2004 Green Bay Packers: A Thrilling Season Ends On A Dour Note
The 2004 Green Bay Packers were similar to their immediate predecessors from 2003—they started slow, dug themselves a hole and rallied to come out of it. Like ’03, there were big wins down the stretch and a frustrating playoff lost. But unlike the previous year, this one ended on a particularly dour note and foreshadowed the end of one section of the Brett Favre era.
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Favre delivered another strong year in 2004. His 64 completion rate was ninth among NFL quarterbacks. His 7.6 yards-per-attempt would normally have put him near the top of the league, but with big plays in general up a bit due to stricter regulation of defensive secondary play, it ranked 11th. The TD-INT ratio of 30/17 was vintage Favre. Plenty of big plays, both good and bad.
There were Pro Bowl players at the skill positions. Ahman Green continued to be one of the more versatile backs in the NFL. Even though his production slipped after a spectacular ’03, Green still rushed for 1,163 yards, averaged 4.5 yards-per-attempt and his 40 catches made him a vital part of the passing game.
Javon Walker punched a Pro Bowl ticket at wide receiver with a big year, catching 89 balls for nearly 1,400 yards. Donald Driver’s 84 catches averaged 14.4 a pop. Tight end Bubba Franks continued to be a good blocker and a reliable option for Favre. William Henderson was 1st-team All-NFL at the under-the-radar fullback spot and caught 34 passes.
Marco Rivera was the best of the offensive line, making the Pro Bowl at guard. All in all, this added up to the fifth-most productive offense in the NFL for points scored. The problems came on defense.
Green Bay still had a terrific pass rusher in Kabeer Gbaja-Biamilia (KGB) who recorded 13 ½ sacks. Aaron Kampman was a developing force on the other side of the defensive line. Free safety Darren Sharper had been a reliable player for several years. But no one made the Pro Bowl and the Packers finished 23rd in the league for points allowed.
Lambeau Field was the site of the season’s opening Monday Night game and Green Bay was hosting Carolina. The Panthers had made the Super Bowl in 2003. But they were headed for mediocrity this season and Green Bay got them started in that direction. Green carried 33 times for 119 yards, keying a 152-38 edge in rush yardage and 38 minutes of possession time. The Packers delivered an efficient 24-14 win.
Chicago had been dormant for the past couple years and this season wouldn’t be a whole lot better. But the Bears had a new coach in Lovie Smith and success wasn’t far around the corner. Lovie delivered the first big win of his tenure thanks to some Green Bay mistakes. Trailing 7-3 late in the second quarter, the Packers were on the verge of a go-ahead touchdown when a fumble went 95 yard the other way. With Favre having a mediocre day, Green Bay lost 21-10.
A visit to powerful Indianapolis and Peyton Manning was next. In the late Sunday afternoon TV window, Favre and Manning put on a show. Favre went 30/44 for 360 yards, four touchdowns and no mistakes. Walker had a huge game, with eleven catches that produced 200 yards. But Manning was even better—393 yards, five TDs and no mistakes. Green Bay lost 45-31.
That loss wasn’t particularly alarming, but coming home and losing to the New York Giants was. The Packers were outrushed 245-81 and lost 14-7. Then they hosted Tennessee on Monday Night and were outrushed 224-35. Even though Favre threw for 338 yards that night, most of them to Walker and Driver, the quarterback also threw three interceptions. It wasn’t enough to overcome the rush yardage disparity and the Packers lost 48-27.
Green Bay was not only sitting at 1-4, but they had lost three home games to teams (Bears, Giants, Titans) that were on their way to a combined 16-48 record for the season. The Packers were in serious trouble by any measure you wanted to use.
So even though the next three opponents—the Lions, Cowboys and Redskins were all headed for poor seasons, no one in Packerland could count on any victories. But this is where Green Bay started to turn the corner.
The Packers held a 17-10 third quarter lead in Detroit when Sharper came up with a Pick-6. Favre went 25/38 for 257 yards and two touchdowns, playing error-free football. Driver caught nine passes for 110 yards. Green and backup running back Najeh Davenport combined for 143 yards and the Pack pulled away to a 38-10 win.
Dallas’ visit went refreshingly easy for the fans of Lambeau. Green ripped off a 90-yard touchdown run. Favre was razor-sharp, going 23/29 for 258 yards and two TDs, Walker catching eight of those passes for 129 yards. The final was 41-20.
Green Bay went to Washington and jumped out to a 17-0 lead. Favre was 20/32 for 289 yards, although he did throw three interceptions. But the early lead was plenty for a defensive line that got four sacks and the Packers won 28-14. They were back to .500 going into their bye week.
Minnesota, the key rival in the NFC North, was waiting on the far side of the bye. It was a late Sunday afternoon kickoff at Lambeau for a national audience. And the game was everything that Fox Sports could have hoped for.
Favre was 20/29 for 236 yards and four touchdowns. Green rolled up 145 yards on the ground. Green Bay was in command, up 31-17 in the fourth quarter. But their defensive woes, combined with an explosive Viking attack, made this one tight. Minnesota tied the game 31-31. Favre calmly led one more drive back down the field. On the game’s final play, Ryan Longwell kicked a 33-yard field goal for the win.
Green Bay went down to Houston the following Sunday Night. Facing a subpar team, the Packers couldn’t run the ball and were sloppy, committing ten penalties. They were staring at a 13-3 deficit in the fourth quarter. The four-game winning streak looked over.
But Favre found Driver on a 24-yard touchdown pass. The Gunslinger finished this night at 33/50 for 383 yards. He led a drive for a tying field goal. One more drive set up Longwell for another last-play field goal attempt. For the second straight week, the kicker delivered, this time from 46 yards and a 16-13 win.
The St. Louis Rams were in the midst of a .500 season when they came to Lambeau for another Monday Night game. This was no contest. The Packer running game simply destroyed the Rams. Green was out, but Davenport went off for 178 yards on 19 carries. Favre was 18/27 for 215 yards, three TDs and zero picks. The result was an easy 45-17 win.
Riding high with six wins in a row, Green Bay was due for a letdown. And a road trip to Super Bowl-bound Philadelphia was a logical place for it to happen. The defensive melted down and allowed five touchdown passes in the first half. The 47-17 rout never resembled a competitive game.
Still sitting on 7-5 in a division with no standout team, the Packers were in good shape. The focus of the NFC North was on a Christmas Eve afternoon battle up in Minnesota in the season’s penultimate game. The next two weeks were about positioning for that showdown.
Green Bay looked ready to revert to early season form when Detroit came to Lambeau for a late afternoon kick and took a 13-3 lead into the fourth quarter. In a virtual replay of the Houston game, Favre stepped up with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Driver. Then the Pack got a tying field goal. Then Favre set up Longwell for a field goal. This time they left two seconds on the clock, but the 23-yarder got another 16-13 win.
Another late afternoon TV window game at home was up with Jacksonville. The Jags would not make the playoffs, but they were on the fringe of contention and finished 9-7. Jacksonville played like they needed this game. Green Bay did not, turning it over five times, three on Favre interceptions. They lost 28-25.
Even so, after the awful start to the season, no one in Green Bay was complaining about being 8-6 and tied for first with Minnesota. Even better, the Packers held the tiebreakers on the Vikings. Meaning Green Bay could clinch the division with a win on Christmas Eve and still be alive if they lost. Finally, none of the other wild-card contenders were better than 6-8. The Pack was in prime position to get a fourth straight playoff trip.
The old Metrodome in the Twin Cities was home to some of Favre’s most troubled moments as a Packer. It looked like this year might be one of them. In a 24-24 tie game and just over eight minutes left, Favre threw a Pick-6 deep in his own end.
But Favre’s struggles in Minnesota also mean that his successes there stand out. Like going 30/43 for 365 yards on the afternoon with three touchdown passes. Like rallying the Packers to tie the game. And like setting up Longwell for another last-play field goal. For the second time this season, Green Bay had beaten Minnesota by a 34-31 score. Aided in no small part by Driver’s eleven catches for 162 yards, the Packers were NFC North champs.
There was no shot at a first-round bye, so the season finale in Chicago the day after New Year’s was meaningless. Favre played the first half and was sharp, going 9/13 for 196 yards and a couple TDs. Sharper added another Pick-6 to his season totals. Favre came out with the score 21-7 and the Packers coasted to a 31-14 win.
Green Bay was up to the 3-seed, but that proved to be a mixed blessing. The way the rest of the playoff picture fell, Minnesota ended up in the 6-spot. The Packers would have to try and complete a three-game sweep in a rivalry that was closely contested.
On a late Sunday afternoon in Lambeau that ended wild-card weekend, all of the Packer weaknesses went on display. The defense was lit up by Dante Culpepper and dug Green Bay an early 17-0 hole. Favre was at his mistake-prone worse, throwing four interceptions. Favre was also at his never-give-up best and did cut the lead to 24-17 by the fourth quarter. But Green Bay never forced a turnover and Minnesota added a lockup touchdown. The season ended with the 31-17 loss.
Green Bay had now lost two home playoff games in the last three years—both in the wild-card round—after never losing a postseason game at Lambeau prior to 2002. Perhaps it wasn’t fair, but there was now a bad aftertaste to a season that had seen so many thrills and rallies.
Mike Sherman had been the Packer coach since 2000 and overseen the current run of playoff appearances. But this playoff loss was the sign that his time was coming to an end. Green Bay collapsed in 2005, a coaching change was made and the final chapter of Favre’s time as a Packer began in 2006.