Week after week, the Green Bay Packers fought the good fight. On Monday night, they capitulated.
A record crowd of 70,604 streamed into M&T Bank Stadium on a 29-degree night mostly to see the legendary Brett Favre for perhaps one final time. What they saw instead was Favre failing even to compete as the heretofore punchless Baltimore Ravens devoured the Packers, 48-3.
Most of the crowd was gone by the start of the fourth quarter. They had seen Kyle Boller, one of the NFL's poorest quarterbacks, make a mockery of the Packers' top-ranked pass defense and the Ravens score more than 20 points for only the second time in their disappointing season.
Green Bay fell to 3-11 with by far its worst showing of its worst season since 1991. The Packers finished 0-4 against teams from the AFC, the first time they've been winless against the other conference since they were 0-2 in 1989.
In being humiliated, the Packers did increase their chances to draft Southern California running back Reggie Bush with the first selection in April. Houston and San Francisco, which meet in the final weekend, are 2-12 whereas the Packers are one of three teams with three victories.
This was the Packers' worst defeat since a 61-7 shelling against Chicago in December 1980. Since then, they allowed 48 points to Tennessee in October 2004 (a 48-27 defeat) and 55 to the New York Giants in 1986 (a 55-24 defeat).
Baltimore, a 3-point favorite, improved to 5-9.
The first-half performance by the Packers was the worst of any half this season, general manager Ted Thompson said at halftime.
"From just an execution standpoint, almost all phases," he said.
Green Bay's defense, which ranked fifth in the league entering the weekend, made the struggling Boller seem reborn as Johnny Unitas. He had a passer rating of 142.6 at intermission compared with 25.4 for Favre.
The Ravens took command early when poor coverage by the Packers enabled B.J. Sams to return a punt 49 yards to the Green Bay 18. Among the players missing tackles were Mike Hawkins and Marviel Underwood.
"I think we missed at least three tackles," Thompson said. "The first gunner (Hawkins), a guy behind him and the guy behind him. It was a good punt."
The Ravens scored on third and goal from the 2 when coordinator Jim Bates blitzed and tight end Todd Heap made an easy catch in the end zone against safety Nick Collins.
"It was a bang-bang play," Thompson said. "He probably should have played the ball quicker. That's a pretty good throw and catch."
Later in the first quarter, Baltimore drove 75 yards in five plays to take a 14-0 lead. The big play was Boller's 22-yard completion to Derrick Mason with Al Harris in coverage. Harris also was penalized 14 yards for yanking Mason's face mask.
The Ravens have been putting wide receiver Mark Clayton in shotgun formation but the Packers reacted as if they hadn't seen it. Clayton took a direct snap, circled right end and the slow-pursuing defense failed to prevent the 11-yard touchdown.
"We practiced against that play during the week," Thompson said. "They do a lot of different things with him. He's a marvelous athlete. He's got speed."
Ahmad Carroll's 57-yard kickoff return plus a 15-yard penalty against the Ravens gave the Packers a first down at the Baltimore 15. But two runs gained just 6 yards and Favre's third-down pass to David Martin was deflected and almost intercepted by safety Ed Reed.
So the Packers had to settle for Ryan Longwell's 27-yard field goal.
In the first half, Favre was intercepted twice on long passes and came close to being intercepted on three others. The Ravens present one of the NFL's more confusing defensive schemes and both Favre and the Packers' entire passing game looked overmatched.
Asked why the passing game failed to function, Thompson said: "I can't answer that. I know he threw the ball deep a few times and didn't really have anything deep. Sometimes it's sort of not getting a flow or rhythm. I don't think offensively we ever got into a rhythm."
The Packers drove from their 11 to the Ravens' 47 early in the second quarter but, on third and 14, Favre threw long and late to Robert Ferguson and cornerback Samari Rolle made the interception.
After the interception, the Ravens turned around and drove 96 yards, their longest march of the season, in 16 plays to take a 21-3 lead.
"On that drive they had three third-down conversions," Thompson said. "We've been getting (teams) off the field."
A holding penalty on Mark Roman on a third-and-6 incompletion gave the Ravens their first of six first downs. The big play came on third and 8 when Carroll played too far off Mason, who beat him for 27.
The touchdown, a 13-yard pass to backup wide receiver Randy Hymes, came when he used his 6-foot-3 frame to shield Carroll on a corner fade route.
"He was playing behind a 6-8 guy, or whatever he is," Thompson said. "That's tough to play. I think you almost have to front that pass."
After overthrowing Ferguson deep, Favre eluded a sack on first down and fired deep to Donald Driver. The wide receiver had two defenders on him and then a third when Deion Sanders ranged over from center field to make the interception.
The Ravens scored again in the waning seconds of the first half on Matt Stover's 23-yard field goal. Heap beat Roman for 19, then turned a short pass near the line into a 20-yard gain when Underwood fanned on the tackle.
In all, Favre completed 14 of 29 passes for 144 yards and two interceptions. It marked the first time in his 15-year career that he failed to throw a touchdown pass in three straight games.