Packers refuse to blame QB

PHILADELPHIA -- Brett Favre heaved one to the heavens one
more time, yet this prayer went unanswered.

Ever since his father died, Favre and the Green Bay Packers had
felt they were charmed. He would throw the ball up for grabs, and
it always came down in his receivers' waiting hands.

In double coverage, triple coverage, didn't matter.

Not this time.

Favre was blitzed and floated an ill-advised rainbow to Javon
Walker on the Packers' first snap of overtime.

Philadelphia safety Brian Dawkins was waiting for it like a punt
returner, and he cradled Favre's first mistake of the game and
returned it 35 yards to the Green Bay 34.

David Akers then sent the Eagles into the NFC championship with
a 31-yard field goal for a 20-17 win Sunday night.

Coach Mike Sherman tried to console his quarterback afterward.

"You're talking about a quarterback who played this season with
a broken thumb. We won eight out of 11 games with him with a broken
thumb, and I don't believe there's another quarterback in football
that's able to lead a team that way in that situation," Sherman

"So, he continues to build in the legend of Brett Favre, and
the things that he's accomplished this year under adverse
situations I think is extraordinary. It's a credit to him not only
as an athlete, but it's a credit to him as a man."

Favre has enough accolades. What he desperately wanted was
another ring.

Favre, who threw for 399 yards and four TDs at Oakland on Dec.
22, one day after his father, Irv, died of a heart attack, gave
Green Bay a 14-0 lead with touchdown tosses of 40 and 17 yards to
Robert Ferguson in the first quarter.

But after that, the Packers quit picking on Sheldon Brown, who
started for Pro Bowl cornerback Troy Vincent.

"I'm not going to go there," Ferguson said when asked why.

And what did Favre think of the game plan and the way his team
blew a 14-point lead?

Who knows.

For just the third time in his career, he bolted to the bus
without saying a word.

Ahman Green didn't address the media, either, saying his ribs
were too sore for him to talk.

The defense, which had eight sacks, had little to say for

The Packers allowed the Eagles to convert a fourth-and-26 play
on the game-tying drive at the end of regulation when Bhawoh Jue
went for the ball and missed and Freddie Mitchell cradled the pass
before slow-to-cover safeties Marques Anderson and Darren Sharper
could get there.

"You would think you would win fourth-and-26," Sherman said
with a sigh.

But they didn't.

"There isn't another feeling like this in the world," Jue
said. "I mean, we're not ready to go home. Any defense would love
to be in the situation where it's fourth-and-26.

"We had it, man."

And they let it slip away.

"I mean, I was thinking Super Bowl, going to the NFC
championship," cornerback Mike McKenzie admitted.

McKenzie criticized the defensive call to play "quarters"
coverage where the defensive backs played a zone, basically.

"We were playing a soft coverage," McKenzie said. "We were
trying to be very cautious and play it very easy and that's what
hurt us.

"The fate of this football team was in our hands and we
couldn't seal it."

In the overtime, defensive coordinator Ed Donatell went back to
the blitz and the Packers forced a punt. The Green Bay offense,
which had gained 381 yards in regulation, got the ball back at the
Packers 32.

Favre would bail them out, right?

"Brett is the man, there is no doubt about it," kicker Ryan
Longwell said. "He in my opinion is the best that ever played this

Instead of handing off to Green, who rushed for a team playoff
record 156 yards on 25 carries, however, Sherman called a pass

And for the first time in four games, things didn't go Favre's

"We cannot put this loss on him," Longwell said. "I am not
ready to say that Favre lost the game."

But the Packers did.

And so they head home, perhaps having blown their best chance to
get to another Super Bowl before Favre calls it a career.

Sherman would hear none of that.

Favre has said he'll return in 2004 because he saw such promise
in Green Bay this season.

"As disappointing as today is, there will be better days
because we're a better football team," Sherman said. "And the
character and the chemistry in our locker room is not going to go
away. That's going to be there next year.

"As well as talent. As well as draft picks. As well as guys who
are hurt are going to come back. So, I have tremendous confidence
in the future."

A tremendous pain in the present.