Welcome back to Fantastic Football, my ongoing Let’s Play of Madden NFL 2002 on the PlayStation 2. Last time, the Las Vegas Vandals won a football game for the very first time, despite stiff resistance from the Arizona Cardinals. Having proven the worth of their new defense, the Vandals now travel north to face the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
Madden heavily favors the Vandals for this game, which is something that suits me just fine. After week 1’s frantic offensive race against the Chargers and last week’s brutal slugging match with the Cardinals, an easy game is exactly what the Vandals need right now. That said, I know better than to count the Packers out before the game even begins. Madden rates their running backs highly, and the Vandals have had difficulties keeping strong rushing offenses contained, even with their defensive overhaul.
Let’s see how well they do against Green Bay.
Why, Baumgart, are you digging your way into Hell?
“Because,” he says, “there are no demons left in Hell. They are all in Lambeau Field.”
— Jon Bois, Breaking Madden
The Packers win the coin toss and opt to receive. Reidel Anthony gets the ball at the 10 and runs it all the way up to the 42-yard-line before the Vandals can bring him down. Not a good start for the boys from Sin City.
Things seem to be looking up briefly, as the Vandals’ defense holds the Packers to 3rd and 10 at the 42. Jeff George chucks the ball to Curtis Martin in front of the 1st down line, and the Vandals converge upon the halfback. It seems like the drive is about to end here.
But Curtis Martin refuses to go down. He shrugs off a tackle from Orlando Thomas (#42), spins behind Reidel Anthony who is throwing a perfect block against Mike McKenzie (#29), evades another tackle from Taje Allen (#33), outruns Willie Williams (#27), and is finally brought down by the combined efforts of McKenzie and Keith Brooking (#56), completing a 23 yard gain that puts the Packers on the 35-yard-line.
On the next play, Martin does it again, breaking two tackles and completing an 11 yard run that puts the Packers in field goal range.
It’s at this point that I realize we might have a serious problem.
On the next play, Martin makes a 12 yard run. The man shrugs off linebackers like a semitruck. He will almost certainly score on the next play.
The Vandals line up in a goal line defense and manage to bring down Martin before he can make it past the line of scrimmage. Alright. They only need to do that two more times, and even then, the Packers will still make the field goal.
They manage to hold the Packers at the 11 yard line, forcing them to kick the field goal on 4th down. It’s good, and the score is now 3-0.
Peyton leads the offense onto the field at the 20. Coach Hugh Mann tells him not to hold anything back. The drive flies up the field as Peyton makes pass after pass, before finally coming to a stop at the 17 yard line. Held to 4th and 8, the Vandals opt for a field goal to tie the score.
The Packers start their next drive at the 18. This time, the Vandals manage to keep them pinned in the backfield, and the Packers end their drive with a punt from their own 36.
The Vandals’ offense takes the field again, starting at the 31. Once again, they fly down the field, and once again, the Packers manage to stop them just short of the end zone. On 4th and 12 at the 12, the Vandals kick another field goal to bring the score up to 6-3.
Green Bay starts their next drive at the 25. Despite a successful breakout by Martin, the Vandals manage to stop them at the 44, forcing them to punt on 4th and 6. The punt sails way out of bounds, putting the Vandals at the 34-yard-line for their next drive.
This time, the drive ends in the end zone.
Matt Stover boots in the extra point, bringing the score up to 13-3. With less than a minute left in the first quarter, things are looking up for the Vandals.
The kickoff results in a touchback, putting the Packers at the 20 to begin their last drive of the quarter. On the first play from scrimmage, a massive hole opens up in the Packers’ line, allowing Ken Norton (#51) to charge forwards and sack Jeff George for a loss of 6 yards. The Packers manage to recover, with a pass to Reidel Anthony securing the first down.
The first quarter ends, and the teams switch sides.
The Packers’ drive stalls at the start of the second quarter, and they end up punting on 4th and 15 from their own 27. Mack takes it at the 31 and steps out of bounds. The Vandals line up for another offensive drive.
Unfortunately for the Vandals, the drive doesn’t make it past Green Bay’s 36. After some deliberation, Hugh Mann tells Stover to try for the field goal.
Unfortunately for Stover and the Vandals, the wind is against them, and blows the ball to a stop in midair above the 20-yard-line. Green Bay gets the ball at their 43.
Green Bay’s drive lasts exactly 1 play and 9 seconds. Jeff George makes a long pass to Darrin Chiaverini. McKenzie is on him, and should easily be able to bring the wide receiver down. Instead, he flubs the tackle, faceplanting into the ground next to Chiaverini’s ankle. The wide receiver knows an opportunity when he sees it, and runs the ball back for a touchdown, despite his sprained ankle.
The Packers don’t miss the field goal, and the score climbs up to 13-10.
Starting from the 25, the Vandals fly down field once again. Peyton doesn’t miss a single beat, throwing three consecutive completions for 39 total yards. They’re in Green Bay territory, and it seems like they’ll be able to score in another couple plays.
PEYTON! I understand that the Packers’ jerseys are very similar to the Vandals’ away jerseys, but that is not an excuse. That man was very clearly wearing yellow pants. You are not supposed to throw to the men in yellow pants.
With the ball on their own 26, Green Bay once again lines up on offense. But despite Curtis Martin’s apparent immunity to tackles, the Packers are unable to advance the ball up the field, and punt it away on 4th and 2.
The Vandals start back at their own 34. Peyton takes the field, ready for another flying drive, but on the first play from scrimmage, center Frank Garcia snaps the ball high. Before Peyton can recover, the Packers have slipped through the teeth of the offensive line and sack him for a loss of 6 yards. It’s amazing he didn’t fumble, to be honest.
The Vandals manage to recover, moving the ball down the field until they reach the 29, where Green Bay manages to hold the line. Hugh Mann orders Matt Stover back onto the field to try another field goal. Stover puts his entire leg behind it, but the wind blows it short again. The ball bounces out the back of the end zone, perhaps 5 yards short.
Green Bay lines up at the 36. The Vandals blitz, and Jeff George scrambles as the pocket collapses around him. With Vandals defenders converging on him from all sides, he leaps, hauling a desperate pass downfield to Reidel Anthony.
Anthony makes the catch for a 25 yard completion. Another pass brings the Packers up to the Vandals’ 24 and into field goal range. The Vandals turn the pressure up, keeping the Packers pinned down. On 4th and 3 at the 17, they go for another field go, bringing the score to a 13-13 tie.
After a touchback, the Vandals line up to start another drive from the 20. They make it into Green Bay territory, only to be stopped at the 36. Sick of missing field goals, Hugh Mann tells them to punt. The Packers get the ball at their 20, and the cycle starts again.
On the next play, something incredible happens. Reidel Anthony drops the ball, and Willie Williams immediately scoops it up. The Packers manage to bring him down at the 21, but now the Vandals are lining up to start their drive inside Green Bay’s red zone. After a quick pass to Shannon Sharpe gets the ball to the 5, Charlie Garner runs it into the end zone on the next play.
Touchdown, Las Vegas. Matt Stover boots the extra point, and the score is now 20-13.
A touchback puts Green Bay at their own 20. They charge downfield, only to be stopped at the 26. They line up to try the field goal.
It’s good. The score is 20-16.
The Vandals spot the ball at the 26 and start another drive up the field. They get the ball to the Packers’ 5-yard-line, and then the offense stalls. It’s 4th and 5. There are 56 seconds left in the half.
Hugh Mann tells the Vandals to go for it.
It doesn’t work, because it never works for the Vandals. But now there are only 16 seconds left in the half, and there is no conceivable way for Green Bay to score in that time.
Curtis Martin runs the ball back for an unbelievable 95 yard touchdown. I hate him so much.
With 0 seconds left on the clock, the Packers make the extra point and take the lead at 23-20.
After the half, the Vandals receive the kickoff. Mack runs it up to the 22 before being brought down. The Vandals fail to drive the ball past midfield, and are forced to punt on 4th and 10 at their own 45. Not a great start to the half.
Green Bay starts their next offensive drive at their 36. Jeff George manages to get the ball off to Martin again, but Williams is waiting to bring the halfback down. As the players get up to line up at scrimmage, Jeff George is taken off the field with a head injury.
Did… did the Vandals just try to assassinate the other team’s quarterback? I pan over to look at Hugh Mann on the sidelines. His face betrays nothing, but his face is also only about 20 pixels tall, so it’s not like there’s a lot to betray.
Green Bay’s relief quarterback, Anthony Wright, takes the field, and my god is he awful. His first pass sails way over the head of what I assume was his intended receiver and lands ten full yards away. You’d think that, as bad at throwing as he is, he would try to hand the ball off, but he doesn’t. In fact, he absolutely refuses to give the ball to the running backs. He even fakes a handoff before throwing deep. Twice!
Fortunately for the Packers, George’s injury report indicates that he should be able to return to play soon. Let’s be honest, he probably has a concussion, but I don’t think the NFL learned that word until 2015, so it’s all fine.
The ensuing punt bounces out the back of the end zone, spotting the ball at the Vandals’ 20. And then it doesn’t move. Peyton is hitting his targets, but none of his receivers appear to remember how to catch a damn football. After three incompletions, the Vandals boot it back to the Packers, who get the ball at their own 40.
Jeff George still isn’t back in the game yet, and that’s good news for the Vandals. Hugh Mann calls for a blitz, hoping to sack the hapless Wright and push the Packers backwards. The blitz works, but Wright dumps the ball before he can be sacked, and Jeff George trots onto the field for the next play.
Surprisingly, the blitz works even better on this play, and George goes down for a 4 yard loss. It doesn’t stop him from making a first down pass on the next play though. But the Vandals manage to hold the line, and Green Bay is forced to punt on 4th down from the 47. It bounces out of the end zone again for another touchback, and we’re right back where we were last time.
And just like last time, the Vandals fail to move downfield. They manage to get to 2nd and 3rd, and a deep pass to Sharpe gets to the 50-yard-line, but a holding penalty kicks the Vandals back to 2nd and 13, and they fail to move up from there. The drive ends in another punt.
The Packers line up at their 49. This time, they manage to move up the field, making it to the 21 before the Vandals can stop them. The Packers line up for a field goal, and soon the score is 26-20.
After the kickoff return, the Vandals are once again at the 20. And just like last time, they’re forced to punt on 4th down. Something has gone wrong with the flying offense, and if the Vandals can’t figure out how to fix it soon, they will lose this football game.
The punt puts the Packers at their own 45. This time, the Vandals keep them pinned there, and the Packers punt the ball back.
The punt flies out of bounds and the Vandals line up at the 20 one more time. This time, Hugh Mann tells Peyton to give the ball to Garner. Passing clearly isn’t working, so it’s time to change tactics. The gains aren’t impressive, but it works, and the Vandals begin to creep up the field. After 9 plays, they’ve moved forwards 45 yards and are sitting at the edge of field goal range. A pass to Sharpe puts them at the 12. They run the ball, pushing forwards yard by yard, until it’s 1st and goal on the 1. On the next play, they score.
Matt Stover kicks the extra point, and the Vandals are back in the lead. 27-26.
The Packers get the ball to the 28 on the kickoff return. And then they fucking score.
Curtis Martin makes another sprint downfield, shrugging off three different tacklers and trotting into the end zone. I fucking hate that man.
The Packers try to go for 2, but the pass goes incomplete. The score is 32-27.
This time, Mack gets the ball to the 30 before going down. Hugh Mann tells Peyton to open up the guns. On the first play from scrimmage, he hits Tony Gonzalez with a deep pass that moves the Vandals up to the Packers’ 32. Sharpe catches the next pass, but he fumbles at Green Bay’s 12, and the Packers recover it.
Fortunately, the Vandals’ defense holds the Packers in place, forcing them to punt the ball back. Mack takes it at the 50 and goes down at the 47. Soon, the Vandals are back at the Packers’ 21. The third quarter ends with the Vandals at 2nd and 2 on the Packers’ 12.
But 4 plays later, they’re stuck at 4th and 9 on the 9. Hugh Mann tells the Vandals to kick the field goal.
The pigskin clears the uprights, and the score is 32-30.
There are still 14 minutes left in the game. Plenty of time for the Vandals to take the lead back.
Green Bay starts their next drive at the 22. Aided by the untackleable Martin, they move all the way up to the Vandals’ 27 before their offense is stopped. On 4th and 2, they go for another field goal. This time, it’s the Packers’ turn for the wind to blow it short. The Vandals get the ball back at the 34.
The Vandals have their drive stopped at Green Bay’s 32. On 4th and 9, Hugh Mann orders Stover onto the field and tells him to kick like his life depends on it.
It’s perfectly aimed… right at the base of the goal posts. Goddamn wind. The Packers get the ball back at the 39. The Vandals don’t give them an inch, and the Packers punt it back 4 plays later.
The Vandals’ next drive starts on the 28. Peyton opens up with everything he has, and this time, he hits his targets. After 4 plays and 3 successful passes, the Vandals have moved 68 yards up the field and are sitting at 1st and goal on the Packers’ 3. Garner runs it in on the next play, and the Vandals take the lead again. After a successful extra point by Stover, the score is 37-32.
The Packers get the kickoff to the 32, and on the first play from scrimmage they manage to move the ball up to the 50. The Vandals mange to stop them at the 40, and then force a fumble and a turnover at the 35. Hugh Mann orders Peyton to stall for as much time as he can. That means a ground game.
The Vandals run their way down the field, managing to kill 3 minutes off the clock before they have to punt the ball away. There’s 3:46 left in the 4th quarter, and they just need to hold Green Bay back on this last drive.
The punt puts the Packers at their own 17, and the yellow wall — all dressed in black — lines up to give them hell.
The Vandals fight hard, but the Packers fight even harder. They slowly, agonizingly push down the field. When the 2 minute warning hits, they’re sitting at the Vandals’ 30.
With 1:38 left, Reidel Anthony catches a touchdown.
The Packers line up to try for 2 points. The Vandals line up to blitz. This time, the Vandals’ line holds.
The score is 38-37. There is 1:38 left in the game.
The kickoff ends in a touchback, and the Vandals take the field at the 20. Hugh Mann only tells Peyton one thing before he goes on.
4 plays, 2 complete passes, and 24 seconds of game time later, the Vandals are back in the Packers’ red zone, with the ball on the 14. There is still over a minute left in the game, and now Hugh Mann is worried that if they score, the Packers will still have enough time left for a miracle drive. He tells Peyton to give the ball to Garner and have him run with it to kill the clock. Even if they can’t get the touchdown, they still have one timeout left, and only a 20 yard field goal needed to take the lead.
The Packers realize what the Vandals are trying to do, and begin using their own timeouts. So much the better, since it means they won’t have them if they get the ball back.
It’s 4th and 3. The Vandals are 7 yards from the end zone. There is one minute left in the game. Matt Stover trots onto the field to kick what will be a game deciding field goal.
The score is 40-38.
The Packers get the ball back on the 33, and things go to hell for them from there. On the first play from scrimmage, Jeff George is sacked for a loss of 6 yards. The second play is a spike to stop the clock. The third play is an incomplete pass. On 4th and 16, they go for it. They have no other choice.
Jeff George misses the pass. Turnover on downs. The Vandals get the ball back 27 yards from Green Bay’s end zone, with 31 seconds still on the clock.
Hugh Mann tells them to go for the kill.
With 22 seconds left in the game, Peyton Manning throws a touchdown pass to Terry Glenn.
The Vandals may call Goodman Field their home, but there are no good men here today. Only conquerors, bent on the total destruction of their wretched foe.
Matt Stover kicks again, and the score is now 47-38.
With 20 seconds left in the game, and down a touchdown and a field goal, the Packers begin their final, futile drive on the 30.
George passes to Chiaverini, who goes down at the 50. They don’t even give the Vandals time to finish lining up before they’ve raced back to scrimmage and spiked the ball.
2nd and 10. Ball on the 49. 6 seconds left.
Curtis Martin makes one last attempt at a touchdown, knowing that it still won’t be enough. He breaks one tackle, then another, and then yet another. He’s at the 40. The 30. The 25. As the clock hits zero, the Vandals manage to run him out of bounds at the 24.
The game is over.
The Vandals have won.