The Packers' 34-21 win over Chicago Sunday at Lambeau Field gave the team plenty to celebrate. They kept their playoff hopes alive, crept back above .500 at 7-6 and reasserted their Lambeau Field authority over their biggest rival. Safety Darren Sharper had even more reason to rejoice; he was just glad to be back.
Sharper was forced to sit out the Thanksgiving Day contest at Detroit due to a bruised lung suffered the previous week vs. San Francisco. The short week cheated Sharper out of recuperation time, and he was sorely missed in the loss.
The seventh-year pro repeatedly said he couldn't wait to get back on the field. He proved it Sunday with a stellar performance.
Sharper announced his return – and saved the Packers from themselves – with an interception to end the first half. With the clock winding down to the final seconds of the half and the Bears facing a fourth down in Packer territory, Green Bay called a time out.
"It was a mistake on my part," coach Mike Sherman said in his post-game press conference. "I was hoping I could block a punt and being a little bit too greedy there and it ended up backfiring and it will never happen again."
Nobody knows more about making mistakes and moving on than a defensive back. So when his coach and his team needed to be bailed out of a bad situation, Sharper was more than happy to oblige.
After the Packers went three-and-out and failed to run out the final minute of the half, R.W. McQuarters' 25-yard punt return set the Bears up on the Packer 41 with 30 seconds on the clock but no time outs.
Bears' QB Kordell Stewart threw two incomplete passes, then was sacked by Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila for a nine-yard loss. That seemed to close the book on the half, until the Packers called time out with five seconds remaining. Probably surprised to be handed a free shot at the end zone, Stewart lofted the ball into a crowd at the goal line. A couple of Bears receivers had a legitimate shot at it, but Sharper out-jumped them and made the interception.
Suddenly a bad situation turned into a possible gold mine for the Pack as Sharper wove through traffic. He returned his second interception of the season 50 yards before a determined Stewart dragged him down. Optimistic Packer observers may have had visions of six more points before half time. The more pessimistic among us surely flashed back to the injury that ended Sharper's 2002 prematurely. The safety picked off Drew Bledsoe at the end of Green Bay's victory over the Bills in Week 16, then sprained his MCL on the ensuing 19-yard return with the game technically over. Sharper didn't play again the rest of the way, and the Packers didn't win again, either.
Most likely, Sherman wasn't thinking about Sharper's previous interception-related injury. A better guess is that the coach was thinking about saying ‘thank you' to Sharper for erasing his shaky decision.
After the game, Sherman revealed that he did have relief on his mind – although he was hoping for even more.
"I was pretty happy because he bailed me out of a bad situation that I put us in," Sherman said. "I would have liked to see him… on that last play, because of the scenario, I thought he did the right thing except I thought he could have lateraled the ball at some point there at the end because time had expired and that might have been able to get us a big play. But I didn't fault him for that return. It wasn't a return that was going to put anybody in real bad field position or so forth."
Sharper also contributed two tackles and broke up another pass. He stands as the Packers' leader in takeaways with four – two picks and two forced fumbles.