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NFC Title Game Resonates With Redskins

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Look at that NFC championship game. The history, the rivalry, the passion engendered by every meeting of the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.

Now think of what might have been. Feel free to weep a bit.

As the poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote: "For all of sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: It might have been."

The Packers? The Bears? Pfft. The Redskins beat them both. They also notched a preseason victory (yes, we know, virtually meaningless) over the New York Jets, who will play the Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC's berth in Super Bowl XLV.

The Redskins nipped the Packers 16-13 in overtime at FedExField on Oct. 10 in a performance that raised their record above .500 and hiked expectations. The Packers were widely favored before the season began to be in exactly the spot they are now and the Redskins took them down in dramatic fashion.

First, the club rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to tie and force overtime. Then LaRon Landry intercepted a pass in overtime, Graham Gano kicked the winning field goal and the Redskins were 3-2.

Two weeks later, after a narrow home loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the Redskins again did in an NFC North favorite. They traveled to Chicago and beat the Bears 17-14 on the strength of DeAngelo Hall's four interceptions, one returned 92 yards for the winning touchdown.

That victory left the Redskins perched at 4-3, same as the Bears. There the two roads diverged.

The Redskins won only two more games. The Bears lost only two more times, both to playoff teams and followed the loss to the Redskins with five consecutive triumphs. The Packers, faced with elimination from the playoff race, won their last two games, the finale a 10-3 gut-wrencher against the Bears at Lambeau Field. The Redskins finished not with a rush but a flush, losing six of their last seven.

The Packers and Bears will play at 3 p.m. ET on Sunday at Soldier Field (Fox) and are, of course, no strangers to each other as division foes.

"For one, I think it's great for the fans," Packers center Scott Wells said. "It's a huge rivalry game. There's some great history between these teams."

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They split the season series and last played less than a month ago.

"They're good," Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "We know what they are. They have a great quarterback, great defense. Big challenge. Big history game."

The Bears and Packers first met in 1921 and their lengthy ledger includes 180 regular-season meetings. Only once, however, in 1941, did they meet in the playoffs, with the Bears winning 33-14.

The AFC game is also a rematch. The Jets won in Pittsburgh 22-17 on Dec. 19 to snap a two-game losing streak. They got the Steelers' attention as Pittsburgh did not allow a touchdown in its final two regular-season games and stormed from behind to oust the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional playoff round.

The Jets are the only team in NFL history to win four consecutive road playoff games over two seasons and they'll need to make it five if they hope to get back to the NFL championship game for the first time since Super Bowl, when Joe Namath (now 67), famously guaranteed a win over the Baltimore Colts and engineered a 16-7 upset.

Jets coach Rex Ryan's famous father Buddy was the defensive line coach for the Jets team that broke through the wall between the old AFL and the staid NFL and ensured that the merger of the two would provide competitive football.

That was then and this is now. The Jets have flirted with Super Bowl chances before, including last season, when they were eliminated from the chase in the AFC championship game by the Indianapolis Colts – the team they defeated in the first round of these playoffs.

"We still have a lot more to go," Jets linebacker Bart Scott said. "The mission isn't complete."

The Jets-Steelers game kicks off at 6:30 p.m. Sunday on CBS.

The Jets and Packers are both sixth seeds in the playoffs, meaning they were the last qualifiers from their respective conferences. The Steelers of 2005 are the only sixth seed ever to win a Super Bowl.


Larry Weisman, an award-winning journalist during 25 years with USA TODAY, writes for Redskins.com and appears nightly on Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. Read his Redskinsblitz blog at Redskinsrule.com and follow him on Twitter.com/LarryWeisman.

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