Five games that brought Packers a bye

From the key wins to the emergence of Greg Jennings and Ryan Grant,'s Steve Lawrence reviews how the Packers turned into a 13-3 Super Bowl contender.

With 13 wins and a list of Brett Favre accomplishments a mile long, the Packers have provided the team's most exciting season since the thrill-a-minute ride to victory in Super Bowl XXXI.

How did we get to this point? Here are five pivotal moments that powered the Packers to the first-round bye they're enjoying this weekend.

Dec. 10, 2006: Coach Mike McCarthy made a move that should have been made long ago by replacing Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila with Cullen Jenkins at starting defensive end.

With Jenkins solidifying the defense on running downs, the Packers won their final four games of last season and built immeasurable momentum for this season.

Jenkins, re-signed to a lucrative long-term contract during the offseason, dominated the preseason but admittedly hasn't had a strong regular season, but he's getting healthy just in time for the playoffs. Even without Jenkins being a dominant presence, the Packers are 17-3 since he was put into the lineup.

"I think you're seeing Cullen finally coming back to the form that he was in," McCarthy said. "He's been nicked up, he's been fighting through a number of little things on the medical front. (But) I feel he's played very well the last couple weeks and will continue to do so."

Sept. 9, 2007 — Packers 16, Eagles 13: It was the kind of game Favre might have given away during the Mike Sherman era.

Favre wasn't on his game, and he was facing a Philadelphia Eagles defense that has had his number. Instead of throwing a couple of stupid interceptions, Favre played it safe and kept the Packers in the game until the Eagles' special teams gave away the game.

It wasn't Favre's best game — 23-of-42 passing for 206 yards, no touchdowns and one interception — but it showed that he had bought into McCarthy's coaching. And, boy, did Favre respond with one of his best seasons. His 15 interceptions were his fewest since 2001, and his 4,155 yards were his most since 1998. He completed a career-high 66.5 percent of his passes, posted a career-high 10 games with passer ratings of at least 100 and tied a career high with seven 300-yard passing games.

Sept. 23, 2007 — Packers 31, Chargers 24: The Packers were 2-0, but so what? The Eagles played horribly and the New York Giants looked lost. The Week 3 victory over San Diego, however, proved the Packers were legit.

A flawless Favre threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns. The defense held LaDainian Tomlinson to 62 yards and less than 3.0 yards per rush. Perhaps most importantly, however, Greg Jennings returned to the lineup.

Jennings' late 57-yard touchdown put the Packers ahead to stay, and his big-play ability helped the Packers turn the offense from a weakness into a strength. In his 13 games, he caught 53 passes for 920 yards. His 12 touchdowns are tied for fourth in the NFL, and he ranks third in 40-plus-yard receptions.

"Greg has been phenomenal with the big plays and his touchdown production," McCarthy said. "He's very mature both on and off the field, and he really understands the preparation aspect of it. He spent the extra time with (Favre), and they're clearly on the same page this year."

Oct. 24, 2007 — Packers 17, Redskins 14: The Packers won their first four games, but were coming off their first loss of the season and were struggling against Washington.

Favre was playing poorly, the running game again was a no-show and the defense made Chris Cooley look like the greatest tight end in NFL history.

But, the Packers persevered. With the Redskins driving, Corey Williams stripped the ball from Santana Moss, and Charles Woodson scooped up the loose ball and returned it 57 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Later, Atari Bigby stopped a drive with a big hit on Clinton Portis that forced a fumble, and Nick Barnett stopped the Redskins' last best chance with an open-field tackle on a fourth-and-1 pass.

It's impossible to know the fate of the Packers' season had they lost this game. Instead, it was the start of a six-game winning streak that essentially won the NFC North title.

Oct. 29, 2007 — Packers 19, Broncos 13, OT: This game will be remembered for Favre's overtime bomb to Jennings, but, in retrospect, the biggest development was the emergence of Ryan Grant as far more than just a serviceable running back.

Grant rushed 22 times for 104 yards against the Broncos. A play-action fake to Grant took the safety out of position on the 82-yard, game-winning play.

Based on what Grant did over the final nine games, he would have led the NFL with 1,530 rushing yards and ranked second with 13 rushing touchdowns. He rushed for at least one touchdown in the final six games. Not bad for a guy who rushed six times in the first six games combined as the Packers plodded to the NFL's worst rushing attack.

"The biggest difference, you'd have to say, is Ryan Grant," McCarthy said. "Clearly, he's a big part of our success running the football."

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

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