Packers stop 49ers in NFC showdown

SAN FRANCISCO -- Brett Favre fought through the biting winds
and whipping rain one last time to shake Steve Mariucci's hand in
the middle of Candlestick Park.

"That one could have gone either way,'' Favre told his former
quarterbacks coach in Green Bay.

Question on the Packers: What impressed you most about the victory?
The Packers went on the road and played a solid, balanced game. Brett Favre threw for 200-plus yards, the running game accounted for 100-plus yards, and the defense did enough to contain Terrell Owens. The Packers aren't at their best when Favre has to throw 40 or 50 times. They're at their best when they play a balanced game. With two games left, if Philly or Tampa Bay slips and the Packers get home-field advantage, there's no advantage like Green Bay's.

Question on the Niners: At this point, do you see them going deep in the playoffs?
No, I don't. The running game, which has been so strong in recent years, has retreated this season. Terrell Owens has been nicked up and hasn't practiced as much recently. On defense, there are problems at cornerback and they're a little light up front. You never know, but it looks like there are too many NFC teams that don't have as many questions.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

Actually, when Favre faces the San Francisco 49ers, the Packers
almost always earn the breaks. Things went their way again Sunday
in a rain-soaked 20-14 victory that kept the Packers on pace with
the NFC's top teams.

Favre passed for 201 yards in a steady downpour -- and with
memories of Terrell Owens' famed 1999 game-winning catch
reverberating in the stadium, the Green Bay defense stopped the
Niners' last drive at its own 11 with 22 seconds left.

"I had confidence in our defense, but man, I was also pretty
confident they could score,'' said Favre, who improved to 9-1
against the Niners.

Ahman Green ran for 90 yards and a touchdown, and Donald Driver
caught a TD pass as the Packers (11-3) shrugged off the miserable
conditions to score 17 points in the second half while holding San
Francisco (9-5) scoreless in the fourth quarter.

The Packers have seen much worse than a little rain -- the icy
cold and wind of their playoff victory over San Francisco last
January, for example. Green Bay won its third straight while
limiting the Niners' offense to 263 total yards and earning
home-field advantage in any possible playoff meeting between the
division winners.

But it wasn't over until the Packers' maligned defense stopped
Jeff Garcia's hopes of emulating Steve Young, who hit Owens for a
25-yard TD with 3 seconds left in the Niners' 30-27 playoff victory
over Green Bay four seasons ago.

"We didn't need to come out here and win this game to prove
that we're a playoff team,'' Garcia said. "It's not like we got
blown out of the water or anything. It came down to a few plays.''

After Ryan Longwell's 28-yard field goal with 4:41 left, Garcia
drove the 49ers from their 26 to the 11 before throwing three
incompletions, including a low throw under pressure to Eric Johnson
on fourth down.

Garcia has driven the 49ers to similar last-minute victories
this season -- including last week's come-from-behind win over
Dallas -- but the Packers' defense followed the offense's lead with
inspired play at crucial times.

"This game should propel us through the last two games and into
the playoffs,'' Green Bay safety Darren Sharper said. "If we
didn't believe we're good in big games, this game definitely tells
us we can win them.''

Both teams already clinched their divisions and playoff berths
with victories in recent weeks, but both clubs have been dogged by
injuries that were partially responsible for their mediocre play
over the past month.

Owens caught eight passes for 75 yards and a touchdown -- which
he punctuated with a pompom-waving celebration -- but the 49ers
again struggled to move the ball.

Some of the worst rains in recent years pelted the San Francisco
Bay area all weekend, and the field at Candlestick Park was soaked
through. Flooded parking lots made tailgating difficult, and nearly
all the fans in the sellout crowd wore rain gear.

"I've played in a lot of games, but that's one of the best
games I've played in,'' Favre said. "Just a well-played game by
both teams in some terrible conditions.''

Neither team managed 100 total yards in a first half featuring
six punts and three field goals, but the Packers immediately took
control after halftime. Favre broke through a conservative game
plan to lead a 79-yard drive from the kickoff, with Green scoring
on a 9-yard run.

Moments later, Garcia threw a pass as he was being tackled -- and
it ricocheted off the back of offensive guard Matt Willig to Vonnie
Holliday, who lateraled the ball to Na'il Diggs for a long return.

Favre struck again, hitting Driver for a 5-yard TD that put
Green Bay up 17-6.

But instead of giving in, the 49ers finally woke up. Owens
caught a long pass down the sideline and then discarded would-be
tackler Mike McKenzie like a rain poncho on the way to the end
zone, where he picked up two pompoms from the 49ers' cheerleaders
and danced along for a moment.

"I think in my next life, I'm going to be cheerleader,'' Owens
said. "After I cross the end zone, I'm in my own little zone, my
own little world.''

Game notes
Mariucci on Owens' celebration: "I love seeing Terrell
celebrating in the end zone. Nobody does it better.'' ... Green Bay
NT Gilbert Brown and LT Earl Dotson were last-minute scratches with
injuries, while CB Ahmed Plummer didn't play for San Francisco. ...
The 49ers scored in their 400th straight game, extending their own
NFL record.

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