DETROIT -- Aaron Kampman, the Green Bay Packers' all-everything defensive end, was asked late Thursday afternoon if he thought his team could match up with the New England Patriots, the team that many are saying is unbeatable.
Fresh off their impressive 37-26 dismantling of the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, which wasn't that close, it was a logical question to ask any of the Packers in their celebratory locker room.
|Charles Woodson's coverage is vital to the Packers, but his toe injury could be a problem. (AP)|
So here I go: The 10-1 Packers are the team that has the best ability to match up with the Patriots in the entire league. Yes, better than the Dallas Cowboys, who Green Bay will play next week for NFC supremacy, and better than any other team in the AFC, including the injury-depleted Indianapolis Colts.
The main reason is Brett Favre, but there are many others, which we will detail. Favre, the ageless one, showed his right arm off again against the Lions, looking every bit as good as he did when he was a three-time MVP award winner.
Favre completed 31 of 41 passes for 381 yards and three touchdowns. During one stretch, he completed a team-record 20 consecutive passes and even the incompletion to break that streak was caught, but receiver Koren Robinson was ruled out of bounds.
"When his game elevates, it's scary," Packers receiver Greg Jennings said.
Playing in a spread formation most of the afternoon, and taking snaps out of the shotgun, Favre played pitch-and-catch with the Lions defense. He threw on 31 of the Packers' first 34 snaps as they decided to take advantage of the Lions secondary. It was really this simple: Ball snapped, quick look, ball out, receivers run.
It was also a treat to watch, better than winning the wishbone break from the Thanksgiving Day turkey.
"It's been very good for us," Favre said of the spread offense.
That style of offense run by Favre is like watching an ace surgeon with a scalpel, the precision of it all being what transfixes you.
Farve threw to eight different receivers, many times making short throws that turned into good plays with their run-after-the-catch ability. Donald Driver led all receivers with 10 catches for 147 yards. He has been with Favre since 1999, longer than any of the other receivers, so when he talks about his quarterback it means something.
"When I came in 1999 he was playing the same way he is now," Driver said.
And to think it almost didn't happen, that we would be missing this. Favre considered retiring after last year, but decided to come back for this season -- and now there is talk of maybe even more. Why not?
He's playing at a high level and he's truly enjoying himself. You can see it in the way he smiles during games and you can feel it when he talks about this team.
Which team has the best chance to stop the Patriots?
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"I consider us lucky, pretty good and unknown," Favre said. "The different scenarios that we've had to use to win games makes you think this team may be pretty good."
Wrong. They are very good. The Packers have averaged 33 points a game in their past four, so they can score enough to stay with the Patriots. That will be the key to playing with them or beating them since they will get theirs. Even when it goes slow like it did against the Lions at the start -- they fumbled their first offensive play -- they're good enough to overcome it.
The doubters will say the Packers, who are dead last in the league in rushing, don't run the ball well enough to win in the postseason. But they brush off that notion, and they should. Their short passing game is their running offense. We saw a lot of that against the Lions.
It is somewhat eye opening to look at the stat sheet at halftime and see they had four runs and finished with 17 for the game.
"It doesn't matter what we do as long as we score and we were scoring," running back Ryan Grant said of his inactivity. "That's all that matters. We can run it when we have to."
They did late. Grant finished with 101 yards on 15 carries, including 48 yards on Green Bay's final drive to get a game-clinching field goal with 1:44 left. Favre admitted after the game that the Packers will need to be a little more balanced, but if they play the Patriots down the road it won't matter.
We might have football heaven: Two teams that won't hand off.
In addition to their ability to score, the Packers have several other things that make them the best threat to the Patriots -- if they get there.
One is Kampman and his fellow defensive linemen. The Packers are 10 deep up front, with Kampman being the best of the group. He's on his way to the Pro Bowl and had two sacks against the Lions to give him 11 for the season.
The two-sack total doesn't do him justice. Kampman was in the Lions backfield all day long, dominating backup tackle Blaine Saipaia to the point where Kampman could have been arrested for that type of abuse. When he bull-rushed him on one pass play, knocking him to the ground, it was a sad thing to watch.
"Pretty good day," Kampman said.
Eventually the Lions wised up and started helping Saipaia with a back to stop the abuse. But by then Jon Kitna's feet were happier than a fat kid sitting at the Thanksgiving Day table.
But even when Woodson left in the second quarter with a toe injury, the youngsters who took over, guys like Frank Walker, Jarrett Bush and Tramon Williams, played well. Bush is the team's nickel corner, but he might be forced to start next Thursday's big game with the Cowboys at Texas Stadium. Woodson's toe could keep the best corner in the league out.
That game will likely decide who has the home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
Even if the Packers lose that game, I still think they are the best matchup for the Patriots because they have better cover people than the Cowboys, who lost to New England earlier in the season.
So listen up. Green Bay is for real and they can play with the Patriots. Imagine that Super Bowl? First one to use a running play loses.
How good does it get?