The Green Bay Packers lost their first eight meetings with the Miami Dolphins and by 1997 Miami was the only active NFL team the Packers had never beaten. That slump ended in Week 3 of that season when Brett Favre led the Pack to a 23-18 win over the Dolphins at Lambeau Field. The victory extended the Packers home winning streak to 20 games.
Dorsey Levens ran for 121 yards on 21 carries to earn his first career 100-yard game while Favre threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns without tossing an interception.
The Packers defense did a good job of holding Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino in check. The future Hall of Famer completed just 21-of-47 throws for 240 yards. He threw one touchdown pass and was intercepted once.
The game was also a return to Lambeau Field for former Packers first-round pick Terrell Buckley who was playing for the Dolphins. Packers fans booed Buckley throughout the game.
The defending Super Bowl champion Packers got the win but it was a struggle throughout.
The Packers offensive line came into this game banged up. Center Frank Winters had a foot injury and was unable to play. That ended his consecutive games streak at 82. Offensive tackle Earl Dotson was also out with ankle and toe injuries. Jeff Dellenbach subbed in for Winters while Bruce Wilkerson started at right tackle for Dotson. The two veterans got the job done. The Packers offense ran for 142 yards and Favre was sacked only once all game.
They also came through when it mattered the most as Levens gained 68 yards on 11 carries in the fourth quarter.
“I felt they did great,” tight end Mark Chmura said of the offensive line. “Bruce and Jeff really came in and did a great job. … It’s encouraging to know you’ve got the depth on the offensive line where new guys can come in and you don’t miss a beat.”
“Basically, that’s our job as backups to be ready to go into the game,” Wilkerson said after the game. “That can happen at any time. And you have to go out and play at the same level that a starter would.”
The Dolphins scored the only points of the first quarter on a pair of field goals by Olindo Mare. The Packers answered early in the second quarter with a 10-play, 72-yard drive that included a 13-yard run by Levens, a 23-yard pass to Chmura and a pair of tosses to fullback William Henderson. Favre ended the drive with a two-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman and the Packers led 7-6.
The teams then traded field goals in the second quarter with Mare hitting from 22 yards out to give Miami and 9-7 lead and Ryan Longwell answering for the Packers from 26 yards out. The Packers kick was set up by a 48 yard pass to wide receiver Robert Brooks.
The Dolphins started a drive late in the first half but safety Mike Prior intercepted Marino on the final play of the half and the Packers led 10-9 at the intermission.
Another field goal by Mare made it 12-10 Dolphins in the third quarter but a 24-yard boot by Longwell gave the Packers a 13-12 lead after three quarters.
Longwell extended the lead to 16-12 with his third field goal of the game. It was set up by an unsuccessful fake punt by the Dolphins which backup tight end Reggie Johnson stopped when he tackled Bernie Parmalee for a two yard gain on 4th and 11.
Favre later put together a 12-play, 87-yard drive to extend the Packers lead. Levens had runs of 11 and 13 yards on the drive which ended when Favre read a Miami blitz and found Henderson on a 10-yard scoring pass.
“I saw the safety coming over the top, and I thought that [Henderson] was probably his guy,” Favre said. “So, I kind of guessed right. I guess studying a bit and watching a little film helped too.”
The Pack led 23-12 but a fumble by Favre gave the Dolphins the ball at the Packers 35 with 5:33 left on the clock. Six plays later, Marino found Charles Jordan for a 29-yard touchdown pass that made the score 23-18. Miami went for two points but couldn’t convert.
Backup wide receiver Terry Mickens recovered the ensuing onsides kick to clinch the Packers victory.
Injuries continued to mount during the game as defensive tackle Gilbert Brown suffered a knee injury while safety LeRoy Butler suffered a torn right biceps muscle on the opening drive of the second half. Butler continued to play but could barely lift his arm.
After the game, head coach Mike Holmgren said the injury to Brown didn’t appear serious. “It doesn’t appear to be ligaments, which is a good thing,” Holmgren said. “I don’t mean to make light of this, but his leg is so big, they’re having a little trouble with the diagnosis.”
The win improved the Packers record to 2-1 on the season while handing Miami its first defeat. Fans and members of the media were questioning why the Packers weren’t as dominant as they were the previous year when they won the Super Bowl.
“We did just enough to win, and that’s all that counts,” Freeman said.
“People are asking why we’re not blowing teams out like we did early last year. But that stuff is over with,” Favre added. “Beating the Packers gives you a chance to boast, to stick out your chest. Toward the end of the game, I was telling myself that it’s going to be this way every week.”
The Packers never were as dominant as they were the previous season, but they finished 1997 with another 13-3 record and earned a return trip to the Super Bowl. This win over the Dolphins helped get them on track and gave them their first ever win over Miami.
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