favre, who had played at the highest level of his remarkable career just one day after the sudden death of his father, Irvin, in Mississippi.

Despite his heavy personal burden, Favre had been virtually flawless in leading the Packers to a 41-7 rout of the Oakland Raiders in their nationally televised contest on ABC's "Monday Night Football."

Forging the highest passer rating of his illustrious career (154.9), the 34-year-old field general literally put on "a clinic," passing for 399 yards, the second highest total of his career, and 4 touchdowns – without an interception.

The victory that his efforts spawned lifted the Packers into a tie with the Minnesota Vikings for the NFC North Division lead – with one week remaining on the regular-season schedule.

The Packers face a formidable task in their finale, hosting the already playoff-bound Denver Broncos (10-5) in Lambeau Field next Sunday (Dec. 28).

Kickoff for the contest, a customary season ticket sellout (72,515), is set for 3:15, CST (Wisconsin time).

The Vikings, meanwhile, will be closing out their regular-season schedule on the road against the Arizona Cardinals.

A victory is essential for the Packers to maximize their playoff potential. With a win or a Minnesota loss or tie; or a tie and a Minnesota loss, they would clinch the NFC North championship and a playoff berth.

They also would clinch a playoff berth with a Seattle loss or Green Bay win and a Dallas win or tie; or a Green Bay win plus Dallas has better strength of victory than Seattle or a Green Bay win or tie and Seattle tie..

The Packers have been perfect in December to date. Monday night's victory was their third straight in the final month of the year and their sixth in their last eight games. They now are 15-and-2 in December under Sherman during his four-tenure as head coach.

THE DECISION: Sherman, discussing how Brett Favre came to the decision to play in Monday night's game against Oakland the day after the death of his father, said "I talked to him yesterday (Sunday) and presented the option of not playing at that time. He had to think about it because he was in a very difficult state of mind.

"But after thinking about it longer, he thought he had made an investment in the season and he felt he needed to play this football game for himself and his teammates."

Favre subsequently said, following the game, "I knew that my dad would want me to play."

Funeral services for Irvin Favre, 58, will be held in Pass Christian, Miss., Wednesday. He died of a heart attack on Sunday.

THE TV-RADIO COVERAGE: Greg Gumbel will voice the play-by-play and Phil Simms will provide the analysis for the CBS Sports Network telecast of Sunday's game, with Armen Keteyian reporting from the sideline. Mark Wolff produces and Larry Cavolina 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 delivering commentary and analysis. The broadcast will be available on www.packers.com to NFL Field Pass Subscribers.

Additionally, the game will be broadcast nationally by Sports USA Radio. Eli Gold will handle the play-by-play, Stan Brock the analysis and Matt Stevens will report from the sideline.

THE SERIES: The Packers have not seen much of the Denver Broncos lately and, considering the somewhat traumatic experiences they have had with the Coloradoans in their most recent encounters, that is not necessarily a bad thing.

There was, for prime and painful example, their second-last meeting…in Super Bowl XXXII at San Diego (Jan. 25, 1998)...which did not have a happy ending. The Broncos departed Qualcomm Stadium with a 31-24 victory and their first ever Super Bowl victory on that occasion.

The fact that some veteran observers subsequently termed it "the best Super Bowl ever" was of little consolation to the Green and Gold, then looking for a second consecutive victory in the "Big Dance," having defeated New England (35-21) in SB XXXI a year earlier.

The Packers fared no better in their most recent encounter with the Broncos – a regular season matchup in Denver's Mile High Stadium Oct. 17, 1999. Dead even with Denver at 10-10 past the midpoint of the third quarter, they saw the Broncos pull away to a 31-10 victory with a pair of late scores.

Overall, Denver holds a 5-3-1 advantage over the Packers in regular-season competition and a 6-2 margin in preseason play.

The Packers, however, have won two of the last three regular-season encounters with the Broncos, 30-27 in 1993 and 41-6 in 1996, both in Lambeau Field, the latter as the Green and Gold were en route to Super Bowl XXXI.

THE COACHES: A classic example of organization, efficiency and preparedness, Mike Sherman has accomplished something no other head coach in Packer history has done…win 40 regular season games in his first four seasons in residence at 1265 Lombardi Avenue.

Of his dozen predecessors, Vince Lombardi came the closest to forging that achievement, weighing in with 39 wins in his first four years (39-13-0), closely followed by Mike Holmgren with 38 in his first four seasons (38-26-0).

Sherman heads into Sunday's season finale against the Denver Broncos with a 42-21 career record and a 9-6 mark this season, the latter record making him only the fourth of the 13 head coaches the Packers have had to post as many as four consecutive winning seasons. He joins Lambeau, Lombardi and Holmgren in that elite fraternity.

While en route, Sherman has established himself in a vastly expanded role, having added the titles of executive vice president and general manager to his résumé after just one year as head coach, leading Green Bay to four consecutive winning seasons and – in 2002 – to its first division championship since 1997 and a second straight playoff berth, accomplishments which earned Sherman Staples NFL 'Coach of the Year' honors.

After shouldering the additional duties, with typically total commitment and literally without missing a beat – he directed the Packers to successive 12-and-4 records, the Green and Gold thus becoming the winningest team in the NFL over that two-year span (24-8-0).

Moreover, the back-to-back 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.

Sherman also has rivaled the accomplishments of the storied Lombardi over a comparable period, compiling a 33-15-0 record in his first three full seasons (16-game campaigns) as opposed to Lombardi's 26-12-0 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).

He also has equaled another Lombardi achievement, leading the Packers into the playoffs in only his second season.

Along the way, Sherman has made Lambeau Field a somewhat inhospitable venue for NFL rivals to visit. Since he arrived in Titletown in 2000, the Packers have forged an imposing 25-6 record in "Lambeau" under his leadership – the best regular season home record in the league during that span, including the NFL's only perfect home record (8-0) in 2002.

The first man in a half-century to take on his tri-cornered roles – since Lambeau served as vice president, general manager and head coach in 1949 – Sherman brings appropriately multiple credentials to his multiple responsibilities. They include a Super Bowl ring following the 1997 season, during which he was a member of the Holmgren coaching staff that led Green Bay into Super Bowl XXXII against the Denver Broncos at San Diego.

It was to be the first of three consecutive visits to the playoffs for the 49-year-old Central Connecticut State University alumnus, 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 the coaching 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 regarded programs as Texas A&M and UCLA.

Mike Shanahan, in his ninth year as head coach of the Broncos, led Denver to back-to-back Super Bowl championships in 1997 and 1998, becoming just the fifth head coach in NFL history to accomplish that feat.

His tenure has been punctuated by a host of major achievements. They include:

  • Posting the most wins in pro football history in a two-year period (33 in 1997-98)
  • Posting the most wins in pro football history in a three-year period (46 in 1996-98)
  • Winning the most postseason games in history over a two-year period (seven, 1997-98)
  • Winning 18 straight games over the 1997-98 seasons to tie the all-time NFL record for consecutive wins.
  • Going undefeated at home for three straight regular seasons (1996-98), the Broncos thus becoming only the second team to do so.

Shanahan is the first coach in NFL annals to win two Super Bowl titles in his first four years and he is the only coach to have directed two different teams to a 500-point season (the 1998 Broncos scored 501 points and Shanahan's 1994 San Francisco offense scored 505).

Shanahan's winning percentage is the best by any coach in Denver history – in 1998 he reached his 40th win faster than any coach in franchise history, and in 2000 he reached his 50th win faster than any coach in franchise history.

During his NFL career, Shanahan has been a part of teams that have played in six Super Bowls. He was an assistant with Denver (1984-87, 1989-91) and San Francisco (1992-94), returning to Denver Jan. 31, 1995, to become head coach of the Broncos.

Prior to entering the pro ranks, he coached at Oklahoma (1975-76), Northern Arizona (1977), Eastern Illinois (1978), Minnesota (1979) and Florida (1980-83).

As a collegian, Shanahan was a quarterback-defensive back at Eastern Illinois.

THE LAST TIME: It is unlikely that any of the Packers' participants have fond memories of their most recent meeting with the Broncos – in Denver's Mile High Stadium on Oct. 17, 1999. It was not only the result, a 31-10 losing venture, but the way that misadventure evolved.

From the Green and Gold's perspective, it was a nightmare of inefficiency. Their labors availed them just 133 net yards (a meager 21 rushing and 112 passing), then their lowest regular-season, single-game production in more than decade – since Oct. 30, 1988, a span of 172 games, when they had settled for 131 total yards in a 28-0 loss at Buffalo.

The related statistics were equally embarrassing. The Broncos massed 28 first downs, to the Packers' 5, ran off 82 plays to the Packers' 35, rolled up 514 yards of offense (151 rushing and 363 passing) and enjoyed an incredible 30-minute advantage in time of possession, controlling the football for 45 minutes, 14 seconds, to the Packers' 14 minutes, 46 seconds.

Yet, surprisingly enough, the Packers were dead even with the Broncos at halftime, 3-3, due in no small measure to an opportune interception and 60-yard runback by linebacker Brian Williams, which set up a 50-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell.

And they pulled into a second tie (10-10) with 6:47 left in the third quarter when Dorsey Levens bolted over left guard into the end zone from one yard out – a score triggered by a 54-yard Brett Favre bomb to a wide receiver Corey Bradford – and Longwell added what was to be the Packers' final point of the afternoon.

The Broncos, however, immediately responded with a 78-yard scoring pass from quarterback Brian Griese to wideout Ed McCaffrey, then subsequently put the game away on a one-yard run by running back Olandis Gary – following a Ray Crockett interception at the Green Bay 36-yard line – and a 2-yard quarterback draw for the game's final score. The latter was set up by an 88-yard pass-run collaboration between Griese and tight end Byron Chamberlain.

For Favre, his seven pass completions were the fewest he has ever had in a "routine," full-length single-game performance. He had only six against the Bears on Oct. 31, 1994, but the game was played in a torrential downpour, with winds gusting to more than 50 miles an hours, making it extremely difficult to pass the football.

Favre's passing percentage also was the lowest single game-mark of his career – 30.43 percent, based on 7 completions in 23 attempts.

SUPER BOWL XXXII: With the aid of a dominating rushing performance by Terrell Davis, who churned out 157 yards in 29 attempts, the Broncos dethroned the reigning champion Packers in Super Bowl XXXII, 31-24, at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium (January 25, 1998) in a contest termed by some observers "the best Super Bowl ever."

The loss was the Packers' first Super Bowl defeat after three triumphs (SB I and II, and XXXI).

Davis, subsequently named the game's "Most Valuable Player," averaged 5.2 yards per attempt and scored three touchdowns – among them the decisive TD with less than two minutes remaining.

In winning, the Broncos ended a 12-game Super Bowl winning streak by the National Football Conference.

The Packers, 35-21 winners over New England in SB XXXI the year before, gave early promise of a repeat victory, sweeping 76 yards to score following the opening kickoff, quarterback Brett Favre culminating the drive with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman in the back of the end zone.

The Broncos, however, stormed back, scoring the first three times they had the football to mount a 17-7 lead. After Davis went over from one yard out for Denver's initial touchdown, the Broncos forced a pair of turnovers in Green Bay territory and converted them into 10 points, parlaying an interception of a Favre pass and runback into a one-yard touchdown run by Broncos quarterback John Elway and adding a long Jason Elam field goal following recovery of a Favre fumble, the result of a Denver blitz.

The Packers rebounded to put together an impressive, 95-yard touchdown drive to consume the latter half of the second quarter and move to within 17-14. Favre lofted a perfect, 6-yard pass to tight end Mark Chmura in the right corner of the end zone with only 12 seconds before halftime.

Davis, who had missed the entire second quarter after experiencing migraine headache symptoms, fumbled on the first play from scrimmage of the second half, a miscue the Packers converted into a game-tying Ryan Longwell field goal.

The Broncos moved out front again late in the third period, when Davis scored his second touchdown of the game to cap a 92-yard, seven-plus-minute march.

When Freeman fumbled at his own 22-yard line following the kickoff, the Packers' chances of overtaking the Broncos appeared bleak. However, Packers safety Eugene Robinson intercepted an Elway pass on first down, when Denver elected to immediately go for the end zone, and the Green and Gold were spared – at least temporarily.

On Green Bay's ensuing possession, Favre completed three passes to Freeman, including a 13-yard crossing route, for his second touchdown, tying the score at 24 with 13-and-a-half minutes remaining.

After the Packers failed to take advantage of one fourth-quarter drive which approached midfield, Denver moved 49 yards in four plays to what proved to be the winning touchdown, Davis bolting into the end zone untouched from one yard out.

Eluding the Broncos' repetitious blitz, the ever-resilient Favre responded by moving the Packers from his own 30-yard line into Broncos' territory with 42 seconds left, completing consecutive passes for 39 yards.

When his next three passes fell incomplete, however, including a fourth-down pass intended for Chmura knocked away by Broncos linebacker John Mobley, the game belonged to Denver.

THE (NFL) STATISTICAL UPDATE: Running back Ahman Green has regained the individual rushing lead in the National Football Conference and continues to lead the NFC in non-kicker scoring as well as in the production of first downs, according to the latest statistics released by the Elias Sports Bureau.

Green, 4 yards back of Deuce McAllister a week ago, now enjoys a comfortable lead in rushing, 1,665 yards to the Saint's 1,592.

The positions are reversed in total yards from scrimmage, where McAllister leads with 2,102 to Green's 2,023.

Elsewhere, Green paces NFC non-kicker scoring with 108 points, having posted his 18th touchdown of the season Monday night. The Vikings' Randy Moss is second with 96 points.

Green also is out front in first downs with 110 (92 rushing and 18 receiving) and in third-and-one rushing with a 100-percent success rate, based on 8 "conversions" in 8 attempts.

The fifth-year professional also continues to own the top single-game rushing performance in the NFC to date, 192 yards, registered against Philadelphia Nov. 10.

Quarterback Brett Favre, coming off a classic performance against the Raiders Monday night has advanced to second place in the NFC's quarterback ratings with a 91.4 mark, based on 296 completions in 450 attempts for 3,245 yards, a league-best 31 touchdowns, with 20 interceptions.

Favre also ranks seventh in the conference in both fourth-quarter passing and third-down passing. He has compiled an 82.5 rating in the former, completing 69 of 106 passes for 707 yards and 7 touchdowns, with 6 interceptions, and a 71.3 rating in the latter, completing 83 of 138 passes for 1,012 yards and 9TDs, with 11 interceptions.

Defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, author of a three-sack performance against the Raiders, soared to fifth place in the NFC with a season total of 10.0.

Fellow defenders Darren Sharper and Mike McKenzie are in a multiple tie for eighth place among NFC interceptors with 4 apiece and punter Josh Bidwell ranks 6th in both gross average (41.8) and net average (35.2) on 64 punts. Antonio Chatman ranks eighth among conference punt returners with a 7.8-yard average for 30 runbacks.

Eighth as a team on offense a week ago, the Packers soared to fourth place on the wings of their 548-yard eruption against the Raiders. They are third in rushing in the NFL, 14th in passing.

The Packers also continue to lead the NFC in team offense inside-the-20 with a 65.3 touchdown percentage. They have had 49 possessions and harvested 32 touchdowns.

They likewise lead the NFC in average yards per play on first down with a 5.93 average.

Defensively, the Green and Gold rank 18th overall (9th against the run, 24th against the pass).

They also are second on defense inside-the-20 with a 41.9 percentage. Their opponents have had 43 possessions and scored 18 touchdowns.

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