Suddenly, Packers are the team to beat

Green Bay a legitimate contender for NFC crown after beating Chargers

This win stands out for so many obvious reasons, but the underlying impact it has means the most. For a young, upstart team led by an unbreakable veteran quarterback, the Packers' 31-24 victory over the Chargers on Sunday was a major breakthrough.

"I like the confidence of our football team. I think it's real," said head coach Mike McCarthy.

Simplistic as McCarthy's comment may be, it speaks volumes about what is going on inside the Packers' locker room. Any of the doubts are fading thanks to a positive attitude and a group of hard-working players that are making it happen.

The Packers had every reason to lack confidence entering this season with a young, second-year coach trying to find his way and an offense with as many questions as ever since Brett Favre came to Green Bay in 1992. Much of that has changed, though, after one of the more exciting and profound wins at Lambeau Field in recent memory for the home fans.

Believe this: the Packers are truly contenders in the NFC at 3-0 and are now one of the teams to beat the rest of the way.

"Today was one of those gut-it-out performances all the way around," said Favre, who with three touchdown passes on the day gave him 420 for his career, tying him with Dan Marino for No. 1 all-time. "I think people watching this or watching the film will see that it wasn't a fluke."

The Packers made the biggest statement of what they are made of in the fourth quarter. In a span of 6 minutes, 2 seconds, they underwent a sequence of events which could prove to be a turning point for the season and the mental attitude for the team. Twice on the same drive they were excruciatingly close to a go-ahead touchdown – one on a 10-yard catch and leap by Donald Lee, and the other a six-yard pass to James Jones. Both plays put the Packers inside the one-yard line, but a Junius Coston false start penalty and a failed fourth down pass attempt killed momentum. The Packers looked down and out with 5:48 remaining in the game, trailing 21-17 against a team predicted by many to win the Super Bowl with an MVP running back in LaDainian Tomlinson.

Favre noticed some of his teammates were quite-naturally deflated on the sideline after the failed drive even though they were saying the right things. But did they mean them?

"I call it ‘false enthusiasm,'" said Favre. "…the guys are on the sidelines are saying, ‘C'mon, we can still do it' and all this stuff, but do you really believe it? When you win a game like that it builds, ‘Hey, maybe we can.' I've been in a lot of games similar to that and we won, and I've been in a lot of games similar to that and we've lost. That comes from playing and experience. I'm over there on the sidelines thinking, ‘Maybe we just blew our chance.' But who knows maybe we get one more chance, and maybe we'll see what we can do with it still very confident because it's not over."

Thanks to a do-or-die defensive stop by the Packers' defense, Favre and Co. did get another chance – and they responded in dramatic fashion for the 38th game-winning comeback of Favre's career. Taking over with 2:18 remaining in the game, Favre lasered a pass to a slanting Greg Jennings on second down that resulted in the game-winning 57-yard touchdown. Jennings, who was making his first start of the season coming back from injury, caught the short, quick throw and never broke stride on the way to the end zone.

Jennings' touchdown was a textbook play executed with an attitude – one that perfectly displayed the boldness and aggressive game plan that the Packers brought against the Chargers, even with young players like Jennings.

"For a lot of these guys that have not been in games like that or in situations like that, it's a pretty good way to start out," said Favre.

This is also the way McCarthy envisioned starting out the season when he altered the team's off-season schedule. Among those changes was a reduction in the number of training camp practices and less live contact in them to keep his team fresh and ready at the start of the season. The Packers have had poor Septembers the past four years, but not this year. McCarthy has to be elated to see that his plan is working and that players are responding.

The same can be said for an offense that seemed to operate like a Pop Warner team just two weeks ago. With all the recent chatter and backlash involving the Patriots stealing defensive signals from opposing teams via videotape, the Packers followed suit. No, there were no signs of gaining a videotape advantage or any culprits on the sideline, but they did take a page out the Patriots playbook, spreading the field with various multiple receiver sets. The Packers employed an empty backfield set (even on the goal line) with Favre taking shotgun snaps for much of the game. It led to an aerial display by Favre, who found eight different receivers for the second straight week on his way to a 369-yard passing day. It was a Tom Brady-like performance, not that Favre would necessarily have to take a back seat to what many would consider the NFL's top quarterback.

The open-concept offensive strategy that gives Favre more authority to make decisions looks like it could be the theme for the Packers the rest of this season. Of course Favre has to continue to make good decisions for it to become an identity.

"There's a risk-reward in that type of set," said Favre. "You get more guys out (in pass patterns), but more than likely you have less time to throw, especially if they blitz you have to change protections accordingly which is rolling the dice in itself. And you have one-one blocking.

"Right now that's probably one of our better personnel groups… everyone's involved and we have these options and we do this to change a play from the quarterback's standpoint. (It) gives us a better play, even though it's still a pass obviously, based on what defenses are giving."

The Packers were definitive with their play-calling and personnel groupings like they were in the second half of last week's win against the Giants. Instead of forcing the issue with a struggling running game, they dictated the game. Chargers' linebacker Shaun Phillips was not surprised by what he saw.

"Look at what New England did to us last week," said Phillips. "What would you do? If you have Jamal Williams in the middle, I would throw the ball, and that's what Green Bay did. They came out throwing the ball and spreading us out. That's what we expect to see from now on."

Favre got plenty of opportunities to post a big day. The Packers put up 47 passes against just 13 runs, a ratio that normally lends itself to losing. The Packers have found something, though, that works and because of it, they have gone from the hunter to the hunted just three weeks into the season.

"We've got a target on our back," said Favre. "It only gets tougher. It's hard to maintain this level of play. How we handle success and adversity when it comes, I think will determine how we finish this year."

For now, McCarthy has the biggest win of his coaching career. It has Favre believing the Packers might be better than he thought.

"I don't think too many people gave us a shot to be 3-0," he said. "I have to admit I questioned it myself. We're not playing perfect football by any means, but that's a good thing because there's a lot of things we can correct. We've still got a long ways to go, but it sure is a good start."

Matt Tevsh is a frequent contributor to and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at

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