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Packers Sent A Message


For those of you not on the West Coast, who might have had trouble staying up for all of Monday night's game against the Oakland Raiders, let me fill you in on what you missed: one of the best performances ever by Brett Favre.

Only a day after his father, Irvin Favre, died of a heart attack in Mississippi, Brett threw for 399 yards -- the second-highest total of his career -- and led a Packers offense that accumulated 548 total yards -- the third-highest single-game effort in team history.

Some of you might wonder how Favre could have played in that game so close to the death of his dad, but I can remember back to 1999, when my father passed away, and I know how much of a help it was to be with my football family when I lost a member of my actual family.

Knowing Brett like I do, I'm sure it was the same for him. That's why I wasn't surprised to see him play.

But playing and playing spectacularly are two different things. And no one could have predicted that kind of performance.

Favre completed passes to 12 different players and his teammates helped him out with some amazing catches. Veteran Wesley Walls laid out in the end zone for a touchdown catch on a picture-perfect pass from Favre. Robert Ferguson made a great diving catch down the sideline.

And Javon Walker took his game to a new level.

Watching that Florida State alumnus leaping up to make catches in traffic made me proud. Simply put, Walker was awesome. He showed flashes of becoming that kind of elite receiver that the Packers hoped they drafted in the first round in 2002.

With all those big plays in the passing game, Packers fans have to feel pretty good about opposing teams selling out to stop the run. If they want to go single-coverage on guys like Walker, Ferguson and Donald Driver, go right ahead.

Favre can find those guys in a hurry. And after a few weeks of handoff football, it's clear that Favre is in the groove, even with his broken thumb.

But don't forget about the running game.

Ahman Green had 127 yards rushing and he's still the guy opposing teams are going to try to stop first. They have to. Otherwise Green is just going to tear them up.

I know the doubters will point out that all the Packers did was rip up an Oakland Raiders team that's now 4-11 and going nowhere fast. But you have to give credit to the Raiders, because they never stopped playing hard.

And if you're an opposing team looking at the possibility of playing the Packers in the playoffs, you can't be too excited.

The Packers defense is looking better, too.

Sure, the Raiders would be better with Rich Gannon than Rick Mirer, but when a defense makes the other team put three quarterbacks in the game, it means it's a butt-kicking.

Going into the game, I was worried that the absence of Mike McKenzie due to turf toe was going to hurt the Packers, but Michael Hawthorne came up big.

Hawthorne is a tall corner with long arms and he likes to play physical. He made two interceptions against the Raiders, including one that prevented a touchdown.

On the other side of the field, Al Harris was just blanketing guys. He missed one chance for an interception, but he was frustrating Raiders receivers all game long, and you've got to like that.

Darren Sharper also just missed an interception, but put that aside and you're looking at a guy that's playing like one of the best safeties in football.

He didn't make the Pro Bowl this season, but he's going to be a great stopper for years to come.

Meanwhile, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila recovered from a slow start to become the first Packers player to record double-digit sacks in three straight seasons.

His three sacks against Oakland not only prove that KGB is hitting his stride, they also show the impact of his teammates.

With guys like Larry Smith and Grady Jackson in the fold, the Packers defensive line is deep and experienced. That allows Jethro Franklin to move guys in and out and keep them fresh.

KGB is seeing more 1-on-1 situations than he was earlier in the year, and he's taking advantage of the opportunity with more sacks and more pressures.

At linebacker, Na'il Diggs is looking tough. He's moving well to the ball and making some great tackles.

The defense has looked hot and cold this year, but lately they always seem to get it together and make plays when the Packers really need them. Coming down to a must-win against the Denver Broncos, that's just what you want to see.

On special teams, things are looking great on kickoff return, where Najeh Davenport continues to be a sparkplug, but I'm concerned about the kickoff coverage unit.

Many Packers fans like to place the blame on Ryan Longwell, but those are probably the same Packers fans that wanted to bench Brett Favre earlier in the season.

If at this point you don't realize that it's more important to have a kicker who is automatic on field goals rather than one who can kick it through the back of the end zone on kickoffs, you need to start cheering for another team and see what it feels like when you have to hold your breath when the kicker lines up for an extra point.

No, Longwell isn't perfect, and he doesn't have a big leg on kickoffs. But it's good enough.

And big leg or not, the Packers' problems have been missed tackles and missed gaps by the coverage unit. Early in the season, the Packers were doing well in this regard, but it's an area they now must find a way to shore up.

Meanwhile, I got really excited Monday night when Antonio Chatman fielded a punt with some room to run, but the return for a touchdown that I've been calling for all season was called back because of penalties.

Speaking of which, on offense the Packers are committing too many false-start penalties for this point of the season. One or two bad games is nothing to worry about, but at this point it's becoming a trend.

Favre was awesome in third-and-long against Oakland and that saved the Packers on a few occasions. But if the Packers want to make a run in the playoffs, they've got to get better on a few of the little things.

That aside, however, the Packers are looking like a well coached football team.

Ed Donatell always seems to know when to bring the blitz, Tom Rossley has been aggressive and outstanding with play-action calls and Mike Sherman is proving once again that he can bring a team together and unite them toward one goal.

Right now the Packers' goal is to beat the Denver Broncos. But if they can do that, the Packers are likely to be in the playoffs.

Already this season, key football losses have clearly brought the Packers closer together. Now the loss of Irvin Favre seems to have done the same.

You feel for Brett and his family for the loss, but you have to respect the way he and his teammates have handled it.

Even Raiders fans gave Favre an ovation Monday night, and you can bet that he'll get a huge ovation from Packers fans in Lambeau Field against the Broncos.

What Monday night's win allowed the Packers to do was send a message to the rest of the NFL that they have the hearts of champions.

If they can beat the Broncos and get into the playoffs, then they can start working toward being champions of a different kind.

*LeRoy Butler played 12 seasons for the Green Bay Packers, helping them to two Super Bowls and earning NFL All-Decade Honors for the 1990s, before retiring in July 2002. This season Butler is providing exclusive analysis to with a breakdown of the upcoming game on Saturdays and a column and Q&A session on Tuesdays.

Butler's autobiography, 'The LeRoy Butler Story ... From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap,' is available on his website,*

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