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 said.
"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.
"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?
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 itself.
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 game."
Instead of handing off to Green, who rushed for a team playoff record 156 yards on 25 carries, however, Sherman called a pass play.
And for the first time in four games, things didn't go Favre's way.
"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.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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