Super Bowl XXXI Review: Packers vs. Patriots
By Loot, NFL Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Date: January 26, 1997
Site: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
Point Spread: Green Bay Packers -14/New England Patriots +14
Score: Green Bay Packers 35, Pittsburgh Steelers 21
MVP: Desmond Howard
Super Bowl XXXI signaled the return of the NFL’s first Super Bowl juggernaut. The Green Bay Packers won the first two Super Bowls at the tail end of their long run of dominance, but had been absent from the big game for nearly 30 years. This was the harvesting of a Green Bay renaissance period, led by coach Mike Holmgren and QB Brett Favre who brought the Packers out of a long period of dormancy with 3 playoff appearances from 1993-1995. In 1996, they put it together for a 13-3 record.
The Patriots were not quite yet the powerhouse they would become in the next decade. Coach Bill Parcells worked his magic in New England, emerging from a 5-11 record two years before to make it to Super Bowl 31 in 1997. QB Drew Bledsoe was over 4000 yards with rookie receiver Terry Glenn catching 90 balls for 1132 yards. Tight end Ben Coates had 62 catches, with WR Shawn Jefferson chipping in with 50 receptions. RB Curtis Martin had 1152 yards on the ground including 14 touchdowns. Linebacker Willie McGinest with Lawyer Milloy, Willie Clay, and Ty Law in the secondary made New England a good and clutch “D.”
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Green Bay, however, was on another level in 1996, hence them being 14-point favorites over the 11-5 Pats. QB Brett Favre was electric this season, his 39 passing touchdowns an NFC record. Antonio Freeman and Don Beebe gave Favre nice options in the passing attack. Tight ends Mark Chmura and Keith Jackson added extra depth. The running back by committee technique worked beautifully, with Dorsey Levens, William Henderson, and Edgar Bennett contributing for over 1500 yards on the ground and 89 receptions. With Desmond Howard a constant threat on returns, Green Bay could put up a lot of points with all their playmakers.
Defensively, Green Bay was a different animal with legendary Reggie White adding a new dimension of fear and excellence. It helped Green Bay storm through the playoffs, first beating San Francisco in a divisional playoff game, 35-14, before beating Carolina in the NFC title game. The Patriots first defeated the previous year’s AFC superbowl representative, the Pittsburgh Steelers, by a lopsided score of 28-3, before beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 20-6 in the conference championship.
Super Bowl 31 Recap
First Half: Super Bowl XXXI got off to a fast start--with a record 24 first-quarter points. Desmond Howard, who won the Super Bowl MVP, got off to a good early start returning a New England punt. A 54-yard Favre pass to WR Andre Rison gave Green Bay a 7-0 lead. Bledsoe, who would throw 4 picks, tossed it into the hands of Packers’ DB Doug Evans at the Green Bay 28. Favre couldn’t get another touchdown, but Chris Jacke kicked a field goal from 37 yards to push the score to 10-0.
New England then got their act together. A nice catch-and-run by Curtis Martin put the Patriots close. After a big pass interference call a few plays later, the Patriots had it at the 1-yard line, where Keith Byars ran it in to make it 10-7. The Packers next drive went nowhere and the Patriots were right in the game after a 44-yard pass to Terry Glenn and a Ben Coates touchdown took the game to 14-10, Patriots.
The second quarter, however, was tough on New England. Favre took control on the next drive and a big 81-yard touchdown strike to Freeman made it 17-14. After the Patriots punted and left the Packers with the ball in New England territory. A little push put Jacke in position to extend the lead to 20-14, which he did with a 31-yard field goal. The second quarter of Super Bowl 1997 got worse when Bledsoe threw his second interception, giving the Packers the ball again with a lot of time left in the half. Green Bay then went on a long time-consuming drive. When Favre ran it in from 2 yards out to make it 27-14, the Packers were looking good.
Second Half: The Patriots showed resolve in the third quarter, as each offense struggled to sustain a drive. After securing favorable field position, the Patriots went 53 yards in 7 plays, capped off by a big 18-yard TD run by Curtis Martin to make it 27-21. It didn’t take long for the wind to be sucked out of the New England sails, when Desmond Howard exploded 98 yards on the kickoff for a touchdown. A 2-point conversion made it 35-21.
For the next quarter and change, an offensively-prolific game grew into a defensive contest. New England, in particular, had trouble moving the ball, as the Green Bay “D” became increasingly stingy. 35-21 would be the final score, with the 14-point margin being just what the oddsmakers predicted for Super Bowl 31.
For New England, the following decade would be fruitful, with the Patriots not only winning their first Super Bowl, but winning 3 rings in the big game. For the Packers, unfortunately, this was a glorious moment, but it didn’t signal a return to NFL supremacy. They would lose the following year as 12-point favorites to the Broncos, not returning to the big game for 13 years.