This postseason, we’re taking a look back at some of the best and worst from the Green Bay Packers’ postseason history. This week, it’s the top five individual performances in the NFC Championship Game.
Sunday will mark the ninth appearance by the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game, including the fourth in the last seven seasons.
And while these games elicit plenty of good and bad memories, there have been several individual performances that have been overshadowed amongst the team accomplishment of advancing – or coming just short – of the Super Bowl.
As always, we’re not looking for the most of something (i.e. yards, touchdowns), but rather some of the more impactful players from the previous eight trips to the conference championship round.
Dorsey Levens, 1996 NFCCG vs. Carolina Panthers (Jan. 12, 1997)
Final stats: 10 rushes for 88 yards, 5 receptions for 117 yards and 1 TD
In his third season, Dorsey Levens had carved out a niche as the number two back behind Edgar Bennett and an adept pass-catcher in Mike Holmgren’s West Coast system. Though he had a knack for the endzone (17 touchdowns between the 1995 and ’96 regular seasons), his true break-out moment didn’t come until the chilly NFC title tilt with the Carolina Panthers.
Despite sharing playing time with Bennett, Levens accounted for 205 yards of total offense on just 15 touches in the Packers’ 30-13 triumph. Additionally, the Georgia Tech alum produced two of the biggest plays on the day.
With the Packers trailing 7-0 and the offense in a funk, Levens capped the team’s first productive drive of the day with a toe-tapping, 29-yard touchdown reception on the first play of the second quarter. Later in the third quarter after the Panthers got within 20-13, Levens grabbed a screen pass from Brett Favre, weaved between a few Carolina defenders and raced down the sidelines for a 66-yard gain to the Panther 4. One play later, Bennett scored and Carolina never threatened again.
Antonio Freeman, 1997 NFCCG at San Francisco 49ers (Jan. 11, 1998)
Final stats: 4 receptions for 107 yards and 1 TD
Though the stats themselves don’t pop out, Antonio Freeman’s role in the Packers’ 23-10 win over San Francisco shouldn’t be understated. Facing a tough San Francisco pass defense and rainy conditions at Candlestick Park, the Packers only managed 222 yards through the air. Yet, nearly half came courtesy of Freeman.
The third-year receiver first made his presence felt early in the second quarter. Clinging to a 3-0 lead, Eugene Robinson’s interception and 58-yard return set Green Bay up and the 49ers’ 28. Two plays later, Freeman caught a pass over the middle from Brett Favre and broke a quick tackle, then dodged three San Francisco defenders on his way to a 27-yard touchdown and a 10-0 Packers lead.
Later in the second, the 49ers cut the lead to 10-3 with 58 seconds remaining. After a Levens run gained eight yards, the Packers took one last snap with 11 seconds left in hopes of getting a big gain or penalty.
Instead, they got both.
With Favre lofting a pass deep down the left hash marks, Freeman adjusted to the ball and hauled it in while being pulled down by Marquez Pope, drawing a pass interference penalty (which was declined, of course). The 40-yard gain allowed Ryan Longwell to kick a 43-yard field goal as time expired to restore Green Bay’s two-possession lead.
Donald Driver, 2007 NFCCG vs. New York Giants (Jan. 20, 2008)
Final stats: 5 receptions for 141 yards and 1 TD
Throughout most of the crushing 23-20 overtime loss to the Giants, the Packers’ offense found little if any rhythm courtesy of New York’s stifling play in the front seven. All told, Green Bay gained just 264 yards on that chilly evening.
Arguably, the one factor that kept the Packers in the game at all was Donald Driver. After all, his 141 receiving yards accounted for nearly 60 percent of the team’s passing yards and 53 percent of Green Bay’s total yardage.
In his ninth season but first conference championship contest, Driver produced the Packers’ biggest play of the contest on a 90-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Facing a 6-0 deficit, Favre lofted a pass to Driver to the Green Bay 29. From there, the Alcorn State alum outran the New York defense to give the Packers a 7-6 edge.
Later in the second quarter, Driver hauled in a 20-yard pass from Favre to set up a 36-yard Mason Crosby field goal that pushed the Packers’ lead to 10-6 at the half. As New York held a 20-17 lead entering the fourth, Driver again came through, bringing in another 20-yard completion on a third-and-10 situation that got the Packers into Giants’ territory and ended with a game-tying 37-yard boot from Crosby.
In the end, Driver’s 141 receiving yards was just seven short of John Jefferson’s franchise postseason record. To date, his performance in this game still ranks fifth in terms of postseason single-game receiving yards.
Sam Shields, 2010 NFCCG at Chicago Bears (Jan. 23, 2011)
Final stats: Four tackles, 2 INTs, 2 passes defensed, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
One of many unexpected contributors on the 2010 title squad, Sam Shields may have been the most unexpected of the bunch. After catching on as an undrafted free agent, the speedy defensive back from Miami pieced together a pretty respectable rookie campaign, tallying 29 tackles, six pass break-ups and two interceptions.
After being relatively quiet in the first two rounds (a combined seven tackles and one pass break-up in wins at Philadelphia and Atlanta), Shields had a career day in the conference championship game in Chicago. By day’s end, he had two huge interceptions in addition to four tackles, a sack, and two passes defensed.
With the Chicago offense gaining momentum late in the first half, Shields sacked Jay Cutler on a third-and-seven at the Bear 33 to force a punt. Moments later following a Packers turnover, Shields stepped in front of Cutler’s deep throw to Johnny Knox for a pick and keep Green Bay’s lead at 14-0.
Much later in the fourth quarter, the Bears and third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie had driven to the Green Bay 29 and faced a fourth-and-five situation and the Packers holding a tenuous 21-14 lead. Once again, Shields denied Chicago by stepping in front of Hanie’s throw over the middle of the field to secure the Packers’ trip to Super Bowl XLV.
Mason Crosby, 2014 NFCCG at Seattle Seahawks (Jan. 18, 2015)
Final stats: 5-of-5 on field goals, 1-of-1 on PATs
On a day filled with far-less fond memories, Crosby delivered one of the best performances of his long career. The veteran kicker hit on all five of his field goals – tying an NFL single-game playoff record – and one PAT in the defeat.
While both of his first two three-pointers were within easy range for the Colorado alum (18 yards and 19 yards), it was his performance later that puts him on this list. With winds picking up in the second quarter, Crosby drilled a 40-yard kick to extend the Packers’ lead to 16-0. Then, early in the fourth quarter, he pushed through a 48-yard kick to extend the lead to 19-7.
Yet, Crosby’s biggest kick came in the game’s waning moments. After Seattle unexpectedly took a 22-19 lead, Green Bay reached Seattle’s 30-yard-line with 19 seconds remaining. Facing a raucous crowd and tricky Pacific Northwest winds, Crosby drilled a 48-yard field goal with relative ease to force the extra session.
Honorable Mention: Robert Brooks in 1995 NFCCG; Dorsey Levens in 1997 NFCCG; Morgan Burnett 2014 NFCCG; Davante Adams in 2019 NFCCG