Green Bay 19, Denver 13
It was just another chapter in the story of a prolific NFL passer who’s love for the game has kept him in it long enough to be practically a living legend. In what may well be the most exciting football game this year, Brett Favre took all of 4 seconds to score an overtime touchdown that left the record breaking Broncos home crowd of over 77,000 fans in stunned silence just scant minutes after they were jubilantly celebrating Denver kicker Jason Elam’s game tying field goal with just 3 seconds left in regulation time. On the first overtime play from scrimmage, and for the second time of the evening Favre dropped back and delivered the ball into the arms of a sprinting wide receiver in perfect stride for an 80 yard score. The touchdown ended both the game and the Packers 33 year old winless streak against the Broncos when playing in Denver. The Broncos opportunity to pull into a 3 way tie for first place in the AFC West, at the moment one of the more stagnant divisions in the conference was snuffed out in an instant. The Packers improve to 6-1, a starting record that Favre has accomplished for the third time and one which in 1996 was the foundation of a 13-3 season that took the Packers all the way to a Super Bowl Victory against New England.
It was a contest in which Green Bay was penalized 13 times for more than 100 yards, the most penalties or penalty yards they have garnered this year. Eight of those penalties were on the Packers defense, and Green Bay safety Atari Bigby personally accounted for four penalties totaling 33 yards including some very untimely pass interference calls, one of which kept a Denver touchdown drive in the red zone alive. Even Denver, a characteristically penalty free team got handed 9 penalties for 63 yards. Did some of that have to do with the fact that referee Ron Winter was leading the men in stripes who were throwing the flags today? Winter and his officiating squad are known for calling more penalties than almost any other referee ensemble in the NFL, more than 15 per game on average. But hey, the ref’s weren’t all bad to Green Bay in this game – on Favre’s first 79-yard touchdown play Back Judge Jim Howey was sent sprawling to the turf as a reward for blocking a Broncos defender and clearing a path for Packers WR James Jones on his way to the end zone. Howey was attended to by trainers from both sides of the field and left the game with a strained hamstring.
In one of their few offensive performances that features a ground game Green Bay rushed for 105 yards against Denver. The Broncos are the worst team in the NFL at stopping the run this year allowing on average more than 166 yards a game, but Green Bay’s effort still bears mention given the fact that a) the Packers are the worst rushing team in the league picking up only about 65 yards per game on average before this week and b) DeShawn Wynn, Brandon Jackson and Vernon Morency who between them accounted for more than 90% of Green Bay’s rushing yards this year were all sidelined with nagging injuries. â€œOf course I’m worried,â€ Favre said before arriving for the Denver match. â€œWe know we have to run the ball better.â€
Enter Ryan Grant, the Packers undrafted third year running back out of Notre Dame. Grant, who had a paltry 27 yards rushing all season stepped in and carried the ball for 104 yards, 86 of them coming in the second quarter off 15 carries. Grant’s drop in productivity in the second half seemed to be related both to the play calling and to the intensity of the Packer players. It’s almost as if Green Bay was not sure what to do with a successful running game. Grant got two carries in the first series to open the third quarter and another couple of first down chances in a fourth quarter drive that stalled when Favre was sacked back at the Green Bay 46 and the Packers punted it away on 4th and 9.
On the Packers last drive of the regulation game Grant got the call on 5 out of 9 plays but you really got the feeling that Green Bay was sitting on their 16-13 lead, almost trying to run out the clock by keeping the ball on the ground in the middle of the field. It might have been the correct strategy because the Broncos had no luck putting the ball in the end zone after their early first quarter touchdown drive, and by squeezing the clock on Denver’s last possession Green Bay made it even more unlikely that the Broncos would get a TD to win the game. But because the Packers failed to move the ball much past midfield it did allow Denver to tie up the game with no time remaining and force the Packers into overtime. And that might not have been the right strategy in light of the fact that NFL overtime is a perfect environment for game winning field goals, a dish which Denver has feasted on this season more than once. In any case it was a gamble the Packers won on the strength of Favre’s arm.
That arm was in sync in with the Packers receiving corps on this day, an effective rebuttal to criticisms about the lack of mustard on some of Favre’s passes against the Redskins last week and his recent acquisition of a less than desirable milestone; after the Washington game he had sole possession of the NFL record for number of interceptions thrown by a quarterback. Favre finished the Broncos match with 21 of 27 completions for 331 yards and 2 touchdowns, at one point completing 11 straight. And although the Packers rode on Ryan Grant’s back for some very nice sustained drives in the first half they both stalled inside the Denver 10 yard line and resulted only in field goals, leaving Favre to provide the remainder of the offense. He didn’t disappoint. Both the touchdown strike in the first quarter to rookie WR James Jones as well as the overtime TD pass to WR Greg Jennings were thrown with the kind of authority and accuracy you rarely see in the NFL. Twice Favre winged the football so far that neither receiver had to slow up for even a microsecond to get under the ball, and both passes were thrown into the very teeth of the Broncos highly rated (6th in the NFL) pass defense â€“ their highly touted premier cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Dre Bly. It just doesn’t get much better than that.