Note: This story was published Dec. 23, 2003.
Oakland, Calif. - The eyes of America gazed upon Brett Favre Monday night in his hour of immense personal grief.
Somehow, some way, Favre found a way to play one of the greatest games of his fabulous career.
Playing just one day after his father, Irvin, died in Mississippi of heart attack, Favre threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns as the Green Bay Packers swept away the Oakland Raiders, 41-7, at sold-out Network Associates Coliseum.
"You couldn't draw up a script better than that," coach Mike Sherman said. "You hoped he'd play that type of game but the chances of that happening, unless it's Brett Favre, are unlikely. This guy put together a career day."
Favre annihilated the Raiders' secondary with a dizzying array of completions, throwing just about every pass in the book with unerring accuracy. His passer rating of 158.3 at halftime was the maximum total that a quarterback can have.
"Maybe it bought him some kind of respite," longtime Raiders scout Jon Kingdon said. "His dad was so much involved in his career. Maybe it's his way of paying some kind of tribute."
The victory improved the Packers' record to 9-6 (they finished 5-3 on the road, equaling their best mark since 1972) and enabled them to keep pace with Minnesota atop the NFC North Division. The Packers will win the division if they defeat Denver (10-5) on Sunday at Lambeau Field and the Vikings lose at Arizona (3-12).
"Offense, defense, special teams; it wasn't perfect but I thought the team responded extremely well," Sherman said. "We didn't have an option on this game. They had to win."
If the Packers and Vikings both win Sunday, the Vikings would win the third tie-breaker on better record within the conference, 8-4 to 7-5.
"We feel pretty good but now we've got to buckle down this week," Packers director of pro personnel Reggie McKenzie said. "Denver's a great football team. They've played real well the last few games. We've got our work cut out. We cannot relax."
The Packers lost at Arizona in Week 3. Could the Vikings lose in the desert?
"There might be a chance," McKenzie said. "Let's hope."
Denver, which clinched an AFC wild-card berth, has little to play for at Lambeau Field, although the Broncos could move up to the No. 5 seeding with a victory and a loss by 11-4 Tennessee against Tampa Bay.
Minus eight starters, the Raiders added another ugly chapter to their post-Super Bowl collapse and fell to 4-11.
In his blistering first-half performance, Favre completed his first nine passes for 184 yards and finished 15 for 18 for 311 yards and four scores. Eight of his completions went for 20 yards or more. The 311 yards were 16 more than Favre's career best in a first half. He finished 22 for 30 for 399 yards, just 3 yards fewer than his career best of 402 in 1993 at Chicago.
Kingdon, who serves as the spotter for the Raiders' radio network, said former Raiders coach Tom Flores was astonished by any speculation from Favre and others that he might quit. Flores is the radio color man.
"Flores was laughing at the concept of him retiring," Kingdon said.
Raiders fans in their notorious "Black Hole" of a stadium did what they could to rattle Favre. The Packers faced eight third downs in the first half, and each time the crescendo from the crowd grew as Favre walked to the line.
On those first-half third downs, Favre coolly hit six of eight for 154 yards and one touchdown, effectively deciding the game.
The Packers went 80 yards on their first possession. The key plays were Favre's 47-yard bomb to Robert Ferguson behind Phillip Buchanon and then Favre's 22-yard touchdown pass to Wesley Walls on a corner route against safety Derrick Gibson.
"That touchdown pass to Walls, the coverage was good," Kingdon said. "That was just a great play."
When the Packers got the ball back, Tony Fisher broke a tackle by safety Anthony Dorsett on third and 12 and gained 32 yards on a screen pass.
"That's a great play by Fisher to make that one guy miss and get that first down," McKenzie said. "Dorsett is not a good tackler in space."
On the next play, Buchanon appeared to think he had safety help but Favre drilled a 23-yard touchdown pass to Javon Walker behind him in the corner for the touchdown.
The Raiders ran the ball well early, and Charlie Garner got them on the board with a 25-yard touchdown burst through the middle of the Packers' defense.
"We had two linebackers blitz opposite the hole," McKenzie said. "(Darren) Sharper ran into the referee. But it was a great run by him (Garner)."
Ryan Longwell added a 31-yard field goal early in the second quarter after Donald Driver caught a 33-yard shot from Favre against slow-reacting deep zone coverage from Dorsett.
One of Favre's most incredible plays was a trifling 1-yard completion to William Henderson. When Favre turned around on a bootleg, linebacker Napoleon Harris was almost in his facemask on a blitz. Favre made a stunningly quick adjustment and got the ball over Harris to Henderson, avoiding a bad play.
Two plays later, Buchanon had Ferguson pinned along the sideline but Favre threw a perfect touch pass for 27 yards.
"He puts the ball where only his guy can catch it," Kingdon said. "That's such an art to be able to do that."
On the next play, Favre wound up and unloaded a bomb to Walker in the end zone. Walker had run by Buchanon but the ball hung up, enabling Buchanon and Dorsett to make a play on it. But Walker went up and got it for the score.
"Shouldn't have caught that pass," McKenzie said. "Either one or both of those guys should have knocked it down. It was good concentration by Javon."
Antonio Chatman returned a punt 93 yards for a touchdown but the play was brought back on illegal-block penalties against Najeh Davenport and Paris Lenon. The penalty against Davenport was declined.
The Packers finally had to punt, but Favre was right back at it a few minutes later with a 46-yard bomb to Walker. He took the jump ball away from Nnamdi Asomugha, Terrance Shaw and Gibson at the 6. David Martin caught a touchdown pass on the next play.
The Packers played without cornerback Mike McKenzie (turf toe) but quarterbacks Rick Mirer and Rob Johnson were unable to exploit Michael Hawthorne with ancient wide receivers Jerry Rice and Tim Brown.
"This is the game to do it," Reggie McKenzie said. "You had two older vets and they've lost a step as far as speed."