Sunday, January 20, 2008

NFC Championship Sunday!

First, some catch-up:

Packers 33 - Rams 14

I got to watch this one on a widescreen rear-projection TV, but with my in-laws muttering on and constantly razzing me in the background. You know when people know you enjoy something and they deliberately feign interest or condescend with the sole intention of getting a reaction from you? Yeah. Three hours of that. And the first half was enough of a question mark to make each comment cut twice as deep. Luckily, as we've done in several games this year, the Pack came back having made some good adjustments at the half and finished strong. We kept St. Louis scoreless in the 2nd half.

And it was one of Bigby's waxing games. As much as he pisses me off with his missed assignments or cocky attitude or sometimes just being a rookie, I can't throw much hate his way when he has a game like this. Two INTs and several decent tackles made this one of the good games. The interception late in the first half was a momentum-changer that kept the Packers up by three at the half. The other driving force in this game was the special teams play of Koren Robinson and Will Blackmon, who combined for over 100 return yards on just three returns. And if special teams is playing well (OBTW, Crosby was 4-4 kicking field goals), then if either the offense or the defense is playing well, you know the likely outcome. Well, let's leave aside for the moment that on offense we have Brett Favre (after all, even though he passed Marino in total passing yards, he threw two INTs). In this game, the defense stepped up and took over. After two games with no sacks, we got four against the Rams. Nick Barnett had two, and Kampman and Hawk both had one.

Packers 7 - Bears 35

The most remarkable thing about this game was where I was when I watched it -- at the ESPN Club at the Boardwalk at Walt Disney World in Orlando. 50+ high def flat screens, each with a tag underneath them indicating which game would be playing at 1pm. There were a dozen Favre jerseys within my line-of-sight... and two Bears fans.

So we got to commiserate. The weather in Orlando was in the 80s and sunny. Not so in Chi-town, where the winds were whipping and the temps were in the teens. Favre's passes were blowing all over the place. He was 2-of-7 in the first half, so we obviously needed to rely on the running game, which was okay on a couple of plays. The most important one came in the 2nd Quarter, when Dorsey Grant ran 66 yards for a TD. Unlike last week's game, though, the special teams play was HORRID. Jon Ryan ended a not-well-publicized streak of 12 years and 929 punts without a block in the 2nd Quarter... and then followed that up with another one in the 3rd. Not only that, but he dropped a snap and wound up with a 9-yard punt, too.

The most perplexing thing was our defense's lackluster play. The Bears had one offensive play in their playbook: Run up the middle. How could we not adjust and come up with a solution for that one? And how was it that, in the same weather, Orton only had 6 incomplete passes?

I left the Club when Urlacher picked off a deflected Favre pass and ran it back 85 yards to reach what would be the final score of 35-7. 11 minutes remained in the game at that time. They may have beaten us both times this season, but the Bears still suck.

Packers 34 - Lions 13

That's more like it. If the Bears are going to beat us twice, we're sure as hell going to have to own the Lions in both our games against them this season. We rested Double D, the Jennerator, Woody, Kampman, Lee, and Pickett. The last thing we want is injuries going into the Divisional Playoff game two weeks later. (Cut to me worried as both Will Blackmon and Dorsey Grant go out with injuries in this game.) Favre played (the consecutive start streak stays alive at 253), but only for three series... for three touchdowns. He was 9-of-11 for 99 yards and two TD passes, and OBTW a 21-yard run. Then dark horse Craig Nall came in to clean up for the rest of the game. He got to throw a TD pass for the first time in three seasons -- good for him.

The last time the Lions won a game in Wisconsin was in 1991, which means they've never beaten Favre here. Also, our final-game winning percentage is the best in the NFL since 1994 -- we're now 13-1. Right behind us with a record of 11-3 are the Washington Redskins... who beat the Cowboys on this day. Yes, that means if we had beaten the Bears last week we would own home field advantage over Dallas throughout the Playoffs... but I digress.

As we would discover just 14 days later, it wouldn't matter.


Packers 42 - Seahawks 20

Holy crap, was this game amazing. It was magical. The snow falling from the sky was the angels spitting their approval down on Lambeau and the Packer Nation -- "cherubim spittle," it was dubbed, willing us to the NFC Championship game. (My video of this trip to follow.) The first four minutes were disquieting, but Brett didn't get desperate -- there was after all plenty of time left on the clock. And he and his young team were deliberate about moving down the field. Young Ryan Grant -- who earned the right to be called by his own name after his performance in this game -- more than made up for his errors in those opening minutes. He ran for 201 yards and scored three TDs, more (on both counts) than anyone in Packers postseason history. Our 42 points were the most ever for us, too. Same for our 25 first downs. It was meant to be.

Never in all of my games at Lambeau have I seen it, heard it, or felt it quite like that. The game a week before that last glorious Seahawks playoff game four years ago -- when we played the Broncos -- was close on the eerie-feel scale. That was the game in the trailing minutes of which the Cardinals had scored against the Vikings to pull within 5 and then gotten the on-side kick with under 2:00 left to play in Arizona. People in the stands were listening to that game on their radios, and you could tell who had a radio by these 'pockets' of activity throughout the stadium. When the Cards would get a first down, little concentric circles of excitement would erupt. We spent quite a bit of time near the end of the 4th quarter turning around behind us to see what the folks in the luxury boxes were seeing on TV. When Arizona got that TD that was ruled a forceout to pull them up by one point against Minnesota, the place went nuts. Then we heard it was being challenged, and it was eerily silent as we awaited word from the radio- and TV-clad fans among us. Once the TD was verified -- I think it was right at the 2:00 warning of our game -- the lid came off and everyone was celebrating the fact that we’d backed our way into the Playoffs and would be hosting another game the next week.

Best of all, check out the sky earlier that evening. We were being smiled upon in that game much like we were in the snow last Saturday. It happened to be 11 years to the day after the last NFC Championship game we’d hosted against Carolina before SB XXXI. The difference in last Saturday’s game vs. that Broncos game was that the feeling was there almost the whole time last week… I mean, minus the first four minutes. I don’t remember sitting down for more than two or three minutes the entire game. Amazing. Almost unbelievable. We said that many times during the game: "Unbelievable." But we do believe. Boy, do we believe.

So today, thanks to the Giants beating the Cowboys, we're mere hours away from hosting one more home playoff game at Lambeau. And it's time for the Packers' Prayer:

Our Favre, who art at Lambeau,
Hallowed be thine arm.
The Bowl will come.
It will be won,
In Phoenix as it was in New Orleans.
Give us this Sunday our weekly win.
And give us many touchdown passes,
But do not let others pass against us.
And lead us not into frustration,
But deliver us to the valley of the sun.
For thine is the MVP,
The best of the NFC, and the glory of the Cheeseheads,
For ever and ever.

Go Pack Go!

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