Familiar faces ready to mix it up as Packers play host to Seahawks

Holmgren, Rhodes hoping to return to Green Bay, slow Favre, pull off upset

Pro Football

January 04, 2004|By Don Pierson | Don Pierson,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Pressure is as plain as the handwriting on the street signs for Green Packers coach Mike Sherman. It's bad enough to work on Lombardi Avenue; he also has to drive past Holmgren Way.

At least there is no Rhodes Road.

Last season was a dead end for Sherman, who presided over the first postseason loss at Lambeau Field when the Atlanta Falcons stopped his hobbled Packers. A second straight home playoff loss wouldn't exactly put Sherman on Easy Street.

The Packers beat Holmgren's Seattle Seahawks, 35-13, in Green Bay on Oct. 5. Make that the Seahawks of Holmgren and Ray Rhodes, his defensive coordinator who coached the Packers in 1999 between Holmgren and protege Sherman.

Holmgren and Rhodes have to figure out a way to prevent quarterback Brett Favre and running back Ahman Green from repeating their four-touchdown blitz of the Seahawks. Favre is the player Holmgren left for Seattle. Green is the player Holmgren traded to the Packers. In five seasons in Seattle, Holmgren is 0-1 in the playoffs, so he knows pressure, too.

To upset the Packers, Holmgren's new quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck, has to emulate his old one. For two seasons, Hasselbeck sat on the Packers' bench behind Favre. But in two-plus seasons starting for Seattle, he has compiled remarkably similar numbers.

In their first 38 starts, Hasselbeck has a 20-18 record compared to Favre's 22-16. Both completed 60 percent of their passes, and both threw 48 touchdown passes.

Hasselbeck is one of 11 quarterbacks who have become starters elsewhere after leaving the Packers since Favre took over in 1992.

When Hasselbeck arrived in Green Bay in 1999, former quarterbacks coach Andy Reid, now Philadelphia's head coach, sat him down and told him to pay close attention to Favre. But Reid warned Hasselbeck to be selective.

"Don't watch his decision-making," Hasselbeck recalled. "Don't watch his fundamentals. Watch the other stuff, the things people call intangibles. Watch him in the huddle. Watch how he is with other guys in the locker room."

More than anything, those intangibles have carried the Packers through the last two weeks, when Favre played a day after his father, Irvin, died Dec. 21.

The magic from Favre's career performance against Oakland has yet to wear off. Seahawks linebacker Chad Brown said it moved him.

"Sometimes you come home from a loss and you think, `I hate football,' " Brown said. "And other times you watch Brett Favre after his father passes and you think, `This game is wonderful; I love this game; this is as good as it gets.' Just seeing him and all that on Monday night makes me think how much I love this game and how great this game is."

The Packers are 7 1/2 -point favorites, the biggest favorites in the first round. Part of the reason is the Seahawks were 2-6 on the road, but the Packers suspect their victory in San Francisco last week to help get them into the playoffs cured their road woes.

"They're going to make the corrections from that first game," Packers center Mike Flanagan said. "Holmgren didn't get to Super Bowls because he's pretty. He's a good coach, and they have some guys who can play.

"They're going to get right what we did to them last time. I expect it to be a dogfight."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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