THE WEEK PAST: In the final analysis, it was quarterback Brett Favre's now legendary comeback ability combined with a favorable nod from the football fates that carried the Packers to a tightfisted, 17-14 victory over the highly combative Carolina Panthers in their latest NFL venture.
The Packers, who had scored 94 points in their first three games, found themselves leading the Panthers by an exceedingly modest 10-7 margin early in the fourth quarter. And, shortly thereafter, looked up to see Carolina out front, 14-10, following a 2-yard scoring run by running back Lamar Smith, capping a 53-yard drive.
It was here that the indomitable Favre took a firm hand in the proceedings. Rebounding from a 9-yard, first-down sack, he orchestrated a 4-play, 65-yard scoring drive that, it turned out, sent the Packers ahead to stay.
After firing an 11-yard strike to wideout Robert Ferguson, Favre saw his next throw - intended for Donald Driver - intercepted. Fortunately, the Panthers drew a pass interference penalty on the play, giving the Packers' opportunistic field general another opening - this one at the Carolina 29-yard line.
It proved to be all he needed. On the next play, he handed off to rookie Najeh Davenport, who bolted over left guard for 7 yards to the Carolina 22-yard-lline. One play later. Favre hit Driver for the touchdown and Ryan Longwell added the conversion to make it 17-14.
Things looked considerably brighter but the Panthers weren't getting the message. They responded by setting off on an 11-play drive that carried them all the way to the Green Bay 5-yard line. There, Packers defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt smothered Peete for a one-yard loss on an attempted quarterback draw, forcing a Carolina field goal attempt by kicker Shayne Graham. To the unalloyed delight of more than 60,000 Packerphiles, his 24-yard "chip shot" veered wide right.
The Packers' first touchdown also had come through the air - but not by the usual "author." With the Green and Gold trailing, 7-3, late in the second quarter, play-caller Tom Rossley bamboozled the Panthers' defense by calling an option pass. Favre lateraled to his left-handed tight end, loping to his left. Upon receipt of the football, Franks looked down field and lofted a 31-yard strike to Driver in the left corner of the end zone.
There was considerable consternation on the Green Bay sideline almost immediately when a member of the officiating crew ruled that the presumed lateral was an illegal forward pass, prompting Packers GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman to barge out on the field and throw his red flag, demanding a replay review of the play. After considerable confusion, it came about Referee Bill Carollo announced that it had indeed been a legal play and the result, indeed, was a touchdown.
The Packers had opened the scoring with a field goal on their first possession of the game, Favre putting together an 11-play, 73-yard drive to set up a 30-yard bullseye by Longwell.
Ahman Green, returning to action after a one-week absence because of a knee injury, largely constituted Green Bay's running game, gaining 73 of the team's 99 yards rushing in 17 attempts, a 4.3-yard average.
The Green Bay defense, off key in the first three weeks of the season, proved to be somewhat miserly this time around, forcing and recovering three Panther fumbles and making 10 tackles for 22 yards in losses along the way while holding the visitors to 14 points.
THE FAVRE FILE: Although he didn't put up the imposing numbers he customarily mounts, quarterback Brett Favre still made significant Packers and pro football history during the course of Sunday's contest.
Chief among his latest accomplishments: Climbing into fifth place on the NFL's all-time list for most pass completions. With 18 (in 32 attempts) against Carolina, he now has a career total of 3,414, five more than Joe Montana, the previous fifth-place tenant.
The Packers' 32-year-old field general also posted the 25th comeback victory of his illustrious career, leading the Packers to victory after they fell behind in the fourth quarter, 14-10.
From the durability perspective, Favre played in his 163rd consecutive game, thus moving past Larry McCarren (162) into sole possession of third place on the Packers' all-time list. Forrest Gregg (187) is the team's all-time leader, followed by Willie Wood (166).
Favre's fourth-quarter touchdown pass was the 295th of his career, leaving him only 5 behind John Elway (300), third on the NFL's all-time list.
In attempting 32 passes, Favre swelled his career total to 5601, only 3 fewer than Dan Fouts, who is sixth all-time with 5,604 attempts.
ALONE AT THE TOP: In addition to his other achievements, Favre set himself apart from all other quarterbacks of the past half-century by leading the Packers to victory Sunday. It improved his home-stadium regular season record to 68-12, (including 9 games in Milwaukee), giving him an .850 winning percentage, the highest for any quarterback who has launched his career since 1950. He had been tied with Terry Bradshaw, possessor of a 67-12 record and .848 percentage for his home-field career as quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
THE DRIVER FILE: Donald Driver's two touchdown receptions in Sunday's victory were a career-best for the sure-handed, fourth-year professional from Alcorn State and the sixth and seventh of his career. He now has a team-leading four TD catches this season.
And with 5 receptions, the 27-year-old Houston native already has equaled his single-season career high, 21, registered in 2000 - with 12 games remaining on the '02 schedule.
THE FRANKS FILE: For a tight end, Bubba Franks is a "perfectly" productive passer. His option pass for a score, he confided after Sunday's game, was the third pass he has thrown during his football career.
"I also threw one in high school (at Big Spring, Texas) and one in college (the University of Miami)," he said, "both for touchdowns."
In other words, he's batting a 1,000 - three passes...three touchdowns.
THE (NFL) STATISTICAL UPDATE: The Packers moved into first place on offense in the NFC over the weekend, a status based on ranking seventh in rushing and second in passing in the conference.
Overall, they are fourth (13th in rushing and 5th in passing) in the NFL as a whole.
Defensively, the Green and Gold rank 18th (21st a week ago) with the breakdown showing a tie for 27th against the run and 10th against the pass.
Quarterback Brett Favre, third a week earlier, is now second in the NFC's passer ratings with a 94.1 mark, based upon 103 completions in 159 attempts for 1,111 yards and 8 touchdowns, with 3 interceptions.
Favre also ranks fourth among the NFC's fourth-quarter passing leaders with a 91.4 rating, based on 25 completions in 38 attempts for 235 yards and 1 touchdown, without an interception, and sixth in third-down passing with a 93.2 grade, based on 29 completions in 46 attempts for 366 yards and 2 touchdowns, with one interception.
Donald Driver, Favre's most frequent target, ranks fifth in the NFC in receiving yardage with 320 and is tied for 10th with 21 catches. He also is tied for third place in non-kicker scoring with 24 points.
Teammate Ryan Longwell ranks second in conference kicker scoring with 39 points, having made 9 of 10 field goal attempts and all 12 extra points he has attempted.
Running back Ahman Green now is the NFC's fourth-ranking rusher with 309 yards in 61 attempts, a 5.1-yard average, and sixth in total yards from scrimmage with 412, including 61 yards receiving.
Green also is tied for fifth in the NFC in the production of first downs with 18 (13 rushing and 5 receiving).
Safety Darren Sharper and cornerback Mike McKenzie are tied for third among conference interceptors with 2 apiece and Cletidus Hunt is tied for ninth in quarterback sacks with 3.
Punter Josh Bidwell, seventh a week ago, now ranks eighth in the NFC with a 43.8-yard average for 18 punts.
GM/HEAD COACH MIKE SHERMAN'S POST-GAME COMMENTS:
(on the game) "I think our defense stepped up and made tremendous plays for most of the game. We let them off the hook there at the end to get down there.
"Donald Driver stepped up and made some big plays. Brett Favre stepped up. I thought our special teams improved from a week ago.
"I would give the entire team a game ball on the passion they displayed which I hadn't seen as much of until today and we need to continue to play that way. "
(on the penalty) "I didn't think the play was going to be reviewed. There wasn't a sense of urgency to review the play. I knew we practiced it and made it a point of emphasis that this play was not going to be a penalty. We practiced it correctly, I stood and watched it executed correctly and the fact that there was a flag thrown on that bothered me slightly and I reacted adversely to that. I didn't want the game to continue without it being reviewed and I got upset there.
"I'll fine myself for this display, I'll take care of it. I don't think I'm somebody that loses discipline very often, but this situation required it. I responded the way I thought I would respond and probably would respond again if I didn't see action happen on something that I knew was wrong. I was wrong and overreacted, but you put your heart and soul into something and it means something to you, you don't want somebody to take it away from you."
(on being on top of the division) "Being on top of the division this early doesn't mean one bit to me, what matters is where we are at the end of the year. If we had lost this game, I would've been proud of our football team because I think we played hard. We did things we hadn't been doing. We played with intensity and we played with emotion and passion. I was proud of that. I thought they battled.
"I thought our special teams, which had been much maligned, stepped up and made some plays they had to make for us against a very good - I think they're one of the best special teams units in football. They dressed eight linebackers, we dressed five - so they can play special teams.
"Whether you won or lost a game on a play, a field goal, I still felt that way and I would've commended our team on how they battled because if you can play like that and overcome some adversity - we had seven guys who played last week, didn't play this week - if you can overcome those things and play a football game and battle and scratch and crawl, in the long haul you win games. I do believe in that philosophy."
(on not using a time out near the end of the game defensively) "You're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't. I thought about it and elected not to do it. Then we had the injury time out, we were going to ice him after that on the field goal, but you can't have double time outs. I was trying to figure out what they were trying to do. It's something to consider. I thought about it but didn't want to do it."
(on the play of Matt Bowen) "He made a lot of good plays for us. He made some big hits for us and did some nice things for us in that game. He'll just keep getting better. He made a mistake there (on completion to Hoover) but he made up with some effort things. You know what you're getting with him."
THE PLAYER PERSPECTIVE:
Quarterback Brett Favre: (on the play the wide receivers) "I thought we did an excellent job for the most part. They're a good defense. I think they're better now than people had realized. Considering the circumstances and guys being in and out, I thought we did a heck of a job."
(on Bubba's touchdown pass) "I never thought it would be called. It's kind of like any trick play, you wait for the right opportunity and when it will be, you never know, but he had thrown it well in practice."
(on all the changes in the lineup) "It was difficult, I wasn't really concerned with who was in or who was out. Mike and I actually talked about it before the game: my job doesn't change. During the course of the game or the course of the week, when you have guys going out, at some point you might have to adjust, but my focus or my approach of the game doesn't change. If you're getting hit, you're getting hit, but does that mean that you change the plays that are being called or the drops that you take or that you start flushing out of the pocket too quickly? I don't look at it that way. If there is someone else out there catching passes today as opposed to last week, and next week it may be someone different, then that's the way it is. And it's been that way ever since I got here. That's a good quality to have. "
(on being 3-1) "It's a lot like '99 when we were 3-1, but we're a better football team, we're a much more disciplined football team. We played some very good football teams this year and we did back then. I don't know if I've been associated with a team that's had as many injuries or as much adversity this early in the year that we've had to overcome. I'm not making excuses because we won. It's easy to make excuses when you lose. I look out there today and there's a lot of new faces, a lot of young new faces playing and guys stepped up and made plays. Whether you play at home or away, most of the guys now are starting to realize that there are no easy games...and to be 3-1. We would've loved to have won in New Orleans...but there are a lot of teams that lost today. I think it shows the parity in this league. Anytime you can get a win regardless of how you did it, you have to feel fortunate."
Linebacker Hardy Nickerson: (on the increased emotion on defense) "We've been working extremely hard in practice recently, and today was just a byproduct of all of that. Our goal was to continue to get better and to get out there and actually play the way we're all capable of playing."
Wide receiver Donald Driver: (on his touchdown catch from Franks) "It wasn't as hard as Brett throws, but it got the job done just the same. It was a touch pass to the corner, on what seemed to be a busted play, and I just adjusted and ran it in. It's been a pretty successful play in practice. We try to disguise it as a screen pass to Bubba (Franks) and then hopefully I can get behind the defense. It seemed to work pretty well today."
Safety Matt Bowen: (on the outcome of the game) "It feels great anytime you can get a win. It was just an awesome football game. We had our ups and downs, but our defense made some great plays. It just seemed like something was on our side, because people rarely miss field goals like that."
(on the increased emotion on defense) "We're just really tired of things coming down on us. We know how well we can play; we're so much better than what we've shown. Even today we played well, but we had our miscues, and we still gave up 14, almost 17 points."
(on his forced fumble) "It was a third down and the Panthers got us. I came in looking to destroy a guy, I was upset that we'd given up a first on a third-and-long, and I just laid it all into him. It was a great break for the team, and that type of stuff happens when you play hard. That's what we did."
Tight end Bubba Franks: (on his touchdown pass) "That was something we've been practicing since training camp. We've run it about 10 times, and we're about 10 for 10, now we're 11 for 11. It was just a great call by Coach, he saw the opportunity, and we capitalized. I looked up and saw Don (Driver) open across the middle. He was cutting off my space to throw it to him as he got closer and closer to the sideline, so I kind of put it behind him and he did a great job of adjusting. I just tried to make sure I put it in the air. I've thrown a couple of passes in college and high school, but this one was by far my greatest toss."
Defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt: (on his performance) "The Panthers are a great team, they beat us in '99 and we all wanted to come in today and make sure we made up for it. I just had to make sure I laid it all on the line. The defense, offense, everybody just stepped it up, and no doubt we all left everything out there on the field."
(on his stop on the final drive) "I told Gilbert (Brown), we had to get him, and when they came up to the line, I came hard up the middle and I just tried to make the stop. We got him (Rodney Peete), and things went from there. When I got up I didn't really notice it until I went to raise my arms, but I got a stinger in my shoulder. It wasn't anything serious so I'll be fine."
Defensive end Aaron Kampman: (on his first start in the NFL) "I'm just glad we won. We all tried our best to make a difference, and show what we were capable of. I went out there every play, trying to make a play. I got some hurries, I got some big plays, I've just been working hard to make sure I do my part. Every win is big, and I feel like I helped the team do that today. We're just going to come back in and get to work again."
-Sunday's victory was the Packers' sixth straight in Lambeau Field, including last January's Wild Card playoff victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
-GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman now owns a 22-3 won-lost record in "Lambeau," including 15-3 mark in regular season, 1-0 in the postseason and 6-0 in preseason play.
-The Packers' current 3-1 record matches last year's season start.
-Sunday's attendance, 63,329, established a new Lambeau Field record. The previous mark, 63,127, was set at the regular season opener against Detroit (September 8).
-Fullback William Henderson's 114-game playing streak, the second-longest streak on the team behind Brett Favre's 163 straight, ended when he was inactive for Sunday's game. He laws sidelined by a knee injury suffered in the Detroit game September 22.
-Sunday's other inactives included defensive linemen Vonnie Holliday, Rod Walker and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, tight end David Martin, wide receiver Javon Walker, safety Antuan Edwards and designated Third Quarterback Craig Nall.
-With starter Vonnie Holliday sidelined by a pectoral injury, rookie Aaron Kampman made his first NFL start Sunday and he made an impact, weighing in with 7 tackles, 4 of them unassisted and 2 for losses.
-Center Mike Flanagan, hampered by a broken thumb during the early stages of the season, made his first '02 start, replacing veteran Frank Winters.
-Veteran tight end Tyrone Davis also made a situational start, opening the game as the second tight end on the Packers' first play in lieu of a fullback.
-Cletidus Hunt's 2 sacks of Carolina quarterback Rodney Peete lifted him into sole team leadership with three.
-One of Hunt's sacks forced a Peete fumble, recovered by Joe Johnson at the Green Bay 24-yard line to avert a major Carolina threat.
-Steve Warren's 3-yard, third-down sack of Peete in the third quarter, forcing a punt, was the first sack of his pro career.
-Ryan Longwell's first-quarter field goal was his ninth in 10 attempts this season.
-Torrance Marshall, recently transferred from linebacker to fullback, was called upon to move in at middle linebacker when Hardy Nickerson was shaken up on the first play from scrimmage, but his stint was brief, Nickerson coming back into the game a play later.
-Cornerback Tyrone Williams was nicked up on the same play - he and Nickerson had collided - but returned to the game midway through the first quarter.
-Darrien Gordon's 27-yard punt return was the packers' longest of the season.
-Matt Bowen stepping in for the injured Antuan Edwards at safety, forced a key fourth-quarter fumble by Carolina's Dee Brown, recovered by Jamal Reynolds at the Panthers' 38-yard line.
-Guard Mike Wahle (offense), linebacker Nate Wayne (defense) and linebacker Paris Lenon (special teams) were the Packers' captains for Sunday's game.