Pack pounds Giants, Strahan sacks Mark

<P>EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Almost two weeks after Christmas, Packers QB Brett Favre still seemed to be caught up in the holiday spirit. </P>

The Green Bay signal-caller apparently gift-wrapped Michael Strahan the record-breaking sack he's been seeking all season. With 2:46 to play in Green Bay's 34-25 victory the Packers took the field looking to run out the clock. The play sent in from the sideline called for a run. But Favre claimed that it was a "key" play, in which he freelances. He rolled to his right, in the direction of Strahan, who was being blocked very loosely by Green Bay TE Bubba Franks, and hit the ground before number 92 even touched him.

Strahan fell on the prone quarterback, recording the record-breaking sack in the process. With 22.5 sacks on the year, Strahan completed his yearlong chase of Mark Gastineau's mark of 22, set in 1984.

"Mark said that if there was ever any player who he'd like to break it, it would be me," Strahan said. "I have all the respect in the world for him."

After the game, Strahan defended suggestions that Favre gift-wrapped the record-breaker. "I was not in the huddle calling the play," he said. "I just line up and react to what happened. What was I supposed to do, get up and say ‘Brett why in the heck didn't you throw it?' "

Obviously, Favre, who has a legitimate respect and admiration for the NFL's new sack king, didn't want to. After the game Favre's coach, Mike Sherman, and some of his offensive linemen were reportedly upset that Favre changed the play and gave Strahan the sack. After falling on top of Favre for the sack, Strahan stayed down on the turf, his head buried into the ground.

 "I was just laying on the ground listening to the crowd to see if I was dreaming or if I had really done it," he said. "I was really just happy, just excited; in a state of disbelief." After the game, the oft-troubled Gastineau commented on what he called "passing the torch."

 "I got to know him a little closer and in more detail and I wish I had lived my life like that," he said. "The record that I had wasn't held up like it should have been because of my past but he is going to do the right thing by it. "I am happy for him. He's got a wonderful past and future."

When asked if he thought the record-breaker was a gift from Favre, Gastineau cut off the questioner. "Don't get into that," he said. "No sack in the NFL is a gimme."

Fassel might not have totally agreed. When asked if he thought the sack was handed to Strahan, Fassel answered, "I don't know." "I told him I was very proud of him," Fassel said. "I'm proud of him not only for what he accomplished, but what he's meant to this team. I told Michael for all the things I feel bad about this year, I'm happy for him because of the way he worked."

 The Giants didn't do much in the working category against Green Bay. "We made too many mistakes and we didn't perform at a level I was satisfied with," Fassel said. As a result, they finished the campaign 7-9 a year after going 14-5 and reaching the Super Bowl. Before taking the NFL's most discussed sack, all Favre did was post a 109.7 QB rating, completing 15-of-30 passes for 315 yards and two touchdowns. His counterpart Kerry Collins put up gaudy numbers as well. Collins completed 36-of-59 passes for 386 yards, one TD and two INTs.

Favre was supported by a hundred-yard rushing game (Ahman Green, 101) and a century mark receiver as well (Bill Schroeder, 102). Factor in the usual horrendous special teams play from Big Blue and Green Bay headed into the post-season on a high, winning a lot easier than the final score might indicate.

The Packers made it look easy right from the get-go. Favre connected with a wide-open Schroeder for a 26-yard TD. The Packers receiver got free behind CB Dave Thomas, who didn't get any safety help on the play. That capped a four-play, 62-yard drive that included a 23-yard hookup between Favre and Franks. On New York's subsequent possession, they turned the ball over – and it cost them. Packers S Darren Sharper picked off Collins and gave Green Bay the ball at Big Blue's 44-yard line. It only took the Pack three plays from there, culminating the march with a scoring run by Green, who beat Jessie Armstead's weak tackle attempt at the line of scrimmage before darting 25 yards for the touchdown.

But the Giants responded, moving 67 yards in eight plays and scoring on an eight-yard Collins pass to WR Ike Hilliard. The Packers challenged the ruling that Hilliard had both feet in bounds in the back of the end zone, but the original call was upheld and the Giants were on the board. FB Greg Comella chipped in with a 26-yard catch-and-run and WR Amani Toomer grabbed a 27-yard pass on a slant pattern. Early in the second quarter, RB Ron Dayne busted off a 61-yard run, the longest of his career. He burst through the line, made a nice cut and then took off down the right sideline. That set up Morten Andersen's 27-yard field goal that sliced Green Bay's lead to 14-10.

After Packers K Ryan Longwell missed a 45-yarder wide right, Andersen's 50-yard field goal was negated because Luke Petitgout was called for a false start. Fassel had Owen Pochman attempt the 55-yarder. The kick had plenty of leg but sailed wide left. The Pack started the third quarter just like the first – by moving swiftly to a touchdown. Dorsey Levens started the quarter with a 53-yard kickoff return. Green Bay moved from there, getting a one-yard Green run to cap a 31-yard drive that made the score 24-10 Packers.

The Packers forced a Collins fumble when DL Billy Lyon hit the QB as he was about to throw. The free ball went right to DE Vonnie Holliday, who returned the gift 11 yards. Three plays later, Favre dropped back and hit Pack WR Corey Bradford in stride for a 54-yard TD. Bradford left Thomas in the dust. Touchdown runs from Tiki Barber (10 yards) and Dayne (1), and Dayne's two-point conversion run forged the final score.

The game was similar to New York's season: Close, but no cigar.

"It's been a disappointing year," Fassel said. "It starts with me and I will evaluate the team. Somehow and somewhere we left this season short. I am not happy with the way we ended this season. They gave good effort, but somewhere we left this season short."

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