Packers 25, 49ers 15
Monday, January 14th 2002, 12:00 am
News On 6
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) _ Brett Favre griped at halftime about the way his talent was being wasted. Then he went back out and did something about it.
The Green Bay Packers heeded their quarterback's call to open up the passing game, and they scored 19 points in the second half of a 25-15 victory over San Francisco in the wild-card playoffs Sunday.
Favre, who improved to 31-0 at home when the temperature is 34 or colder, completed 16 of 21 passes for 226 yards in the second half after the Packers trailed 7-6 at halftime.
``I don't ever want to look back and say we left something on the field,'' Favre said.
As coach Mike Sherman and offensive coordinator Tom Rossley huddled at halftime, Favre piped up.
``Tom and Mike and the quarterbacks were kind of talking about what we could do and I said, 'Let's go get 'em. Let's lay it on the field,''' Favre said.
He had five completions of 15 or more yards after halftime, including a 51-yarder to Corey Bradford and a 19-yard touchdown to tight end Bubba Franks.
``You take away the interception, I don't think a quarterback could have a better game than that,'' Sherman said. ``He took total control of that football game. He made something out of nothing on numerous occasions. He just played a Brett Favre-type game.''
The Packers held the ball for 39 plays in the second half after they ran 19 in the first.
``When you come off the field,'' Favre said, ``you don't ever look back and say we should have done this or should have done that.''
Which is exactly what 49ers wide receiver Terrell Owens was saying after the Packers advanced to face the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.
``I don't feel I was involved enough in the offense,'' Owens said.
He caught four passes for 40 yards and no scores after leading the NFL with 16 touchdown catches in the regular season.
``I want to be the go-to guy on this team, but for some reason, the play calling doesn't go to me enough.''
It did on a crucial call that helped the seal the Packers' victory.
Owens beat cornerback Mike McKenzie and was wide open down the sideline for a possible touchdown with five minutes left and the Packers clinging to a 18-15 lead.
Jeff Garcia's pass hung, however, and McKenzie caught up, deflecting the ball just as Owens was about to haul in it. It caromed into Tyrone Williams' hands at the 7.
``That play didn't decide the game,'' Owens said. ``But it was a big play. The pass hung up a little bit and their guy just got his hand on the ball.''
McKenzie, a third-year pro who signed a five-year, $17.l million contract extension Friday night, said he was beaten so badly off the line that Garcia must have been taken aback.
``He was so wide-open, so I believe Garcia said, 'This is easy pickings.' He didn't want to overthrow him,'' McKenzie said.
Favre then drove the Packers 93 yards in eight plays, with the payoff coming on Ahman Green's 9-yard touchdown run.
Bradford stripped Paul Smith of the ball and recovered on the ensuing kickoff, and the Packers ran out the clock for their first playoff victory since the 1997 NFC championship at San Francisco.
``I wanted to do it in the first half. Put it on my shoulders. I'm not saying I'm going to win it every time. But I'm going to give it my best effort every week,'' Favre said.
The Packers (13-4) improved to 13-0 at home in the NFL playoffs. Their last postseason appearance was a wild-card loss at San Francisco in 1998.
The 49ers, who also returned to the playoffs for the first time since '98, finished 12-5.
For a time, the Niners made Sherman pay for his questionable decision to go for a 2-point conversion that failed with Green Bay ahead 15-7.
``I felt very confident in our two-point play,'' Sherman explained. ``I was thinking about going ahead by 10 points.''
The Niners tied it at 15 on Tai Streets' 14-yard touchdown and his wide-open catch on the two-point conversion with 12 minutes left.
Ryan Longwell, who had his first extra point blocked in the first quarter, kicked a 45-yard field goal with 7:02 left for an 18-15 lead.
The Niners reached the Green Bay 28 on their next drive before Williams' interception.
The Packers, who surrendered an average of 170 yards rushing the last four weeks _ all to non-playoff teams _ shored up their run defense with linebacker Nate Wayne (back) and nose tackle Gilbert Brown (foot) returning to health.
Brown set the tone on the first play from scrimmage when he dumped Garcia for a 4-yard sack, his first since 1997.
``I forgot how that felt,'' said Brown, who was out of football last year before losing 100 pounds and ``trimming'' down to 339.
The 49ers ran for just 71 yards, and comeback player of the year Garrison Hearst finished with just 42 yards on 13 carries.
After Ryan's 26-yarder gave Green Bay a 9-7 lead, Favre hit Franks with the 19-yard touchdown pass with 3:26 left in the third quarter, one play after Bradford's 51-yard catch.
That made it 15-7, but instead of sending out Longwell, Sherman went for 2, and it failed when Donald Driver was tackled shy of the end zone after a reception.
That made it a one-possession game, and the 49ers quickly made Sherman pay when Garcia (22-of-32 for 233 yards) drove San Francisco 61 yards in six plays for the tying touchdown and two-point conversion.
The 49ers took a 7-6 halftime lead when Hearst scored from the 2 with 11 seconds left in the half, capping a 15-play, 86-yard drive.
The drive was the 49ers' longest in the postseason since a 17-play drive against Dallas in the NFC championship game on Jan. 23, 1994.
In his first game since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery after Thanksgiving, Allen Rossum returned a punt 35 yards, setting up Green Bay's 40-yard touchdown drive that Favre capped with a 5-yard toss to Antonio Freeman.
But Dana Stubblefield beat Chad Clifton to block Longwell's extra point.
The Packers returned the favor in the second quarter when Cletidus Hunt blocked a 34-yard field-goal attempt by Jose Cortez.