Ambushed in the shadow of the "Big Apple," the Green Bay Packers saw their hopes of home field advantage through the playoffs evaporate at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands over the weekend.
But, in the wake of a regular-season ending, 42-17 loss to the New York Jets, there is no time for regrets over what might have been.
As a result of that misadventure, they find themselves hosting the dangerous Atlanta Falcons in a Wild Card playoff in Lambeau Field Saturday in the opening round of the NFL's annual postseason tournament - rather than having the weekend off with a bye.
On the other side of the competitive coin, the Packers - winners of 12 games for the second year in a row - the seventh time in their history - carry a 12-4 regular season record into the playoffs.
The Falcons, meanwhile, enter the postseason with a 9-6-1 record after falling to the Browns in their season finale at Cleveland Saturday (24-16).
Saturday's showdown will be the second encounter this year between the Packers and Falcons - a reprise of their season opener, which saw the Packers shade the Falcons in overtime, 37-34.
For the Packers, Sunday's loss to the Jets ended a four-game winning streak - as well as a string of eight consecutive season-ending victories (1994-2001), the league's longest such streak.
THE TV-RADIO COVERAGE: Saturday night's game will be televised nationally by ABC-TV, with Al Michaels voicing the play-by-play, John Madden providing the analysis and Melissa Stark reporting from the field. Fred Gaudelli is the producer and Drew Esocoff directs.
The game also will be broadcast over the Packer Radio Network (Wayne Larrivee and Larry McCarren) and nationally by CBS Radio Sports/Westwood One, with Joel Meyers calling the play-by-play, Bob Trumpy delivering the analysis and Allen Pinkett reporting from the sideline. The Packer Network broadcast also will be available on the internet via www.packers.com.
THEY'RE PERFECT: Whatever the odds, the Packers should have a psychological edge going into Saturday night's Wild Card matchup.
The Green and Gold, who made their postseason home debut in 1961, have never lost a payoff game in Lambeau Field.
Possessors of an 11-0 record in their favorite venue, they launched their 11-game winning streak with a 37-0 shutout of the New York Giants in the '61 NFL championship game.
The Packers actually own a 13-0 "home" record in the playoffs, having blanked the Giants in the 1939 NFL title game at State Fair Park in Milwaukee and beaten the Los Angeles Rams in a Western Conference playoff at Milwaukee County Stadium in 1967.
Overall, the Packers own a 23-11 record in postseason competition and, essentially, the highest winning percentage in the playoffs (.676), based on a minimum of 15 games. The Baltimore Ravens have an .873 winning percentage, but it is based upon only 6 postseason appearances and a 5-1 record.
Of the other teams in the playoffs, the San Francisco 49ers own the next best postseason percentage. They rank fourth with a 24-16 record and a .600 percentage.
THE SERIES: The Packers and Falcons, who met for the first time in 1966, have kept it close over the 36-year history of their rivalry.
The Packers edged ahead of the Falcons in the series by winning their opening day encounter on Sept. 8, the Green and Gold prevailing in overtime, 37-34.
The victory was the Packers' 11th in the series, compared to 10 for the Falcons.
As testimony to the quality of competition in the rivalry, the average point differential over the history of the series is a mere 4.4 points per game.
In addition to their sudden death opener this season, one of the more memorable meetings in the series occurred on Dec. 18, 1994, when the Packers scored a breathtaking, last-play victory on a Brett Favre bootleg, thus forging a successful conclusion to a 62-year stay in Milwaukee, where the Packers had been playing regular season games since 1933.
THE HEAD COACHES: Unswervingly committed and impeccably prepared, Mike Sherman continues to further entrench himself among the elite head coaches in the National Football League and the premier field leaders in the Packers' distinguished history.
He has quickly earned league-wide respect by consistently paralleling the won-lost achievements of the legendary Vince Lombardi's 1959-62 pace, having forded a 33-15 record in his first three full seasons, compared to Lombardi's 36-12 mark at the same stage of his career.
With those 33 wins, Sherman thus has posted more coaching victories in a three-year span than all but two of his 12 predecessors - Lombardi with 35 victories over the 1961-62-63 seasons (11-13-11) and Mike Holmgren, who had 37 wins over the 1995-96-97 seasons (11-13-13).
Also, from the overall perspective, the 48-year-old New Englander is only the fourth of the 13 head coaches in the team's 83-year history to mount a winning record. In so doing, he joined an exclusive fraternity, whose membership additionally includes only team founder E.L. "Curly" Lambeau, Lombardi and Holmgren.
In the process, Sherman has matched another major Lombardi achievement by leading the Packers into the playoffs in only his second season as head coach. He also has gone up on him by escorting the Packers to victory in his first postseason game. The latter is an accomplishment that eluded Lombardi, who lost his initial playoff game as Green Bay's head coach.
A year earlier, when a head coach for the first time at any level, Sherman debuted by leading the Green and Gold to a 9-7 record, a season climaxed by a sweep of the Packers' four NFC Central rivals (Chicago Detroit, Minnesota and Tampa Bay).
Then, despite assuming the additional and challenging responsibilities of executive vice president and general manager following Ron Wolf's retirement, he maneuvered the Packers to an impressive 12-4 record in 2001, a single-season victory total surpassed by only three teams in club history.
Sherman enhanced that success by leading his team to a 25-15 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in a Wild Card playoff before falling to the Super Bowl bound-St. Louis Rams, in a divisional playoff, 45-17.
And he has augmented those achievements by leading the Packers to another 12-4 season this year - and a second consecutive berth in the playoffs, the latter equaling another Lombardi accomplishment.
The first man in a half-century to shoulder his tri-cornered role - since Lambeau functioned in those capacities 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 SB 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 Seattle staff in 1999.
Now in his 25th year in the coaching profession, the scholarly Central Connecticut State University alumnus began his coaching career at Stamford, Conn., High School in 1978. He subsequently 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 Texas A&M and UCLA.
Dan Reeves, like Sherman, wears more than one hat. A former Dallas Cowboys halfback and previously head coach of both the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants, Reeves serves the Falcons as both head coach and executive vice president of football operations.
Now in his sixth season with the Falcons and his 22nd as an NFL head coach, Reeves ranks first among the league's active coaches with 187 victories, and eighth overall.
The second winningest head coach in Falcons history (46-49-1), he led Atlanta to a 14-2 regular-season record and Super Bowl XXXIII in 1998. Following that achievement, he was named NFL "Coach of the Year" for the fifth time in his career.
Earlier, the 58-year-old Reeves directed the Denver Broncos to three Super Bowl appearances during a four-year span in the late 1980s.
THE LAST TIME: The Packers' most recent encounter with the Atlanta Falcons was one for their mutual memory book.
In part because of a dual display of quarterback virtuosity rarely seen on any gridiron. And in part because it evolved into an overtime duel - only the second in the history of the series.
Brett Favre, the Packers' freewheeling field general, guided the Green and Gold to four touchdowns and three field goals in leading the home forces to a 37-34 sudden death victory in the highest-scoring opener they have been a part of since 1983.
On the other side of the field, the multi-talented Michael Vick, every bit as gifted as advertised, also escorted the fast-rising Falcons to four touchdowns - and a pair of field goals.
Between them Favre and Vick accounted for the production of more than 850 yards of offense, the Packers amassing 484 yards on 76 plays and the Falcons 374 yards on 57 plays, with both making major contributions to their teams' imposing totals. Favre personally accounted for 290 yards, completing 25 of 36 passes for 284 yards and adding 6 yards with a pair of rushing attempts, while Vick was responsible for 281 of Atlanta's yards and, both jet-quick and highly elusive, emerged as his team's rushing leader with 72 yards in 9 attempts.
In the fast-changing process, the Packers were in a come-from-behind mode for most of the afternoon. Out front briefly in the early going, 3-0, they shortly fell behind and were not able to regain the lead until the waning seconds of the third quarter, when they went up 27-24, by way of a 13-yard Favre scoring pass to rookie wideout Javon Walker.
The Falcons promptly retaliated, however, moving 45 yards in 6 plays to score following a 36-yard runback of the succeeding kickoff by former Packer Allen Rossum, Warwick Dunn going the final two yards for the touchdown. With the conversion, the Falcons went back up for what proved to be the final time in the game, 31-27.
The Packers took matters in hand following the kickoff, mounting a highly efficient drive - a 14-play, 80-yard push climaxed by William Henderson's one-yard plunge with only 1 minute and 10 seconds remaining in regulation. Ryan Longwell's conversion sent the Packers up, 34-31.
But the persistent Vick was not yet finished. Taking over at his own 31, he moved the Falcons to the Packers' 34-yard line with only 14 seconds remaining, at which point Atlanta coach Dan Reeves called upon placekicker Jay Feely and he responded with a 52-yard field goal with 5 seconds left to tie it at 34 and send the game into overtime.
The Packers won the OT toss but, after one first down, were required to punt. But Falcon special teamer Travis Jervey, once a Packer, was guilty of roughing punter Josh Bidwell, giving the Packers a first down. It was only a temporary inconvenience for the Falcons, however. They held the Packers on downs, necessitating another punt.
The Green Bay defense returned the favor, forcing an Atlanta three-and-out, and Favre set about settling the issue. Passes of 18 and 13 yards to Javon Walker and Ahman Green, respectively, moved Green Bay into the scoring area at the Atlanta 25.
Four plays later, at 9:45 of the overtime, Longwell delivered a 44-yard field goal to end the suspense.
THE LAST (PACKERS-FALCONS) PLAYOFF: Utilizing a balanced offensive attack, including a Packers postseason record 108 yards rushing from Edgar Bennett, the Packers bested the Falcons, 37-20 in a Wild Card playoff on a soggy, 30-degree afternoon (Dec. 31, 1995) in Lambeau Field.
The Packers had earned an opening round home playoff game for the second straight season, this time by virtue of winning their first outright NFC Central championship in 23 years.
After a 65-yard touchdown pass from Jeff George to Eric Metcalf three minutes into the game gave Atlanta a 7-0 lead and stunned the home playoff record crowd of 60,453, the Packers quickly regained control, scoring two first-quarter touchdowns to seize 14-7 lead. Following a Falcons field goal which narrowed the gap to four, Green Bay broke the game open midway through the second period when rookie Antonio Freeman returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown - the first scoring return of a punt or kickoff in club postseason history. Mark Chmura's two-yard touchdown catch from Brett Favre with less than a minute remaining before halftime, capping a 14-play, 85-yard drive, gave the Packers a commanding 27-10 advantage as the teams headed into the locker room.
Green Bay matched the Falcons score for score after halftime. Favre's third TD toss of the day - a classic, lofting throw to fullback Dorsey Levens with just under eight minutes to play - cemented the issue. Favre completed passes to nine different Green Bay receivers during the contest while Bennett averaged 4.5 yards and scored once on 24 rushing attempts. George threw for 366 yards and two touchdowns for Atlanta, while Metcalf caught eight passes for 114 yards.
NOTABLE PACKERS-FALCONS CONNECTIONS:
NFL ties: In 1991, the Falcons drafted Brett Favre in the second round (33rd overall, third quarterback behind Dan McGwire and Todd Marinovich)...Atlanta dealt Favre to Green Bay for a 1992 first-round pick, then traded that slot (No. 17) to the Cowboys (see Page 112 in Packers media guide for complete details)...In 1990, Packers offensive coordinator Tom Rossley (quarterbacks) and receivers coach Ray Sherman (assistant head coach), preceded Favre in Atlanta, on the Falcons staff...Emmitt Thomas, Atlanta secondary coach, was Green Bay defensive coordinator in 1999...Former Packers John Thierry (2000-01) and Allen Rossum (2000-01) both moved to Atlanta this offseason; Thierry converted to linebacker...Green Bay O-line coach Larry Beightol served in a similar capacity for the Falcons from 1985-86...Billy Davis, current Falcons linebacker coach, in 2000 served as Green Bay's defensive assistant/quality control...Atlanta offensive assistant/quality control Ed West, a former tight end, played with Favre in Green Bay.
College teammates: Todd McClure (Falcons) and Craig Nall (Packers) at LSU...Martin Bibla (Falcons) and Bubba Franks (Packers) at Miami (Fla.).
Other connections: Ray Sherman also coached collegiately at Georgia (1986-87)... Jamal Reynolds, the Packers' 2001 first-round draft choice, is an Augusta, Ga., native...Assistant college scouting director Shaun Herock was a Falcons ball boy as a youth, and interned with the team from 1989-92...College scouting coordinator Danny Mock worked for Atlanta from 1980-96, in the grounds, video and player personnel departments...Green Bay scout Lenny McGill played for both the Packers (1994-95) and Falcons (1996-97)...Atlanta scout Boyd Dowler joined the Packers as a receiver in 1959, Vince Lombardi's first season as head coach.
THE (NFL) STATISTICAL UPDATE: The Packers closed out the season tied with Tampa Bay for league-wide honors in the takeaway-giveaway computation, each team finishing the year with a plus-17 mark.
The Packers ended the season with a league-high 45 takeaways (24 interceptions and 21 fumble recoveries) compared to 28 giveaways (16 opponent interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries).
Quarterback Brett Favre closed out his personal season as the sixth-ranking passer in the NFC, with an 85.6 rating, based upon 341 completions in 551 attempts for 3,658 yards and 27 touchdowns, with 16 interceptions.
Favre also finished fifth in the conference in third-down passing with an 80.4 rating, based upon 87 completions in 150 attempts for 1,120 yards and 7 touchdowns, with 6 interceptions.
Running back Ahman Green finished fourth in NFC rushing with 1,240 yards in 286 attempts, a 4.3-yard average, and fifth in total yards from scrimmage with 1,633, including 393 yards receiving.
Green also ended fifth in the NFC in the production of first downs with 73 (54 rushing and 19 receiving).
Placekicker Ryan Longwell tied with Tampa Bay specialist Martin Gramatica for fourth place in NFC scoring, each finishing with 128 points.
Wide receiver Donald Driver finished ninth in the conference in yards receiving with 1,064 on 70 receptions, with a 15.2-yard average.
On the defensive side of the ball, free safety Darren Sharper closed out his season as the third-ranking interceptor in the NFL with 7 "picks" and fellow defender Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila tied for third in the NFC in quarterback sacks with 12.0.
Punter Josh Bidwell finished ninth in the NFC with a 41.7-yard average for 79 punts.
As a team, the Packers ended the year 13th in the NFL on offense (12th in rushing and 10th in passing) and 12th on defense (21st against the run and third against the pass).
THE INJURY REPORT: Wide receiver Donald Driver, who suffered a shoulder injury in Sunday's finale, and free safety Darren Sharper (knee) have been preliminarily listed as questionable for Saturday's Wild Card playoff by GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman. Driver was injured while running a reverse early in the second quarter and did not return to the game.