With a playoff spot still within reach, the Green Bay Packers have got to be feeling good about their next two opponents—even if it means consecutive trips to the West Coast.
The Packers will begin the final stretch of their season with visits to San Diego and Oakland, starting Sunday when they take on the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.
“I don’t see them as pitfalls as much as I see them as challenges,” Packers coach Mike Sheridan said Monday of his team’s two trips west. “Just like going down to Tampa is a challenge, going to Minnesota is a challenge, this is just another challenge.”
The Packers won their latest challenge, with a 38-23 victory over the rival Chicago Bears on Sunday which lifted the team above .500 and within a game of the Northwest Division-leading Minnesota Vikings.
Brett Favre completed 22 of 33 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown and Mike McKenzie atoned for an early mistake with a pair of interceptions, as the Packers rallied from a 14-0 deficit for their third win in four games.
In the first quarter, McKenzie blew his coverage and was burned for a 61-yard touchdown.
“I was in shock about it,” McKenzie said. “I’d never given up a play when the guy ran right by me like that. I told the guys, ‘That was definitely my fault. I’m going to get it back.”’
He did, with a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown, giving the team a 26-14 cushion.
It was the second of two second-half interceptions for McKenzie, who almost had a third when he dropped a one in the closing minutes of the game.
After throwing six interceptions over his last two games, Favre was picked off just once.
The 34-year-old quarterback has led the Packers to three straight wins over the Chargers dating to 1993, with Green Bay outscoring San Diego by a combined 93-26.
Ahman Green had 80 yards on 30 carries with a touchdown. Green, the NFC’s leading rusher, needs just 12 rushing yards to pass Jim Taylor’s 1962 club mark of 1,474—the oldest team rushing record in the NFL.
The Chargers, meanwhile, boast their own star running back in LaDainian Tomlinson, who had a career outing on Sunday.
Tomlinson caught nine passes for 148 yards—a season-high for running backs—with two touchdown receptions to lead his team to a 14-7 victory over Detroit. He also had 88 yards rushing on 25 carries, surpassing 200 yards of total offense for the fourth time this season.
“He clearly has every skill you look for in a running back,” San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer said.
Tomlinson’s play has been one of the lone bright spots for the struggling Chargers.
Schottenheimer said he was undecided about his starting quarterback earlier in the week, but he went back to Drew Brees on Friday. It had been 41-year-old Doug Flutie since Nov. 9 after he replaced Brees the week before in a 20-7 loss to Chicago.
“Well, gosh, I’m happy to back in the saddle,” Brees said. “It’s good to be back involved and getting reps again and looking forward to a game that you know you’ll play in and start in and hopefully be successful in.”
Flutie, who has thrown nine touchdown passes and four interceptions this year, suspected early in the week the move might be coming.
“You want to be out on the field and play, but you totally understand the situation,” Flutie said. “I know that Drew needs to get back out on the field and he needs to show this team that he can lead this team and regain all the confidence of the guys around him and for himself.”