Packers-Chargers Preview

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Having stayed intriguingly close in the multi-partied scramble for an NFL playoff berth with a decisive victory over their immemorial enemies - the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers (7-6) take to the road for the first of back-to-back West Coast assignments, a rare matchup with the Chargers (3-10) in San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium Sunday (Dec. 14).

Kickoff for the contest, the Packers' first San Diego appearance since 1999, is set for 3:15, CST (Wisconsin time).

The Green and Gold, overcoming a forgettable 0-14 start against the Bears to post their third victory in the last four weeks, remained within one game of the NFC-North leading Minnesota Vikings (8-5) with three games remaining on their regular season agenda.

Minnesota, meanwhile, winning for only the second time in 7 games following a 6-0 start, thumped the visiting Seattle Seahawks (8-5), 34-7.

By so doing, the Vikings involuntarily aided the Packers' cause, their win over Seattle leaving the Seahawks only one game up on Green Bay in the NFC's wild card race - with games remaining at St. Louis Dec. 14, vs. Arizona Dec. 21 and at San Francisco Dec.27.

At first glance, the Packers' best chance of making the postseason would appear to be capturing the division title, by winning out (vs. San Diego Dec. 14, vs. Oakland Dec. 22 and vs. Denver Dec. 28), in company with a modicum of "cooperation" from the Vikings. The Purple Gang, with a tie-breaker advantage over the Packers, needs to lose two of their three remaining games (at Chicago Dec. 14, vs. Kansas City Dec. 21 and at Arizona Dec. 28) for the Packers to take division honors.

SHERMAN SCALES NEW PLATEAU: Sunday's victory was the 40th regular season win of Mike Sherman's four-year tenure as Green Bay's head coach, compared to 21 defeats. He thus became only the fifth of the 13 head coaches in team annals to win as many as 40 games, joining team founder Curly Lambeau, Vince Lombardi, Mike Holmgren and Bart Starr.

THE TV-RADIO COVERAGE: Sam Rosen will call the play-by-play and Bill Maas will provide the analysis for the Fox Sports Network telecast of Sunday's game. Mike Burks is the producer and Rich Russo directs.

The game also will be aired over the 62-station Packers Radio Network, with Wayne Larrivee handling the play-by-play and Larry McCarren the analysis. The radio broadcast also will be available on www.packers.com to NFL Field Pass subscribers.

In addition, the game will be broadcast nationally by Sports USA Radio. Eli Gold will deliver the play-by-play, John Robinson will provide the analysis and Matt Stevens will report from the sideline.

IT'S FAVRE'S NOW: From all outward appearances, it was just another day at the office for Brett Favre Sunday.

There was, however, one historic difference. The indestructible field general was playing in his 188th consecutive game, thus breaking the Packers' all-time durability record, one established by Hall of Famer Forrest Gregg over his 14-year career (1956, '58-70).

In recognition of Favre's achievement, Referee Ed Hochuli stopped the game immediately following the first offensive snap of the afternoon and presented Favre with the football used on the play while Lambeau Field PA announcer Gary Knafelc informed the 70,458 fans in house of the record - to enthusiastic applause.

Favre, in turn, threw the ball to Asst. Equipment Manager Bryan Nehring for safe keeping during the game.

For the record, Favre launched the record streak when saw second-half action in a relief role on Sept. 13, 1992, at Tampa in the second game of the regular season, and has not missed a game from that now distant day to this.

In Sunday's game, Favre also extended his NFL record for consecutive starts by a quarterback to 186.

THE SERIES: The Packers and the San Diego Chargers have been acquainted for more than three decades, competitively speaking.

But next Sunday's matchup in San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium will be only their eighth meeting in a series which dates back to 1970, the year the National and American Football Leagues officially merged.

And, from the frequency perspective, it will be their first encounter since 1999.

Overall, the Packers have had the better of it in their relationship with the San Diegans, having won six of their seven meetings to date, including that '99 encounter (31-3).

Even though the "interaction" between Sunday's principals has been infrequent, the series has produced some historical highlights.

The Chargers, for example, were the hosts for the Packers' first-ever appearance on "Monday Night Football," in what also was their first meeting in the series. Staged on Oct. 12, 1970, it also was just the fourth game in the annals of "MNF," which was launched at the start of the '70 season.

The Packers won that one, 22-20, by way of a 14-yard Dale Livingston field goal with only 3:39 remaining. It was Livingston's third field goal of the game - following a pair of Bart Starr touchdown passes to wide receiver Jack Clancy (4 yards) and tight end John Hilton (2 yards).

Their second meeting - in Lambeau Field in 1974 - also was quietly historic. The Packers prevailed, 34-0, thus posting what became Dan Devine's final victory in his four-year tenure as Green Bay's head coach.

The Packers also have reason to remember their 1978 encounter with the Chargers in San Diego, a day (Sept. 24) on which the thermometer shimmered at 102 degrees at kickoff - the warmest kickoff temperature in Packers history...a record that was equaled in this season's visit to Phoenix for a matchup with the Arizona Cardinals (Sept. 29).

One of the most bizarre contests in Packers history, it saw the teams collectively amass 18 quarterback sacks, 8 by the Packers and 10 by the Chargers.

It also saw the Packers create 11 turnovers - 5 interceptions, 4 of them by cornerback Willie Buchanon to tie a league record - and 6 fumble recoveries.

And, though out-yarded 245 to 127, the Packers prevailed with ease, 24-3, in part because of 143 additional yards harvested from interception runbacks.

The Packers have made one other game-related excursion to San Diego...one that remains a bittersweet memory for the Green and Gold.

In Qualcomm Stadium to make their second consecutive Super Bowl appearance (in SB XXXII), Jan. 25, 1998) they came up short in the final minute, falling to the Denver Broncos, 31-24, when a fourth-down pass intended for tight end Mark Chmura was knocked down by Denver linebacker John Mobley to end a potential game-tying drive.

The loss ended a perfect Super Bowl record for the Packers, who had won on each of their first three trips to the "Big Dance."

THE COACHES: Meticulously prepared and remarkably consistent, Mike Sherman has had a significant impact upon Packers coaching history, presiding over more victories (33) in his first three seasons than any other head coach in team annals - more than club founder Curly Lambeau, more than Vince Lombardi and more than Mike Holmgren.

In so doing, Sherman also has entrenched himself in what has become a considerably expanded role, adding the titles of executive vice president and general manager to his résumé after just one year as head coach, leading Green Bay to three consecutive winning seasons and - in 2002 - to its first division championship since 1997 and a second straight playoff berth...achievements which earned Sherman Staples 'Coach of the Year' laurels.

Shouldering the additional duties with typically total commitment - and literally without missing beat - he directed the Packers to back-to-back 12-4 records, 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 40-21 overall record going into Sunday's matchup in San Diego, the 48-year-old Northborough, Mass., native has rivaled the accomplishments of the storied Lombardi over a comparable span, compiling a 33-15-0 mark in his first three 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).

Sherman also equaled another Lombardi achievement by leading the Packers into the playoffs in only his second season at the controls.

Along the way, Sherman has made Lambeau Field a somewhat hostile place for NFL rivals to visit. Since he established residence at 1265 Lombardi Avenue in 2000, the Packers have forged an imposing 25-6 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 multiple 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 visits to 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.

Now in his 26th year in his profession, he 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 UCLA and Texas A&M.

Marty Schottenheimer, closing out his second year as head coach of the Chargers, is one of the most prolific winners in NFL history. He currently ranks ninth on the league's all-time list with 164 regular-season wins - just two fewer than the legendary Paul Brown.

In 16 full seasons as a head coach in the NFL, Schottenheimer has led his teams to 12 winning seasons. He was 8-8 in 2002 in his first year as head coach of the Chargers after spending 2001 as the Washington Redskins head coach and director of football operations.

Earlier, in 10 years as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs (1989-98), he compiled a record of 104-65-1 and advanced to the playoffs seven times. Under his direction, the Cleveland Browns previously went to the playoffs all four full seasons (1985-88) he was coach.

In 1986, Schottenheimer was consensus AFC coach of the year.

Schottenheimer began his pro coaching career with the Portland Storm (WFL) in 1974, and subsequently coached for the New York Giants (1975-77), Detroit Lions (1978-79) and Cleveland Browns (1980-84) before taking over as the Browns' head coach midway through the '84 season.

An All-America linebacker at Pittsburgh as a collegian, the 60-year-old Canonsburg, Pa., native subsequently enjoyed a six-year pro career - four seasons with the Buffalo Bills (1965-68) and two with the then Boston Patriots (1969-70).

Schottenheimer's son, Brian, is the Chargers' quarterback coach and Marty's brother, Kurt, is the defensive coordinator for the Detroit Lions.

THE LAST TIME: The Packers, rebounding smartly from an unpleasant visit to Denver the previous week (a 31-10 loss), staged a redemptive performance the following week in their most recent visit to San Diego (Oct. 24, 1999).

They combined a ball-hawking defense, an opportunistic offense (4 touchdowns in 4 invasions of the red zone) and a late-developing running game to subdue the Chargers, who entered the contest with the NFL's most miserly defense.

It was the defense, however, which carried the day. The secondary picked off no fewer than six San Diego passes, three of which was were converted into 17 points, more than enough to decide the issue as events unfolded.

The remarkable harvest marked the first time the Packers had had as many as six "picks" in one game in nearly three decades - since Sept. 26, 1971, when they waylaid six Denver passes - unfurled by former Green Bay quarterback Don Horn - in a 34-13 victory over the Broncos at Milwaukee County Stadium.

Left cornerback Tyrone Williams registered two of the thefts and three rookie defensive backs the Packers drafted to shore up the secondary - Mike McKenzie, Fred Vinson and Antuan Edwards - each pilfered one Charger aerial, along with free safety Darren Sharper, who also made a "pick" on a warm (78 degrees) and sun-swept afternoon.

The Packers' first theft effected a dramatic turnabout in their early circumstances, which became a cause for concern when the Chargers drove to Green Bay's 5-yard line on their second possession.

Here, however, McKenzie, racing right to left across the end zone, purloined an Erik Kramer pass intended for wide receiver Michael Ricks, abruptly ending the San Diego threat.

Buoyed by this turn of events, the Packers offense set off on an 8-play, 80-yard scoring drive, capped by quarterback Brett Favre's 7-yard, rollout pass to fullback William Henderson, who pulled in the football at the 1-yard line and bolted into the end zone.

The Chargers had not more than gotten the ball back following the kickoff when Vinson made his first pro interception, picking off a second Kramer pass at the San Diego 28-yard line, and the Packers - in 4 plays - were in the end zone for a second time, running back Dorsey Levens doing the honors on this occasion with a 6-yard sweep of the Packers' left flank into the corner of the end zone. With Ryan Longwell's conversion, the Packers went up, 14-0.

A Charger interception - by cornerback Jimmy Spencer - at the Green Bay 34-yard line next led to the Californians' only points of the day, John Carney delivering a 28-yard field goal.

Carrying that 14-3 lead into the second half, the Packers padded their margin to 21-3 on their second possession in the third quarter - without benefit of an interception. The key development was a 44-yard pass interference penalty on Chargers cornerback Terrance Shaw, who was covering Packers wideout Corey Bradford.

The imposing levy took the Packers to the San Diego 6-yard line and, two plays later, Favre found split end Bill Schroeder in the heart of the end zone for the score.

Tyrone Williams' end zone 'pick', which he returned to the 1-yard line, provided the platform for the Packers' final touchdown. Favre proceeded to march the Green and Gold 99 yards in 14 plays, passing 3 yards to Antonio Freeman for the score with only three seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Favre, who had settled for just 7 pass completions in 23 attempts at Denver a week earlier, was a much more effective marksman against the Chargers, completing 12 of 22 passes for 173 yards and 3 touchdowns, with one interception.

Levens, meanwhile, surpassed 100 yards of total offense for the fifth time in the season. Playing in Game 6, he gained 77 yards rushing in 21 attempts and caught one pass for 25 more, giving him 102 all-purpose yards for the afternoon.

THE (NFL) STATISTICAL UPDATE: Though he settled for a relatively modest 80 yards (by his standards) against the Chicago Bears Sunday, running back Ahman Green regained the NFC rushing lead.

Green now has gained 1,463 yards in 292 attempts - one more yard than the New Orleans Saints' Deuce McAllister, currently second with 1,462 in 294 attempts. Both have averaged an impressive 5.0 yards per try.

With respect to total yards from scrimmage, their positions are reversed. McAllister leads the NFC with 1,844 yards, including 382 receiving, and Green is second with 1,818, including 355 receiving.

Green continues to lead the conference in non-kicker scoring with 90 points, followed by the Vikings' Randy Moss with 78.

No. 30 also leads the NFC in the production of first downs with 100 (83 rushing and 17 receiving) and in third-and-one rushing with a perfect 100 percent conversion record (8-for-8 record).

He likewise continues to own the NFC's best rushing performance of the season, his 192-yard effort against the Philadelphia Eagles Nov. 10.

Quarterback Brett Favre is the NFC's fifth-ranking passer with an 83.1 rating, based upon 251 completions in 387 attempts for 2,568 yards and 23 touchdowns, with 19 interceptions.

He also ranks eighth in NFC third down passing with a 61.1 rating, based upon 65 completions in 115 attempts for 689 yards and 8 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions.

On the defensive side of the football, Mike McKenzie is now tied for sixth among NFC interceptors with 4 following his 2-"pick" harvest against the Bears and teammates Nick Barnett and Darren Sharper are in a tie for 12th with 3 apiece.

Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is tied for seventh in quarterback sacks with 7.0.

Placekicker Ryan Longwell is tied with Washington's John Hall for fourth place in NFC scoring with 94 points (37 of 37 PAT and 19 of 21 FG).

Fellow specialist Josh Bidwell is seventh among NFC punters with a 41.2-yard average for 56 punts and Antonio Chatman stands 10th among conference punt returners with a 7.8 average for 25 runbacks.

From the team perspective, the Packers rank sixth in the NFL on offense and 17th on defense.

The league leaders in rushing a week earlier, they now rank third overall, and 18th in passing.

Defensively, where they moved up from 19th a week ago, they are 11th against the run (up from 16th last week) and 23rd against the pass.

The Packers continue to lead the NFC in inside-the-20 scoring with a 65.0 touchdown percentage. They have amassed 26 touchdowns in 40 possessions.

The Green and Gold also pace the NFC in first down-yards per play with an average of 5.85 yards for 372 offensive plays.

They rank fifth in the conference on inside-the-20 defense, having held the opposition to a 47.2 TD percentage (17 TDs on 36 possessions).

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