G. Bay rolls on, breaks with old Favre, Holmgren state case with 23-10 win over San Francisco

January 12, 1998|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Green Bay Packers took their motivation where they could find it yesterday.

In the physical, bump-and-run pass coverages of the San Francisco 49ers' cornerbacks.

In 49ers coach Steve Mariucci's statement that close buddy and Packers quarterback Brett Favre was prone to big plays and big mistakes.

And in the chance to shatter the lingering myth that Mike Holmgren's Green Bay offense was still attached at the hip to the famed West Coast offense of Bill Walsh.

Holmgren's Packers completed a two-year image makeover with dominating 23-10 victory over the 49ers in the NFC championship game at rain-swept 3Com Park.

Green Bay (15-3) will defend its Super Bowl championship in XXXII against the Denver Broncos in two weeks.

Holmgren, at least, will go to San Diego with a seven-game winning streak and without the shadow of San Francisco hovering over him. Six years into the building of a Midwest dynasty, the former 49ers assistant was eager to break from the past.

"While I was here, I was a good student," he said of his West Coast roots. "When you go to someplace else, you establish your own identity.

"These are two different cities, two different teams. I would hope people recognized the Green Bay Packers, the Green Bay organization.

For the third straight season, the Packers eliminated the 49ers from the Super Bowl tournament. They did it two years ago in a divisional-round upset here. They did it last year in frigid Green Bay.

Now they've done it when the 49ers had everything lined up and in place -- Steve Young was back at quarterback and armed with a supposedly legitimate running game.

But once again, it was the Packers' offense that delivered the big plays. Nearly all of them came in the first half before the onslaught of El Nino turned 3Com into a cold, clammy quagmire.

Favre, three-time league MVP, threw completions of 27, 31 and 40 yards to wide receiver Antonio Freeman to push the Packers to a 13-3 halftime lead. The Packers were never seriously threatened in the second half, building a 23-3 lead before Chuck Levy's 95-yard kickoff return produced San Francisco's only touchdown.

Favre threw the slant pass to perfection. He hit Freeman early in the second quarter with one, and the Poly grad deked two 49ers defenders to cash in a 27-yard touchdown. Coming after a 19-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell and moments after a 58-yard interception return by Eugene Robinson, the quick strike gave Green Bay a 10-0 lead.

Freeman's cutback moves left safety Merton Hanks and cornerback Rod Woodson grabbing mud.

"I saw Hanks, gave him a stutter-step, and he overpursued," said Freeman, who had four catches for 107 yards -- all in the first half. "Then I saw Woodson, gave him a stutter-step, and he overpursued. Then I had a clear path to the end zone."

Favre said the slant was a big part of the game plan.

"We felt our receivers were quicker than Jake Reed and Cris Carter in the bump and run," he said of the two Minnesota Vikings receivers who had big plays on the 49ers a week ago in the divisional playoff. "We felt our slant would be big for us today."

If Holmgren had special incentive coming back to play the 49ers, Favre found motivation playing against Mariucci, his former quarterback coach with the Packers.

The mistake-prone comment?

"I wasn't today," Favre said after completing 16 of 27 for 222 yards. "I always felt like I play good in big games. I saw where Coach Mariucci said Favre can make a lot of big plays, but also a lot of mistakes.

"I love him to death, but I did want to beat him bad. I still care a great deal about him. He's a great coach. But we had to get this game."

Favre did most of his damage in the first half. Dorsey Levens, the hard-charging running back, hammered the 49ers in the second.

For the second week in a row, Levens set a club playoff rushing record, going for 114 yards on 27 carries. He had 17 carries for 71 yards in the second half.

"[Holmgren] challenged us in meetings this week that we'd have to run the ball on them."

The Packers ran the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense into the ground. Then they stuffed the alleged running game that San Francisco brought to the affair.

Garrison Hearst, out since Nov. 30 with a broken collarbone, returned with a thud to the 49ers' offense. He had eight carries for 12 yards in the first half, then gave way to Terry Kirby, who rushed for only 21. All told, the 49ers had 33 yards on the ground and a 1.8 average carry.

"Our defense played an outstanding game," Holmgren said. "It kept them off-balance. Neither team was going to be real efficient on offense today."

Robinson's interception in the second quarter was a big one, snuffing a threat that saw the 49ers advance to the Packers' 28. Young (23-for-38 for 250 yards) underthrew a third-down pass for tight end Brent Jones and Robinson cut in front to make the catch.

"We stepped up when we had to," Robinson said. "They had a couple of big plays, but when the game came down to the defense, the defense held."

It was a clean sweep for the Packers, who have won 12 of their past 13 games. Their fourth straight victory over the 49ers left no doubt about which team had the better offense, or which team had the dynasty.

Super contrasts

The Packers and the Broncos have combined to play in seven Super Bowls going into this year's matchup, but that's where the similarities end. Green Bay has won all three of its appearances, while Denver has lost all four of its. How they fared:

Green Bay Packers

Super Bowl I

1967 def. Kansas City, 35-10

Super Bowl II

1968 def. Oakland, 33-14

Super Bowl XXXI

1997 def. New England, 35-21

Denver Broncos

Super Bowl XII

1978 lost to Dallas, 27-10

Super Bowl XXI

1987 lost to N.Y. Giants, 39-20

Super Bowl XXII

1988 lost to Washington, 42-10

Super Bowl XXIV

1990 lost to San Francisco, 55-10

Pub Date: 1/12/98

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