When Brett Favre was preparing to face the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in Week 5 of the 2001 season, he knew he was in for a challenge. A year ago, Baltimore had won the Super Bowl with one of the best defenses of all time led by future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. Both teams entered the game with matching 3-1 records.
In the days leading up to the game, Lewis made a mistake. He called out Favre in public, saying that the three-time MVP had to prove his worth by beating a great defense like the Ravens.
Needless to say, Favre didn’t appreciate the quote and took it as a challenge. “I’m trying to relax and not think about how great their defense is,” Favre said. “And he said, ‘Can you believe they said that?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ They won the Super Bowl last year. They have the best defense. Ray Lewis, he’s one of the best I’ve seen. What’s to keep him from saying something like that?”
“In the back of my mind, I’m thinking, ‘I’m pretty good, too,” Favre added. “I don’t feel like I have to say that. I’ve played a long time in this league. I’ve earned a right to be respected to a certain degree.”
Of course, the only way to get that respect was to earn it and Favre set out to do just that. He and head coach Mike Sherman devised a game plan that featured multiple wide receiver sets designed to spread out the Baltimore defense.
The plan worked well. Favre completed 27-of-34 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns. He did not throw an interception. His favorite target was Antonio Freeman who caught nine passes for 138 yards and one score. Tight end Bubba Franks caught two touchdowns with both coming from two-yards out.
The Packers scored 31 points and beat the Ravens 31-23. The Pack had a 31-10 lead midway through the fourth quarter before the Ravens scored two late touchdowns to make the final score closer.
The Packers defense was outstanding especially early in the game. In Baltimore’s first seven drives, the Green Bay defense recovered two fumbles and intercepted starting quarterback Elvis Grbac twice. Grbac had to leave the game early after suffering a concussion. He was replaced by Randall Cunningham.
Meanwhile the Packers put together drives of 59, 43, 74, 80 and 82 yards against a defense that was considered one of the greatest of all-time. “We ran into a hot Brett Favre,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said after the game. “When is he not hot? He is an incredible player.”
The game didn’t start well for the Packers. Running back Ahman Green fumbled on his first carry during Green Bay’s opening drive. Four plays later, Grbac hit Travis Taylor on an 18-yard touchdown pass and the Pack trailed 7-0.
But the Packers controlled the second quarter and scored 17 unanswered points with Favre’s touchdown passes to Franks and Freeman and a 33-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell doing the damage.
An interception by Mike McKenzie in the final two minutes of the half was a turning point. It ended a Ravens scoring threat and led to a touchdown pass to Freeman with seven seconds left in the half.
By playing multiple receiver sets, the Packers were able to spread out the Ravens defense and create mismatches. The results were big passing plays like a 47-yard strike to Corey Bradford that helped set up the touchdown just before the half and a 37-yard toss to Donald Driver. The Ravens defense rarely gave up long pass plays.
Favre admitted, “You’re not going to run against them. We felt we had to get out of the pocket, buy enough time to get the ball downfield… It was our day.”
“This is the defense of the century, I guess, is what people are saying,” Sherman said. “We thought our offensive line was the offensive line of the 60 minutes we had to play.”
The win improved the Packers record to 4-1 on the season. If the Ravens defense didn’t give Favre the proper respect entering the game, they certainly did by game’s end.
“Brett keeps things alive,” Billick said. “That’s part of his magic. He has the knack to break contain, back away and wait until the last second and make a throw. He’s a phenomenal athlete, and they made the big plays when they needed to. They have a Hall of Fame quarterback and deserved to win today.”
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