Green Bay Packers: Preview of the NFC Championship Game vs. the San Francisco 49ers

Brett vs. 49ers in 1997 NFC Title game

When the 14-3 Green Bay Packers take on the 14-3 San Francisco 49ers in the 2019 NFC Championship game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara this Sunday, it will occur 22 years and eight days after the two teams also met in the 1997 NFC title game at 3Com Park, which was more commonly known as Candlestick Park.

In that game, both teams were also 14-3 going into the title game. The Packers were defending Super Bowl champions, plus had beaten the Niners in the postseason for two straight years heading into this game.

The Packers made it three years in a row, as quarterback Brett Favre, running back Dorsey Levens, wide receiver Antonio Freeman and the defense of Green Bay all came up big that day.

Favre threw for 222 yards and a touchdown and did not throw a pick. No. 4’s passer rating for the game was 98.1. Favre’s touchdown toss went to Freeman on a 27-yard pass play in the second quarter. For the day, Freeman had four catches for 107 yards and a score.

Because of the conditions in the game, with a rainy and muddy environment, the Packers relied on their strong running game behind Levens, who rushed for 114 yards on 27 carries. No. 25 scored a touchdown, plus caught four passes for 27 more yards.

The defense of the Packers was very good that day, as they held the 49ers to 33 rushing yards, while they also held down quarterback Steve Young, as they sacked him four times (including one by Reggie White). No. 8 did throw for 250 yards, but did not throw a touchdown pass, although he did throw a key interception to safety Eugene Robinson.

The bottom line is the defense did not allow a touchdown and the only one that the Niners scored was on a kickoff return late in the game.

Final score, Packers 23, 49ers 10.

It was a very interesting scenario that day, as head coach Mike Holmgren of the Packers was taking on one of his former assistant coaches in the game, as Steve Mariucci was now the head coach of the 49ers.

A similar connection will take place this Sunday when head coach Matt LaFleur of the Packers takes on head coach Kyle Shanahan of the 49ers. The two have had quite a history together.

LaFleur has worked under Shanahan in three different locations when the son of Mike Shanahan was an offensive coordinator. This occurred with the Houston Texans, Washington Redskins and the Atlanta Falcons.

When LaFleur was working under Shanahan in Atlanta as quarterback coach, his brother Mike was also on the staff. Today, Mike is the pass game coordinator for the 49ers.

LaFleur also has a history with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh of the Niners, as both were on the same coaching staffs at Central Michigan and with the Texans. Now they call themselves best friends.

I’m sure they weren’t talking to each other this week.

Especially after the 49ers whipped the Packers 37-8 at Levi’s Stadium in late November.

The good news is the Packers haven’t lost since. But it will be more than a mild upset if the Packers can turn the table on the 49ers this upcoming Sunday.

Never say never, especially when one looks back on the history between these two teams.

For the Packers to win this Sunday, one thing is for sure. They have to play well in the trenches on both sides of the ball.

The Packers should have their full offensive line available versus the Niners this Sunday. When they played in November, right tackle Bryan Bulaga left the game early with a knee injury, and his replacement Alex Light did not have a good night.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the Packers was sacked five times and pressured on several other occasions while attempting to pass. The result? Rodgers had one of the roughest games of his career, as he only threw for 104 yards and a touchdown.

Aaron getting sacked by the Niners

Fortunately for the Packers now, if Bulaga goes out again, they have a capable backup in Jared Veldheer, who played the entire game against the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round game last Sunday as Bulaga had the flu. Veldheer did a very nice job as well.

The Green Bay offensive line (LT David Bakhtiari, LG Elgton Jenkins, C Corey Linsley, RG Billy Turner and RT Bulaga) has to be ready to play their best game of the season against that very tough San Francisco front, which includes Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford.

Ford didn’t play against the Packers in November either.

Behind that line is linebacker Fred Warner, who is having a great season this year. The secondary is also solid and it includes the ageless Richard Sherman, who is in his ninth season in the NFL.

This 49er defense was ranked second in the NFL in total defense and first in passing defense.

Pro Football Focus has the Green Bay offensive line ranked No. 6 in the NFL.  Here is what PFF says about the Packers offensive line.

The perception of the Packers’ offensive line doesn’t always meet reality. Aaron Rodgers consistently holds onto the football with one of the longest average time to throws in the NFL. As PFF Data Scientist Timo Riske explored with offensive line survival rates, that significantly increases the chance for quarterback pressure and sacks. Their 22nd-ranked pressure rate allowed isn’t all that impressive, but their average time to allow a  pressure of 2.62 seconds (best in the NFL) is much more so.

So what does that mean? Rodgers has to get the ball out quickly, but will still have time to look at his options briefly.

This where LaFleur has to game plan accordingly. Like he did against the Seahawks, he has to utilize running back Aaron Jones and wide receiver Davante Adams early and often in this game.

Davante Adams vs. 49ers

The 49ers can be run on. But you have to stick to it. San Francisco gave up an average of just over 112 yards per game on the ground.

That being said, the Niners held talented running back Dalvin Cook to just 18 yards when they beat the Minnesota Vikings in their divisional round game last Saturday.

Like Cook, Jones can hurt a team on the ground and through the air.

I’ll bet LaFleur called head coach Sean McVay of the Los Angles Rams this week Why? First off, LaFleur was the offensive coordinator under McVay with the Rams in 2017. The Packers and Rams run basically the same offense. Plus, McVay dialed up a great game plan against the Niners in their most recent matchup less than a month ago.

The Rams lost 34-31 in Santa Clara, but LA put up 395 total yards and quarterback Jared Goff threw for 323 yards and two touchdowns. Goff also was never sacked. Running back Todd Gurley chipped in 48 yards on the ground and scored two touchdowns.

That’s the type of production the Green Bay offense has to exhibit this Sunday to win. Hopefully LaFleur has studied the tape from that game and also gotten some pointers from McVay about how to attack the 49ers.

Now the Packers did rush for 117 yards in the game in November, so that’s a good sign. But Jones has to get a lot more than the 13 touches he had in that game. Those were all carries, which gained 38 yards. Jones needs 20-plus touches in this game, both on the ground and in the air.

Jamaal Williams also added 45 yards on the ground in that game on 11 carries, plus caught seven passes for 35 yards.

Adams caught seven passes for 43 yards and a score in that game, but he has to come up bigger than that in this game.

Plus, Adams needs some help from somebody else in the receiving corp. Tight end Jimmy Graham had a nice game against the Seahawks and the Packers need to utilize him again.

But at least one of the other receivers have to make some plays as well. It doesn’t matter who, but someone from the group that includes Geronimo Allison, Allen Lazard, Marques Valdes-Scantling and Jake Kumerow has to.

The defense of the Packers has to play much better this time around to even think about springing an upset.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo picked the Packers apart, as he threw for 253 yards and two scores. That adds up to a robust 145.8 passer rating. The Packers did sack Garoppolo three times, including 1.5 by Za’Darius Smith and a half a sack by Preston Smith.

The “Smith Brothers” need to have a bigger presence in this game.

Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine put a new wrinkle in the defense for the Packers after that bad loss in Santa Clara and now puts out what is called the “Z Package” scheme.

Smith moves all over the place in that scheme (inside or outside) and has had great success, not only in sacking the quarterback, but also in stopping the run. The formation basically has a four-man front and a roving linebacker.

The scheme also allows the secondary to be in a dime look, or six defensive backs.

Za'Darius Smith vs. 49ers

I expect the Packers to utilize that look often in passing situations.

They have to do something, especially due to the way tight end George Kittle exploited the secondary in November. Kittle had six catches for 129 yards and a touchdown, which included a 61-yard post pattern score.

The problem with the Packers covering Kittle, is that covering tight ends has been a persistent issue for the Green Bay defense this year. Good or great tight ends have had substantial success against them.

Somehow, Pettine has to figure out a coverage scheme to at least limit the production of Kittle, who also is a great blocking tight end for the running game.

The secondary of the Packers will also need to beware of wide receivers like Emmanuel Sanders and Deebo Samuel. Green Bay held Sanders to just one catch for 15 yards, but Samuel had two receptions for 50 yards and a score.

Still, with all the threats at receiver, the calling card for the San Francisco offense is their running game. The Niners averaged 144 yards a game in the regular season.

The Packers did hold the 49ers to 112 yards rushing, but San Francisco averaged 5.5 yards per carry.

Green Bay has gotten much better in their run defense the past several weeks, but the three-man monster that the Niners use against their opponents can be lethal. Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida all have different styles and each rushed for at least 500 yards this season, with Mostert leading the team with 772 yards.

After the 49ers throttled the Green Bay defense in that game, the defense had a players-only meeting and discussed what the issues were. The big point that was brought up was a lack of communication in that game.

It seems that issue has been resolved a bit, as the Packers have only allowed 15.7 points per game in six games since.

Plus, there is the special teams importance in this game.

Kicker Mason Crosby of the Packers has had a fabulous year, as he made 22-of-24 field goals, which adds up to a field goal percentage of 91.7.

Kicker Robbie Gould of the 49ers on the other hand, has not been nearly as efficient, as he has made 23-of-31 field goals, which adds up to a field goal percentage of 74.2.

Punter JK Scott of the Packers has averaged 44 yards per punt, while Mitch Wishnowsky of the 49ers has averaged 44.9 per punt. The punting game looks very solid for both teams.

In the return game, the Niners will be facing someone that they didn’t see in the game in November. That someone is Tyler Ervin. The Packers brought Ervin on late in the season to invigorate their return game which had done basically nothing all year.

Ervin changed all that in the four games he played in the regular season, as he averaged 9.6 yards per punt return and 26.7 yards per kickoff return. Ervin has also seen some time on the offense, as the Packers have tried to utilize his great speed on jet sweeps.

Richie James is the main returner for the 49ers and has averaged 8 yards per punt return and 21.4 yards per kickoff return.

So, how do I see this game? Well, I believe that the Packers have a fighting chance to win this contest.

Aaron vs. 49ers

Yes, I was also on record as saying that the Packers would play much better than they did in the November game between these two teams, but some of the factors which I have mentioned earlier in this story lead me to believe the Packers will play much better this time around.

Bottom line, it is going to take a great effort by the Packers to win this game. Winning inside the trenches is the key. Even if you don’t win, at least make it a stalemate in that battering zone.

I also expect Rodgers to continue the great play he showed last week versus the Seahawks. In fact Rodgers now has a passer rating in the postseason of 100, which is fourth all time.

No. 12 passed Drew Brees on that list after his performance against the Seahawks.

If that happens and Green Bay plays smart and physical football, plus create a turnover or two, I like the chances of the Packers in this game.

The Postseason History Between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks

Brett in the snow vs. Seahawks

When the Green Bay Packers play host to the Seattle Seahawks Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field in a NFC Divisional Playoff game, it will be the fourth time the teams have met in the postseason.

The Packers lead the series 2-1, as they have won both games played at Lambeau Field, while the Hawks won the game played in Seattle. More on those games later.

Green Bay also leads the regular season series by a 11-8 margin over Seattle.

The Packers and Seahawks have built up quite a rivalry recently, as this will be the sixth consecutive year that the two teams have played each other. In the five previous games, one being the 2014 NFC title game played in Seattle, the home team has won each and every time.

In the past six games between the two teams, two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL have faced off against each other. I’m talking about Aaron Rodgers of the Packers and Russell Wilson of the Seahawks.

When I say the best, I mean the best. Rodgers and Wilson are ranked 1-2 in the all-time NFL career passer rating statistic. In fact, they are the only two quarterbacks with a passer rating above 100. Rodgers has a passer rating of 102.4, while Wilson has a passer rating of 101.2.

In his career against Seattle in the regular season in nine games, Rodgers has a 6-3 mark. No. 12 has thrown 12 touchdown passes to just two interceptions for 1,995 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 104.8.

The former Cal Bear has also rushed for 89 yards a score.

In the 2014 NFC title game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Rodgers was playing with a calf injury which hampered him down the stretch in the 2014 season and in the playoffs.

Rodgers threw one touchdown pass versus two picks in the game for 178 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 55.8. One of the interceptions occurred when Rodgers saw that defensive lineman Michael Bennett appeared to be offside, which meant he had a free play and he threw a jump ball into the end zone that was picked off by Richard Sherman.

But the refs did not see it that way and the pick stood.

Rodgers was hampered not only by his calf injury, but also the way Mike McCarthy was coaching so conservatively with his play-calling. Especially late in the game, when a first down completion by Rodgers could have basically sealed away a win. But instead the Packers ran it three straight times.

Again, more on this game later.

Meanwhile, Wilson is 3-3 against the Packers. In those six games, Wilson has thrown nine touchdown passes versus six picks for 1,150 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 81.9.

In the 2014 NFC title game, Wilson really struggled until the very end. In the game, the former Wisconsin Badger threw one touchdown pass (the game-winner) versus four picks for 209 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 44.3.

Aaron and Russell

Back to the postseason series between the two teams, the first time the two teams met was in a 2003 NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Lambeau Field. Former Green Bay head coach Mike Holmgren was coaching the Seahawks and his team was quarterbacked by the former backup to Brett Favre in Green Bay, Matt Hasselbeck.

They would be going up against Favre and head coach Mike Sherman of the Packers, who was part of Holmgren’s last coaching staff in Green Bay in 1997.

A week after this game, in a NFC Divisional Playoff game in Philadelphia, Sherman would be remembered for not stepping on the throat of the Eagles when he had a chance and instead his team suffered a painful loss. Similar to the way McCarthy coached in the 2014 NFC title game.

But back to this game now. The Packers had won the NFC North with a 10-6 record and were fortunate to be playing in the postseason. The Minnesota Vikings and the Packers were both 9-6 heading into the last game of the season and had the Vikings won, they held the tiebreaker over the Packers and they would have been the NFC North champ.

But on the last play of the game in Arizona, as the Vikings were taking on the Cardinals, Arizona quarterback Josh McCown threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Nate Poole as time expired and the Cards won.

Meanwhile the Packers whipped the Denver Broncos 31-3 at Lambeau Field, which made the Pack the kings of the NFC North in 2003.

The Seahawks had finished with a similar 10-6 record, but finished second in the NFC West behind the 12-4 St. Louis Rams.

The Seahawks led 3-0 after the first quarter before both teams got in end zone in the second quarter. First, Ryan Longwell and Josh Brown traded field goals to put the Hawks up by a 6-3 score before Favre hit tight end Bubba Franks with a 23-yard touchdown pass. Longwell then followed with another field goal and the Packers led 13-6 at halftime.

Both the Packers and Seahawks got their respective offenses going in the second half as both Favre and Hasslebeck got hot and the running game of each team also made some noise.

Favre ended up throwing for 319 yards and one touchdown without a pick and had a passer rating of 102.9. No. 4 was helped along by running back Ahman Green, who rushed for 66 yards and two touchdowns. No. 30 also had five catches for 44 yards.

The Packers did not have one turnover in the game.

The Seahawks weren’t so lucky. Hasselbeck threw for 305 yards, but his accuracy was not great (25-of-45) and was also sacked twice. Hasselbeck also threw an untimely pick. More on that in a bit. The passer rating of No. 8 was just 67.4.

Running back Shaun Alexander was held to 45 yards rushing, but he scored all three of Seattle’s touchdowns, including one with just 51 seconds remaining in the game to force overtime.

When the team captains met on the field and Seattle won the toss, Hasselbeck shouted, “We want the ball and we’re gonna score.” Those words would come back to bite Matt right in the keester.

Al Harris pick-6

Why? Because with a little more than four minutes played in overtime, Hasselbeck threw a Pick-Six to cornerback Al Harris, who took the football 52-yards to the house.

The result? A 33-27 victory by the Packers over the Seahawks in OT.

The Seahawks and Packers would meet in the postseason again four years later. The setting was the same, as the game was at snowy Lambeau Field. Holmgren and Hasselbeck were back as well, while Favre had a new second-year head coach in Mike McCarthy.

The Packers finished with a 13-3 record and won the NFC North, while the Seahawks had won the NFC West with a 10-6 record.

The week before, Seattle had defeated the Washington Redskins 35-14 in the Wild Card round, while the Packers had a bye.

In this game, the Packers got off to a slow start, as Alexander scored on a short touchdown run and then Hasselbeck hit Bobby Engram with an 11-yard touchdown pass.

The Packers were quickly down 14-0.

But the Packers were almost unstoppable after that, as they scored touchdowns on six consecutive drives in the “Winter Wonderland” of Lambeau.

Favre once again played very well against his former coach in the playoffs, as he threw for 173 yards and also tossed three touchdown passes without a pick. No. 4’s passer rating in the game was a sparkling 137.6.

Greg Jennings led the way for the Packers at wide receiver, as he had six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown.

But it was running back Ryan Grant who had the real big game, as he ran for 201 yards and scored three touchdowns.

The Packers ended up doubling the Seahawks in total yardage, by a 408 to 200 margin.

Ryan Grant vs. Seahawks

Hasselback did throw for 194 yards and a touchdown, but a lack of a running game really hurt the Hawks, as they were only able to gain 28 yards on the ground.

In the end, the Packers and the winter elements were just too much for the Seahawks, as Green Bay won the game 42-20.

When the Packers and Seahawks met in the 2014 postseason, it was for all the marbles, as the winner would be advancing to the Super Bowl. As I mentioned earlier, the game was played a CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

The Seahawks behind head coach Pete Carroll, the great play of Wilson and the tenacious play of the Seattle defense were the main reasons why the Hawks were the defending Super Bowl champs coming into the game.

McCarthy was the head coach for the Packers again in this game, while the NFL MVP of 2014, Rodgers, was his quarterback.

The game would go down as the most painful loss in Green Bay history, at least in my opinion.

Yes, even worse than the loss in Super Bowl XXXII to the Broncos.

Or the 1998 Wild Card loss to the San Francisco 49ers on the Terrell Owens touchdown catch in the final seconds at Candlestick Park in Holmgren’s last game as head coach of the Packers.

Or the 2003 Divisional Playoff game against the Eagles, which will be forever known as the “4th and 26” game.

Yes, this game was worse because the Packers had outplayed the Seahawks by a wide margin for about the first 56 minutes of the game.

Even at that point, Green Bay only had a 19-7 lead, which should have been much larger if not for some conservative play-calling by McCarthy and also because of mistakes by players such as defensive tackle Mike Daniels (15-yard penalty for taunting) which moved the Packers back to the Seattle 19-yard line instead of being at the 4-yard line after a Ha Ha Clinton-Dix interception early in the game.

Or by linebacker Brad Jones, who the Seahawks had scouted as being vulnerable on a fake field goal attempt because of his aggressive tendency to try and block the kick. With the Packers leading 16-0 and the Seahawks doing absolutely nothing on offense, the Hawks were attempting a field goal when former Packer punter Jon Ryan, who was the holder, picked up the ball and threw to an wide open Gary Gilliam for a 19-yard touchdown, as Jones came crashing in as expected.

Also on this play, A.J. Hawk decided to go after Ryan instead of going over to cover Gilliam and the Seahawks were back in the game 16-7.

Then with the Packers driving again, Rodgers threw a pass to an open James Starks, who just missed the pass which would have resulted in a touchdown. The Packers ended up settling for a 48-yard field goal by Mason Crosby to go up 19-7.

Later in the fourth quarter, with just a little over five minutes remaining in the game, Morgan Burnett picked off Wilson at the Packers 39 and instead of running to wide open spaces for which could have resulted in perhaps a touchdown, Burnett went down at the 43-yard line after being waved down by Julius Peppers of the Packers.

In the ensuing drive, McCarthy had Eddie Lacy run the ball twice for -6 yards, plus forced the Seahawks to use two of their three timeouts. It was 3rd and 16, so McCarthy had Rodgers hand the ball off to Lacy once again for two yards and the Packers had to punt with 4:00 to go, still leading 19-7.

I know hindsight is 20-20, but I would have let the NFL MVP of 2014, Rodgers, throw at least once in the previous sequence of downs. Probably on second down when it was second and 12. Bottom line, why not trust the league MVP to finish off the game?

When the Hawks got the ball back, they finally put together their best drive of the game. Wilson threw for 46 yards in the drive, including a 26-yard pass to Marshawn Lynch, plus carried the ball twice himself for five yards, which included a 1-yard touchdown run. Steven Hauschka kicked the extra point and now Seattle trailed by 19-14, with just 2:13 remaining and just one timeout in their pocket.

Brandon Bostick flub

Everyone and their mother knew that the Seahawks would be attempting an onside kick. The short kick hopped high in the direction of tight end Brandon Bostick and wide receiver Jordy Nelson.

The plan was for Bostick to block any approaching Seattle player and let Nelson field the ball. The plan went awry, as Bostick tried to play hero and catch the ball himself. He couldn’t hang on to the ball and Chris Matthews of the Seahawks recovered and Seattle had the ball at the 50.

With Clay Matthews out with an injury, the Seahawks took advantage and between Wilson and Lynch, gained 42 yards on the ground, with Lynch scoring on a 24-yard scamper. The Seahawks now led 20-19.

And when the Hawks went for two points, Wilson, who was being harassed, threw up a prayer high in the air towards tight end Luke Wilson. Clinton-Dix was in position to bat the ball away or even intercept it, but he completely misread the pass and Wilson caught it for two points and now the Seahawks led 22-19 with 1:33 remaining in the game.

McCarthy now had no choice but to let Rodgers throw and throw he did. Two quick pass plays of 15-yards apiece to Nelson and Randall Cobb got the Packers to the Seattle 48 with 1:00 to go. Rodgers than ran for 12 yards, bad calf and all, and the Packers were on the Seattle 36 with 43 seconds remaining.

Rodgers and Lacy were not on the same page on a screen pass attempt that looked like it had great potential. In the end, a Rodgers to Nelson pass got the Packers to the 30-yard line of the Hawks and Crosby came in and calmly nailed a 48-yard field goal to tie the game at 22-22 with 19 seconds left.

The Seahawks won the toss to open overtime and faced a 3rd and 7 from their own 30. Wilson was able to somehow complete a 35-yard pass to Doug Baldwin. One play later, Wilson hit Jermaine Kearse for a 35-yard touchdown pass to win the game.

It was a perfect pass by Wilson, as Tramon Williams had good coverage. So even though he had thrown four picks and basically gave the game on the platter to the Packers, Wilson was able to pull out a victory, due to a number of key miscalculations by both coaches and players on the Packers.

Which takes to to the game on Sunday afternoon at Lambeau. I know the Seahawks have a 8-1 record on the road this year, but the Packers are also 7-1 at home and should have been 8-0.

Wilson has never won at Lambeau and in three games there, has thrown three touchdown passes versus six interceptions for 604 yards. That’s a little over 200 yards per game.

Wilson has also been sacked eight times in those three games.

But in the postseason, Wilson has been money for the most part, as his has a career passer rating of 96.0, which is eighth all time.

Rodgers is fifth all time, with a 99.4 passer rating in the postseason.

No. 1 on the list in terms of postseason passer rating is Bart Starr of the Packers, who had 104.8 mark.

One reason I see Wilson having some issues is the way the defense of the Packers is playing as of late. It’s seems like La’Darius Smith has been unblockable in the new “Z Package” scheme that defensive coordinator Mike Pettine (who was a consultant for the Seahawks in 2017) has been putting out on the field in passing situations.

Smith moves all over the place in that scheme and has had great success, not only in sacking the quarterback, but also in stopping the run. The formation basically has a four-man front and a roving linebacker.

The scheme also allows the secondary to be in a dime look, or six defensive backs.

The key to stopping Wilson is to not let him scramble and also to take advantage of the injury issues on the offensive line of the Seahawks and keep applying pressure on No. 3.

The running game has been a big strength for the Seahawks over the 2019 season, but injuries have decimated the depth chart. The Hawks have lost Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny and C.J. Prosise for the season.

The Packers will see rookie Travis Homer and Lynch on Sunday. Lynch returned to the Seahawks for the last game of the season after the rash of injuries, after not playing at all earlier in 2019.

The big threat at wide receiver for the Seahawks is rookie D.K. Metcalf, who is really starting to make a name for himself in the NFL with his play recently.

Devante Adams vs. Seahawks

The offense of the Packers has not been exactly lights out recently, but with Rodgers under center and Aaron Jones and Davante Adams as his main weapons, head coach Matt LaFleur has to game plan getting the ball to both Jones and Adams early and often.

This Seattle defense looks nothing like the defenses of old that the Seahawks used to run out there. They still have very good players like linebacker Bobby Wagner and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, but the D can be run on and passed on consistently.

The offensive line for the Packers looks to have all five starters for the game, including right tackle Bryan Bulaga (concussion) and center Corey Linsley (back) ready to play.

The bottom line is that in the recent series between these two teams, the home team wins. In the three most recent games with Wilson under center at Lambeau, the Hawks have been outscored 82-36.

I don’t see the Packers blowing out the Seahawks by any means, but I do see them moving on to the NFC title game, either back at Lambeau to face the Vikings or at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara to face the 49ers on January 19th.

 

Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers: A Historical Perspective

Bart vs. 49ers

The Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers first started playing each other in 1950, when the two teams met at old City Stadium. The Packers beat the Niners 25-21 on that late November day, with 13,196 in attendance.

1950 was the year that Curly Lambeau left Green Bay to coach the Chicago Cardinals and Gene Ronzani was the new head coach of the Pack. It was also the first year that the 49ers started play in the NFL, after four years in All-American Football Conference.

The head coach of the 49ers then was Buck Shaw. When the two teams played for the very first time, neither team was very good, as both teams finished 3-9 that season.

Throughout the years leading into the encounter on Sunday night at Levi’s Stadium when the 8-2 Packers face the 9-1 49ers, Green Bay leads the regular season series by a 32-27-1 margin.

The two teams have also met seven times in the postseason in some very memorable games. The Packers lead that series four games to three.

Back to the 1950s now. The Niners pretty much dominated the Packers that decade, at least until Vince Lombardi arrived in 1959. San Francisco won 13-of-16 games between 1950 through 1958.

The 49ers were one of the better teams in the NFL in the 1950s, while the Packers were among the worst. In fact, the Packers were just 39-79-2 in the 1950s, which is the worst decade that the team has ever had in it’s history.

But things started to change with the arrival of Lombardi in 1959. The Packers beat the 49ers twice in 1959 and during the Lombardi tenure through 1967, Green Bay was 13-3-1 versus San Francisco.

It was during that time when the Packers won five NFL titles in seven years, which included the first two Super Bowls.

One of the more memorable games during that period occurred in 1960 at Kezar Stadium on a rainy and muddy day, as the Packers won 13-0. All the points scored in that game were put on the board by Paul Hornung, as he scored on a 28-yard touchdown run, kicked an extra point, plus kicked two field goals.

The Green Bay ground game was almost unstoppable behind the pulling guards Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston, as Hornung rushed for 86 yards, while fullback Jimmy Taylor gashed the 49ers for 161 more yards.

Fuzzy and Jerry in the Mud Bowl at Kexar in 1960

Kramer listed two San Francisco defensive tackles among the top five he ever faced in his NFL career. They were Leo Nomellini and Charlie Krueger.

In 1968, the year in which Lombardi was just general manager only and Phil Bengtson was the head coach, the Packers suffered their most painful defeat of the season against the 49ers at Kezar Stadium and the loss basically ended any postseason aspirations for the team.

The Packers had a 20-7 lead going into the fourth quarter of that game, but because of injuries to both Bart Starr and Zeke Bratkowski, the Packers were forced to turn to rookie quarterback Billy Stevens, who had to be the next man up, as Don Horn was still going through his military duties with the Army then at that point of that season.

The 49ers, behind quarterback John Brodie, roared back to score 20 unanswered points and beat the Packers 27-20, as Stevens did not even complete a pass against the 49er defense, nor the gusty winds of Kezar.

After that game and over the next decade, the series between the two teams was pretty much a push more or less, with the 49ers holding a four to three edge through the 1977 season.

However, a monumental decision that affected both franchises occurred during the 1979 NFL draft. Starr was now the head coach of the Packers, while Bill Walsh was the new head coach for the Niners.

Before the draft, both Bratkowski, who was then the quarterbacks/offensive backs coach under Starr and scout Red Cochran strongly advocated the the Packers select quarterback Joe Montana of Notre Dame in the draft if they had the opportunity.

That opportunity came in the third round of that draft, when the Packers had the 15th pick of that round and the 71st overall pick of the draft. Again, both Bratkowski and Cochran pushed for the Packers to take Montana with the pick then, but Starr (who was also GM) decided to take nose tackle Charles Johnson of Maryland with the pick.

The 49ers, who had the last pick in the third round, quickly snatched up Montana and the rest they say, is history.

In the 1980s, the Packers were 19 games under .500 and had just one postseason appearance, while it was 180 degrees different for the 49ers once they selected Montana, as they won four Super Bowls in that same decade.

The 49ers continued to be Super Bowl contenders into the 1990s, as Steve Young took the reins over from Montana starting in the 1992 season.

The man who had coached both Montana and Young as a quarterbacks coach and as an offensive coordinator in San Francisco, Mike Holmgren became the new head coach of the Packers when he was hired by general manager Ron Wolf.

Wolf made two other key acquisitions for the Packers in that period. First, Wolf traded a first round pick to the Atlanta Falcons for quarterback Brett Favre. Plus, Wolf also added defensive end Reggie White in free agency prior to the 1993 season.

That led to a great rivalry with Niners that decade, especially in the postseason. In the regular season, the teams only played four times in the decade, with the Packers winning three of those games.

That would be an apropos number, as Green Bay and San Francisco also met four times in the postseason in the 1990s, with the Packers once again winning three of those games.

In the 1995 postseason, in the NFC Divisional playoff round, the Packers upset the defending Super Bowl champion 49ers 27-17 at Candlestick Park, as Favre was phenomenal.

No. 4 threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns, plus had a 132.9 passer rating in the game.

That led to another postseason game after the 1996 season, but this time the Packers had the home field advantage at muddy Lambeau Field. Favre was solid once again with a 107.4 passer rating in the game, but it was the type of day for a good ground game and the Packers rushed for 139 yards in the game.

But the real difference maker in the game was the punt returning ability of Desmond Howard, who returned two punts for 117 yards, which included a 71-yard return for  a score, as the Packers won 35-14.

Desmond Howard vs. 49ers

The Packers would go on to win Super Bowl XXXI.

In the 1997 season, the top two seeds in the NFC were the 49ers and the Packers, with the No. 1 seed being San Francisco. That meant that the Niners would host the Packers for the NFC title game at Candlestick Park.

Favre continued his solid play against the 49ers and he threw for 222 yards and a score and had a 98.1 passer rating in the game. But the ground game became a big weapon in the game for the Packers just like the previous postseason game, and halfback Dorsey Levens would rush for 114 yards and a score, as the Packers won 23-10.

However, the Packers would end up losing 31-24 in Super Bowl XXXII to the Denver Broncos two weeks later.

The Packers and 49ers would play for the fourth consecutive time in the 1998 postseason, which turned out to be the last game Holmgren would coach for the Packers. Coaching the 49ers was Holmgren’s former quarterbacks coach with the Packers, Steve Mariucci.

Unlike the three previous postseason games against the 49ers, Favre did not have his “A” game, as he threw two interceptions to go with his two touchdown passes. No. 4 threw for 292 yards and had a 79.7 passer rating.

Still, that should have been enough to win, as Favre threw a late touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman to give the Packers a 27-23 lead with just 1:56 left on the clock.

In the ensuing drive, Jerry Rice fumbled the ball after a catch that by today’s replay rules would have been ruled a fumble, but back then the officials ruled that Rice was down before he fumbled.

That led to a 25-yard touchdown pass from Young to Terrell Owens with just seconds remaining in the game. Owens caught the ball in a crowd after have many other drops during the course of the game, as the 49ers won 30-27.

That game was also the last game White, the “Minister of Defense”, would ever play for the Packers.

After that game, the Packers went on to dominate the series between the two teams for over a decade.

Through 2010, the Packers won eight straight games against the Niners, including another postseason game at Lambeau Field in the 2001 postseason. Favre once again had a better than average day against San Francisco, as he threw for 269 yards and had two touchown passes versus one pick. No. 4’s passer rating for the game was 112.6, as the Packers won 25-15.

Mariucci was still the head coach of the 49ers at the time, while Mike Sherman was now the head coach of the Packers.

In his career, Favre was 8-1 against the 49ers in the regular season, while throwing 14 touchdown passes versus 10 picks for 2,246 yards.

Sherman was fired after the 2005 season and general manager Ted Thompson made the offensive coordinator of the 49ers, Mike McCarthy, his new head coach in 2006.

That set up an interesting situation for McCarthy in Green Bay. First, he had to get Favre back to the way he used to play under Holmgren, plus he had to develop Aaron Rodgers to become a starting quarterback after the Favre era ended.

What made the second part of that dynamic very interesting was that McCarthy (then offensive coordinator for the 49ers) had told Rodgers prior to the 2005 NFL draft that the 49ers were going to pick the former Cal Bear with the first pick of the draft.

That didn’t happen and Rodgers never forgot that he was shunned by the team he grew up rooting for in Chico, California. Thompson and the Packers then happily selected Rodgers with the 24th pick of the first round of that draft.

After Favre left after the 2007 season, Rodgers became the starting quarterback and faced the 49ers once in the 2009 regular season and once in the 2010 regular season. The Packers won both of those games played at Lambeau Field.

Like Favre, Rodgers has played well against the 49ers in the regular season, as he is 4-2 lifetime going into Sunday night’s game. In those six games, No. 12 has thrown 13 touchdown passes to just two picks for 1,927 yards. His passer rating sits at 105.1.

Aaron vs. the 49ers

However, in the postseason, Rodgers is 0-2 against the 49ers. That being said, Rodgers has played well enough to win for sure, but in both losses, the defense was the main cause for the defeat.

In those two games, when Green Bay was outscored by a combined 68-51 margin, Rodgers threw three touchdown passes versus one interception for 434 yards. No. 12’s passer rating was a cumulative 94.7.

But the Packers could not stop Colin Kaepernick in those two playoff games,  as he had a combined 444 yards (263 yards passing with two touchdown passes and 181 yards rushing with two scores) in the 45-31 win in the 2012 postseason game, while he also dominated the 2013 postseason game with 227 yards passing (one touchdown) and 98 yards rushing.

Since those postseason losses, the Packers and 49ers have faced each other  twice. Once in 2015 at Levi’s Stadium when the Packers won 17-3 and also last season, when Rodgers brought the Packers back in a thrilling 33-30 win at Lambeau Field.

Since 2017, the 49ers have had Kyle Shanahan as their head coach. The Niners won six out of their last seven games in 2017 to finish 6-10.

Part of the reason for the 49ers late success in the 2017 season was the acquisition of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots midway through the season.

In 2018, Garoppolo suffered a torn ACL in the third game of the year and the 49ers only won four games.

Things have definitely turned around for San Francisco in 2019, with the Niners now 9-1. Garoppolo is a big reason why, as he has thrown 18 touchdown passes versus 10 interceptions for 2,478 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 97.7.

Like the 49ers, the Packers did not play up to expectations in 2017 and 2018 and had a combined 13-18-1 record. That led to the dismissal of McCarthy. General manager Brian Gutekunst, who replaced Thompson in 2018, along with President and CEO Mark Murphy, hired Matt LaFleur to become the new head coach of the Packers in January of 2019.

The hiring of LaFleur looks to be an excellent one, as the Packers are currently 8-2 heading into Sunday night’s game and lead the NFC North.

Shanahan and LaFleur have worked together in three locations in the NFL, Houston, Washington and Atlanta, so they are very familiar with each other and they run basically the same offense.

In terms of Sunday night’s game, the 49ers have the big edge in team stats. The Niners are fifth in the NFL in total offense, while the Packers are 17th. San Francisco is second in the NFL in rushing, as they average 149 yards a game on the ground. Meanwhile, the Packers are 25th in the NFL in rushing defense.

The 49ers are also second in the NFL in total defense, while the Packers are ranked near the bottom of the league at No. 28.

Based on team stats, Sunday night’s game looks to be a blowout by the Niners over the Packers.

That being said, I believe Mr. Rodgers will have a great game in his old neighborhood (even against the second-ranked passing defense in the NFL), plus I also believe the running game with both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams will be effective as well.

The Packers have to protect Rodgers well, as the Niners are tied for first in the NFL with 39 sacks. Arik Armstead has eight of those sacks, while Nick Bosa has seven.

The Packers have 25 sacks, which is tied for 15th in the NFL. The Smith “brothers”, Preston and Za’Darius, have combined for 18.5 of those sacks.

I also see the Green Bay “bend but don’t break” defense making some big plays in this game.

This game could come down to kicking and the Packers appear to have the edge there. Mason Crosby is 13-of-14 in field goals this year, while Robbie Gould of the 49ers has missed the last couple of game due to a quad injury and may not play in Sunday night’s game. If not, rookie Chase McLaughlin would be the kicker. McLaughlin is 4-of-5 in field goals, but did have a huge miss in overtime against Seattle a couple weeks back.

Both the Niners and Packers have two of the better punters in the NFC, as Mitch Wishnowsky has a net average of 42.1 per punt, while J.K. Scott has a 41. 9 net average.

The game on Sunday night has “classic” written all over it, as two of the better franchises in NFL history meet. The Packers have won 13 NFL titles and four Super Bowls, while the 49ers have won five Super Bowls.

Bottom line, even though the team stats say the 49ers should win handily, I like the Packers to go out to Santa Clara and win a close game against the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions: A Historical Perspective

Jim Taylor scores vs. the Lions

The Green Bay Packers entered the NFL in 1921, while the Detroit Lions (then the Portsmouth Spartans) joined the league in 1930.

Portsmouth moved the franchise to Detroit in 1934 and became the Lions.

In their history since then, the Packers lead the series 98-72-7 in the regular season and 2-0 in the postseason. The 98 wins over the Lions by the Packers is the most that Green Bay has over any NFL opponent.

The two teams have always been in the same conference or division. When the NFL started using the division format in 1967, both teams were part of the NFL Central Division, which later became became the NFC Central in 1970 and then the NFC North in 2002.

Since the divisional play started in 1967, the Packers have won 14 divisional championships, while the Lions have won three.

In terms of NFL championships, the Packers have won 13 titles, including four Super Bowls, while the Lions have won four, with the last one coming in 1957, the year that Lambeau Field was originally built.

The Lions were a dominant NFL in the 1950s, as they won three of their NFL titles (1953, 1954 and ’57) that decade. That same decade, the Packers had the worst record that they ever had in any decade in their history, as the team went 39-79-2, which is a .331 winning percentage.

Even with all that losing, the Packers were able to build championship teams that decade, thanks to the expert drafting by Jack Vainisi. In the 1950s, Vainisi would draft seven players who would later be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and would help head coach Vince Lombardi win five NFL titles (including the first two Super Bowls) in the 1960s.

Those players are Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke and Jerry Kramer.

The acquisition of those players led to quite a rivalry between the two teams in the early 1960s. The Packers won the Western Conference title for three straight years from 1960 through 1962, which also led to NFL championships in ’61 and ’62.

The Lions finished second to Packers in each of those years. The 1962 season was especially memorable, as the Packers finished with a 13-1 record, while the Lions were 11-3. The Packers only loss of the season happened on Thanksgiving Day at Tiger Stadium in Detroit.

But before we get to that game, we have to set up why the Lions were more than ready for the Packers on that Turkey Day.

In the first meeting between the Packers and Lions in the ’62 season at City Stadium (now Lambeau Field), the Packers had narrowly won 9-7, as quarterback Milt Plum threw a late interception to Herb Adderley which set up a game-winning Hornung field goal.

The Lions were furious after the game. Alex Karras reportedly threw his helmet at Plum’s chest after the game. Jerry Kramer could hear all types of screaming and banging in the Detroit locker room.

“We were undefeated when we went into Detroit on Thanksgiving,” Kramer said. “Detroit hated our guts. One of my best pals in college, Wayne Walker, played linebacker for the Lions. He hated that the Lions could never get over the top against us to win a championship. He never got over that.

“Before we played the Lions on Thanksgiving, Fuzzy lost his mother about three days before the game. Fuzzy decided to play, but his heart was somewhere else. The Lions just guessed and gambled correctly all day long that game.

“They did things that they had never done before. Alex [Karras] would line up just about everywhere. Over the center, over my right shoulder and anywhere he felt like he could do some damage. Add to that, the Lions were incredibly motivated.

Bart being harrased by the Lions in 1962

“They got Bart about 11 times that game. On the way home to Green Bay, Fuzzy said that all wasn’t bad, because we invented a new block called the look out block. As in, ‘Look out, Bart!’

“I don’t think we even watched film of that game afterwards, as we went down the road and continued to have success.”

Lombardi hated playing the Lions on Thanksgiving Day each year and he ended that series in 1963. The Packers had played in that game for 13 consecutive years from 1951 through ’63. Green Bay had only won three times during that period (twice under Lombardi) and tied once in the final game in ’63.

Since then, the Packers have played eight more games in Detroit on Thanksgiving, winning five of those contests.

The next time that the Packers and Lions became really big divisional rivals was in the early 1990s. Detroit won the NFC Central in both 1991 and 1993, plus was a Wild Card team in 1994 and 1995. The Lions also made playoff appearance in 1997 and 1999.

The Packers were also very successful in the ’90s, as the team won three NFC Central titles and were in the playoffs six times overall. That included winning Super Bowl XXXI.

During that period, the Packers played the Lions twice in the postseason. One after the 1993 season at the Pontiac Silverdome and once at Lambeau Field in two very memorable games.

Mike Holmgren was the head coach of the Packers and Wayne Fontes was the head coach of the Lions.

The playoff appearance in the 1993 postseason by the Packers was their first since 1982 and only their third since the Packers won Super Bowl II.

The stars for the Packers that year were quarterback Brett Favre, wide receiver Sterling Sharpe and defensive end Reggie White.

The big star for the Lions was running back Barry Sanders, who did not disappoint in this game, as he rushed for 169 yards.

Quarterback Erik Kramer threw for 248 yards for the Lions, but was sacked four times (including twice by White) and threw two costly interceptions, including one for 101 yards and a score by safety George Teague.

The biggest threat in the Detroit passing game turned out to be wide receiver Brett Perriman, who caught 10 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown.

Favre threw for 201 yards, plus tossed three touchdown passes, compared to one pick. Sharpe caught all three of those touchdowns and had five receptions overall for 101 yards.

But none was bigger than the one No. 84 caught with the Packers trailing late in the game 24-21.

Football: NFC playoffs. Green Bay Packer

Yes, with less than a minute to go in the game, Favre threw a bomb across the field to No. 84 for a 40-yard touchdown pass to win the game 28-24.

In the 1994 postseason game between the two teams at Lambeau Field, both squads went in as Wild Card teams as the Minnesota Vikings won the NFC Central.

The defense of the Packers was magnificent that day, especially in stopping the run. Sanders who had run wild against the Packers the previous postseason, was held to -1 yard in 13 carries. That’s mind-boggling when you really think about that stat.

Quarterback Dave Kreig threw a touchdown pass to Perriman, but was also sacked four times, including twice by linebacker Bryce Paup and once each by White and Sean Jones.

Favre meanwhile, threw for 262 yards. Favre was missing Sharpe, who had suffered a career-ending neck injury late in the 1994 season. Robert Brooks became the key receiver for No. 4 and had seven catches for 88 yards.

The big offensive star for the Packers in the game was running back Edgar Bennett, who rushed for 70 yards, plus caught six passes for 31 more yards, as the Packers won 16-12.

In recent years, the Packers have done well in this rivalry up until 2017, as the Lions have won four consecutive times. Under head coach Mike McCarthy, the Packers were 18-4 against the Lions from 2006 through 2016.

None was a bigger win than the “Miracle in Motown” game in 2015.

The Packers were down in that game 23-20 at Ford Field with just seconds to go in the game.

Saved by a facemask penalty against Detroit’s Devin Taylor on what would have been the final play of the game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was able to get one more shot at a miraculous finish.

Rodgers did not disappoint either.

The Packers were on their own 39 yard line and Rodgers was going to need some time to launch a pass to the opposite end zone. That’s if he could get it there.

Rodgers was able elude the three-man rush, first going left, then scrambling to the right and then running up to launch his moon-rocket pass that soared way up into the air and traveled close to 70 yards.

Tight end Richard Rodgers of the Packers leaped up and caught the ball at it’s highest point in the end zone surrounded by several players from both teams.

The result? The 6’4″, 272-pound Rodgers had unbelievably secured a 61-yard touchdown pass to end the game, as the Packers won 27-23.

Richard Rodgers catch vs. the Lions

As I mentioned earlier, the Lions have won the last four games between the two teams, although Aaron Rodgers did not play in three of those games.

But Rodgers will be behind center when the 4-1 Packers take on the 2-1-1 Lions at Lambeau Field on Monday night.

Historically, Rodgers has fared very well versus Detroit.

No. 12 is 13-5 against the Lions in his career and has thrown 37 touchdown passes versus just six picks for 4,526 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 109.0.

Meanwhile, quarterback Matthew Stafford of the Lions is 7-10 against Green Bay. No. 9 has thrown 34 touchdown passes versus 19 interceptions for 4,921 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 89.6.

The game on Monday night will be the first time new head coach Matt LaFleur of the Packers takes on second-year coach Matt Patricia of the Lions. Detroit was 6-10 under Patricia in 2018, with two of those wins coming against Green Bay.

Both the Packers and Lions have surprised experts this season, as most thought that the NFC North would be controlled by the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings. But the Packers have already beaten both da Bears and Vikings, while the Lions have yet to play anyone in the division as of yet, but did beat the Philadelphia Eagles who gave the Packers their only loss of the season.

Rodgers is having a typical season thus far for him, as he has six touchdown passes versus just one pick for 1,307 yards. That being said, his passer rating this year (93.4) is below his career passer rating of 102.8.

However, that has to be expected seeing as he is running a new offense under LaFleur, which has started to get much better the past two games.

Stafford has thrown nine touchdown passes this year, compared to just two picks for 1,122 yards. No. 9’s passer rating for the year is 102.6.

So quarterback play will be a key on Monday night. As will the play of the running backs.

The Green Bay ground game is led by Aaron Jones, who has rushed for 302 yards and has eight touchdowns. The Detroit running game is led by Kerryon Johnson, who has rushed for 251 yards and one score.

Detroit is ranked ninth offensively in the NFL, while Green Bay is ranked 25th, but is improving as of late.

The Packers are ranked 22nd defensively, but it doesn’t tell the true story. Green Bay is eighth in the NFL in points allowed (18.6) per game. The Packers are also tied for 10th in the league with 15 sacks, plus have held opposing quarterbacks to a 75.9 passer rating, as they have allowed six touchdown passes while picking off seven passes.

The weakness for Green Bay has been run defense, as they are ranked 26th in the league in that category. The Packers have allowed on average 138.2 yards per game on the ground. That can’t continue to happen if the Packers want to continue their winning ways.

The Lions are ranked 27th in the NFL in total defense, as they give up an average of 405.5 yards per game, as well as 23.8 points per game. Detroit is ranked 29th in stopping the pass and 20th in stopping the run.

I look for Rodgers to have a big night, even without wide receiver Davante Adams, who has been ruled out.

Finally, the two teams have met on Monday night three times in their history. The series is even at 1-1-1. Overall on Monday night, the Packers are 32-32-1.

I expect that Packers to go up in the series 2-1-1 and also get their 99th victory in the regular season versus the Lions.

Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys: A Historical Perspective

Lombardi celebrates 1966 NFL title

The Green Bay Packers joined the NFL in 1921, while the Dallas Cowboys joined the league in 1960. Since that time, the teams have met 28 times in the regular season, with the Packers holding a 15-13 edge.

The two teams have also met eight times in the postseason, with each team winning four times.

Overall, the Packers have won 13 NFL titles, including four Super Bowls, one of which was won at Cowboys Stadium (now AT&T Stadium). The Cowboys have won five Super Bowls overall.

When the two teams meet on Sunday at AT&T Field, it will be the 15th time that the Packers have played Dallas on the road in the regular season. The Packers were 2-1 at the Cotton Bowl, 2-7 at Texas Stadium and now are currently 2-0 at AT&T Stadium.

The Packers are also 2-4 in the postseason in the Big D area. With the latest game being the 2016 NFC title game, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers led Green Bay to a stirring 34-31 victory.

In Wisconsin, the Packers defeated the Cowboys in their inaugural year 41-7 at then City Stadium (now Lambeau Field) and are now 7-2 overall versus the Boys in Green Bay during the regular season.

The Packers and Cowboys also played five games at County Stadium in Milwaukee in the regular season, with the Cowboys holding a 3-2 edge.

The Packers have also won two postseason games against the Cowboys at Lambeau Field, including the legendary “Ice Bowl” game on December 31, 1967.

The two teams were destined to become quite a rivalry, as Vince Lombardi was head coach of the Packers when the Cowboys joined the NFL in 1960 and their head coach was Tom Landry.

Lombardi and Landry had coached together in New York with the Giants, as the team won the NFL title in 1956. In essence, Lombardi ran the offense for the G-Men, while Landry ran the defense during their tenure in the Big Apple.

Lombardi never lost to Landry while he coached the Packers, both in the regular season (3-0) and in the postseason (2-0).

Both postseason games were NFL title games, with the first being played at the Cotton Bowl on January 1, 1967. The winner of that 1966 NFL championship game would be playing in Super Bowl I.

Bart Starr 1966 NFL title game at the Cotton Bowl

Quarterback Bart Starr was magnificent in that game, as he threw four touchdown passes (including a beautiful 51-yard pass to Carroll Dale) without throwing an interception for 304 yards. No. 15’s passer rating for that game was 143.5.

The game came down to the Cowboys being on the 2-yard line of the Packers with less than a minute to go, trailing 34-27. And on fourth down, quarterback Don Meredith of the Cowboys was pressured by outside linebacker Dave Robinson and with No. 89’s arms draped around him, Meredith threw an errant pass that was intercepted by safety Tom Brown of the Packers to seal the victory.

The Packers then went on to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in Super I two weeks later.

The two teams met again the very next year in the 1967 NFL title game, this time in Green Bay at Lambeau Field. I have written about that classic game a number of times, including a story that has fullback Chuck Mercein, halfback Donny Anderson and right guard Jerry Kramer describing their epic final drive to win the “Ice Bowl” 21-17 with just seconds remaining.

Starr was once again the hero, as he threw two touchdown passes to Boyd Dowler in the game and then scored the game-winning touchdown on a quarterback sneak with just 13 seconds remaining in the game and with his team having zero time outs.

Two weeks later, the Packers beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14 in Super Bowl II, which turned out to be Lombardi’s last game as head coach of the Packers.

Bart's QB sneak behind Jerry

The next time the two teams met in the postseason was after the 1982 season, when Starr was the head coach of the Packers and Landry was still at the helm of the Cowboys.

Quarterback Lynn Dickey threw for 332 yards, while wide receiver James Lofton had five catches for 109 yards and a touchdown, plus had another score on a 71-yard run. Still, that wasn’t enough as the Cowboys, led by the three interceptions of Dennis Thurman, won 37-26 in a second-round NFC playoff game at Texas Stadium.

The next three postseason games would all be played at Texas Stadium in the 1990s, as Jimmy Johnson was now the head coach of the Boys after owner Jerry Jones had fired Landry after the 1988 season.

The Packers were coached by Mike Holmgren during that time.

The Cowboys were led by their triplets, quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin. The Pack was led by quarterback Brett Favre on offense and defensive end Reggie White on defense.

In 1993 (27-17) and 1994 (35-9), the Cowboys beat the Packers in NFC divisional playoff games. In 1995, the Boys beat the Packers 38-27 in the NFC title game. Dallas would end up winning the Super Bowl twice after defeating the Packers in the postseason that decade.

In all, the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in the 1990s, while the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI after the 1996 season.

The Packers won Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium (now AT&T Stadium) after the 2010 season, when Rodgers was the game’s MVP, as the Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25.

Green Bay and Dallas again met in the postseason in a 2014 divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field. Rodgers threw three touchdown passes in the 26-21 victory by the Packers, but the game was marked by controversy.

That occurred when quarterback Tony Romo completed a long pass to wide receiver Dez Bryant on fourth down which took the ball to the 1-yard line of Green Bay that was later ruled a non-catch. The Packers than marched down the field and ran out the clock.

The last postseason game that the two teams played was a 2016 NFC divisional game at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys came into the game as the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but the Packers behind Rodgers got off to a quick 21-3 lead.

But Dallas came roaring back behind quarterback Dak Prescott and tied the game 28- 28 with four minutes left in the game.

The Packers then took a 31-28 lead on a 56-yard Mason Crosby field goal with about 1:30 to go in the game.

Prescott then led the Cowboys to a game-tying 52-yard field goal by Dan Bailey with 35 seconds left.

Aaron vs. the Cowboys

Then, with just 12 seconds left in the game on a third-and-20 from their own 32-yard line, Rodgers completed a 35-yard pass to tight end Jared Cook to set up a game-winning 51-yard field goal by Crosby as time expired.

The last time the two teams met was in the 2017 regular season, when Rodgers once again led the Packers to a late victory, as he completed a 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Davante Adams with 11 seconds remaining, as the Packers won 35-31.

Overall in his career versus the Cowboys, Rodgers is 4-2 against them in the regular season, as he has thrown 11 touchdown passes, compared to just one pick for 1,702 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 101.2.

No. 12 has also rushed for 162 yards on 30 carries and had two more scores.

In the postseason, Rodgers is 2-0 against the Cowboys and has thrown five touchdown passes versus one pick for 671 yards. That adds up to a cumulative passer rating of 111.0.

So, what to expect on Sunday? The Packers are banged up a bit and Adams has been ruled out because of a turf toe injury. Still, the track record of Rodgers against the Cowboys has been fantastic.

Plus, the Packers have never lost in AT&T Stadium in four games, with one of them being Super Bowl XLV. That being said, every game against the Cowboys has been very close and in one of the wins, it was backup quarterback Matt Flynn who led the Packers to a victory.

Bottom line, I also expect the game on Sunday to be very close. It may come down to which team has the ball last. And if it’s Rodgers and the Packers, I like their chances.

Green Bay Packers: Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb Have Joined a Legendary Fraternity

Clay Matthews XLV (1)

Packer Nation had a very painful day last week, when they learned that both linebacker Clay Matthews and wide receiver Randall Cobb would be moving on to play for other teams.

Matthews will be going back to his old stomping grounds in southern California, as he signed with the Los Angeles Rams as a free agent. Cobb was a also a free agent and he signed with the Dallas Cowboys.

Both signings occurred on the same day, March 19. It was a double punch to the ribs.

Both Matthews and Cobb left great legacies in Green Bay and gave the Packer faithful many great moments to remember.

In his 10-year career as a Packer, Matthews had 482 total tackles, a franchise record 83.5 sacks, 40 passes defended, six interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 15 forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries (one returned for a score).

That type of production led Matthews to be honored with six Pro Bowl berths, as well as being named AP first-team All-Pro once and AP second-team All-Pro once.

Matthews was also a terror in the postseason. In 15 games, No. 52 had 53 tackles, 11 sacks, four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

No forced fumble was bigger than the one he helped to cause in Super Bowl XLV in the 2010 postseason.  Matthews forced Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall to fumble on the first snap of the fourth quarter in Super Bowl XLV, with help from defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.

Pittsburgh was driving for a potential go-ahead score at the Packers’ 33-yard line until Matthews’ helmet dislodged the football, popping it into the air.

The Packers took advantage of that turnover with a touchdown drive and went on to win 31-25 and the team’s fourth Super Bowl prize, aptly named the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Clay forces fumble in Super Bowl XLV

Cobb didn’t arrive in Green Bay until 2011, but he had a great career in both the regular season and postseason. In his eight-year career as a Packers, Cobb had 470 receptions (sixth all time in franchise history) for 5,524 yards (11th all time in franchise history) and 41 touchdowns.

No regular season touchdown was bigger than the one Cobb scored in the last game of the 2013 season, when the Packers played the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. The winner of that game would win the NFC North, while the loser would go home without a playoff spot.

Here was the situation: There were 46 seconds to go in the game, with the Packers trailing the Bears 28-27 and Green Bay facing a fourth-and-8 scenario.

In the moment of truth, quarterback Aaron Rodgers (who had returned for this game after missing several weeks because of a broken collarbone) first avoided being sacked by Julius Peppers by sprinting to his left and then getting a chip-block by fullback John Kuhn. Rodgers then delivered a 48-yard touchdown pass on the move to Cobb, as the Packers won 33-28.

Cobb was also money in the postseason. In 11 games, No. 18 caught 47 passes for 596 yards and five touchdowns. No TD was bigger than the 42-yard Hail Mary pass Cobb caught from Rodgers at the end of the first half in the 2016 Wild Card Playoff game between the Packers and New York Giants at Lambeau Field.

In all, Cobb caught three touchdown passes in the game, as the Pack whipped the G-Men 38-13.

Rodgers to Cobb in 2013 vs. da Bears

While there is no doubt that both Matthews and Cobb had great careers in Green Bay, they have also joined a legendary fraternity of players who played with the Packers but finished their NFL careers in other cities.

A number of them were players who ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as well.

Most notable was Brett Favre.

After announcing his retirement in March of 2008, Favre later decided he indeed wanted to return to the Packers. But the Packers decided by that time to turn things over to Rodgers at quarterback and instead traded Favre to the New York Jets for the 2008 season.

No. 4 then signed with the hated Minnesota Vikings the following year.  Favre played with the Vikings for two years before really retiring in 2011.

Plus there was Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung.

That tandem was the force of the Packers’ vaunted ground game in the Lombardi era from 1959 to 1966.  Taylor and Hornung won MVP awards and helped the team win four world championships.

However, in 1967, Taylor left as a free agent for the New Orleans Saints, and Hornung was also claimed by the Saints in the 1967 expansion draft but never played because of a neck injury.

Paul Hornung and Jimmy Taylor in 1962

There are many other examples of players who later were given busts in Canton, but who ended their NFL careers in other cities instead of Green Bay.

The list includes Arnie Herber, Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Herb Adderley, Dave Robinson, James Lofton and Reggie White. Another player who will soon be joining that club is Charles Woodson.

Another Hall of Famer who could have been in that fraternity is Jerry Kramer. No. 64 retired after the 1968 season and was doing color commentary for NFL games on CBS in 1969.

But because of injuries at the guard position on the offensive line, both the Los Angeles Rams and the Minnesota Vikings wanted Kramer to join them in the 1969 season. Kramer never seriously considered playing for Bud Grant and the Vikings (although he was flattered by the offer), but he did agree to play for the Rams after conferring with George Allen.

But the Packers refused to relinquish the rights to Kramer to the Rams and No. 64 stayed in the broadcast both.

Plus there are the legendary coaches who both have a place among the best of the best at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Team founder and coach Curly Lambeau left the Packers after a dispute with the executive committee in 1950 to coach the Chicago Cardinals.  Lambeau coached the Packers from 1921 to 1949, winning 209 games with a .656 winning percentage and six NFL championships.

But even with that, Lambeau had issues with the executive committee.

Lambeau’s last two teams in Green Bay were a collective 5-19.  Plus, Lambeau ticked off members by purchasing the Rockwood Lodge north of Green Bay for $25,000 for the Packers to practice at from 1946 to 1949.  The facility burned down on Jan. 24, 1950, and Lambeau resigned a week later to coach the Cardinals.

The Cardinals were considered a very talented team when Lambeau arrived there.  The Cardinals had won the NFL title in 1947, and next to the Bears, were clearly the next-biggest rival to the Packers at the time.  Needless to say, people in Green Bay were not pleased when Lambeau joined forces with the Cardinals.

Then another coaching legend arrived a few years later—Vince Lombardi.  The result of his tenure?  Five NFL championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

Included in that tenure was three straight NFL titles (1965-1967), something that was never done in NFL history except once, when Lambeau did it from 1929-1931 with his Packers when the NFL did not have a playoff format.

Lombardi left the Packers after the 1968 season (Lombardi was a GM-only that season) to coach the Washington Redskins.  The Packers had stopped Lombardi from leaving a couple of times before, as the New York Giants had tried to get Lombardi back to his hometown and back with his close friend and college buddy Wellington Mara, who owned the Giants.

Lambeau and Lombardi

Together, Lambeau and Lombardi brought 11 world championships to Green Bay, with Lambeau winning six titles and Lombardi five in seven years, including wins in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

Now I’m not saying that either Matthews or Cobb will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (although Matthews has a much better chance), but there is no doubt that both will be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame.

There they will join a number of other Green Bay legends who are not in Canton currently, but who also ended up in different locales to finish their pro careers.

People like Billy Howton, Tobin Rote, Ron Kramer, Dan Currie, Boyd Dowler, Elijah Pitts, Lee Roy Caffey, Donny Anderson, Edgar Bennett, Dorsey Levens and Mike Holmgren.

It’s always difficult saying goodbye to a great player or great coach who moves on to another NFL city, but the memories that they have left behind will live on forever.

That is certainly true of both Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb.

Green Bay Packers: Matt LaFleur has the Attributes to be a Successful Head Coach

matt lafleur

I’m sure many in Packer Nation asked the same question when it was announced that the Green Bay Packers had hired Matt LaFleur to be their new head coach.

Who the hell is Matt LaFleur?

The 39 year-old LaFleur was definitely an under the radar selection by president Mark Murphy and general manager Brian Gutekunst of the Packers, but when one takes a closer look at the background of LaFleur and peels back the onion a bit, there is a lot to like.

First off, LaFleur has worked under some great offensive minds in the NFL. LaFleur has been an assistant under head coach Gary Kubiak of the Houston Texans, head coach Mike Shanahan of the Washington Redskins, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan of the Atlanta Falcons, head coach Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams before running the offense of the Tennessee Titans in 2018 as offensive coordinator under head coach Mike Vrabel.

At Houston, LaFleur was offensive quality control coach and then was the quarterbacks coach at Washington and Atlanta. In Los Angeles, his title was offensive coordinator, but McVay called the plays. When he became the OC in Tennessee, LaFleur was able to call the plays himself.

Let’s look at the success that players who have been tutored by LaFleur have done.

In 2012, while he was the QBs coach of the Redskins, quarterback Robert Griffin III was the rage of the NFL and became the Offensive Rookie of the Year, as he threw 20 touchdown passes, compared to just five picks for 3,200 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 102.4.

RGIII also ran for 815 yards and seven more scores.

In Atlanta, again as QB coach, quarterback Matt Ryan became the NFL MVP in 2016, as he threw 38 touchdown passes versus just seven picks for 4,944 yards. That adds up to a passer rating of 117.1.

Ryan just carved the defense of the Packers apart during the 2016 regular season as he threw three TD passes without an interception for 288 yards and a passer rating of 129. 5, as the Falcons squeezed by the Pack 33-32. But that was nothing compared to what Ryan did to the defense of the Packers in the 2016 NFL title game.

Ryan threw four TD passes, without a pick once again, for 392 yards and a passer rating of 139.4, as the Dirty Birds blew out the Packers 44-21.

matt lafleur and matt ryan

As offensive coordinator of the Rams in 2017, his number one priority was to get second-year quarterback Jared Goff to the next level after a very tough rookie year.

In seven starts as a rookie in 2016, Goff was 0-7 as a starter and had just five TD passes versus seven interceptions for 1,089 yards. That adds up to a paltry passer rating of 63.6.

But in 2017, under the guidance of LaFleur, Goff really took off, as he was 11-4 as a starter, plus threw 28 touchdown passes versus seven picks for 3,804 yards. Goff’s passer rating improved to a very nice 100.4 level.

Not only did LaFleur get Goff on the right track, but the Rams started using the skills of talented running back Todd Gurley much better in 2017.

In 2015, Gurley was the Offensive Rookie of the Year, but in 2016, things went south for the former Georgia Bulldog. In his second season, Gurley only rushed for 885 yards and his yards-per-carry average went down by over a yard and a half, as he only averaged 3.2 yards per rush.

But in 2017 under LaFleur, Gurley had a monster year, as he was named Offensive Player of the Year. Gurley rushed for 1,305 yards (4.7 average) and 13 TDs, plus caught 64 passes for 788 yards and six more scores.

In 2018, as offensive coordinator of the Titans, the offense struggled early, as quarterback Marcus Mariota suffered an elbow injury which would linger all season long.

Tennessee didn’t flash statistically under LaFleur (25th in total offense and 27th in scoring), but he figured out the best way to run his offense down the stretch. It led to five straight wins before the Titans were beaten by the Indianapolis Colts in the final game of the season, in a game which would see the winner get into the playoffs.

Knowing that he had an ailing Mariota dealing with elbow issues, LaFleur leaned on the running game for the last quarter of the 2018 season. Running back Derrick Henry became a force (and you who had him in fantasy football know this), as he rushed for 585 yards and seven touchdowns in four games to end the season.

So, based on the excellent work that LaFleur has done in both the passing and running game, not to mention the coaches he has developed under, it’s no wonder why the Packers made him their new head coach.

The Mike McCarthy tenure had run it’s course and although he and then general manager Ted Thompson had a lot of success over several years, it was time to turn the page. Which is what Murphy did after the brutal loss to the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field on December 2nd.

In addition to all that, reports say that LaFleur is inclined to keep defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and perhaps even keep other coaches as well, including Joe Philbin, who was interim head coach after the firing of McCarthy.

To me, that is good news. As was the report that quarterback Aaron Rodgers gave his blessing to the hiring of LaFleur. That is key.

When McCarthy was hired in 2006, his first priority was to get quarterback Brett Favre back to playing a MVP level again. That’s because is 2005, Favre had his worse season ever, as he threw 20 touchdown passes versus a whopping 29 interception for 3,881 yards. That added up to a very mediocre passer rating of 70.9.

Favre improved in 2006 and then really took off in his last season in Green Bay in 2007, as he threw 28 TD passes versus 15 picks for 4,155 yards. No. 4’s passer rating improved to 95.7 and the Packers made it to the NFC title game.

LaFleur has a similar situation with Rodgers, although not near as much work as McCarthy had to do with Favre.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Green Bay Packers

Most quarterbacks in the NFL would have loved to have the stats Rodgers had in 2018. No. 12 threw 25 touchdown passes versus just two picks for 4,442 yards. That added up to a passer rating of 97.6, which isn’t too far from his career passer rating mark of 103.1, which is tops in NFL history.

Still, something wasn’t right. First, there was an obvious disconnect between Rodgers and McCarthy. Plus, the completion percentage for Rodgers was just 62.3 percent, which is two points lower than his career average. Adding to that, Rodgers threw away more passes than he has ever done in his career and his accuracy was off at times. Sometimes missing low and other times high.

Some of that can be blamed on the sprained knee Rodgers suffered in the first game of the season against the Chicago Bears, but the two-time NFL MVP gutted it out and played in all 16 games.

Speaking of Green Bay quarterbacks, back in 2014, LaFleur was the QBs coach at Notre Dame. Which means he has a good read on the skills of backup quarterback DeShone Kizer, who was with the Fighting Irish then.

It’s important that LaFleur can aid in the development of Kizer and to find out whether or not he is a viable backup QB to Rodgers.

The bottom line is that I believe the hiring of LaFleur as head coach by Murphy and Gutekunst was excellent. LaFleur has proven that he can help make quarterbacks and running backs play much better.

The key now for LaFleur is to put together the best possible coaching staff he can. Keeping Pettine and possibly Philbin are two good moves in my opinion.

Adding an excellent special teams coach will also be paramount to the success of the teams LaFleur will put together in Green Bay.

But just like Vince Lombardi in 1959, Mike Holmgren in 1992 and McCarthy in 2006, I have a feeling that the hiring of LaFleur will yield similar success.

Packer Nation will get to meet LaFleur tomorrow, as he will be introduced as the new head coach of the Green Bay Packers.

 

What If the Green Bay Packers Had Not Hired Vince Lombardi?

Vince meeting Dominic to become the new head coach of the Packers

Vince Lombardi is greeted by the President of the Green Bay Packers, Dominic Olejniczak.

With the somewhat abrupt firing of head coach Mike McCarthy after his Green Bay Packers suffered a bad 20-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday, I started to think about the some of the coaching hires that the Packers had made in the past, as Mark Murphy and Brian Gutekunst will now have to find another head coach.

I started specifically thinking about the coaching hires that brought NFL championships to Green Bay.

When Ron Wolf was brought in by Bob Harlan in 1991, he had total control and full authority as general manager to hire the next head coach after he had fired Lindy Infante after the ’91 season.

Initially, Wolf wanted to bring in Bill Parcells to be the head coach of the Packers, but because Parcells was going to have open-heart surgery, it was decided that the time was not right for that hire.

Wolf ended up hiring Mike Holmgren, who was definitely the hot NFL assistant coach prospect of his day because of his fine work with the San Francisco 49ers, as both quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.

Holmgren had a great seven-year tenure with the Packers as head coach, which was helped by the fact that Wolf had traded away a first-round pick to get Brett Favre from the Atlanta Falcons.

In those seven years, the Packers were 75-37 in the regular season, made the playoffs six times, won three NFC Central titles, won two NFC championships and also Super Bowl XXXI.

Overall, Holmgren was 9-5 in the postseason.

Favre also won three consecutive NFL MVP awards under Holmgren from 1995 through 1997.

In 2006, after general manager Ted Thompson fired head coach Mike Sherman, he conducted several interviews with head coach candidates, including current NFL coaches Sean Payton and Ron Rivera, before finally settling on McCarthy.

Like Holmgren, McCarthy had a great run in Green Bay as head coach, both with Favre (for two years) and Aaron Rodgers as his quarterbacks.

In 12-plus seasons, McCarthy’s teams had a 125-77-2 record in the regular season. His teams made the playoff nine times, won six NFC North titles, played in four NFC title games and won Super Bowl XLV.

Overall, McCarthy was 10-8 in the postseason.

This brings me to the hiring of Vince Lombardi in 1959 by the Packers. David Maraniss wrote about the hiring process that the Packers went through that year in his fantastic book, When Pride Still Mattered.

The bottom line is that hiring Lombardi almost didn’t happen.

While the 1958 regular season was still ongoing and with Scooter McLean’s Packers having a 1-8-1 record, the first part of the 1959 NFL draft was held. In those days, the draft was staggered, with the early rounds done in late November or early December and the later rounds done in mid-to-late January.

This was done from 1956 through 1959. The draft was 30 rounds in those days.

There was speculation that the Packers were interested in bringing in Forest Evashevski, who had been very successful as the head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

From 1952 through 1958, the Hawkeyes under Evashevski were 39-22-4 and had won two Big Ten titles and two Rose Bowls. And in 1958, the FWAA (Football Writers Association of America) voted Iowa as the national champion.

The quarterback for that Iowa team was Randy Duncan. And guess who the Packers selected in the first round of the 1959 NFL draft as the first overall selection? You guessed it. It was Duncan. That really stoked up the talk that “Evy” was going to be the next head coach of the Packers.

But there was another fellow who was very interested in becoming the Packers new head coach. And this fellow knew all about the Packers, as he was one of the founders of the team and was their first head coach. Yes, I’m talking about Curly Lambeau.

Lambeau coached the Packers from 1921 to 1949, as the team won 209 games (a .656 winning percentage) and six NFL championships.

Lambeau and Lombardi

Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi on the cover of the Green Packers Packers Yearbook in 1965.

The newest Packer player to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Jerry Kramer, saw Lambeau late in the 1958 season when the rumors about who might be the next coach of the Packers were really swirling.

“Before we played the Rams in Los Angeles in 1958 on the last game of the season, a bunch of us went out to dinner at the Rams Horn restaurant, which was owned by Don Paul, who used to play linebacker for the Rams,” Kramer said. “Our group included Paul [Hornung], Max [McGee] and Jimmy [Taylor].

“We noticed that Curly Lambeau was also at the restaurant. By then, the word have been circulating that Scooter McLean would soon be without a job as our head coach. So when Curly sat at our table, we asked him if he was interested in coming back to the Packers and being our next head coach. Curly said, ‘Hell yes!’ So we all figured that would end up happening.”

In fact, three days after the Packers lost to the Rams 34-20 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, McLean submitted his resignation to the Packers.

Soon after McLean’s resignation, as Maraniss noted in his book, Lambeau sent a wire to the Packers promoting himself to become general manager of the team, which would likely include also becoming head coach as well. At least based on what he told Kramer and the other Green Bay players in Los Angeles.

Lambeau even flew into Green Bay and met with Dominic Olejniczak, who was the president of the Packers board of directors.

But Lambeau had burnt too many bridges with the Packers executive committee, as I wrote about Lambeau’s time in Green Bay.

For instance, Lambeau ticked off members of the executive committee by purchasing the Rockwood Lodge north of Green Bay for $25,000 for the Packers to practice at from 1946 to 1949.

There were also a number of people who were not that enamored with Lambeau anyway, as he spent his offseasons in California. The word in Green Bay was that “Lambeau’s gone Hollywood”, especially among committee members.

Plus Lambeau’s teams weren’t exactly playing well either at the end of his tenure in Green Bay. The Packers went 3-9 in 1948 and then 2-10 in 1949.

Then after the Rockwood Lodge burned down on January 24, 1950, Lambeau resigned a week later to coach the Chicago Cardinals (later the St. Louis Cardinals, the Phoenix Cardinals and now the Arizona Cardinals).

The Cardinals were considered a very talented team when Lambeau arrived there. The Cardinals had won the NFL championship in 1947 and had played in the NFL title game in 1948, and next to the Chicago Bears, were clearly the next-biggest rival to the Packers at the time.

The only thing that could have made his departure worse, was if Lambeau had gone to the Bears to be their head coach.

The shining light of the Packers in the 1950s was super scout Jack Vainisi. That decade was the worst in Green Bay history, as the Packers were 32-74-2 heading into the 1959 season.

Still, Vainisi accumulated some fantastic talent for the Packers in the NFL draft, as he selected seven players who would eventually be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Vainisi also led the charge in getting Lombardi to come to Green Bay. He talked to coaches like Red Blaik, George Halas, Paul Brown and Sid Gillman, who all heartily endorsed Lombardi.

Vince and Jack

Vince Lombardi talks with Jack Vainisi.

It was Vainisi who convinced the Packers board of directors that Lombardi was the man they needed to hire.

And that’s what they did. The board named Lombardi not only head coach, but also general manager.

Lombardi had a .754 winning percentage in the regular season as head coach of the Packers, as the team had an 89-29-4 record over nine years.

But in the postseason, the Packers really shined under Lombardi, as the team went 9-1, as the team won five NFL titles in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

Would Evashevski or Lambeau had the same success? I mean, both were very successful coaches.

The answer is highly unlikely.

There is a reason why the Super Bowl trophy is named after Vince Lombardi.

He was not only a great coach, but a great teacher, a great motivator and a great man.

Kramer said it best to me once.

“Coach Lombardi had a tremendous impact on my life,” Kramer said. “The fundamentals that he taught us were fundamentals for life. They were about football, but also about business or anything else you wanted to achieve.

“You would use the Lombardi principles. He believed in paying the price. He believed in hard work and making sacrifices for the betterment of the team. His principles were preparation, commitment, consistency, discipline, character, pride, tenacity and perseverance.

“Those things are still helping me today.”

 

The History Between the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns

 

Jim Brown and Willie Davis 1965 NFL title gameWhen the 6-6 Green Bay Packers take on the 0-12 Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium, this will be only the 19th time the two teams have met in the regular season. That is somewhat hard to believe, knowing that the Packers have been in the NFL since 1921 and the Browns first joined the league in 1950.

Yes, both teams have been in different conferences in the NFL up until the NFL-AFL merger and beyond, but it is still a bit surprising that the teams only have met 18 times up to this point.

It’s also a bit shocking that the two teams have only met once in the postseason as well, especially knowing how good both teams were in the 1960s. As it was, the only time the two teams met was in the 1965 NFL title game at Lambeau Field. More on that game later.

By the time the Browns came into the NFL in 1950, after first dominating the All-American Football Conference from 1946 through 1949 (four league titles), the Packers had fallen on hard times.

1950 was the year when founder and head coach Curly Lambeau left the Packers to coach the Chicago Cardinals.

The Packers had won six NFL titles (1929, 1930, 1931, 1936, 1939 and 1944) under Lambeau, but the things changed for the Packers once Don Hutson retired after the 1945 season and the All-American Football Conference was born in 1946.

That meant the Packers and the rest of the NFL were competing monetarily for draft picks and veterans with the AAFC.

That hurt the Packers financially, as did the fact that Lambeau purchased the Rockwood Lodge north of Green Bay for $25,000 for the Packers to practice at from 1946 to 1949. That purchase did not sit well with the members of the executive committee.

Nor did the team’s play, as the Packers went 3-9 in 1948 and then 2-10 in 1949.

Then the Rockwood Lodge burned down on January 24, 1950, and Lambeau ended up resigning a week later to coach the Chicago Cardinals (later the St. Louis Cardinals, the Phoenix Cardinals and now the Arizona Cardinals).

The 1950s turned out to be the worst decade in the history of the Packers, as the team was just 39-79-2.

Meanwhile, the new kid on the NFL block, the Browns, dominated the NFL for the most part in that decade. The Browns played in seven NFL title games and won three of them (1950, 1954 and 1955).

The Packers and Browns only met three times during the 1950s, and as one might expect, Cleveland dominated, winning all three times by a combined score of  92-17.

But the Browns did help the Packers quite a bit in 1959. That was when their founder and head coach Paul Brown, along with assistance from George Halas of the Chicago Bears, heartily endorsed New York Giants offensive coordinator Vince Lombardi to become the next head coach of the Packers.

The Packers were reeling then, as the team had sunk to a 1-10-1 record in 1958 under head coach Ray “Scooter” McLean. Thanks to the efforts of super scout Jack Vainisi of the Packers, Lombardi was indeed named the new head coach and general manager of the team in 1959.

Brown wasn’t done helping the Packers either. After Lombardi assumed his dual role in Green Bay, he and Brown made a number of trades.

The first three trades happened in 1959, when Lombardi first traded star wide receiver Billy Howton to the Browns for halfback Lew Carpenter and defensive end Bill Quinlan.

In his second trade, Lombardi parted with a fourth-round pick in the 1960 NFL draft for defensive tackle Henry Jordan.

In the third trade, Lombardi traded a fifth-round pick in the 1960 NFL draft for defensive back Bob Freeman.

In 1960, Lombardi and Brown made another deal. This time Lombardi parted with end A.D. Williams for defensive end Willie Davis.

Then in 1961, Lombardi traded a third-round pick in the 1962 NFL draft for quarterback John Roach, who served as Bart Starr’s backup for a couple of seasons until Zeke Bratkowski arrived on the scene.

Bottom line, it was quite a haul for Lombardi in those trades. He was able to get two future Hall of Famers in Jordan and Davis, plus acquired a four-year starter at defensive end in Quinlan. Carpenter was also a solid reserve and special teams player for five years with the Packers.

Jim Taylor vs. Browns in 1961

Lombardi and Brown only faced off against each other one time as head coaches, which was in 1961. The Packers dominated that game, by beating the Browns 49-17 at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

The 1961 season was the first that Lombardi and his Packers brought their first NFL championship to Titletown, with some assistance from President John F. Kennedy.

Lombardi and the Packers won another NFL title in 1962, while Brown was fired by owner Art Modell after that season.

New head coach Blanton Collier led the Browns to the 1964 NFL title, but did suffer a 28-21 loss to the Packers at Milwaukee County Stadium in the regular season.

Collier and his Browns made it to the 1965 NFL title game again, this time against Lombardi and his Packers at Lambeau Field. This would be the first appearance in a NFL title game for Green Bay since 1962.

The running game of the Packers had struggled almost the entire year in 1965, as the Packers finished 10th in the NFL in rushing. Still, the Packers could not be stopped toting the rock on this snowy and muddy day on the frozen tundra against the Browns.

Paul Hornung running the power sweep

Green Bay rushed for 204 yards behind Taylor and Hornung, as the Pack won 23-12. The power sweep was especially effective, as Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston kept opening big holes for the backs, mowing down defenders so the Packers gained big chunks of yardage on the ground.

Meanwhile, the defense of the Packers held the great Jim Brown to just 50 yards rushing.

Hornung scored the last touchdown of the game on one of those power sweeps. Kramer pulled left and first blocked the middle linebacker and then a cornerback as the “Golden Boy” found the end zone.

The 1965 season was the first of three straight NFL championships for the Packers. No team in the modern history of the NFL has ever duplicated that feat.

In 1966, the Packer won their second straight NFL title and also Super Bowl I. On their way to those achievements, the Packers beat the Browns 21-20 in the second game of the season at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in a stirring comeback.

The Browns, eager to repay the Packers after the 1965 NFL title game defeat, jumped to a 14-0 lead. But the Packers bounced back and had the ball down 20-14 late in the the game.

In the closing seconds of the game, and on fourth down, Starr hit Taylor with a nine-yard touchdown pass, as No. 31 avoided two tacklers. The result? A 21-20 victory by the Packers.

The Packers won their third straight NFL title in 1967, plus won Super Bowl II. During the regular season, the Packers played the Browns again, this time at Milwaukee County Stadium.

The game has become very memorable in Green Bay lore, due to the performance of rookie kick returner Travis Williams. Williams returned two kickoffs for touchdowns that day in the first quarter. The first was 87 yards and the second one was 85 yards. If that wasn’t enough, the “Roadrunner” rushed for 43 yards in just four carries, as the Packers blew out the Browns 55-7.

Another rookie on the Packers, quarterback Don Horn, got his first meaningful playing time that season in the fourth quarter.

Horn related a story to me about that game, which shows the class and dignity of his head coach.

“It’s late in the fourth quarter and I drove the team 50 or 60 yards to the Cleveland seven-yard line,” Horn said. “There’s two minutes to go and we were up at the time 55-7. So I’m think we are going to score. All of a sudden Forrest Gregg comes back into the game, as by then all the backups were in the game. So that was sort of odd.

“So I’m thinking to myself that Forrest brought in a play for me to run and we are going to score. But instead, Forrest grabs me and pulls me aside and says, ‘The old man told me to tell you NOT to score.’ So I ran the clock out just like Coach Lombardi wanted.

“After the game ended, Vince was one of the first guys to see me. He grabbed me and he said, ‘Donald (as he pointed over to head coach Blanton Collier of the Browns), you see that gentleman over there? 55 is bad enough. I’m not going put 62 on him. That man is a gentleman. Do you understand, son?’ And I replied, yes sir. Lombardi then says, ‘Okay. Good.’

From 1968 through 1989, the Packers only made two playoff appearances (1972 and 1982 and had one divisional title (1972), while the Browns were regulars in the postseason, with 11 appearances (1968, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989), won eight divisional titles (1968, 1969, 1971, 1980, 1985, 1986, 1987 and 1989) and played in four conference title games (1968, 1969, 1988 and 1989).

In that period, the Packers and Browns met five times. The Packers surprisingly beat the Browns in three of those games.

Since 1989, the Browns have only made two postseason appearances (1994 and 2002), plus have seen the original franchise move to Baltimore and become the Ravens after the 1995 season.

Since 1993, the Packers have become a regular in the NFL postseason, as the team has played in 39 playoff games since that year, winning 21 of those games. Green Bay has also won two Super Bowls, one after the 1996 season, and one after the 2010 season.

The Browns have yet to play in one Super Bowl.

The Packers met the Browns in Cleveland in 1995 after Modell announced that the team was moving to Baltimore. Green Bay won that contest 31-20.

Brett vs. the Browns in 1995

The Browns got a new team in Cleveland in 1999, but except for a few bright moments like the one and only postseason appearance in 2004, the team has been one of the NFL’s worst teams since then.

In my opinion, a lot of that has come from the terrible ownership which has controlled the Browns since their new inception. Both the Lerner family and now current owner Jimmy Haslam have sunk the organization to depths that the great fans in Cleveland certainly don’t deserve.

It’s been especially brutal under Haslam’s “leadership”, as the team has gone 20-72 since he became owner in 2012, which includes this season’s mark of 0-12.

It’s also important to note that Mike Holmgren played a large role with both teams over the years.

While Holmgren coached the Packers from 1992 thorough 1998 (75-37 record), the team went to the postseason six times, won three divisional titles, played in three NFC title games and won twice and played in two Super Bowls and won once (Super Bowl XXXI).

After coaching the Packers and the Seattle Seahawks, the Browns named Holmgren as their team president in 2009. Under his guidance, the Browns did not fare very well, as the team went 19-45.

Perhaps the biggest downfall of the Browns over the past quarter century, both before the team moved and after the new team arrived, is the play at the quarterback position, not to mention the game of musical chairs the Browns have played at quarterback.

From 1992 through 1995, the Browns had seven different starting quarterbacks in that period, led by Vinny Testaverde with 31 starts and Bernie Kosar with 14 starts.

Since 1999, the Browns have had 30 different starting quarterbacks.

Compare that with the Packers, who have seen Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers get the bulk of their starts over the past 25 years. Favre started 253 straight regular season games for the Packers from 1992 through 2007.

Rodgers has started in 141 games since then. In the games when Rodgers was injured (concussion or broken collarbone) or rested, the Packers have started only four other quarterbacks (Matt Flynn, Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Brett Hundley).

The Browns overall regular season record over that time is 94-206. The Packers overall regular season record over that time is 260-151-1.

The Packers and Browns have met four times in the 21st century, with the Packers winning three of those four games.

That puts the Packers in the lead in all-time series with an 11-7 advantage.

It still seems very strange that two teams with as rich a history as both the Packers and Browns have had throughout their time in the NFL, have only met 18 times in the regular season and just once in the postseason.

The 2017 Packers are trying to get back to the postseason for the ninth straight time, while the Browns would love to just sniff the postseason at this point.

The Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Bucs are Going Back in Time

Bucs vs. Packers

It’s been 23 years since the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced each other with both teams having a losing record. The last time this occurred was in Week 4 of the 1994 NFL season, when the 1-2 Bucs traveled to Lambeau Field to take on the also 1-2 Packers.

That was when the Packers and Bucs resided in the same division, the NFC Central. In fact, the two teams were in the same division for 25 years from 1977 through 2001. Now the Packers play in the NFC North, while the Bucs play in the NFC South.

The 2017 season has been a very disappointing one for both the 4-7 Bucs and the 5-6 Packers, who will play this Sunday at Lambeau Field. Both teams have been ravaged by injuries to their offensive lines, plus both squads have seen their talented starting quarterbacks miss time due to injuries. Those are just a couple reasons why both teams are under .500 this season.

Jameis Winston (shoulder) will return as starting quarterback for the Bucs this Sunday after missing the last three weeks, while Aaron Rodgers (broken collarbone in Week 6) might return to practice on Saturday. The earliest Rodgers can return to the lineup is December 17 (Week 15), as he is currently on injured reserve.

But looking back around 30 years or so ago, both the Bucs and the Packers were almost always under .500. As a matter of fact, when ESPN was doing their NFL Primetime show back in the late 80s, Chris Berman and the late Pete Axthelm coined the phrase “the Bay of Pigs”, talking about any matchup between the Packers and the Buccaneers.  The actual Bay of Pigs episode happened very early in the John F. Kennedy administration in April, 1961, when an attempted invasion of Cuba was woefully executed, mostly due to poor CIA planning.

Like the attempted invasion of Cuba in 1961, both the Packers and Bucs in the late 80s were also woeful.  It started for the Packers in 1986, when head coach Forrest Gregg gutted the team to try and bring some youth to the squad.  The Pack suffered losing seasons of 4-12, 5-9-1 and 4-12 from 1986-1988.  It was in 1988 Lindy Infante started his head coaching regime.

Infante, with the help of quarterback Don Majkowski, led the Packers to a 10-6 record in 1989.  However, the success was short lived as the team was 6-10 in 1990 and 4-12 in 1991.  Infante lost his job after the 1991 season when Ron Wolf arrived on the scene.

The Packers stopped their free fall in 1992, when head coach Mike Holmgren and quarterback Brett Favre both came to Green Bay via Wolf.  Since then, except for two years (2005 and 2008), the Packers have been .500 or better every year.

Of course, the team has also won two Super Bowls, one after the 1996 season, and one after the 2010 season.  The Packers have also been in 39 playoff games since 1993, winning 21 of those games.

Current head coach Mike McCarthy has a career 119-67-1 regular season record in 11-plus years in Green Bay. He also has a 10-8 record in the playoffs which includes the win in Super Bowl XLV. The Packers have also been to the postseason eight straight years under McCarthy.

The Bucs had success early in their franchise history winning the NFC Central in both 1979 and 1981 under head coach John McKay.  In fact, the 1979 team made the NFC title game.  Even with that success, people always talked about the 0-26 start when the franchise became an expansion team in 1976, when Wolf was then the general manager of the Bucs. Wolf remained in that role through the 1978 season.

But after the successes in 1979 and 1981, things got progressively worse for the Bucs beginning in 1983, when the team went 2-14.

Buc vs. Packers in 1988

The Bucs suffered 12 straight double digit losing seasons from 1983 until 1994, and didn’t have a winning record until 1997, when the team went 10-6.  The biggest reason for the turnaround was head coach Tony Dungy.

Dungy coached from 1996-2001 and led the Bucs to a 54-42 record overall, including the 1999 NFC Central crown and appearance in the NFC title game that year, but the playoffs overall were Dungy’s Achilles heel in Tampa.

The Bucs couldn’t seem to get over the hump under Dungy during the playoffs, and the Glazer family finally made a coaching change in 2002.  Former Packer assistant coach Jon Gruden took over as head coach in 2002, and sure enough, the team won it all, as the Bucs beat Gruden’s former team, the Oakland Raiders, in the Super Bowl that year.

But over the next six years, the Bucs were very inconsistent under Gruden. The team only made the postseason twice, never won a playoff game and were under .500 in three of those seasons.

That it when the Glazer family decided to make another coaching change and move on from Gruden. Since then, the Glazer family has been busy making changes at head coach.

Raheem Morris was hired to replace Gruden in 2009 and he lasted through the 2011 season before he was fired. The record of the Bucs during that time was 17-31, although the team was 10-6 in 2010 and narrowly missed the playoffs.

Greg Schiano took over for Morris in 2012 and lasted all of two seasons, as the Bucs went 11-21 during Schiano’s short regime.

In 2014, the Bucs then brought back Lovie Smith, who had been linebackers coach of the Bucs back in the Dungy era and also had experienced nice success as a head coach with the Chicago Bears (81-63 and three playoff appearances).

Like the Schiano era, the Smith era lasted only two seasons, as the Bucs went 8-24 overall in 2014 and 2015.

In 2016, the Bucs made their offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter the head coach to replace Smith. Koetter remains in that position to this day, although there has been some speculation about the Bucs possibly bringing back Gruden depending how Tampa Bay finishes the 2017 season. In the 27 games that Koetter has coached the Bucs, the team has gone 13-14.

Going into the 2017 season, both the Packers and Bucs had high expectations about how their teams would do.

The Packers won six straight games to finish the 2016 season and win the NFC North, plus won two more playoff games to advance to the NFC title game, before they were soundly beaten by the Atlanta Falcons.

The Bucs were 9-7 last season and looked to be a team on the upswing heading into the 2017 season.

A lot of the optimism for the two teams came from the play of their quarterbacks last season.

Rodgers had another fantastic season in 2016, as he threw 40 touchdown passes versus just seven picks for 4,428 yards. His passer rating was 104.2, which is almost identical to his career passer rating of 104.1, which is the best of all time.

on November 20,2011 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Winston improved on his rookie stats from 2015 in almost every category like completion percentage (60.8), touchdown passes (28) yards passing (4,090) and passer rating (86.1). That being said, Winston did throw three more interceptions than he did his rookie year, as he threw 18 last season.

Rodgers did his part while he was in the lineup this season, as the Packers went 4-1 to start the 2017 campaign. But in game 6 against the Minnesota Vikings, he broke his collarbone on a tackle by Anthony Barr. Up until that point, Rodgers was having a typical season, as he had thrown 13 touchdown passes compared to just three interceptions. No. 12’s passer rating was again close to his career average, as it was 103.2.

In the eight games that Winston started for the Bucs this year, the team went 2-6. In those eight games, Winston threw 10 touchdown passes versus six picks for 1,920 yards. No. 3’s passer rating was 87.3.

Since Rodgers has been injured, the Packers have gone 1-5. There have been some obvious growing pains with Brett Hundley playing quarterback for the team in place of Rodgers, but Hundley did have the best game of his career in last Sunday’s night loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, as he threw three touchdown passes without a pick for 245 yards. Hundley’s passer rating in that game was 134.3.

Coincidentally, Hundley was part of the same draft class with Winston in 2015. While Winston (Florida State) was the first overall pick of that draft by the Bucs, Hundley (UCLA) lasted until the fifth round when the Packers traded up to select him.

In the three games that Winston has missed, the Bucs have gone 2-1 behind backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw three touchdown passes compared to just one pick in those three games.

But in the game on Sunday against the Pack, Winston will be back under center, but he’ll also be missing two of his best offensive linemen, with both center Ali Marpet and right tackle Demar Dotson being placed on injured reserve this past week.

The Packers will continue to start Hundley until at least Week 15, when Rodgers could be coming back. But that might not happen unless the Packers win the next two games against the Bucs on Sunday and then the Browns next week in Cleveland. Two wins would put Green Bay 7-6 and still alive for a spot in the playoffs. But if the Packers lose against the Bucs or Browns, or both, the team might decide to just shut Rodgers down for the season and not risk further injury.

Besides the shoulder injury Winston suffered, he is currently being investigated by the NFL regarding an accusation of sexual misconduct by an Uber driver back in March of 2016.

If all that wasn’t bad enough for the Bucs, they also play in the toughest division in the NFL right now. The New Orleans Saints are currently 8-3 and on top of the NFC South, while the Carolina Panthers are also 8-3 and the Atlanta Falcons are 7-4.

The Packers are also in a tough division, as the Vikings are 9-2, while the Detroit Lions are 6-5.

The bottom line is that the odds don’t look very good for the Packers and Bucs to reach the goals that each team set before the season. To even have a chance to make the playoffs in 2017, each team would have to win the last five games of the regular season.

That obviously won’t have a chance to happen for one of the two teams after Sunday’s game at Lambeau.

Still, even with the  disappointment so far for each team in 2017, it’s still a hell of a lot better than the “Bay of Pigs” era back in the late 1980s.