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NFL Recap (Tennessee-Green Bay)

Posted: Sun December 20, 1998 at 10:25 p.m. EST


GREEN BAY, Wisconsin (Ticker) -- On a wintry day at Lambeau Field, Brett Favre and Antonio Freeman put a chill into the playoff hopes of the Tennessee Oilers.

Favre set another NFL record by throwing three touchdown passes to Freeman as the Green Bay Packers rolled to a 30-22 victory over Tennessee, clinching the AFC Central Division title for the Jacksonville Jaguars as well as a wild-card berth for the Buffalo Bills. The New England Patriots also capitalized on Tennessee's loss and clinched a playoff berth with a win over San Francisco later in the day.

Steve McNair threw three TD passes for the Oilers (8-7), who need to defeat the Minnesota Vikings next Saturday and have the Miami Dolphins lose their final two games in order to make the playoffs.

"We knew we had to play one of our better games to win. We expected to do so," said Oilers coach Jeff Fisher. "This was a very disappointing loss. We thought we could play with them. Unfortunately, we didn't."

McNair's three-yard TD pass to Derrick Mason and a two-point conversion run by Eddie George cut the lead to eight points with 53 seconds left. Safety Mike Prior then recovered the onsides kick and Green Bay ran out the clock.

The Packers (10-5) were assured of a sixth straight playoff berth when Tampa Bay lost on Saturday, but it was Green Bay that played like the team with something on the line. Favre became the first player in league history with five 30-TD seasons, breaking the record he shared with Dan Marino.

Favre, who has 212 career TD passes, completed 14-of-22 passes for 253 yards with no interceptions before being replaced by Doug Pederson early in the fourth quarter. Favre was bothered by an assortment of minor injuries and was taken out early in the fourth quarter as a precaution.

Favre also went over the 4,000-yard single season passing mark for the second time in his career.

Freeman, named to his first Pro Bowl earlier in the week, caught seven passes for 186 yards despite playing with a broken jaw. He caught five passes for 169 yards in the first half.

"When I get out there, I just play with reckless abandon. That's what I did today," Freeman said. "I feel like I am the go-to guy on this offense. I showed that I will sacrifice anything to play this game."

The game also marked the final regular season appearance at Lambeau Field for Green Bay star defensive end Reggie White, the NFL's all-time sacks leader who plans to retire at the end of the season. The signing of the 14-year veteran, named to his 13th Pro Bowl Wednesday, was credited with reviving a franchise that has made back-to-back Super Bowl appearances.

White did not have a sack, but recorded a tackle and an assist and took a lap around the sidelines after the game.

"I'll miss the tradition. I will miss the fans and I will miss our neighbors," said White. "God is moving me to the next phase of my life."

The game-time temperature at the stadium famous for cold-weather games was 29 degrees, but there was a wind chill of minus-1 and snow flurries fell for most of the contest. Tennessee, a team that has won five road games this season, never adjusted to the conditions, quickly falling behind 14-0 thanks to mistakes in the secondary.

On the third play from scrimmage, Freeman caught a short slant pass from Favre over the middle. No Tennessee defender was in sight as Freeman ran vitually untouched for a 57-yard score.

Later in the quarter, Favre scrambled out of the pocket and launched a 68-scoring strike to a wide-open Freeman.

"Basically, if you don't cover the guy, you just keep throwing it to him," said Favre. "Eventually, good guys like Antonio rise to the top."

McNair cut the lead to 14-7 with a 25-yard TD pass to Mason early in the second quarter, but Favre responded with a 32-yard TD pass to Freeman, beating cornerback Darryll Lewis with 61 seconds left before halftime. Freeman has 13 TD catches this season.

"There were so many TDs, I can't remember which was which," lamented Lewis.

Favre scrambled for 35 yards in the third quarter, and a late hit on the play by cornerback Anthony Dorsett led to a 38-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell that made it 24-7. Longwell added a pair of 40-yard field goals in the fourth quarter.

McNair, playing with a painful toe injury, threw a 30-yard TD pass to Yancey Thigpen with 1:36 left in the third quarter to cut the lead to 24-14. Thigpen caught eight passes for 90 yards and tight end Frank Wycheck caught 10 balls for 71 yards.

McNair was 24-of-49 for 263 yards and was intercepted once. He also was the leading rusher for Tennessee as the Packers held Pro Bowler George to 30 yards on 15 carries.

"We tried a lot of different things but couldn't find success," said George. "We didn't get the penetration."

Favre made his 108th straight start, passing Joe Ferguson for the second-longest streak since the merger. Ron Jaworski holds the record with 116. Favre also improved to 24-0 in home games when the temperature was 35 degrees or below, including playoffs.

Dorsey Levens returns to the starting lineup for Green Bay and carried 26 times for 70 yards. Levens, a Pro Bowler last season, broke his leg September 13th against Tampa Bay and returned three weeks ago against Philadelphia. He started over Darick Holmes, who did not play due to a collarbone injury.

The Packers, who are headed to a wild-card playoff matchup against San Francisco, conclude their regular season at Chicago next week.

Mark Chmura of the Packers left the game in the first quarter with a pulled right calf muscle and did not return. He is not expected to play next week, but Packers head coach Mike Holmgren said the tight end will be ready for the playoffs.

© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

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