But a funny thing happened to coach Mike Sherman and the Packers on their way to the NFC Championship Game – they stopped playing to win. A week earlier against the Seattle Seahawks, the Green Bay Packers set the tone for the post-season by going for it on two fourth-and-1 situations. They converted both and went on to beat the Seahawks to advance to Philadelphia.
Late in the second quarter against the Eagles, Sherman continued his aggressive style by going for a touchdown instead of settling for a field goal. The Packers were ahead 14-7 at the time. The "book" says take the easy three points when you're the visiting team, but it was encouraging to see the Packers go for the throat. Though the fourth-down play backfired when guard Mike Wahle tripped over tackle Mark Tauscher en route to clearing a path for Green to score, the Packers were backing up a playing-to-win statement they established against the Seahawks.
Fast-forward to the fourth quarter. Ahead 17-14, the Packers began a drive on their own 16 with about 7 minutes remaining in the game. They literally ran the ball down the Eagles' throats behind Green, who finished with a team playoff record 156 yards rushing – and Najeh Davenport. The Packers clicked off nine straight running plays, gobbling up the clock and knocking Eagles' defenders out of the way all at the same time. On third and four, quarterback Brett Favre, who rarely has run with the ball this season, ran to the Eagles' 41 on what appeared to be a designed play to set up a fourth and 1 with 2 minutes, 30 seconds remaining. The "book" says punt the ball away in that situation. The gut says, "play for the win and go for it."
It appeared that the Packers were going to try and convert the fourth down with another gutty call ... until the Eagles called a timeout. Sherman said afterward that he then decided to try and fake Philadephia into jumping offside and punt the ball away, knowing the Eagles would have one less timeout. But the Packers ultimately played into the Eagles' hands. If the Packers convert on the fourth down behind an offensive line that was blowing the Eagles' defensive line off the line of scrimmage in the previous 10 plays for four- and five-yard gains, the Packers probably win the game right there. But Green Bay opted to go by the book and punt the ball away, which landed in the end zone for a touchback.
Even then, Green Bay had the Eagles on the ropes. Philadelphia faced a fourth and 26 after two consecutive sacks on Donovan McNabb. But the elusive McNabb stepped up into the pocket and drilled a 28-yard prayer to Freddie Mitchell for a first down. The Eagles go on to kick a field goal to send the game into overtime. In overtime, they capitalize on Green Bay's only turnover of the game and now are hosting the NFC Championship game.
In the end, it was the Eagles who played much more aggressively than the Packers. Many would agree that the Packers are probably the better team, but they were out-played when the game was on the line.
The odds of winning were against the Packers from the get-go. No No. 4 seed has ever beaten a No. 1 seed in the NFL playoffs. Green Bay was en route to becoming the first team to topple a No. 1 seed with an aggressive, smash-mouth style it has been successful with most of the season. Instead of controlling their own destiny in the clutch, the Packers gave the Eagles the jackhammer, and they shattered any dreams Green Bay had of advancing.