Air Attack Downs Champs

In case you are still wondering, the Packers are for real. Through the first quarter of this season, Green Bay whipped on three have-nots, then lost a defensive struggle at Tampa Bay. Sunday the Packers left little doubt in the minds of many that they are a bonafide contender this season by pounding the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, 31-23, before 59,866 at Lambeau Field.

The Packers' second-ranked defense took the ball away four times from the Ravens and Brett Favre shredded Baltimore's top-ranked defense. Favre threw for 337 yards and three touchdowns in his best game of the season following a three-interception output a week earlier in a loss to Tampa Bay.

The win kept the Packers on top of the NFC's Central Division at 4-1, ahead of the surprising Chicago Bears (3-1) and inconsistent Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2). It also gave the Packers a strong dose of confidence after a 14-10 loss to the Buccaneers Oct. 7 and with games ahead at Minnesota and at home Nov. 4 against Tampa Bay.

"Today we had a great day," said Packers coach/general manager Mike Sherman. "I was proud of how our guys responded. I think it was a measuring stick. There was a lot of conversation about the Packers and the teams that they've played. I think the last two weeks we played two teams that have been named many times to be potential Super Bowl teams. Last week we were down in Tampa, had our opportunities, we missed out on them. Today we took full advantage of this opportunity today."

In what was supposed to be a defensive struggle, the Packers and Ravens combined for 748 yards of offense, including seven touchdowns and two field goals.

Baltimore (3-2) lost for just the second time in 16 games. The Ravens entered the game No. 1 in overall defense, including against the run and pass. The Packers, however, were ranked second overall and against the run and pass. While the Packers defense held the Ravens in check until the final three minutes of the game, Green Bay executed a game plan that will likely be used by others for the rest of the season. Green Bay often went with four- or five-receiver sets and often out of the shotgun. Favre, enjoying his best season since 1997, got excellent protection from the offensive line and completed 27 of 34 passes to nine different receivers with no interceptions.

Favre threw short, but also stretched the Ravens vaunted defense by completing deep passes to Corey Bradford (47 yards), Donald Driver (37 yards) and Antonio Freeman (47 yards), all of which led to scores. Like other teams, the Packers had trouble running against the Ravens, who held Ahman Green to 54 yards on 20 carries, so they went after their secondary, instead.

"You're not going to run the football against them," said Favre. "I don't care who you are. You can keep plugging and plugging and plugging, but it's not going to happen. We knew that going in, not that we weren't going to run the ball. We were trying to set up some key plays and getting out of the pocket. Try to buy enough time to be able to throw the ball downfield was our game plan. Spread 'em out.

"It puts a little more pressure on the quarterback when you spread 'em out and now you have to pick between five guys. They don't play a great deal of man or blitz coverage, so you have zones in which to throw in. Which zones I don't know. They change up the defense every play. So it was up to me to pick out those five guys which was the best play.

"The most important thing in all of that is the offensive line giving me enough time." It was just like old times between him and Freeman, who took a beating in the media during the week for his poor production through the first quarter of the season. But Freeman broke free for nine catches for 138 yards, including an eight-yard touchdown pass from Favre in the second quarter that gave the Packers a 17-7 lead. He had six catches for 66 yards in the first half.

Baltimore, behind backup quarterback Randall Cunningham scored two touchdowns in the final 2:56 to cut Green Bay's lead to 31-23. Jason Brookins scored on a 1-yard run. The Ravens got the ball back when linebacker Ed Hartwell recovered Nate Wayne's fumble at the Ravens' 40. Cunningham, filling in for Grbac, who left the game with a mild concussion midway through the fourth quarter, scored on an 11-yard run with 38 seconds left.

One of Freeman's biggest catches came at the end of the game on an onside kick. Freeman caught the ball and ran out of bounds. It was easily Freeman's best game in what has been a frustrating season.

"We were able to hit him when he was open, and he did something with it, all the way up until the second to last play of the game," Sherman said. "He recovered that onside kick. I can't say enough about that. He also caught some punts with people breathing down his neck."

The Packers had scoring drives of 59, 43, 74, 80 and 82 yards. Baltimore entered the game having allowed just three touchdowns in four games.

"We just had to pick and choose our holes," said Freeman. "We just wanted to spread them out defensively. Get Ray Lewis moving around and just pick and choose our holes. Brett did a great job of just finding people. We hit the short route. We hit the eight- to 10-yard route a lot. When their safety came up to try to help, we sent Donald Driver twice in the game deep with no safety in the middle of the field. We kind of just took what they gave us."

Favre's two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Bubba Franks helped the Packers tie the score at 7-7 on the first play of the second quarter. The Packers drove 59 yards, the longest drive of the season at that point against the Ravens, behind Favre, who completed five straight passes as the Packers moved from their own 41 to Baltimore's 5. Favre completed three of those passes to Freeman for a total of 35 yards. After Green bulled his way to the 2, Favre rolled to his right and found Franks, who broke free from linebacker Peter Boulware in the back of the end zone.

The Packers, after forcing the Ravens to punt after three plays on the ensuing series, came back and took a 10-7 lead on Ryan Longwell's 33-yard field goal. Cornerback Chris McAlister's 27-yard interference penalty on wide receiver Bill Schroeder keyed the drive. Favre hit Freeman on a slant for 10 yards on the next play to the 21, but the drive stalled when Dorsey Levens was thrown for a six-yard loss on a screen to the 26.

The Packers took a 24-10 lead late in the third quarter on Green's 1-yard touchdown run. His 19-yard run up the middle to the nine set up the score.

The Packers made it 31-10 midway through the fourth quarter on Franks' second touchdown of the game and his first multiple TD game of his career, a two-yard reception from Favre that capped an 82-yard drive. Operating from the shotgun on five straight plays in the drive, Favre combined with Freeman for a 47-yard reception to the Ravens' 2.

Green fumbled the ball away when he was hit by cornerback Duane Starks on the Packers' first series of the game, and the Ravens wasted no time to take an early lead. Grbac sidestepped a blitz and passed for 47 yards to wide receiver Qadry Ismail to Green Bay's 18. On the next play, Grbac found wide receiver Travis Taylor wide open on the right side of the end zone after cornerback Mike McKenzie slipped and fell.

The Ravens turned the ball over three times in the first half, twice on fumbles and once on an interception, and it could have been more. Safety Darren Sharper and McKenzie each dropped passes that could have easily been intercepted and the Ravens' Terry Allen fumbled the ball away but was ruled down by contact. McKenzie finally got his first pick off the season with 1:19 left in the second quarter when he jumped in front of Taylor, and the Packers capitalized on Favre's eight-yard touchdown to Freeman with two seconds left in the half to take a 17-7 lead.

Favre's 47-yard bomb to wide receiver Corey Bradford and his 13-yard strike to Freeman to the 13 set up the score.

"Our team has a lot of confidence," Favre said. "We have a lot of young players who are a little uncertain what this team is about. But we have the potential to be very good. The potential today became reality. In order for us to be a championship team, we have to do that week in and week out."

Packer Report Top Stories