The Green Bay Packers were facing an uphill battle to make the playoffs entering the final game of the 2003 NFL season. They needed to defeat the Denver Broncos at Lambeau Field and have the lowly Arizona Cardinals beat the Minnesota Vikings to make the playoffs.
The Packers got a record-setting performance from running back Ahman Green who set a franchise record by running for 218 yards and two touchdowns on just 20 carries to lead the Packers to a 31-3 win over the 10-5 Broncos.
The Cardinals scored a last minute comeback win over the Vikings and the Packers made the playoffs after starting the season going 3-4. Just one week prior, the Packers kept their playoff hopes alive by crushing the Raiders on Monday Night Football shortly after the passing of Brett Favre’s father, Irv.
“I’m so proud of this team and what we’ve been able to overcome,” Favre said after the game. “We had our share of bumps in the road this year…We’ve bounced back from bad games and adversity as well as any team I’ve ever been a part of. I felt like we deserved it. This team has put everything it could possibly put into it. What we’ve got out of it up to this point has been rewarding, but now it’s what we do with this opportunity.”
Running back Ahman Green had an incredible day. Not only was the 218 yards rushing in one game a new Packers record, but the former Nebraska star also finished the season with 20 touchdowns which broke Jim Taylor’s franchise record for a single season. He also finished the campaign with 1,883 yards rushing, another new franchise record.
“How many records has that guy broken?” center Mike Flanagan said. “Every time you turn the corner, he’s doing something. He’s an amazing guy. If he’s not the best guy in this league, I don’t know who is. There are guys with a lot more publicity but I would not trade him for anybody.”
It was also a record setting day for Favre who opened the scoring with a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Bubba Franks which gave him 32 touchdowns on the season to lead the league. That marked the fourth time in Favre’s career he led the NFL in touchdown passes, tying Johnny Unitas, Len Dawson and Steve Young for the most times leading the NFL in league history.
The game was closer than the score indicated. The Packers held a 10-0 halftime lead on the touchdown toss to Franks and a 33-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell. The Broncos cut the lead to seven points on a 31-yard field goal by Jason Elam late in the third quarter.
But that’s when Green took control of the game. He scored from two-yards out with 1:40 left in the third quarter to cap off a four-play drive highlighted by a 47-yard run by Green.
Then, after the Packers stopped the Broncos on a 4th-and-goal from the Green Bay one, the Packers took over at their own two-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
Green took the handoff on first down and ran 98 yards for a touchdown, setting another Packers franchise record. The previous mark was a 97-yard dash by Andy Uram against the Chicago Cardinals in 1939.
“We knew their linebackers were flowing like crazy,” fullback Nick Luchey said when asked about the 98-yard run. “Most plays we run go where the fullback goes and they went that direction. There was a nice hole there.”
“We try to bait [the defense] to the left and come back right and that’s basically what happened to perfection,” Green said. “The offensive line blocked who they needed to block and the only person I had to deal with is the safety. I think he got pulled in from the action of the whole play at the beginning. That was the start of it and running to the end zone was the end of it.”
“I hadn’t even turned around,” Favre said about the play, “and Ahman was at the 50. We were getting out of there.”
Green’s teammates were impressed by his performance. “He’s had accolade after accolade, broken record after record this year, and he’s still humble,” fullback William Henderson said. “He is the cream of the crop as far as running backs go in the NFL, but he’s still human and very much a team player. I respect him 100 percent. I love blocking for him.”
Green wasn’t concerned about the records. “The biggest thing was to win this game.”
Things just got better for the Packers on the ensuing kickoff. Broncos return man Adrian Madise was hit by and fumbled the football in the end zone. Green Bay’s Marcus Wilkins recovered the fumble in the end zone for a touchdown to give the Packers a 31-3 lead.
Head coach Mike Sherman pulled Favre and put in backup Doug Pederson who threw only one pass the rest of the game.
The crowd at Lambeau went crazy when news of the Cardinals comeback was announced and they knew the Packers were in the playoffs as NFC North Division champs.
At first, the players were confused why the fans were cheering. “I’ve never heard a crowd cheer that loud for a two minute warning before,” linebacker Nick Barnett said.
Favre got philosophical after the win. “I’ve been around people who have lost a family member or have lost someone close to them and they say that person’s there watching or angels, whatever,” Favre said. “I would say two weeks ago, I didn’t really believe in that, but I think we’d better start believing in something.”
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