December 19, 2010

2004: Jaguars Overcome Cold and Favre to Beat Packers

It was frigid at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field on December 19, 2004, with temperatures in the single digits and a wind chill of minus 12. Such conditions often proved too much for visiting teams from warm-weather parts of the country, and the Packers’ opponent on this day was the Jacksonville Jaguars. Moreover, Green Bay was 31-3 in home games after December 1 with Brett Favre at quarterback.

The Packers, under Head Coach Mike Sherman, were 8-5 coming into the game, and had won seven of their last eight. The key to the offense was the 35-year-old Favre, as had been the case since he took over as starting quarterback in 1992. WR Javon Walker provided a productive target for the veteran passer to throw to while RB Ahman Green was a solid runner, although occasionally fumble-prone and nicked by injuries. Defense was a nagging problem.

Head Coach Jack Del Rio’s Jaguars came into the contest at 7-6. They had gotten off to a 5-2 start but then lost four of five before beating the Bears at home the week before. Jacksonville had a second-year starting quarterback in big (6’5”, 245 pounds) Byron Leftwich, and he had an outstanding veteran target in WR Jimmy Smith. Explosive seventh-year RB Fred Taylor (pictured above) handled the bulk of the rushing. The team had run into problems with scoring, however – in the six previous games, they had reached 20 points in only two of them.

The Jaguars quickly scored first in the opening period. On the second play from scrimmage, Taylor ran 46 yards to the Green Bay 31 yard line, and from there Leftwich threw a touchdown pass to Smith.

Neither team was able to move the ball effectively for the remainder of the first quarter, but early in the second quarter Ryan Longwell put the Packers on the board with a 35-yard field goal. It was Longwell’s 45th consecutive field goal from within 40 yards, but the string was broken on the next Green Bay possession when, following an 11-play drive, the placekicker missed from 31 yards.

Green Bay went ahead thanks to a heads-up defensive play by safety Darren Sharper. Having been sacked on the previous play, Leftwich was hit and fumbled, but several players on both sides thought it was an incomplete pass and didn’t try to recover the ball. Jacksonville G Vic Manuwai picked it up, but Sharper alertly knocked it out of his hand, recovered, and ran 15 yards for a touchdown. The Packers took a 10-7 lead.

The Jaguars came right back, however, going 68 yards in four plays that culminated in Leftwich again tossing a TD pass to Smith, this time of 16 yards. Green Bay had an opportunity to score again before halftime, but after driving to the Jacksonville 23, Favre fumbled and LB Daryl Smith recovered to snuff out the threat. The Jaguars held a 14-10 lead at the intermission.

The Packers put together a six-play, 76-yard drive to start the third quarter that ended with Favre tossing a 32-yard touchdown pass to WR Donald Driver. But once again Jacksonville responded in kind as Taylor ran 37 yards for a TD that put the Jaguars back in front at 21-17.

Favre completed four passes in the next Green Bay drive, but after getting to the Jacksonville three he was intercepted by CB Rashean Mathis in the end zone. Again the teams traded punts, but in the fourth quarter, the Jaguars culminated a 10-play drive that covered 58 yards with RB Greg Jones scoring from a yard out on a fourth-and-goal play to increase the lead to 28-17.

Favre was intercepted twice more, including once deep in Jacksonville territory, before finally hitting WR Antonio Chatman for a seven-yard TD. The Packers narrowed the Jaguar lead to three points by successfully tacking on a two-point conversion on a Favre-to-Driver pass. But there was now just over a minute left to play, and an attempted onside kick was recovered by Jacksonville safety Nick Sorensen; the Jaguars were able to run out the clock and came away with a 28-25 upset win.

Green Bay outgained the Jaguars (444 yards to 312) and had 26 first downs to Jacksonville’s 19. But they were undone by five turnovers (to two by the Jaguars) and 12 penalties that cost 101 yards, as opposed to 7 for 85 yards against the visitors.

Both quarterbacks came away battered, although they made it all the way through, and there was a scary moment in the fourth quarter when Green Bay WR Robert Ferguson was clotheslined by Jaguars safety Donovin Darius (who was ejected) and suffered a sprained neck.

Jacksonville ran the ball especially well, gaining 197 yards overall on the ground. Fred Taylor led the way with 165 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown. Byron Leftwich completed 9 of 20 passes for 121 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. Jimmy Smith caught 4 passes for 87 yards and both scoring passes.

Brett Favre (pictured below) filled the air with passes, throwing 44 times and completing 30 for 367 yards. However, while two of them were good for touchdowns, three were intercepted (two by Rashean Mathis). Javon Walker caught 11 passes for 152 yards while Donald Driver had 4 receptions for 74 yards and a TD and Antonio Chatman also pulled in 4 passes, for 48 yards and a score. Ahman Green ran for 94 yards on 17 attempts.

“A team that plays in Florida in the 80s and 70s, you just can't condition your body for the temperatures you are going to feel,” Coach Del Rio said afterward. “But you can condition your mind and I felt we were ready from that standpoint.”

Mike Sherman complimented the Jaguars by saying, “They have the talent to play in any conditions.”

Despite falling to 8-6, the Packers clinched a spot in the postseason because the Bears, Cowboys, Panthers, and Giants all lost on the same weekend. Green Bay finished strong to win the NFC North with a 10-6 record, but lost to Minnesota in the Wild Card playoff. Jacksonville lost the following week and ended up at 9-7; it was an improvement and good enough for second place in the AFC South, but the Jaguars failed to qualify for the playoffs.

Fred Taylor rushed for over a thousand yards for the third straight year, and the fifth of an eventual seven seasons. He gained 1224 yards on 260 carries (4.7 avg.) with two touchdowns and caught 36 passes for another 345 yards and a TD. However, he missed the last two games in ’04 due to a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery.

Brett Favre ranked fifth in the NFL with 4088 yards passing and fourth with 30 touchdown passes. He also tied for fifth by tossing 17 interceptions.

Favre wasn’t selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in four years, but Javon Walker (pictured at left) was after catching 89 passes for 1382 yards (third in the NFL) and 12 touchdowns. However, he appeared in only one game in 2005 before going on injured reserve with a knee injury and ended an acrimonious relationship with the team when dealt to Denver in ’06.