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Packers: Easy win wraps up NFC North title
Will Blackmon (27) recovers a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown late in the third quarter Sunday. He also scored on a 57-yard punt return
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SUN., DEC 9, 2007 - 10:08 PM
Packers: Easy win wraps up NFC North title
By JASON WILDE
608-252-6176

GREEN BAY -- Afterward, Brett Favre looked around the locker room, at the revelry and the joy and the celebration and the freshly printed NFC North champions T-shirt and caps, and recognized just what a remarkable accomplishment it was.

"I don't know if too many people gave us a shot to be in this position," the Green Bay Packers quarterback said after Sunday's 38-7 trouncing of the Oakland Raiders at wintry Lambeau Field, a victory that locked up the division title and kept their once-improbable, now-realistic run toward Super Bowl XLII going.

And should the Packers get to Glendale, Ariz. -- who's to say they can't at this point? -- the Feb. 3 big game will be played 366 days after Favre made his Groundhog Day decision to return for a 17th NFL season.

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Who would've thought?

"I'm feeling good about my decision to come back, obviously. It sure makes it look like the right decision," said Favre, who let the running game carry the load after suffering injuries to his right (throwing) elbow and left shoulder in last week 's loss to Dallas but still completed 15 of 23 passes for 266 yards with two touchdowns and an interception (115.5 rating).

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"But it's like I say every week: It's where we go from here. What are we, 11-2? I know it 's good. But it's what we do from here."

Thanks to Dallas' last-minute, 28-27 escape at Detroit, the Packers (11-2) still trail the Cowboys (12-1) -- essentially by two games, because Dallas holds the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to their Nov. 29 win -- in the race for the NFC's No. 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout the postseason.

And because NFC West champion Seattle (9-4) won Sunday, too, the Packers still have some work to do to lock up the No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye.

But having totally dismantled the Raiders -- the Packers' 445 total yards marked their seventh 400-yard game of the year; their 179 yards on the ground were a season high; and Oakland's 233 total yards were the fewest by an opponent this season -- anything seems possible.

"It definitely feels good to be able to bounce back, get the ball rolling in the right direction," center Scott Wells said. "To win a game in a dominant fashion is nice, because you need to win the games you're supposed to win. And this was one that we were supposed to win and get that momentum back."

Added halfback Ryan Grant, who ran for a career-high 156 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries: "It's just one step toward what we're trying to do."

The Packers took that step slowly at first, until Grant's 6-yard touchdown and Will Blackmon's 57-yard punt return for a touchdown gave them a 14-0 lead with 5 minutes, 44 seconds left in the first half.

"It was huge," said Blackmon, who was on the verge of injured reserve after breaking his foot during an Oct. 3 practice, and who later sealed the win by recovering a Jason Hunter-forced fumble in the end zone. "It 's the biggest play you can probably make."

Although the Packers' only bad defensive series all day let the Raiders back into the game on a 25-yard Jerry Porter touchdown catch just before halftime, the second half was all Green Bay. Favre's 80-yard TD pass to Greg Jennings broke the game open midway through the third quarter.

"We really got beat in every aspect of the game. Run offense, pass offense, run defense, pass defense," Raiders coach Lane Kiffin said. "Tough one to handle."

Added veteran defensive tackle Warren Sapp: "Awful. Awful. That's the difference between a playoff-contending team and a team that is trying to find itself right now with a new identity and a new coaching staff."

It wasn't that long ago the Packers were in that position. While Favre was surveying the scene, coach Mike McCarthy was drying off from an ice-water shower in the 18-degree temperatures -- "I picked the coldest game of my career to get that," he said -- and already thinking ahead. The players had until midnight to celebrate before turning their attention to next week's game at St. Louis.

"We still have some business left to finish here in the next three games. But it's definitely the first check off our list," said the second-year coach, whose team started last season 1-4 and 4-8 but has won 15 of 17 since. "I'm proud of the fact that this is our first division championship. We've come a long ways, but we still have a long ways to go."

And clinching the franchise's 18th division title and 23rd playoff berth with three games remaining -- the second-fastest division title in team history -- with a dominant all-around effort was a good start.

"What we've done now is just secure ourselves a chance. That's all you can do -- make sure you have a chance," said cornerback Charles Woodson, who returned to action after missing the loss to the Cowboys with a toe injury. "If you're one of those 12 teams that make it to the playoffs, then you've got a shot.

"We just have to fine-tune our machine and make sure we're ready to make that run.''


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