Packers’ Dream Season Continues

All week long Packers fans were approaching me to tentatively ask, “Do you think they’ll win this weekend?” The level of doubt in their voices surprised me, as if most of them feared that the Packers had already given them more than they could have asked for this season and the end was near.

“No doubt,” I would assure them. “Seattle can’t run the ball and Al Harris and Charles Woodson will dominate their receivers. I don’t think it will even be that close.”

Perhaps knowing of my less-than-stellar predictions for the NFL’s Wild Card weekend, not many seemed to take comfort in my words of encouragement.

“Oh well,” I would think to myself, “they’ll tell me on Monday how right I was.”

And then the game started. And the first four minutes happened. And I quickly started to prepare my apologies for all of those who had come to me for hope.

Fortunately, the Packers bailed me out, as they scored touchdowns on six consecutive possessions on their way to a 42-20 rout of the visiting Seahawks in Green Bay’s first NFC Divisional Playoff win in 10 years. Most of the game was played in a heavy snowfall that kept the grounds crew busy and gave the FOX announcers (including the always-irritating Tony Siragusa) something to talk about as the game progressed and became more and more one-sided.

The Packers will now face the winner of Sunday’s game between division rivals the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys; if the Giants pull off the upset, they’ll visit Lambeau Field next Sunday, while if the Cowboys win, the Packers will head to Texas Stadium.

No matter that the Giants and particularly quarterback Eli Manning are playing as well as anyone right now or that they’ve won eight road games this season; the Packers do not want to go to Dallas, where Brett Favre is 0-9 lifetime.

Regardless of which team or where Green Bay plays in the NFC Championship game, it’s likely to be a bigger challenge than Saturday’s game. Although a 22-point Packers victory couldn’t have been envisioned by too many at Lambeau Field after the Packers found themselves down 14-0 after just four minutes of play.

Fumbles by running back Ryan Grant on the Packers’ first and third plays from scrimmage were quickly turned into touchdown drives by the Seahawks, and it looked like the Packers were set to lose their second straight playoff game at home (they fell to the 8-8 Vikings three years ago in the infamous “Randy Moss Moons Fans” game).

At that point I don’t think anyone — myself included — would have faulted head coach Mike McCarthy for benching Grant, but to McCarthy’s credit, he stuck to his game plan and continued to feed the ball to the rookie. Grant more than validated McCarthy’s faith in him and more than vindicated himself for his early turnovers, eventually setting a Packer postseason record by running for 201 yards. Grant also scored three touchdowns.

It was the best redemption story since Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman met at Shawshank State Prison.

Credit for Grant’s success has to be shared with the Packers’ offensive line, which completely dominated Seattle’s defensive front. Particularly noteworthy is the job Packer right tackle Mark Tauscher did on Seattle’s All-Pro defensive end Patrick Kerney. Saturday’s game was the first time in Kerney’s 142-game career that he did not register a single statistic, be it a tackle, assist, sack, or pass deflection. This just one week after Kerney and the rest of the Seattle defensive line had made life so miserable for Redskins quarterback Todd Collins.

On the flip side, the Packers defense never let Seattle get anything going on the ground, limiting Shaun Alexander to 20 yards on just nine carries. The Seahawks mustered only 28 total yards
rushing for a putrid 1.6 yards per carry.

Seattle quarterback and former backup to Brett Favre Matt Hasselbeck had greater success through the air, completing 19 of 33 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown, but he was crippled by his receivers, who were either injured — Deion Branch left early — or remarkably inept — tight end Marcus Pollard simply couldn’t be bothered to catch anything thrown his way.

Thanks to Ryan Grant, Brett Favre didn’t have to put up spectacular numbers on Saturday — he completed 18 of 23 passes for 173 yards — but he did throw for three touchdowns and no interceptions. Two of his scores went to Greg Jennings, while he connected with Brandon Jackson for the third, which was Favre’s first touchdown pass to a running back all season. Favre has now thrown touchdowns in 17 straight postseason games, and he also joined Joe Montana as the only two quarterbacks to throw for more than 5,000 yards in the playoffs.

After the Packers ceased turning the ball over, the Seahawks did mount two impressive scoring drives, one of 63 yards and one of 70 yards. However, both drives ended in field goals, and after the Packers started scoring, Seattle never got closer than 21-17 midway through the second quarter.

As for Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren, should he decide to retire, as he has recently hinted, Saturday’s game was a bad way for him to finish his impressive career.

As for Matt Hasselbeck, who’s sister-in-law, The View’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck, just gave birth in November to a baby boy, at least now he has plenty of time to spend with his new nephew.

As for the Packers, they await to find out whom they’ll be playing next week.

As for Packer fans, they hope that this dream season can continue. A win next week puts them in the Super Bowl for the first time in 10 seasons. And yes, if you were to ask me, I would say they absolutely could get there.

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