The "Wild Card" designation was hardly a misnomer for what transpired in the Packers' playoff matchup with the Seattle Seahawks in Lambeau Field Sunday.
Before it was over, they had combined for more than 700 yards of offense, 60 points and a breathtaking overtime finish that found lingering fans still enthusiastically chanting, "Go Pack, Go" well after the Packers' Al Harris had intercepted a Matt Hasselbeck pass and cantered into the end zone with the game's winning touchdown to seal a 33-27 sudden death victory.
The first half, a relatively routine affair, had given little indication of what was to come. It ended with the Packers out front, 13-6, by way of a 23-yard Brett Favre scoring pass to tight end Bubba Franks, who managed to find himself alone in the end zone with 4:37 remaining in the second quarter, and a pair of Ryan Longwell field goals.
What eventuated from there was a considerably different matter. The Seahawks suddenly took the offensive - literally - at the start of the third quarter, mounting a pair of long scoring drives, a 10-play, 74-yard march and an 11-play, 77-yard trek - to forge into a 20-13 lead on back-to-back TD runs by Shaun Alexander.
Whereupon Brett Favre and his Green and Gold colleagues re-gathered themselves and abruptly turned the tables upon the Seahawks, matching their pair of third-quarter scores with a brace of their own.
Favre first put together a 12-play, 60-yard push to tie the score and a 12-play, 51-yard drive to send Green Bay ahead, 27-20, Ahman Green accounting for both scores with one-yard plunges.
At this point, only 2:44 remained in the game but it was more than enough for Hasselbeck to engineer a score-tying drive, with the aid of a 34-yard strike to Bobby Engram that flew the Seahawks to the Green Bay 10-yard line. Three plays later, Alexander was in the end zone with his third one-yard scoring run of the day and Josh Brown's conversion squared matters at 27-all - with only 45 seconds remaining.
That, however, was sufficient for Favre to maneuver the Packers into what appeared to be scoring position, hitting Javon Walker with a 27-yard bullseye to the Seattle 30 with 29 seconds left in regulation.
Following a one-yard Green run, and with only 12 seconds left, the Packers had no choice but to essay a 47-yard field goal - a long effort amid swirling winds - and Longwell's kick fell short, sending the game into overtime.
The Seahawks won the toss and received the overtime kickoff but went three-and-out, as did the Packers following a Seattle punt.
The visitors managed one first down with their second OT possession but, in a third-and-11 situation at their own 45, Hasselbeck fired a pass toward wide receiver Alex Bannister along the left sideline.
Harris, however, stepped in front of Bannister, plucked the ball out of the air and raced 52 yards down the sideline to the end zone. End of story.
The Seahawks' focus on containing Ahman Green and the Packers' running game returned Favre to the offensive "spotlight" and he responded with the third 300-yard postseason passing game of his career, completing 26 of 38 passes for 319 yards and one touchdown, a performance which earned him a substantial 102.9 rating.
In the process, he distributed the football among nine receivers, Donald Driver emerging with a team-leading 6 catches and Javon Walker with his second 100-yard game and an impressive 22.2-yard average on 5 catches for 111 yards.
Green, meanwhile, had to settle for 66 yards rushing in 23 attempts, his lowest total since Nov. 27, when he was held to 57 yards at Detroit.
Overall, the Packers had to be content with 78 yards rushing but they ended the day with 397 net yards, including the 319 passing.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, were nearly as productive, Hasselbeck throwing for 305 yards (291 net) as Seattle closed out the afternoon with 340 yards.
Defensively, safety Darren Sharper was a busy contributor, weighing in with a team-leading 11 tackles, 9 of them unassisted. Cornerback Mike McKenzie, back in action after missing the last two games with a turf toe injury, was next up with 7 stops, including 4 solos.
THE FAVRE FILE: Favre, playing in his 18th playoff game and thus extending his club record, also registered a number of other postseason records.
Chief among them, with his second-quarter touchdown pass to tight end Bubba Franks, he threw a scoring pass in a 14th straight game to set a new NFL record. He had been tied with Dan Marino at 13.
Favre likewise advanced in two NFL postseason categories. His touchdown pass was the 31st he has thrown in the playoffs, lifting him above Terry Bradshaw (30) into sole possession of third place on the all-time list - one behind second-ranking Dan Marino (32), and his 26 completions swelled his career total to 364, moving him past John Elway (355) into third place all-time.
Favre also expanded upon a host of Packers postseason records, as follows:
- Most Games Played, 18
- Most Passes Completed, 364
- Most Passes Attempted, 602
- Most Yards Gained on Passes, 4,506
- Most Games, 300 Yards Passing, 3
- Most Touchdown Passes Career, 31
- Most Consecutive Games, TD Pass, 14 (1995-98, 2001-03) (current)
In addition to these, Favre also tied another of his playoff records by completing 11 consecutive passes in the second half.
-WITH SUNDAY'S VICTORY, Favre also owns a 7-1 postseason record as a starting quarterback in Lambeau Field, including a 30-13 win over the Carolina Panthers in the 1996 NFC Championship Game, a success which qualified the Packers for Super Bowl XXXI against the New England Patriots.
Since the temperature was 20 degrees at kickoff, Favre also now is the possessor of a 36-1 cold-weather record in "Lambeau," including playoffs, when the temperature is 34 degrees or below.
Favre also made his 207th consecutive start at quarterback for Green Bay, including 189 regular-season and 18 postseasons starts. He additionally was playing in his 209th consecutive game in Green and Gold.
GM/HEAD COACH MIKE SHERMAN'S COMMENTS:
(on today's win) "Well, this game came down to one play right here that we made and fortunately we were able to win the football game. You know, Seattle could have hit a touchdown pass and they win and then we put our loss under a microscope like obviously people in Seattle will put theirs. But it was two good football teams battling it out the whole way and it could have gone to either team. We were fortunate it went our way."
(on Ryan Longwell's range and the decision to run the ball) "Ryan's range was probably...at that end zone was about 25 (-yard line) and the other end zone, the other end of the field, was about the 28-yard line. So we really wanted to get the ball to the 25-yard line. We were unable to do that. Trying to get the ball over on that hash mark as well...we didn't get it done. It happened that they ran a defense that we didn't expect them to be in."
(on aggressive play calling) "I told the guys last night that to win a playoff game, to win a championship game, you have to be aggressive and I am asking them to be aggressive in how they play. I said we have to be aggressive because in playoff games you have to go get them, they don't come to you, you have to go take them. So we were very aggressive in our blitz on that last play and very aggressive on our fourth-down calls and I just felt like we needed to do that and thought that at that time, if we were able to make it, which we did, not by much, but we did make it, that it would be a catalyst for us."
(on Favre and Hasselbeck) "I think Matt Hasselbeck had a heck of a football game today and as I said earlier in the week, I think he...to finish this season...I am sorry for him that he had to end the season on that last pass because he certainly played a great football game. I thought that he was very competitive with Favre. I thought that Favre had one of the best games he's had, especially since I have been here. I thought that this game was a much greater game as far as what he did on the field in regard to, in comparison to Monday night. I thought what he did out there was phenomenal."
(on playing Philadelphia) "They are looking forward to just play again. You get to this point of the season, you know you look forward to just playing again and staying alive. We are fortunate to do that today. Again, we played a very good football team, very well coached, had our troubles at different times against them. They certainly did an excellent job of holding our run game in check for quite a part of the game. But our guys are just looking forward to playing another game and it happens to be against Philly."
(on why the game is important to him personally) "Well, certainly last year walking off that field after the Atlanta game was one of the low points of my coaching career. And it was nice to win this football game, that simple."
THE PLAYER PERSPECTIVE:
Quarterback Brett Favre: (on Seattle) "I can't say enough about Seattle - the way they played, the way they were coached. I can only imagine how they feel over there, because they played a hell of a football game. It could've easily gone their way. It was about as mistake-free football - on both sides, in rough conditions - as you can imagine. I'm sure Matt (Hasselbeck) is beating himself up a little bit, but he played a hell of a football game, as well as the rest of their team. Obviously, I'm glad we won the game, but I do feel for them. It was a great play by Al Harris, because we needed it. Offensively we made some plays, but (Seattle) also played great defensively. Their offense was tough to stop, but in the playoffs that's what it comes down to - making plays. Unfortunately one team has to go home, but it was a hell of a football game."
(on team confidence) "I can't speak for the whole team right now, but at some point, I'm sure our team, I'm guessing, was surprised a little bit that, hey, we could lose this game. I though we were playing fairly well. If anything, our confidence should remain the same, but it should be a wake up call that we're not quite as good as we think we are. I'm just guessing. I take nothing away from Seattle. I'm sure they felt like no one gave them a chance to come in here and win this game. Atlanta probably felt the same way last year."
(on approaching playoffs this year after losing to Atlanta last year) "Honestly my approach wasn't any different than last year. From my standpoint, I know I've been called on to be a leader in a lot of ways. I have been to the playoffs and I've had some success, but, just like I was saying about this team, that in itself doesn't really carry you. It helps. In certain situations, it helps. I'm sure Matt (Hasselbeck) will learn from today and he didn't play that bad. He played pretty damn good, but the next time he's in the playoffs, he will get better and better and better. As a veteran quarterback, you approach every game the same way. Yeah, it is a playoff. We did lose last year. I knew we could lose last year. We had almost lost to Atlanta early in the season and the previous year, we lost to them here. I'm not surprised by anything."
Cornerback Al Harris: (on game-winning interception return) "We pretty much anticipated (the play). We worked on it in practice. Just from watching tape, when you see an all-out blitz or a population blitz, they were checking to something quick. Basically, we knew it was coming. They played right to it."
(on Packers defense) "If you look at the last time we played the Seahawks, we won the game, but we look like a totally different defense now. We've got a lot of new faces - like five new guys. Basically, we've been trying to build confidence since day one."
-A new all-time Lambeau Field attendance record...71,457...was set at Sunday's playoff game. The previous record, 70,505, was established at the Packers' regular-season opener against the Minnesota Vikings Sept. 7.
-Ryan Longwell, with 31- and 27-yard successes against the Seahawks, swelled his career total of postseason field goals to 13, two short of Chris Jacke's club record.
-The swirling 14-miles-per-hour wind blew the football off the kicking tee as Longwell prepared to make the second-half kickoff. Already in motion, Longwell continued the "run-up" past the ball, then re-mounted it and delivered a 62-yard kickoff to the Seattle 8-yard line.
-The temperature at kickoff was 20 degrees, the coldest game-time reading of the season, and the wind chill index was 7 degrees.
-Defensive end Jamal Reynolds, stepping in for the injured Chukie Nwokorie (wrist), was active for the first time since Week 7.
-Four former Packers were around to congratulate their former teammates after the game, the foursome including Don Majkowski, LeRoy Butler, Santana Dotson and Sean Jones.
-Wide receiver Javon walker has averaged an eye-catching 23.2 yards per reception over his last seven games.
-The Packers have run 339 consecutive plays without losing a fumble.
-The Seahawks were spared a turnover when defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt forced a Matt Hasselbeck fumble late in the second quarter, Seattle center Robbie Tobeck making the recovery, but the Seahawks lost 14 yards on the play and had to punt two plays later.
-The Packers playoff captains, who made their postseason debut Sunday following election by their teammates, include Brett Favre and Ahman Green, offense; Gilbert Brown and Darren Sharper, defense; and Rob Davis and Ryan Longwell, special teams.
-The Packers will continue to pay tribute to Tony Canadeo throughout their participation in the NFL playoffs. Packers players have worn a decal bearing Canadeo's retired jersey No. 3 - on the back of their helmets for the last four games of the season in memory of the late Hall of Fame halfback and continued to do so Sunday.
-Packers inactives Sunday included defensive linemen Gilbert Brown and Chukie Nwokorie, offensive linemen Marcus Spriggs and Brennan Curtin, linebacker Marcus Wilkins, defensive backs Derek Combs and Erwin Swiney and Designated Third Quarterback Craig Nall.