There were a lot of doubts about the 2007 Green Bay Packers when they reported to camp. Brett Favre had decided to return for another year after an offseason of indecision regarding retirement. The Packers had finished the year strong in 2006, winning their last four games and finishing 8-8. That was marked improvement on a disastrous 2005. But there were no great expectations in Lambeau Field for the ’07 season. Instead, this turned into a magical year for Favre in what proved to be his final campaign as a Packer.
Favre had a big year, completing 67 percent of his passes for 7.8 yards-per-attempt. Both ranked in the top four of the league. His mistakes were kept manageable—a 2.8 percent interception rate put him in the middle of the league. He finished second in the MVP voting, trailing only Tom Brady who merely rewrote the record book for the 16-0 New England Patriots.
There was change afoot in the backfield. After several years of relying on Ahman Green for both rushing and receiving, the Packers went with Ryan Grant. The rookie produced 956 yards and averaged 5.1 per carry. Vernand Morency was used to replace Green’s pass-catching skill. Morency caught 30 balls out of the backfield.
Donald Driver continued to be a Pro Bowl receiver and Favre’s favorite target, catching 82 passes for over 1,000 yards. Young Greg Jennings was the man who was stretching the field—his 53 catches averaged better than 17 yards a pop. James Jones was a good third receiver and Donald Lee a reliable tight end.
The offensive line was anchored by left tackle Chad Clifton, a mainstay who got Pro Bowl recognition in 2007. Overall, the Pack ranked fourth in the NFL in points scored.
Green Bay’s defense was led up front by Pro Bowl pass rusher Aaron Kampman at defensive end. Kampman picked up twelve sacks. Corey Williams provided a good inside rush, getting home seven times from the tackle spot.
The secondary was led by future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson, who intercepted four passes. Al Harris, the 33-year-old veteran delivered a Pro Bowl season at one corner and strong safety Atari Bigby picked off five passes of his own. The Packers ranked sixth in the league in points allowed.
Green Bay opened the season at home against Philadelphia. The Eagles were the defending NFC East champs, but headed for an 8-8 campaign this year. The Packer defense forced Philly quarterback Donovan McNabb into an erratic game and then kicker Mason Crosby broke a 13-13 tie with a field goal that won it with two seconds left.
A visit to New York to face the Giants was next and here is where Favre really moved into what would be 2007 form. He went 29/38 for 286 yards, spreading the ball around to all his targets. Leading 14-13 after fourth quarter, he tossed a couple TD passes to put the game away and the Packers won 35-13. Green Bay had a road blowout of a playoff-bound team they had not seen the last of.
San Diego was another playoff-bound team with Philip Rivers at quarterback and LaDanaian Tomlinson in the backfield. Favre and Rivers hooked up in a shootout at Lambeau, each throwing for over 300 yards. Trailing 21-17 and nearing the two-minute warning, Favre hit Jennings with a 57-yard TD strike. It was the decisive blow in a crazy last two minutes that saw the Packers score an add-on touchdown and the Chargers get a field goal in the closing seconds. The game ended 31-24 and the Pack was 3-0.
It was on to Minnesota. The Vikings were mediocre in 2007, with a good defense, good offensive line and Adrian Peterson at running back not able to make up for problems at quarterback. That would create more than the usual amount of tension between Favre and the Packers in due time. Not today though. Favre went 32/45 for 344 yards, no mistakes and spread the ball around. It was enough to overcome the lack of a running game and win 23-16.
Another division rival was up next in Chicago. The Bears had won the NFC North the past two years and went to the Super Bowl in 2006. This year saw them slip back to mediocrity, but their tough defense made life unpleasant for Favre on the Sunday Night stage in Lambeau. Even though Favre went 29/40 for 322 yards, he threw a couple picks and the Packers lost three fumbles. It led to a 20-10 third-quarter lead disappearing and turning into a 27-20 loss.
Favre again struggled in a home game with the playoff-bound Washington Redskins. The Packers didn’t run the ball well. But the defense stepped up by forcing three turnovers, including Charles Woodson’s scoop-and-score on a 57-yard fumble return. It was enough to pull out a 17-14 win at home.
Green Bay went into their bye week at 5-1. Packer Nation was happy to be back in contention, but there was still some skepticism about whether this was really an elite team. After all, the early schedule had been heavy on home games and most of the victories had been close.
The first game on the far side of the bye was a Monday Night road trip to Denver. Even though this was a mediocre Broncos team, the Mile High City was on fire. The World Series had come to town the previous Saturday with the Colorado Rockies hosting the Boston Red Sox. There was talk that a Monday with Game 5 of the Series and then MNF against Brett Favre would be the biggest sports day in the history of Denver.
None of it worked out for Denver. The Rockies were swept four straight and the Series ended Sunday night. Then on the football field, Favre went 21/27 for 331 yards, two TDs and no mistakes. Jay Cutler was good enough for Denver to get it to overtime at 13-13.
On the first play from scrimmage in OT, Favre rifled an 82-yard touchdown strike to Jennings for the ballgame. Green Bay was 6-1 and though they didn’t know it at the time, had gotten a sneak peek at the torment they would inflict on Cutler when the quarterback eventually landed in Chicago.
The Packers went on to Kansas City where the Chiefs were having an awful season. Playing to the level of their competition, Green Bay trailed 22-16 with three minutes left. Favre and Jennings again made a big play, this one a 60-yard TD pass. They added a field goal with 1:40 to go to make it 26-22. Woodson sealed the deal with a Pick-6. The 33-22 win looks comfortable on paper, but it was another narrow escape.
Over the next three weeks, Green Bay started making it easy on themselves and giving the fan base room to breathe. They blew out Minnesota at home 34-0, with Favre going 35/48 for 363 yards and three touchdowns. Against mediocre Carolina, Favre was 22/30 for 318 for three more TDs, two of them to Lee. The final was 31-17. And on Thanksgiving in Detroit, Favre ripped off a 31/41 for 381 yards showing that added three more TDs to his total. Driver caught ten balls for 147 yards in the 37-26 Turkey Day feast.
Green Bay and Dallas were running away with the top spots in the NFC. They would go head-to-head on the final Thursday Night of November. Inside track to homefield was on the line.
If anyone wanted to be skeptical of the Packers as a Super Bowl team, this game at old Texas Stadium gave the doubters plenty of ammo. Favre was terrible, going 5/14, throwing two interceptions and getting knocked out. Green Bay was in a 27-10 hole by the second quarter. The Packers were flagged for 142 yards worth of penalty yardage.
There was one bright spot. Aaron Rodgers, now in his third year sitting on the bench, came in for Favre and went 18/26 for 201 yards. Rodgers closed the deficit to 27-24 before Tony Romo’s Cowboys pulled back away to a 37-27 win. It was a disappointing loss, but Green Bay fans were saying at the time that maybe this Rodgers kid would turn out okay after Favre was gone.
Green Bay was still sitting at 10-2. They were blowing away the NFC North and also had a comfortable two-game lead on Seattle for the 2-seed and first-round bye in the playoffs. And the Pack was only a game back of Dallas for the top spot if they could play well in December and get some help.
The running game was on display against woeful Oakland, with Grant ripping off 156 yards in an easy 38-7 home win. A visit to another lousy team, the St. Louis Rams produced another blowout win. This one was tight into the third quarter, at 20-14 when Favre threw a 44-yard TD pass to Jennings. Nick Barnett led the defensive effort with a pair of sacks and the final was 33-14.
Even better was the news that Dallas had lost. The Cowboys still held the tiebreaker, but with both teams at 12-2, anything was possible going into the final two weeks.
Green Bay went on to visit Chicago on a brutally cold day where temps were (-18) with the windchill. Favre was off his game, going 17/32 for 153 yards and two interceptions. The Packers trailed 21-7 when the Bears added touchdowns on a blocked punt and a Pick-6. Grant’s 100-yard day in the cold was small consolation in the 35-7 loss. Dallas won and clinched the #1 seed. The Packers had gotten an ominous foreshadowing of what might happen if they played in the bitter cold.
The final game of the year at home against Detroit would be a playoff tuneup and it went well. Favre went 9/11 for 99 yards, a couple TDs and took the second half off. Brandon Jackson replaced Grant in the backfield and rushed for 113 yards. The Packers closed out their surprise 13-3 season with an easy 34-13 win.
After a week off, Seattle came in for a late Saturday afternoon game that would begin the divisional round. With no one knowing what Favre’s future plans were, and any game next week expected to be in Dallas, the assumption was that this could very well be Favre’s final game at Lambeau Field. It was fitting that his first coach, Mike Holmgren, was the one in town leading the Seahawks. And that it ended up a snow game, fitting Favre’s freewheeling, fun-loving personality.
That doesn’t mean the game started well. Seattle scored two touchdowns in the first five minutes. But the Packers took over the remaining 55 minutes. Favre went to Jennings for a couple touchdown passes. Grant ran for two more TDs and that 14-0 deficit morphed into a 28-17 lead by halftime. As the snow continued to pile up, Favre played it smart and close to the vest, going 18/23 for 173 yards and no interceptions. Grant became the focal point and had a huge 201-yard day rushing. Green Bay cruised to a 42-20 win. .
The following day, in the late afternoon, the nation watched the Giants-Cowboys. New York had been dysfunctional for much of the season before playing well enough to get in the playoffs and then beating a pedestrian division champion in Tampa Bay. No one was expecting them to knock off Dallas. But that’s what happened. There would be one more home game in Lambeau Field.
Fox Sports, which had the Super Bowl rights, was surely salivating over the possibility of Brett Favre playing his final game in the Super Bowl against the undefeated New England Patriots. Oddsmakers slotted the Packers a solid (-7 ½) favorite for the NFC Championship Game.
By game day, the weather was the overriding factor. The cold and the wind combined to create a windchill temp of (-23). To make matters worse, this was the second game of Championship Sunday, meaning kickoff wasn’t until 5:30 local time. It would only get colder as the day went on. I have family and friends who were in attendance and have heard stories about beer freezing in the can before one could sip it.
On the field, the story was how the Giants were completely controlling the line of scrimmage. They won rushing yardage 134-28. Even though Favre wasn’t sacked, he was never allowed to get comfortable in the pocket. He was also kept on the sidelines, with the Giants controlling the ball nearly 40 minutes.
Even so, the Green Bay defense made big red zone stops and early New York control of the game only resulted in a 6-0 lead. It was wiped out on one play, Favre to Driver for 90 yards down the right sideline. Favre still went a respectable 19/35 for 236 yards. But with the game tied 20-20 and the Giants lined up for a last-play field goal, this dream season looked over.
Then the field goal missed. Lambeau erupted. Green Bay won the overtime coin toss. At a time when OT was still strict sudden-death, all it took was one simple drive to field goal range.
But the Giant defense quickly put the Packers in third and long. On third down, Favre threw an out pattern. Normally a reasonable enough play with single coverage on the outside. This time the quarterback—under steady, irritating pressure and his aging legs probably stiffening up in the cold, didn’t get enough air under it. The ball was intercepted.
The Giants got another field goal attempt. This time they made it. The season was over. So was Brett Favre’s tenure as a Green Bay Packer. He announced his retirement at a tearful press conference soon after.
Of course, one more chapter in Favre’s career was still brewing, one that would briefly place him at fierce odds with management and eventually extending to a fan base that loved him. By April, Favre wanted to return and said his retirement decision had come under pressure from the front office to make a fast decision.
The recriminations that went back and forth could fill a book unto themselves. But Favre was traded to the Jets where he played in 2008. And then, in an act that stunned Packer fans, he signed on with the hated Vikings in 2009 and had one more fantastic season, leading Minnesota to the NFC Championship Game.
In reality, Favre and the Packers were both ready to move on from each other following the 2007 season. Football people knew that this ’07 Green Bay team had been special, but that “special” is often a euphemism for “mirage”, and some retooling was still necessary. It was the right time to transition to Rodgers.
But it was also apparent that Brett Favre had more good football left in him and his retirement shouldn’t have been forced upon him to meet the needs of the Green Bay Packers. Future years would see all-time greats like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady part ways amicably with their teams when facing similar situations.
Whomever you blame for the fallout—and I’m unequivocally on Favre’s side—this story has a happy ending. Favre has since been inducted into the Packer’s Ring of Honor, been welcomed back at Lambeau and the affection both sides have for each other has been restored. The events of 2008-09 were just a rough family quarrel. And those 2007 Green Bay Packers can take their rightful place in history as a special team in Brett Favre’s last ride at Lambeau.