Stimulated by sight of their arch enemies, the Green Bay Packers (2-2) rained on the Chicago Bears' long-awaited rededication "parade" to regain parity in the NFC North Division over the weekend, departing Chicago's renovated Soldier Field with a 38-23 victory in the national spotlight of "Monday Night Football."
From the competitive perspective, it was a good thing they did. The formidable Seattle Seahawks, undefeated (3-0) leaders of the NFC West, next are due to arrive in Green Bay's Lambeau Field Sunday (Oct. 5) for an interdivisional showdown with the Green and Gold.
Kickoff for the intriguing matchup, which will find Packers GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman opposing a returning Mike Holmgren on the coaching lines for the first time, has been set for 12 noon, CDT. The game, as per custom, is a season-ticket sellout (72,515).
By way of their workmanlike victory over the Bears – a conquest which dimmed a historic evening for a capacity crowd of 61,500 getting a first look at the refurbished venue on Chicago's lakefront – the Packers moved to within 2 games of Minnesota's division-leading Vikings (4-0) while also improving their intra-division record to 2-1.
They likewise continued their mastery of the Chicagoans, besting the Bears for the sixth straight time and extending their winning streak in Illinois to 10 in a row. They now have won 19 of 23 games with the Bears dating back to the start of the 1992 season.
Overall, it was the Packers' 76th victory in the series, launched in 1921 when the Bears were known as the Decatur Staleys. The Bears have won on 83 occasions and there have been 6 ties, the most recent a 21-21 standoff in 1953.
THE 'MONDAY NIGHT' RECORD: The Packers' win over the Bears was their fifth straight on the prime time showcase – and likewise their fifth straight over the Midway Monsters on 'MNF.'
It also was the Green and Gold's 21st victory in 40 appearances on "Monday Night Football," compared to 18 losses and one tie.
Additionally, the latest success also was GHM/Head Coach Mike Sherman's fifth straight win on the series and improved his 'MNF' record to 6-1.
MIKE SHERMAN AND THE BEARS: Mike Sherman, the record continues to show, has had his way with the Bears since coming into the National Football League in 1997. With Monday night's victory, he is the possessor of a combined 10-1 record against the Midway Monsters. He is 6-1 against them as a head coach (2000-2003) and 4-0 as an assistant coach under Mike Holmgren (1997-98).
Within that 10-1 record, Sherman is 4-0 against the Bears on the road, including a 34-21 victory at Champaign, Ill., in 2002, when Chicago played its home games at the University of Illinois Memorial Stadium while Soldier Field was being renovated.
THE TV-RADIO COVERAGE: Dick Stockton will handle the play-by-play and Daryl Johnston will provide the analysis for the Fox Sports telecast of Sunday's game. Bob Stenner is the producer and Sandy Grossman directs.
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 the commentary and analysis. The radio broadcast also will be available on www.packers.com for NFL Field Pass subscribers.
THE SERIES: A Packers-Seahawks matchup is a genuine rarity. There have, in fact, been only eight such meetings since Seattle entered the National Football League in 1976 – a year when the Green and Gold, by way of contrast, were marking their 56th season in the NFL.
If rarity were not sufficient reason to pique special interest in next Sunday's contest, there will be added spice to the Packers' ninth showdown with the Seahawks because it will be accompanied by the return to Titletown of Mike Holmgren, the monolithic Scandinavian who led the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XXXI during a seven-year tenure as Green Bay's head coach (1992-98), an era marked by six consecutive playoff appearances.
Adding further zest to the occasion will be the fact that Packers GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman will be matching tactical wits with his former boss for the first time. Sherman began his NFL coaching career under Holmgren in 1997 as tight ends and assistant offensive line coach for the Packers, then accompanied him to Seattle in 1999 before returning to Green Bay as head coach in 2000 as the successor to Ray Rhodes.
For Holmgren, it will be the second visit to his former coaching home. As fate would have it, immediately after he moved to Seattle in 1999, he found the '99 schedule bringing him back to Green Bay in his first year with the Seahawks. It turned out to be a triumphant homecoming for the former 49ers offensive coordinator, who led the Seahawks to a 27-7 victory in a Nov. 1 showdown.
From the historical perspective, the Packers have had little success with Seattle of late – after winning the first three games of the series. The Seahawks have won four of the last five meetings, tying the series at 4-4 in the process. The Packers ended a three-game Seattle winning streak in 1996, registering their most recent success in the series, 31-10, (under Holmgren) en route to a 13-3 record and victory in Super Bowl XXXI.
THE COACHES: Meticulously prepared and highly consistent, Mike Sherman has presided over more victories in his first three seasons (33) than any other head coach in the Packers' 84-year history…more than team founder Curly Lambeau, more than the fabled Vince Lombardi and more than Mike Holmgren…the other winning head coaches in the history of professional football's most successful franchise.
Over that productive three-year span, Sherman has entrenched himself in what has become a substantially expanded role (he attached the titles of executive vice president and general manager to his résumé after just one season as head coach), leading Green Bay to three consecutive winning seasons and, in 2002, to its first division championship in 1997 en route to a second straight playoff appearance, earning Sherman Staples 'Coach of the Year' honors for the '02 season en route.
Taking on the additional duties with typically total commitment – and literally without missing a step – he maneuvered the Packers to back-to-back 12-4 records in 2001 and 2002, the Green and Gold thus becoming the winningest team in the league over that two-year span (24-8). The 12-4 marks have been exceeded by only four teams in the club's 82-year NFL existence and the 12-12 parlay was only the second such coupling in team annals.
In the overall process, the 48-year-old Northborough, Mass., native also 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) compared to Lombardi's 26-12-0 over a similar stretch (two 12-game seasons and one 14-game campaign) while he served as the Packers' head coach and general manager (1959-61).
Additionally, Sherman equaled another Lombardi achievement by leading the Packers into the playoffs in only his second season (2001) at the controls.
Along the way, he has made Lambeau Field an uncomfortable place for NFL rivals to visit. Since he moved in at 1265 Lombardi Avenue in 2000, the Green and Gold have forged an imposing 22-4 record in "Lambeau" under his leadership – the best regular season record in the NFL 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 role – since Lambeau functioned as vice president, general manager and head coach 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 Super Bowl XXXII against the Denver Broncos in 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 26th year in the coaching profession, the ex-Central Connecticut State University offensive lineman 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 respected programs as UCLA and Texas A&M.
Mike Holmgren was named as the sixth head coach in Seahawks history on Jan. 9, 1999. In his first season, he guided Seattle to its first postseason appearance since 1988, posting a 9-7 record.
Holmgren joined the Seahawks after serving as head coach at Green Bay (1992-98), where – by winning at least one game in five consecutive postseasons – he joined John Madden (1973-77) as the only coaches in league history to accomplish that feat.
In 17 NFL seasons, (1999-2002 head coach Seattle, 1992-98 head coach Green Bay, 1986-1991 assistant coach San Francisco) Holmgren's teams have compiled a 177-93-1 (.655 record), posted double-digit win totals 10 times, made the postseason 12 times, won three Super bowls (XIII, XIV, and XXXI), and reached another (XXXII). Career record: 118-76.
A quarterback at Southern California as a collegian (1966-69), he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the eighth round of the 1970 draft while earning his degree in business finance.
Holmgren subsequently served as an assistant coach at San Francisco State (1981) and Brigham Young (1982-85).
THE LAST TIME: There was nothing mysterious about what befell the Packers in their most recent encounter with the Seattle Seahawks, which occurred against a "Monday Night Football" backdrop on the evening of Nov. 1, 1999.
Seven turnovers – four interceptions and three lost fumbles – were more than enough to do them in, contributing directly to 13 Seattle points on one hand and severely reducing the Packers' offensive and scoring opportunities on the other.
And those misadventures do not include a blocked field goal which the Seahawks appropriated and ran in for a touchdown to launch the unpleasant process. Cornerback Shawn Springs picked up the loose football and raced 61 yards for the score to give the visitors a 6-0 lead in the eleventh minute of the first quarter.
Brett Favre, who deserved a better fate on the night he tied the NFL's quarterback durability record by starting his 116th consecutive game, looked like he might be en route to the kind of night befitting such an accomplishment when he collaborated with second-year wideout Corey Bradford on a 74-yard pass-run touchdown early in the second quarter.
Ryan Longwell's conversion made it all even at 7-7 at 4:43 of the second quarter – the last time in the evening that the score was to be tied.
Following a mid-period exchange of fumbles, the Seahawks staged a 6-play, 52-yard drive which came to fruition by way of a 10-yard Jon Kitna pass to former Packer Derrick Mayes in the heart of the end zone. Todd Peterson's second conversion staked the Hawks to what was to become a permanent 14-7 lead.
The invaders then proceeded to take command at the start of the second half, taking the kickoff and marching 73 yards to a third touchdown, Kitna hitting Sean Dawkins with a 2-yard pass in the left corner of the end zone for the score.
Favre managed to regroup his forces for one last major assault, escorting them to a first down at the Seattle 8-yard line late in the third quarter. But he was sacked by Seattle's Cortez Kennedy, fumbling in the process. The Seahawks' Michael Sinclair recovered and returned to the Seattle 22-yard line, ending the Packers' last serious threat.
Favre, throwing four interceptions for only the second time in his career, re-injured his right (passing) hand during the course of the game and, before giving way to backup Matt Hasselbeck, completed 14 of 35 passes for 180 yards and one touchdown.
THE (NFL) STATISTICAL UPDATE: By dint of his 176-yard eruption against the Bears in Chicago Monday night, running back Ahman Green essentially swept the board statistically in the National Football Conference over the weekend.
Posting a pair of touchdowns in the process, he begins Week 5 of the 2003 season leading the NFC in:
–Scoring, with 30 points…on 5 touchdowns;
–Rushing, with 442 yards in 78 attempts, a 5.7-yard average;
–Total yards from scrimmage, with 551 (including 109 receiving yards); and
–In the production of first downs with 32 (26 rushing and 6 receiving).
Green, whose 176-yard effort is the best rushing performance in the NFC to date, also is tied for first in third-and-one rushing with a 100-percent conversion rate (4 first downs in 4 attempts) and is 11th in NFC receiving with 17 catches.
Quarterback Brett Favre leads the NFC in completions (84) and touchdowns (7), and ranks ninth in overall passer rating (76.6).
Favre additionally is eighth in fourth-quarter passing with 90.8 reading, based upon 27 completions in 41 attempts for 293 yards and 3 touchdowns, with 2 interceptions, and ninth in third-down passing with a 69.6 rating on 18 completions for 171 yards and 4 touchdowns, with 3 interceptions.
Placekicker Ryan Longwell, who has made all 12 extra points and 5 field goals he has attempted to date, is tied for fifth in conference scoring with 27 points.
Return specialist Antonio Chatman ranks eighth in the conference in both punt returns (a 9.4-yard average for 9 runbacks) and kickoff returns (23.4 yards for 16 returns).
Josh Bidwell stands 11th among NFC punters with a 40.6 average for 16 punts.
On the defensive side of the football, rookie linebacker Nick Barnett is tied for fifth with a pair of interceptions and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is tied for 11th in sacks with 2.
As a team, the Packers improved from 14th last week to 12th on offense (12th in rushing and 20th in passing) and declined from 22nd to 24th on defense (23rd against the run and 18th against the pass).
THE INJURY REPORT: "Darren Sharper had a blow to the head but came off under his own power – the fact that he was able to look up the JumboTron to watch himself come off the field said that he was OK…so," GH/Head Coach Mike Sherman said in facetiously launching his post-game report to the media.
"Mike McKenzie strained his side," Sherman continued, adding, "Bhawoh Jue had a laceration of his arm, Antuan Edwards had an ankle sprain, William Henderson a groin, David Martin had an ankle early in the game and came back. Rod Walker hurt his side and he went back into the game, I believe, at one time.
"Nothing there that is a significant injury that would keep anybody out of practice at this point, as far as I know, but we'll find out more about that tomorrow.
"There was a time in the game when we were out of defensive backs for the most part. (Linebacker) Marcus Wilkins actually had to play corner for us."