Pumped-up Packers set sights on Cowboys

January 03, 1995|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Writer

Quarterback Brett Favre has no illusions about the task ahead of the Green Bay Packers after they beat the Detroit Lions in their first-round playoff game Saturday.

"No one's going to give us a chance," Favre said.

He's right about that.

That's because the Packers will go Sunday to Dallas, where they lost to the Cowboys, 42-31, on Thanksgiving Day. Sterling Sharpe caught four touchdown passes from Favre, but the Packers' defense gave up two touchdown passes to third-string Cowboys quarterback Jason Garrett.

Now, Dallas has quarterback Troy Aikman back from his knee injury, and Sharpe is out with a career-threatening neck injury.

The result is the oddsmakers are listing the Packers as 10-point underdogs. After all, they lost with Sharpe in a second-round playoff game in Dallas last year by 10 points -- 27-17.

But Favre is a tough competitor who doesn't concede a thing. He played well Saturday even though he had been bothered with an obstruction in his intestine last week. He even brushed off the Thanksgiving Day loss.

"We went into Dallas earlier in this year, and, in my opinion, should have won the ballgame. We played a great ballgame," he said. "Our defense is playing better now. Our backs are against the wall, and we play great in those situations. We have nothing to lose."

He's right about that -- they have nothing to lose.

The conventional wisdom is that this is just a tuneup for the Cowboys before they play the San Francisco 49ers, who are 16-point favorites over the Chicago Bears on Saturday, in the NFC title game on Jan. 15 in San Francisco.

Favre ignores talk about how hopeless things look for Green Bay. He even said the team has rallied around Sharpe's absence.

"We had probably our best week of practice this year last week," Favre said. "Not to say that everyone's happy Sterling's gone. I think everyone rallied around it. We know how important he is to our team, but I think our receivers were excited about having a chance to play and stepping up and being the guy. Our defense took it upon themselves to not let the Sterling situation even bother us one bit."

The defense stepped up and held Barry Sanders to minus-1 yard rushing, and Favre said the team reacts well to adversity.

"I wish every week it was bad weather and we had a player go down." Favre said. "It seems like that's when we play our best, really. I don't know why. We need to get consistent as far as playing on the road and getting ahead of teams."

Reggie White, who was switched inside to tackle so Sanders couldn't run away from him, said coach Mike Holmgren told the defense it had to carry the team.

"We were ready," White said. "Mike talked to us this week a little bit about picking up the slack because of Sterling's absence. We knew they [offense] would move the ball. We didn't even consider that they wouldn't. We did consider Sterling not being in there, and we had to take a step up."

Nobody is more geared for the playoffs than White, who said getting to the Super Bowl for the first time was one of his goals when he signed a $17 million deal with the Packers last season. In his 10th season, the future Hall of Famer not only never has gone to the Super Bowl, he has never gotten past the first round of the playoffs.

"It's the playoffs, and I think we're hungry right now. I think that's what it boils down to," White said. "We're very hungry, we're getting better and our quarterback has been playing tremendous. We know that when we step on the field, Brett is going to make something happen, and I think that's helping us defensively."

After shutting down Sanders, now the defense gets a chance to stop Emmitt Smith, who missed the Cowboys' final regular-season game with a pulled hamstring, but rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries in the Thanksgiving Day victory.

Holmgren said the problem was that the defense was playing tentatively. He told them, "You have to attack and let it go."

Fritz Shurmur, the defensive coordinator, just laughed when he was asked if the Packers could do the same thing to Smith that they did to Sanders. The Packers set a playoff record record by holding the Lions to minus-4 yards rushing.

"This league's been playing football a long time," he said. "And when you stop to think that's the first time it's ever been done in a postseason game in the history of the league [holding a team to negative rushing yardage] and magnify that by the fact that it's Barry Sanders. . . . I mean, you try to put that in some kind of

perspective. I don't think it fits anywhere."

Shurmur said that although every game is different, that performance will help the Packers' confidence.

"There's no question in our guys' minds that they can play well," Shurmur said.

It's time for the Packers to find out how well they can play in Dallas.

"Now, we'll get the opportunity to see how bad we really want it," said White.

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