GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) – They lived up to Reggie White’s legacy on the day his number was retired, playing with a menacing mix of passion, poise and precision.
Not the Green Bay Packers, the Cleveland Browns.
Trent Dilfer won for the first time in nine trips to Lambeau Field, guiding Cleveland over the mistake-prone Packers 26-24 for new coach Romeo Crennel’s first win. Dilfer threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards and a game-icing 62-yarder to Steve Heiden with 1:50 remaining.
Dilfer, who lost six times as a starter at Green Bay, completed 21 of 32 passes for 336 yards – the second-highest total of his career – and three touchdowns. His 62-yarder to Heiden, who slipped a tackle by safety Mark Roman, made it 26-17, too much for the Packers to overcome even behind Brett Favre.
The Packers wanted desperately to honor White with a win. So did Dilfer, who like so many others, counted himself a friend of the “Minister of Defense,” who died unexpectedly last year at age 43.
“I guarantee you, he and my son were watching the game together today,” said Dilfer, who lost his 5-year-old son, Trevin, to a rare infection in 2003.
Dilfer recalled White’s “kind words after football games when they beat us up. That meant the world to me.”
“I think I’m third all-time on his sack list. Reggie and I got to know each other pretty intimately on the football field,” Dilfer added. “What a special day for his family to honor him that way. In my 12 years, by far the classiest person I’ve ever met in this league. He had a huge influence on me personally, spiritually.”
Favre broke John Elway’s single-stadium NFL touchdown record of 180 with a 4-yard toss to Tony Fisher with 4 seconds left, but Brodney Pool recovered the onside kick for Cleveland (1-1).
“I’ve been ‘Favre’d’ twice up here,” Dilfer said. “So, I was a wreck on the sidelines. It was big to erase some of those demons.”
The Browns were backed up and facing a crucial third down after Favre, who also joined Dan Marino and Elway in the 50,000-yard passing club Sunday, pulled the Packers to 19-17 with a 19-yard TD to Robert Ferguson with 3:40 remaining.
With the crowd chanting “Reg-gie! Reg-gie!” in honor of the late White, whose number was retired at halftime, Dilfer calmly hit running back Reuben Droughns for a 12-yard gain on third-and-5. Then, following the 2-minute warning, he found Heiden over the middle to put the game out of reach.
“We blew the coverage,” Roman said. “But I still have to get the guy down.”
The Packers (0-2) looked at first like they wouldn’t miss Javon Walker, their star receiver who went down with a season-ending knee injury last week. They went ahead 7-0 on their first possession when Donald Driver caught a short pass over the middle and raced past Ray Mickens and Chris Crocker for a 42-yard score.
The Browns (1-1) responded with an 80-yard drive capped by Dilfer’s 1-yard throw to Heiden.
Phil Dawson added field goals of 21 and 39 yards to give the Browns a 13-7 halftime lead. His first field goal followed the first of Favre’s two interceptions.
The Packers came out of the locker room early to watch White’s No. 92 unveiled beneath the north end zone alongside those of Don Hutson, Tony Canadeo, Bart Starr and Ray Nitschke. White’s widow, Sara, spoke to the crowd, and highlights were shown of White sacking quarterback after quarterback and holding the Lombardi Trophy aloft after the Packers’ Super Bowl win following the 1996 season.
Then, it was back to 2005, and the Packers continued their sloppy play in losing their home opener for the third straight season.
“A loss is a loss, I don’t care what day it is,” Packers linebacker Nick Barnett said. “It hurts regardless of if it’s Reggie White’s day or Brett Favre’s day or Bart Starr’s day.”
Two plays after Gary Baxter intercepted a Favre pass in the end zone, Dilfer hit Edwards, who split split defensive backs Joey Thomas and Nick Collins and raced 80 yards for the score.
“It’s very disappointing that we lost in front of Reggie’s family,” cornerback Al Harris said. “We didn’t give him much of a tribute today.”