Back to back seasons. First Michael Vick. Then the Eagles. The Packers' exits in the 2002 and 2003 playoffs were as heart-wrenching as you could ask for (that is, until 2008 when the Favre era ended in OT at frozen Lambeau Field). Let's enter the way, way back machine for a moment.
2002 Falcons at Lambeau. The Pack enter the game considerable favorites after finishing the season as the only team to finish unbeaten at home. 31 degrees and light snow. Favre never loses these games. Ah, but Vick and the Falcons run the Pack off the field 27-7 and for the first time in his career, Favre takes off without talking to the media.
One year later, the Pack squanders a chance at a bye, being blown out by the Jets. After disposing of the Seahawks in the wildcard round, they head to Philly to face Donovan McNabb and the Eagles. This the one the Packers gave away. Up early 14-0, then with a chance to end it facing a fourth and one on the Eagles 41 late with a three point lead, Mike Sherman elects to punt. Eagles ball, Pack's D stiffens and Donovan faces a 4th and 26--and somehow finds the forgettable Freddie Mitchell for a 28 yard gain. It leads to a FG and the game goes to overtime, where Favre throws a ridiculous interception on the first offensive play and the Eagles drive and score to win the game.
First Vick, then the Eagles. This weekend we get a chance at retribution against them both. It's so difficult to gauge what kind of team will take the field. The Eagles are a young bunch who are playing a lot like those '03 Packers, a team that gave up a chance at a bye with a bad loss late. Philly's Week 16 loss to the Vikings exposed them as a young team that's 100% reliant on Vick. He took a tough hit right away and felt it the rest of the night. He's still nursing that quad injury but sounds like he'll be close to, if not 100% by Sunday.
Yes, they have young, dynamic offensive playmakers. LeSean McCoy is a good runner with breakaway speed and is a threat as a receiver. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin make a great receiving tandem and Brent Celek is a good pass-catching tight end. Where they struggle up front--with a mediocre line that has gotten a free pass thanks to the artistry of the QB.
Where the Eagles are different this season is on defense. There's no Brian Dawkins policing the back of the defense and the secondary is getting shredded. The gimpiness of CB Asante Samuel hasn't helped, but as a team they've given up 30 TD passes and are last in the league in red zone defense. They give up big plays--54 of them of 20 or more yards, that's 9th most in the league.
So while the Packers looked out of kilter offensively for much of the Bears game, they will face a much different defense this week. And the Packers have six days to prepare for Vick, not the 15 minutes they got in the season opener when they knocked Kolb out of the game in the first half.
A win over Vick and the Eagles won't erase what happened in '02 and '03. But it would be an important next step in Aaron Rodgers' development--to go from fantasy football stud to post-season winner. If he wants to be mentioned in the same breath with Brady, Manning, Brees and Ben, this is the kind of game he needs to win.
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