As Brett Favre stood beneath the stands waiting to be introduced to the Lambeau Field crowd Sunday, he told a teammate, I havent had butterflies like this in my stomach for a long time.
Those butterflies indicated how compelled Favre was to play quarterback for the Packers against Chicago on Sunday despite the badly sprained ankle that kept his status uncertain all week.
The Packers, losers of their previous two games, were either going to regain a share of the NFC Central Division lead or drop all the way back to .500 after a promising 5-2 start. Favres butterflies also indicated he was ready to play, because he responded with one of the best games of his professional career in the Packers 35-28 win at Lambeau Field.
He hadnt had two of the best games in the world in the last couple weeks, receiver Mark Ingram said. Hes just a competitor and he wanted to come in and have a good game. Thats what champions are made of.
The win tied the Packers with the Bears for first place in the division at 6-4, and gave the Packers a huge edge over Chicago: The season sweep means they will win any head-to-head tiebreaker with the Bears.
Plus, even after losing the previous two weeks, the Packers are tied with five other teams for the second-best record in the NFC, behind 8-2 Dallas.
Were in the drivers seat in the division, linebacker George Koonce said. If we keep winning, if we win our next two division games, were division champs.
How good was Favre on Sunday? He threw for a season-best in yards (336) and completion percentage (25-for-33, 75.8 percent), and his five touchdown passes tied the Packers record set by Cecil Isbell in 1942 and tied by Lynn Dickey twice (81 and 83) and Don Horn once (69).
Those totals, combined with no interceptions, gave him a 147.2 passer rating for the day out of a maximum 158.3 points. Thats a remarkable 6.8-point jump for his season rating, from 83.0 to 89.8.
Because of his severely sprained ankle, Favre had been unable to practice all week except for Friday, when he did some one-on-one fundamentals work with coach Mike Holmgren, and Saturday, when he took a few snaps during half-speed passing drills.
Several of Favres teammates said that by mid-week they thought he would play. Favre though, said he didnt know for sure until Saturday night.
On Sunday, he had the ankle heavily taped. like a cast, he said. His mobility was limited but he still managed to have one of his best games ever.
There actually were indications he might be especially sharp this week. Steve Mariucci, the Packers quarterbacks coach gives the quarterbacks rapid-fire quizzes on Saturdays. He said Favres answers were bang, bang, bang. I was trying to get him to say something wrong, and he was sharp as a tack. He probably studied more this week than usual because he couldnt do the physical stuff.
Favre helped give the Packers a big boost by matching Chicago quarterback Erik Kramer pass for pass at the start of the game. Both went 5-for-5 in taking their team to a touchdown on their first possession, but the Packers got the bigger lift, because Brett was back, fullback Dorsey Levens said.
Favre won the shootout, though Kramer also had a good day: 23-for-38 passing for 318 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
The field, slippery from recent snow and cold weather, appeared to help the offenses, as defensive backs from both teams slipped several times. That helped make it a day of big plays, with each team completing five passes for 21 yards or more.
Packers receiver Robert Brooks had the most productive game of his career, catching six passes for a career-best 138 yards and two touchdowns. His second touchdown was especially big because it answered a Bears score that had given them a 28-21 lead late in the third quarter.
The Bears, who blitzed more as the game wore on, blitzed on the first play after that go-ahead touchdown. But fullback Dorsey Levens picked off linebacker Vinson Smith in front of Favre in the first half Smith snuffed a Packers drive when he slipped past Levens for a sack and Favre lofted a deep pass for Brooks for a 44-yard score.
I was looking for it the second time around. Levens said of the blitz.
Said Brooks: We felt we had to score quickly to get the momentum back. Once we did, the crowd got into it, and our defense stepped up.
Though the offenses dominated this day the teams combined for 800 total yards the Packers defense held the lead in the final minutes. After Edgar Bennetts 16-yard touchdown on a screen pass with 9:17 to play, Chicago got the ball twice trailing 35-28.
Safety LeRoy Butler ended the first drive by intercepting Kramer in the end zone on fourth-and-two with just under two minutes to play.
The second ended when the Packers forced three incompletions in the end zone in the final 11 seconds with Chicago at the Packers 14.
Were back, Butler said. Weve licked our wounds, and theyve healed.