At least the Patriots won't have to cope with the frigid weather -- 3 degrees, minus-17 wind chill at kickoff -- and rabid crowds that have turned Lambeau into the league's most overwhelming venue for visitors.Yes, in those halcyon days of 1996-1997, the Packers made rare appearances in the playoffs, but when they did, they never lost at home. Thus it's disconcerting to older fans to contemplate the current Packer teams that regularly make the playoffs only to underachieve at home.
Carolina (13-5) suffered the worst defeat of its storybook season mainly because its quirky zone-blitz defense allowed 479 yards, most against the Panthers in their two seasons.
"I would have never guessed we would come in here and have our butts handed to us like we did today," Panthers linebacker Kevin Greene said. "Another thing I never would have believed is that a team could run the ball on us like they did.
"They just gashed us here and gashed us there."
The West Coast offense, in all of [then-coach Mike] Holmgren's subtle alterations, seldom, if ever, was this unstoppable.The more things change, the more they stay the same. It took running and defense along with Aaron Rodgers and the receivers for the stars to align in 2010-2011. Over the past three seasons, one or more of the elements has gone missing.
In fact, Green Bay offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis, who won three Super Bowl rings as a 49ers' assistant from 1983-'91, went so far as to say that the Packers' offense is as complete and potent as any he ever was associated with in San Francisco.
"Right now we are," Lewis said, "because we've got the right blend of run and pass. That's tough on a defense. We've been in the 30s the last four or five games.
"Since the Detroit game (Dec. 15), we are running the ball better than any team I've ever been with. With Roger (Craig) and Tom (Rathman), we never ran the ball like this."
Operating with equal effectiveness from the I-formation against Carolina's base 3-4 and with three and four wide receivers against nickel defenses, the Packers amassed 201 yards on the ground against a defense that held Dallas to just 85 last week.
This shocking resurgence in rushing has left Green Bay with a 152.2-yard average in its last six games compared with just 91.4 yards in the nine games before that.
Wary of Panthers coach Dom Capers' defensive scheme, Holmgren did almost everything on offense except put Favre back seven steps and wing it. Starting with Levens' 35-yard burst on the final play of the first quarter, the Packers struck for seven plays of 20 yards or more, equaling their season high set in Week 2 against Philadelphia.Carolina remain another frequent participant in the playoffs, hosting the 'Niners in the divisional round. Mr Capers is current Packer defensive coordinator, working this past season with injury-depleted ranks.
It was all there for the Panthers to behold and, ultimately, fail to contain: Two dangerous tight ends forcing the safeties to stay back, wide receivers breaking tackles after the catch, running backs moving fluidly as receivers, screen passes executed in exquisite fashion, and a dashing quarterback making it all work.
Despite trailing by 7-0 early and then 10-7 late in the first half, the Packers had no real reason for self-doubt. Despite its many limitations in personnel, Carolina was well-prepared and surprisingly dangerous on offense, but its defense kept guessing wrong and ended up being humiliated.
"Yeah, I felt we'd come back," Favre said. "I don't think anybody can stop us, I really don't."
As the game wore on, Capers rushed five, even six defenders from every conceivable angle. But not often did rushers come free, a tribute to Favre's preparation and the other players and coaches on offense.
In fact, the zone blitz scheme no doubt hurt Carolina's run defense because all the movement left open lanes. The 479 yards represented the Packers' second highest total under Holmgren.
Meanwhile, the Panthers' overachieving offensive line discovered that even double-team blocking on defensive tackles Gilbert Brown and Santana Dotson couldn't support a viable ground game. The Panthers settled for 45 rushing yards, equaling their franchise low set in '95 against Atlanta.
Carolina, which had outscored opponents, 200-62, in the second half, was in danger of being counted out before Holmgren mercifully quit passing early in the fourth quarter.