GREEN BAY, Wis. – Brett Favre spotted his favourite target all alone and let fly.
He hit Donald Driver, all right – with a snowball.
Favre frolicked in the flurries the entire afternoon, throwing three touchdown passes as the Green Bay Packers beat the Seattle Seahawks 42-20 Saturday to reach the NFC championship game.
“I’ve been hoping for that for 17 years,” Favre said. “I was watching the weather all day and it’s a shame, I’m like, ‘Just give us one of those big snow games.”‘
“I wanted to play where you couldn’t see the field, and the snowplow comes out. It keeps getting worse and worse,” he said.
With Lambeau Field looking like a snow globe, the Packers posted their biggest points total in post-season history.
This was exactly the scene Favre imagined when he decided to postpone retirement and try for another Super Bowl ring.
“It does make you appreciate it,” the 38-year-old three-time NFL MVP said. “We could be 3-13 next year. Who knows? So enjoy it and try to get the most out of it.”
In the months ahead, Wisconsin might again become a wonder-land – will Favre come back again? – but for now, fans are guaranteed at least one more game.
The Packers (14-3) will take on the winner of Sunday’s game between the New York Giants and Dallas. If the Cowboys win, they’ll host Green Bay; if the Giants win, they’ll visit Lambeau.
Green Bay beat the Giants this season and lost to the Cowboys. Favre would certainly prefer to stay home – he’s 0-9 lifetime at Dallas.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of success in Dallas and I’m well aware of that,” Favre said.
The Packers were happy to advance at all after a rough start.
Ryan Grant recovered from two fumbles that put the Packers down 14-0 after only four minutes. He set a team post-season record by running for 201 yards, and scored three times. After its early slips, Green Bay scored touchdowns on six straight possessions.
“I appreciate everyone sticking with it, staying with me,” Grant said.
The Packers reached the NFC title game for the first time since the 1997 season, and the largest crowd ever at Lambeau partied. Favre and Driver started the celebration early, tossing snowballs at each other.
“When I kind of packed it up and threw it, it got kind of hard, like a golf ball. So I kind of threw it at his back or his butt or something. I’m thinking, ‘You don’t want to puncture an eye or something,”‘ Favre said.
“He turns around, packs one and hits me in the face. Good thing it hit my face mask, it might have hit my tooth or something,” he said.
Earlier, Favre made another playful toss. He somehow spun free from the Seahawks’ clutches and stumbled ahead in the snow. Ever the gambler, he flipped a wobbly, underhanded pass that he had no business trying, let alone completing.
“That’s right!” he shouted.
Favre tied his personal best for TD strikes in a post-season game, twice hitting Greg Jennings.
Favre extended his own record by throwing a touchdown pass in his 17th straight post-season game. But his most memorable effort was the crazy toss to Donald Lee that set up another score right before halftime.
“I’m not quite as nimble as I once was,” Favre said.
Matt Hasselbeck and the Seahawks (11-7) hoped to reverse what happened the last time they were in town for the playoffs. In January 2004, the teams went to overtime and, after winning the coin toss, Hasselbeck boldly proclaimed: “We want the ball and we’re going to score!”
It didn’t quite work out that way as Al Harris soon intercepted Hasselbeck’s pass and returned it for a 52-yard TD. In fact, a picture of the play is posted right outside the Packers’ locker room.
Coming off their 35-14 win over Washington last week in the wild-card round, the Seahawks seemed primed for an upset.
“Great start,” Hasselbeck said. “But that’s just the start of the game. You’ve got to finish it.”
On Green Bay’s first play, Grant caught a pass and fumbled. Then on Seattle’s first play, Shaun Alexander plunged in from the one.
Grant didn’t do any better a minute later, when another fumble set up Hasselbeck’s 11-yard TD strike to Bobby Engram.
“When we were down 14-0, I have to admit I was not very optimistic,” Favre said.
“I thought, ‘Oh boy, this ain’t too good,”‘ he said. “This is the exact game I didn’t want to be in.”
At that point, it seemed as if only a Lambeau leap of faith would bring back Green Bay. But when the snow started to pile up, so did the points for the Packers.
It was 14-all after the first quarter, and Green Bay led 28-17 at halftime.
Favre joined Joe Montana as the lone players to pass for more than 5,000 yards in the post-season. Earlier this week, Favre admitted he was disappointed that he hadn’t performed better in some playoff games – in fact, he had lost four of his previous five, throwing 13 interceptions in that span.
This time, he was the Favre of old. And once he started to connect, there was no stopping him.
Green Bay led 21-17 late in the first half when Favre made the play of the game. On third-and-eight at the Seattle 14, he escaped from rookie Brandon Mebane and managed to slip the ball to Lee for an 11-yard gain. Grant followed with a three-yard burst just 26 seconds before the break.
Coach Mike McCarthy won in his first post-season game, leading the NFL’s youngest team to the next round.
The Seahawks fell to 0-8 in post-season road games since their only win, in 1983 when they beat Dan Marino and Miami in the AFC playoffs. The losing streak includes a loss in the Super Bowl two years ago.
It remains to be seen whether coach Mike Holmgren will return to the Seahawks next season. At 59, the coach who once guided Favre and the Packers to the Super Bowl title has recently dropped hints he might retire.
If he does, his final game will have come just a block or two from Holmgren Way, the street the city named in his honour.
Green Bay played its first post-season game in three seasons and it was a classic Lambeau scene. Favre was about the only player in long sleeves, though Seattle kicker Josh Brown brought a pair of pants with battery-powered heaters to keep his thighs warm.
During a coach’s challenge in the first quarter, sweepers ran out to clear the yardlines. That eventually became futile, and a snowplow tried to do the job.
Cheeseheads dotted the crowd and delighted in singing the Beer Barrel Polka as their Packers pulled away.
Lambeau was properly prepped for this winter carnival, with snow sculptures of a Green Bay helmet and giant football placed outside the main gate.
A day earlier, 300 members of the Packers’ ever-ready faithful answered the team’s Shovel Advisory and showed up to clear the seats and aisles for US$8 an hour. While they readied the stadium for a pep rally Friday night, Ice Bowl star Jerry Kramer greeted visitors to the team’s Hall of Fame, chatting with them inside a replica of Vince Lombardi’s office.
Notes: Favre improved to 43-5 at Green Bay when the gametime temperature was 0 C degrees or colder. It was -5 at kickoff. … Grant lost only one fumble all season before giving it away twice in the first 70 seconds. … Former Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch’s return to the field lasted only a few plays for Seattle. He hurt his left knee and did not return. “It’s a pretty good injury,” Holmgren said. Branch had not played since Dec. 26 because of a strained right calf.