Monday, December 29, 2003

Arizona 18, Minnesota 17. Yes, the Packers played Denver and won 31 to 3, but Arizona needed to win for the Packers to make it due to the NFL's bizarre rules if 3 teams tie for a playoff spot. If Minnesota would have won, then 1 of 4 teams (Dallas, Minnesota, Seattle or the Packers) would have been robbed of a playoff spot, and all three teams were deserving, until Minnesota blew it in Arizona. Ironically, Minnesota, Seattle and the Packers are all very similar teams (great offenses with weak defenses). In the end, defense decided the outcome of the playoff spots because Seattle's defense contained Jeff Garcia on Saturday after San Francisco's offense had looked unstoppable in the previous 2 games and Minnesota's defense couldn't stop Arizona's offense with the game on the line. The Packers defense didn't have much to do with this outcome because Denver played their last regular season game like it was a preseason game.

At this point, no team should be favored to win the NFC playoffs. St. Louis has a championship defense, but Marc Bulger is injured, he commits too many turnovers, and Marshall Faulk is not running the ball well right now. Philadelphia has a good run offense, but Donovan McNabb has not played the best football of his career in the playoffs of the past two seasons and their run defense is very weak. If Philadelphia ends up playing Dallas or St. Louis, they have a good chance, but they would be in trouble vs. Carolina, the Packers, or Seattle. Dallas's offense has really struggled as teams have shut down Terry Glenn and Troy Hambrick. Carolina really reminds me of Atlanta in 1998 (great run offense and solid but not great defense) but their pass offense isn't as good. Carolina's special teams and clock consuming run offense will have to carry them. Seattle looked very bad in Green Bay on October 5th and they were playing better football at that time, while the Packers were really struggling. The 2003 Packers didn't collapse at the end of the season like the 2002 Packers, so I wouldn't expect the same result as last year's playoff game vs. Atlanta. Seattle and the Packers are very similar teams, both well matched to exploit each other's weaknesses although both teams weaknesses, notably their pass defenses, have played much better in recent weaks. Seattle's formerly weak run defense did a great job at San Francisco vs. a quality run offense. This will be a very close game.

First Quarter: Perfect first drive: Brett Favre was 6 for 6 and completed passes to 6 different receivers, although Denver should have intercepted the ball in the end zone. Denver was able to run the ball a little early on, but Jarious Jackson was far too inconsistant. Jackson's early struggles reminded me of the mid-90s Favre who was usually inaccurate in the first quarter because he was so excited. Ed McCaffrey had a horrible first half for Denver as Darren Sharper and Al Harris got in two big hits on him. Packers 7, Denver 0.

Second Quarter: Typical game for the Packers defense: early in the game the defensive line is shoved around, but as the game goes on it gets stronger. This defies most convential thinking, usually the offensive line wears down a defensive line. It is probably due to the quality depth the Packers have at defensive line and a good rotation scheme by the Packers coaches. Extra bonus: Kenny Peterson returned for the first time in a few weeks, and this only improves the line. Jackson is getting better as he calms down, but his horrible pass intercepted by Al Harris on a busted play got him benched. Danny Kanell came in and he isn't horrible, but he doesn't make any big plays either. The only bad plays by Favre in recent weeks is his insistence to get Wesley Walls involved in the offense. Walls has made some big catches, but teams know Favre wants to throw deep to Walls. Favre's first pass after the Jackson interception was a long pass to Walls that was intercepted. After the great first drive, Favre only completed 6 more passes the entire game and the Packers found the rest of their success with the run offense. It was very surprising to see Ryan Longwell miss a field goal within 45 yards, but it happened today. Packers 10, Denver 0.

Third Quarter: Without Jake Plummer at quarterback, Denver's offense is just bad. Kanell didn't commit many turnovers, his only interception was an end of the half hail mary pass in the end zone, but they just can't keep any drive going. With Favre's post first drive struggles in this game, the offense only got going once Denver's defensive line got worn out. Denver gets on the board, but Ahman Green's big 47 yard run sets up an easy touchdown run as the Packers offensive line did a great job setting up a huge running lane over the left tackle. After the long kick return, Denver has a chance to answer right back but...Packers 17, Denver 3.

Fourth Quarter: Denver turns the ball over on downs when the Packers run defense made a great goal line stand, and Kanell couldn't throw it in either. Then Green's huge 98 yard run: the run blocking, especially by Kevin Barry who sealed off the right side for a huge hole was great, solid blocking by the receivers because the Denver pursuit by the secondary was slow to react, and speed by Green to run past the 2 Denver defensive backs who had a shot near the end zone. Adrian Madise had a great kickoff return for Denver in the 3rd quarter but botched catching the ball on the 4th quarter kickoff and the Packers got their first special teams touchdown of the year. The game was on fumes after that point as both teams backups (and backups of backups) entered the game. Packers 31, Denver 3.

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