Where better to spend a sunny, fall afternoon than Lambeau Field? A picturesque warm Sunday afternoon in Green Bay, Wisconsin was the setting for a whacky NFL week four contest between the 2-1 Packers and the visiting 3-0 Carolina Panthers. The game featured a ferocious Panthers defense who featured rookie defensive menace Julius Peppers and an emerging receiving threat in second year wideout Steve Smith. The Packers’ countered with future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, power running back Ahman Green and an emerging fourth year receiver in Alcorn State product, Donald Driver who needed to step up admirably with starting receivers Terry Glenn nursing a migraine and rookie Javon Walker inactive due to injury.
A middle of the pack Green Bay defense led by pro bowl safety Darren Sharper, was able to make an impact early on, forcing a below average Carolina offense led by journeyman quarterback Rodney Peete, to go three and out on their first series. Favre promptly took the ball and drove Green Bay down the field on an 11-play drive which stalled on a third and four from the Carolina 12-yard line and the Packers settled for a field goal off the leg of Ryan Longwell. After the teams traded punts, Carolina rode the back of speedster Steve Smith who hauled in a 13 yard and 61-yard reception, aided by an additional 15-yard Matt Bowen facemask penalty, to get Carolina down to the Green Bay four-yard line. Two plays later, running back Lamar Smith found pay dirt for a 7-3 Carolina lead as the teams headed to quarter number two.
The second quarter saw four consecutive offensive series end in punts until the Packers found themselves with the ball at their own 30-yard line with 3:47 left in the half. After a short run by Green, Favre connected with second year wide out Robert Ferguson, tight end Bubba Franks and Driver on consecutive plays to get the Packers across midfield to the Panthers 40-yard line. Two plays later, a Panthers pass interference against Franks would bring the ball to the 31-yard line with a fresh set of downs. With a little less than two minutes in the half, Favre dropped back and threw a backward pass to Franks who caught the ball and then proceeded to wind up and toss a wobbly pass to a wide-open Driver for a 31-yard touchdown pass. However, officials ruled the play illegal claiming Favre’s pass was forward. Lambeau Field’s Tundra Vision scoreboard showed otherwise and the new Lambeau Field record for attendance of 63,329 went berserk. No one may have gone more berserk than Packers’ head coach Mike Sherman, who threw his headset and immediately yelled vehemently at head referee, and former UW-Milwaukee quarterback, Bill Carollo. Sherman’s antics caused a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty but after review the play was indeed reversed, giving Green Bay a 10-7 lead and firing up his troops in the process. A makeshift Packers offense received the boost they needed.
A short kick by Longwell was returned 23 yards by Smith who brought the ball out to the Carolina 46-yard line. Peete led the Panthers quickly down to the Packers 20-yard line, aided by roughing the passer call against linebacker Na’il Diggs. Following the roughing the passer penalty, Peete was sacked and stripped by defensive tackle Cletidus Hunt and the ball was recovered by the Packers’ big free agent signing, Joe Johnson. The very first play following the turnover Favre hit Driver for what appeared to be a 76-yard touchdown. Unfortunately for the Packers, yellow flags littered the field as guard Marco Rivera was called for ineligible man downfield. The ball was brought back to the Packers’ 24-yard line with 30 seconds left. Three plays later and a Rivera holding penalty brought the ballclubs into the locker room with Green Bay up 10-7.
On both of the teams first two possessions of the second half they exchanged punts. On the Packers’ third possession in the half, Favre led them to near mid-field before throwing an ill-advised interception over the middle to Panthers linebacker Dan Morgan. Three plays later Peete hit special teams ace Karl Hankton for 31 yards bringing the ball down to the Packers’ 15-yard line. After two incomplete passes, Packers’ big money man Joe Johnson made the best play of his Packers’ tenure by sacking and forcing another Peete fumble, which was recovered at the 17-yard line by nickel cornerback Tod McBride. The Packers, however, quickly went three and out, but a booming punt by Josh Bidwell backed the Panthers back to around midfield. The next drive was the Brad Hoover show. The Panthers’ fullback and Packers nemesis (see MNF game in 2000) scampered for 11 yards, followed by a 31-yard reception to bring the Panthers to the end zone doorstep in which running back Lamar Smith would plunge it in on the next snap to give the cats a 14-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Green Bay could not formulate anything on offense and again, went three and out, putting the defense in another tough position. The defense rose to the challenge, and following a Packers’ timeout safety Matt Bowen jarred the ball loose out of rookie backup running back Dee Brown and once the scrum subsided Packers’ Jamaal Reynolds came up with the football. A one-yard gain and two incomplete passes followed and Bidwell was called to punt it once again. With 8:47 left Carolina looked to run the football down the throat of the Packers’ defense and after a two-yard loss by Brown and an 11-yard gain by Hoover the Panthers faced third and one from their own 29-yard line. A run up the middle by Hoover was promptly stuffed in the backfield by no other than the “Gravedigger”, Gilbert Brown forcing the Panthers to punt it back over.
With the Packers on their own 35-yard line Favre took the opening snap of the possession and was sacked by a blitzing Dan Morgan bringing up second and 19. An 11-yard quick strike to Ferguson made it a more manageable third and eight. The gunslinger Favre wound up from the Green Bay 37-yard line and threw a deep ball towards Driver, which was intercepted by roaming safety Mike Minter and returned 47-yards. Flags were littered on the field however, and after short discussion by the umpire staff, the Lambeau Field crowd was notified that Panthers’ cornerback Emmanuel McDaniel was called for pass interference and the Packers would retain the ball which would be placed at the Carolina 29-yard line. After a seven-yard run by Najeah Davenport, Favre found Driver for a 22-yard touchdown to retake the lead, 17-14, with a little more than four minutes remaining. Driver, the previously little known seventh round draft pick from small Alcorn State, was having his coming out party in 2002 after being rarely utilized in his previous three seasons in Green Bay and his five catches for 95 yards and two touchdown performance came at a time when the team needed him the most.
After a touchback by Longwell, the defense would be called upon to sweat it out and seal it up, as Peete and the Panthers looked to go 80-yards and keep their perfect record intact. The veteran Peete, who was on his seventh team in 14 seasons, calmly led the Panthers on a methodical drive down the field aided by two big penalties by the Packers defense; a holding on third and eight by cornerback Tyrone Williams to give them an automatic first down and a pass interference on another third and eight by Sharper. A 21-yard redemption run by Dee Brown and a 7-yard reception by Smith gave the ball at the Green Bay five-yard line with 0:13 left. Panthers’ first year head coach John Fox sent out kicker Shayne Graham, who was signed by the team just two days prior in an effort to bolster their kicking game after two missed field goals the previous week by Jon Hilbert. Then the unthinkable occurred, with overtime all but assured in the minds of everyone watching, Graham sailed the 24-yard chip shot wide right and the Packers’ held on for the wild and sloppy 17-14 victory.
The game sent the teams in two opposite directions as the Panthers would free fall, losing their next seven games en route to a 7-9 record and last place finish in the NFC South division. The Packers meanwhile would win their next five to start out 8-1 and finishing out the regular season 12-4 before succumbing to the wild card Atlanta Falcons in the playoffs.
Favre finished 18/32 with one touchdown and one interception. During the game Favre passed Joe Montana for fifth place on the all-time completions list with 3,414. The game featured a total of 17 penalties for 160 yards (10 penalties for 83 yards for the Packers). Franks became the second heaviest player (263 lbs) to throw a touchdown pass, behind Vikings’ quarterback Daunte Culpepper (264 lbs) at the time. Since the record has been broken by Oakland Raiders’ first pick quarterback bust, Jamarcus Russell and most recently Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe (346 lbs) who threw a two-yard touchdown pass to former UW-Milwaukee basketball player and current Chiefs’ tight end Demetrius Harris.