Charging to the forefront

Like in the the Super Bowl season of 1996, a Week 3 victory over the Chargers showed the Packers are for real,'s Steve Lawrence says.

The Green Bay Packers beat the San Diego Chargers in a showdown at Lambeau Field behind three touchdown passes by Brett Favre and a key interception.

The Packers went on to win the Super Bowl.

Wait, that was the 1996 season. Will the 2007 season end similarly?

It's far too early to be contemplating such things. It's only three weeks into the season, after all, and no team in NFL history has ridden the 31st-ranked running game (thank you, Detroit) all the way to the big game.

Still, I can't help but think back to the 1996 season, which was the last time the Chargers invaded Lambeau Field. As was the case on Sunday, the 1996 matchup came in Week 3. San Diego was an AFC powerhouse then, too, reaching the Super Bowl two years earlier, the playoffs the previous year and entering Lambeau with two lopsided wins.

Those Packers were also 2-0, and there was a sense that game could be a Super Bowl preview.

It wound up being total domination. The Packers won 42-10. Favre that day was the efficient and error-free superstar who would go on to win his third straight league MVP that year. With the Chargers threatening to make a game of it, LeRoy Butler returned an interception 90 yards for a touchdown.

It was then that Packers Nation thought no, make that knew, the season was going to end with a championship.

Sunday's game wasn't a perfect replay - the 31-24 victory was anything but domination - and I don't think the rational part of Packers Nation is thinking Super Bowl.

But as was the case 11 years ago, Sundays victory provided affirmation. It was easy for the skeptics to raise questions about the Packers 2-0 start. Its not so easy to be skeptical of their 3-0 start.

Sure, the win over Philadelphia was gift-wrapped with generous special-teams play from the Eagles, but there was nothing lucky about the victories over the Giants and the Chargers.

Even without a hint of a running game, the Packers are moving the ball and piling up the points. You would think opposing defenses would be able to take advantage of such a one-dimensional attack the Giants and, especially, the Chargers have a pair of fantastic pass rushers. But the offensive line is giving Favre superlative protection, and Favre is playing like he did 11 years ago.

Mike McCarthy isnt Mike Holmgren, but the fact the Packers offense is so productive with such a glaring weakness is a credit to McCarthy. It's not easy to score 66 points in the last two games when everyone on the other sideline knows the offensive game plan. Somehow, when everyone knows the Packers are going to throw the ball, McCarthy is still keeping the opposition off balance.

Then, there's the defense. Sunday's performance wasn't stellar, but the Packers rose to the occasion at the end. Antonio Gates devoured the Packers in the first half but caught only two passes after intermission. LaDainian Tomlinson was silenced for all but one play.

Again, that's a credit to the coaches.

It's also a credit to the players, who have a nose for making the big play at the biggest of moments. Against the Giants, it was Aaron Kampmans strip of Eli Manning and Corey Williams interception. Against the Chargers, it was Nick Barnett's clinching interception.

Eleven years ago, a victory over the Chargers showed the world that the Packers were for real. Last week's victory over the Chargers did the same.

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to E-mail him at

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