In 2001, the Packers achieved the franchise’s best record since 1997, finishing 12–4 and advancing the divisional round of the playoffs. There the Packers lost to the eventual NFC champion St. Louis Rams. During the game, it became clear that the Packers would need wide receivers with greater speed and ability to compete with the conference’s best teams. GM Mike Sherman spent the 2002 offseason revamping Green Bay’s receiving corps. The team promoted Donald Driver to starter, acquired veteran Terry Glenn from the New England Patriots, and drafted Javon Walker in the first round of the 2002 NFL Draft. The influx of new players seemed to position the Packers as one of the strongest contenders in the NFC.
Green Bay started the season with a dominating 8–1 record, led by the brilliant play of quarterback Brett Favre and power running game of Ahman Green. The Packers maintained a commanding division lead throughout the year, winning the NFC North by a six-game margin. Green Bay became the first team to win the newly rechristened division, formerly known as the NFC Central. It was the Packers’ first division title since 1997, and the team would win the NFC North for three consecutive seasons.
For the first time in years, it appeared that the Packers had a legitimate chance of reaching the Super Bowl. With one game left, Green Bay was 12–3, and a victory away from clinching home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Packers had never lost a home playoff game in franchise history, had achieved an 8–0 record at home in 2002, and had established a run of Lambeau Field dominance since the Mike Holmgren era. As a result, playing home games at Lambeau Field would seemingly give the Packers a significant advantage in the playoffs. The final game was on the road against the New York Jets, who beat the Packers’ handily to win the AFC East division title. The loss was a devastating blow to the Packers. The team was bumped down to a number three seed in the NFC, and had an incredibly difficult road to the Super Bowl. Six days later, the Packers were beaten by Michael Vick’s Atlanta Falcons, the first home playoff loss in Packers history.
The 2002 season was another memorable year for quarterback Brett Favre. Throughout the season, Favre was a favorite to win his fourth Most Valuable Player award. The Packers’ lopsided loss to the Jets in the regular season finale may have swayed voters, as Favre lost the MVP award by merely two votes to Raiders’ quarterback Rich Gannon.