Already one of the most successful teams in club history following a fourth straight victory, the streaking Green Bay Packers (12-3) remain in tantalizing range of home field advantage in the NFC playoffs with one game left on their regular season agenda.
The latter will take the NFC North Division champions to Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., for their '02 finale against the formidable New York Jets (8-7) next Sunday (Dec. 29), with kickoff set for 3:15, CST (Wisconsin time).
In the interim, the Packers keep an eye on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Philadelphia Eagles, the other principals in the drive for home field advantage, who hold tie-breaker edges on Green Bay.
The Eagles, like the Packers, are 12-3, with a final game against the New York Giants on the road next Saturday (Dec. 28).
The Buccaneers, meanwhile, were hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday night (Dec. 23) before closing out their regular season schedule against the Chicago Bears at Champaign, Ill., next Sunday night (Dec. 29).
As the weekend began, the Eagles held a tie-breaker advantage over the Packers because of a better won-lost record in the conference and the Buccaneers because of having defeated the Packers in their Nov. 24 game (21-7).
Under the circumstances, the Packers had to content themselves with the knowledge that they are only the seventh team in club history to win as many as 12 games in a season - and only the second team in the organization's annals to have won as many as 12 games in back-to-back seasons, having posted a 12-4 record in 2001. The 1996-1997 Packers registered back-to-back 13-3 records.
The roster of 12-game winners: 1929 (12-0-1); 1931 (12-2-0); 1962 (13-1-0); 1966 (12-2-0); 1996 (13-3-0); 1997 (13-3-0); 2001 (12-4-0); 2002 (to be completed).
PERFECT, TOO: The Packers also made additional history with Sunday's victory, thus closing out their home season with an unblemished record (8-0) for the first time since 1997 and the 11th time in team history (second only to the Chicago Bears' 13 undefeated home seasons).
THE SHERMAN RECORD: With Sunday's victory, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman now owns a 33-14 won-lost record as Green Bay's head coach, the 33 victories representing the fifth-most wins by a head coach in Packers history - a remarkable achievement considering there have been 13 head coaches and that Sherman is just closing out his third season.
Sherman also improved his record for the month to 4-and-0 and his overall mark for December as Green Bay's field leader to 12-and-1.
Additionally, the Packers are now 21-3 under Sherman when they score first.
THE TV-RADIO COVERAGE: Dick Stockton will handle the play-by-play for the Fox Sports Network telecast of Sunday's against the Jets and Daryl Johnston will provide the analysis. Bob Stenner is the producer and Artie Kempner directs.
The game also will be aired over the Packer Radio Network, with Wayne Larrivee calling the play-by-play and Larry McCarren offering commentary and analysis, and nationally by CBS Radio Sports/Westwood One (Bob Papa and John Riggins). The Packer Network broadcast will be available on the internet via www.packers.com.
THE SERIES: Though the Packers' series with the Jets dates back nearly three decades, they have seen little of each over that span. Their meeting in their joint regular season finale next Sunday will be only the ninth in their rivalry, launched at Milwaukee County Stadium in 1973.
The Packers prevailed in the latter, posting a 23-7 victory over the Jets despite the best efforts of their celebrated quarterback, Joe Namath.
The Jets have dominated the series since, however, winning six of their last seven encounters - including five in a row, and lead the series overall, 6-2.
The Packers' only breakthrough during this span occurred in 1994, when the Packers registered a 17-10 victory in Lambeau Field.
Sunday's contest will mark the Packers' first visit to the Jets in 11 years.
THE HEAD COACHES: Invariably positive, highly consistent and meticulously prepared, Mike Sherman has entrenched himself among the elite head coaches in the National Football League - and the premier field leaders in the Packers' storied history.
Demonstrating exceptional coaching acumen, he has earned league-wide respect by consistently paralleling the won-lost achievements of the fabled Vince Lombardi's 1959-62 pace in the same role, having forged a 33-14 record in his first 47 regular-season games compared to the latter's 35-12 mark at the same stage of his Green Bay career.
Equally impressive, from the overall perspective, Sherman has become only the fourth of the 13 head coaches in the team's 82-year history to mount a winning record. In so doing, he has joined a highly exclusive fraternity, whose exclusive membership additionally includes team founder E.L. "Curly" Lambeau, Lombardi and Mike Holmgren.
In the process, the thoroughgoing New Englander also has matched another major Lombardi achievement by leading the Packers into the playoffs in only his second season as head coach. Moreover, he also has gone one 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 field leader.
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 Division rivals (Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, Tampa Bay).
Then, despite assuming the additional and challenging responsibilities of executive vice president and general manager following Ron Wolf's unexpected retirement, he next maneuvered the Packers to an impressive 12-4 record in 2001, a single-season victory total previously surpassed by only three teams in club history.
Sherman then enhanced that success by leading his team to 25-15 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in a Wild Card playoff before seeing the Packers fall to the Super Bowl-bound St. Louis Rams (45-17) in a Divisional playoff.
The first man in a half-century to shoulder his tri-cornered role - since Lambeau last 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 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 the 48-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 Seattle staff in 1999.
Sherman, now in his 25th year in the coaching profession, began 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.
Herman Edwards, the 13th head coach in New York Jets history, is closing out his second season as their field leader after having served as the assistant head coach-defensive backs coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the previous five seasons.
In 2001, he made a highly successful debut, leading the Jets to a 10-6 regular-season mark and, after clinching one of the AFC Wild Card positions, became the first head coach in team history to make the playoffs in his first season.
While Edwards was with Tampa Bay in 1999, the Buccaneers faced eventual Super Bowl XXXIV champion St. Louis in the NFC Championship Game and held the prolific Rams offense to 11 points.
Before joining Tampa Bay, Edwards worked for the Kansas City Chiefs for six seasons in several different roles. In 1995, he worked as a scout in the pro personnel department. During the 1992-94 seasons, he worked as the team's defensive backs coach. In 1990-91, Edwards was a talent scout for the Chiefs while assisting the defensive backs coach.
Edwards began his pro coaching career as a participant in the NFL's Minority Coaching Fellowship program with the Chiefs in the summer of 1989. The former Philadelphia Eagles cornerback played nine NFL seasons before entering the coaching field.
THE LAST TIME: Inability to hold a lead proved the Packers' downfall the last time they saw the Jets - in Lambeau Field on Sept. 3, 2000, the day on which they launched the season under new Head Coach Mike Sherman.
They moved out front on no fewer than four occasions before the Jets claimed a permanent advantage, 20-16, via quarterback Vinny Testaverde's 3-yard scoring pass to workhorse running back Curtis Martin with only 3:28 remaining in the game.
The Packers had gone up for the fourth and final time in the game on Ryan Longwell's 42-yard field goal, 16-13.
The Green and Gold's defensive task was complicated by the inability of the offense to sustain drives, the Jets dominating the time of possession, 37 minutes, 50 seconds, to the Packers' 22 minutes, 10 seconds. As a consequence, the Jets won the statistical battle, 379 yards to the Packers' 211.
The Packers had opened the scoring with quarterback Brett Favre's 4-yard throw to tight end Tyrone Davis in the right corner of the end zone at 9:33 of the first quarter. The opportunity was presented by free safety Darren Sharper, who intercepted a Testaverde pass and returned it 29 yards before being run out of bounds at the Jets' 4-yard line.
The Jets subsequently squared matters on a 2-yard Martin run, followed by John Hall's conversion.
Longwell's 45-yard field goal with 6 minutes left in the first half again put the Packers ahead, 10-7, but the Jets' Hall connected from 32 yards out in the final minute of the first half, sending the principals into the locker room deadlocked at 10-10.
Longwell sent Green Bay out front for the third time with a 42-yard field goal late in the third quarter but Hall later pulled the Jets even at 13 with a 39-yard field goal in the sixth minute of the fourth quarter, setting the stage for the "late show" scenario.
The Packers had one final opportunity to pull out a victory for their new head coach, Favre mounting a 10-play drive that carried them to the Jets' 35-yard line with 1:08 remaining. There, however, all hopes of a last-minute miracle evaporated when Jets strong safety Victor Glenn pilfered Favre's 34th and final pass at the visitors' 9-yard line.
Favre, playing for the first time since the opening game of the preseason after being sidelined by tendinitis in the elbow of his passing arm, completed 14 of his 34 passing attempts for 152 yards and one touchdown, with one interception.
NOTABLE PACKERS-JETS CONNECTIONS:
NFL ties: Green Bay coaches Larry Beightol (1990-94), Ed Donatell (1990-94) and Ray Sherman (1994) coached previously on the Jets staff...Packers head trainer Pepper Burruss spent 16 years (1977-92 seasons) on the Jets training staff...Long snapper Rob Davis signed with the Jets as an undrafted free agent in 1993 and spent his first two NFL training camps with the team...Tight end Tyrone Davis, drafted by New York in the fifth round of the '95 draft, spent his first two NFL seasons with the Jets, before they traded him to the Packers in 1997...Beightol was coaching in Atlanta when Herman Edwards, now the Jets' head coach, played there in 1986...Edwards worked with Mark Hatley, now the Packers' vice president of football operations, in Kansas City from 1990-95...Edwards and LB Hardy Nickerson were together in Tampa Bay from 1996-99...Jets O-coordinator Paul Hackett and Nickerson were in Pittsburgh from 1989-92...Hackett and Hatley were in Kansas City together from 1993-96.
College teammates: Jonathan Carter (Jets) and Rod Walker (Packers) at Troy State...Laveranues Coles (Jets) and Jamal Reynolds and Javon Walker (Packers) at Florida State...Shaun Ellis (Jets) and David Martin (Packers) at Tennessee...Jason Glenn (Jets) and Robert Ferguson (Packers) at Texas A&M...Santana Moss (Jets) and Bubba Franks (Packers) at Miami...Chad Pennington (Jets) and Billy Lyon (Packers) at Marshall.
Other connections: Both Jets kickers, PK John Hall (Wisconsin) and P Matt Turk (Wisconsin-Whitewater) played collegiately in Wisconsin...Turk is a Greenfield, Wis., native and current resident...Hackett and Ray Sherman coached at Cal in 1975...Packers assistant head coach Bob Slowik coached at Rutgers from 1984-89...Starting center Frank Winters is from Union City (N.J.) and Emerson High School...Pro Bowl guard Marco Rivera is a Brooklyn native and starred at Long Island's Emerson Memorial High School; Rivera's father, Bill, was a butcher for 35 years in Brooklyn, and previously operated two family-owned meat markets: Two Brothers Meat Market and Sunrise Meat Market, before the businesses were sold.
THE INJURY REPORT: Safety Darren Sharper suffered a medial collateral ligament sprain of his right knee after making an end zone interception of a Drew Bledsoe pass in the first quarter and did not return to the game.
''GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman said, during his post-game press conference, that there is "an outside chance that Sharper will be available" for Sunday's season finale against the New York Jets.
THE (NFL) STATISTICAL UPDATE: Third a week ago, the Green Bay Packers vaulted into the league lead in the takeaway-giveaway table on the wings of their six-takeaway effort in Sunday's,10-0 victory over Buffalo.
The Packers now own a plus-18 reading, based upon a league-high 45 takeaways (24 interceptions and 21 recoveries of opponent fumbles) compared to 27 giveaways (15 opponent interceptions and 12 lost tumbles).
Kansas City is runner-up with a plus-16 mark.
Running back Ahman Green has moved up to third place in the NFC in total yards from scrimmage with 1,561 (1,173 rushing and 388 receiving).
Green is fourth in NFC rushing, his 1,173 yards just 11 yards behind third-ranking Tiki Barber of the New York Giants (1,184).
He also is fifth in the NFC in the production of first downs with 71, including 52 rushing and 19 receiving.
Quarterback Brett Favre, third a week ago, ranks fourth among conference passers with an 87.1 rating, based upon 325 completions in 518 attempts for 3,486 yards and 26 touchdowns, with 15 interceptions.
Favre also ranks fourth in the conference in third-down passing with an 85.4 rating, based upon 83 completions in 141 attempts for 1,100 yards and 7 touchdowns, with 5 interceptions.
Placekicker Ryan Longwell is now fourth among NFC kick-scorers with 123 points, having made all 42 extra points he has attempted and 27 of 33 field goal attempts.
Split end Donald Driver ranks eighth in the NFC in receiving yards with 1,054 and is tied for ninth in receptions with 69.
On the defensive side of the football, safety Darren Sharper's seventh interception has him tied with the Oakland Raiders' Ron Woodson for the league lead and defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is tied for third in the NFL with 12.0 quarterback sacks.
Punter Josh Bidwell is ninth among NFC punters with a 41.7-yard average for 73 punts, his 35.5 net average ranking seventh.
As a team, the Packers rank 12th on offense (11th in rushing and 10th in passing) and ninth on defense (22nd against the run and 2nd against the pass).
THE HOLLIDAY FILE: Vonnie Holliday should have been elated. He had just set an official, all-time Packers record, having amassed the remarkable total of five quarterback sacks. But his great day had come at a time of great personal tragedy in his life - the unexpected loss of a teen-age cousin on Saturday.
Holliday's second cousin, Marcus Warren, collapsed during a basketball game in Hilton Head, S.C., and died of a congenital heart defect.
"I had a late night last night with my family," Holliday said while speaking to the media during a post-game press conference. "We really didn't get much sleep. My little cousin (Marcus Warren), the next superstar, died tragically last night, and all of this today was for him.
"God gave me the strength and no doubt he was up there helping. I just have to believe that he was with me...When I was out there everything was happening in slow motion.
"I have to believe that I certainly have another angel up there looking out for me. Today he had some involvement in what happened for me.
"You like to say you go out every game and play with passion. But I think today I went out and played with more passion. I felt like his presence was there. It gave me that extra push, that extra passion to play."
On the subject of his record performance, which had seen him also force three fumbles, the emotional Holliday said, "I can't say enough about my teammates today. We got great coverage from our d-backs all day long. They really made (Drew) Bledsoe hold the ball. All the factors that help us defensive linemen get sacks were happening out there today, and I'm just very fortunate."
Holliday's record sack sequence:
- Sack One: A 10-yard trap of Bledsoe at Green Bay 15-yard line, forcing a failed field goal attempt by Mike Hollis (third quarter)
- Sack Two: A 7-yard trap of Bledsoe at Buffalo 45 (fourth quarter)
- Sack Three: A 7-yard trap of Bledsoe at Buffalo 38, forcing fumble recovered by Jamal Reynolds, leading to Packers' touchdown
- Sack Four: A 7-yard trap of Bledsoe at Buffalo 23-yard line
- Sack Five: A 6-yard trap of Bledsoe at Green Bay 23-yard line, forcing fumble recovered by Cletidus Hunt, allowing Packers to run out the clock to end game
The previous official Packers single-game sack record was 4.5, established by linebacker Bryce Paup against the Buccaneers at Tampa Sept. 15, 1991.
THE FAVRE FILE: In presiding at Sunday's victory over Buffalo, Brett Favre improved his perfect record at home to 35-0 (29-0 regular season, 6-0 playoffs) when the game-time temperature is 34 degrees or below. Those 35 wins include four victories this year (over Miami, Chicago, Minnesota and Buffalo).
In Sunday's process, Favre also padded his December record as a starting quarterback to 35-10, the best record for December by a starting quarterback since the 1970 league merger (minimum 20 starts).
He thus passed Joe Theismann (34-10), with whom he had been tied.
Favre also made his 172nd start, extending his NFL record for quarterbacks.
Looking to Sunday's season finale against the Jets, Favre needs to hit approximately 70 percent of his passes to establish the second-most accurate season in team history (his 64.92 percent in 1992 is the record). Bart Starr's 63.74 percent ranks second. Favre will be attempting to eclipse the 62.98 figure he compiled in 1995, when he won MVP honors, and 1998, a league-leading mark in the latter year.
THE GREEN FILE: Ahman Green made historic statistical strides while contributing 133 yards of offense to the Packers cause, moving past the legendary Paul Hornung into seventh place on the team's career rushing list in the process.
The highly productive ex-Cornhusker became the first Packer ever to surpass 1,500 yards from scrimmage three times in a career, eclipsing that total for a third consecutive year, parlaying his aggregate to 1,561 yards this season (1,173 rushing and 388 receiving).
He previously accounted for 1,734 yards from scrimmage in 2000 and a career-high 1,981 in 2001.
Only two others in team history have gone over the 1,500 mark twice - Jim Taylor in 1962 and 1964 and Dorsey Levens in 1997 and 1999.
In passing Hornung, Green swelled his career rushing total to 3,735 yards, (24 yards beyond Hornung's 3,711.
Green also supplanted Hornung in sixth place in combined career rushing and receiving, swelling his lifetime total to 5,276 yards. Hornung closed out his career with 5,191 rushing and receiving yards.
Green's 116-yard rushing effort Sunday was the 14th of his Green Bay career, breaking a tie with John Brockington (13) for the second-most 100-yard rushing days in Packers annals. Jim Taylor is the club's all-time leader with 26.
Over his Packers career, Green is averaging 4.45 yards per carry (839 for 3,735 yards), the third-best in team history, behind Gerry Ellis (4.58, 1980-86) and Jim Taylor, 4.53, 1958-66).