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Sunday, November 13, 2005

Game Review: Packers @ Falcons

by Curt Angeli (aka LosAngelis)



Well, if you read the pages of the Green Bay Press-Gazette this morning, you would have thought it was 1988 again. Fun little features on little-known players. Pete Dougherty skewering the team in his opinion piece. Every writer not only predicting the Packers to lose, but predicting them to get blown out.

Surprise!

The 1-7 Packers went to their least favorite place to play (a dome, on the road) against one of their least favorite opponants in recent years (the Falcons) against a chip-on-his-shouldered quarterback who makes us look silly (Michael Vick). And the did exactly what we didn't expect them to do.

Establish a running game with a street free agent.

Play a well-executed passing game with only reasonable risks taken.

Rely on our kicking game to score points.

Stop one of the best returners in the league.

Contain Michael Vick.

Stop the run.

Win. 33-25.

Was it perfect? Ho, ho, ho, far from it. There were plenty of menacing little fingers to be pointed on this team for silly errors and mental mistakes. But amazingly, when you're 1-7, and you win...those errors seem a little less painful than they do after yet another loss.

The Packers started the first quarter in impressive fashion, stopping Atlanta on a 3 and out, and then driving 74 yards for a Samkon Gado touchdown. Favre seemed to return to his early-90's days, dinking and dunking short passes left and right before striking upfield to Donald Driver on the drive. Gado did just enough on the drive to insure the defense had to respect the run.

On the ensuing possession, a usually invisible Kbaja-Biamila caught Dunn from behind and made a sparking forced fumble that flew into Mark Roman's hands, as if guided by fate.

What? Could this be a TAKEAWAY? Sit back, grasshopper, we're going to see a lot of strange things today. The most amazing stat is that the Packers are THIRD in the NFL in average points scored off of takeaways. However, that doesn't seem like a whole lot when you've only forced 10 in your first 8 games.

Then, Brett Favre turned around and handed the ball to Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport, Tony Fisher, Walt Williams, Rashaun Lee, ahh SAMKON GADO, who crashed and smashed his way 18 yards to the one yard line of the Falcons. He then scored impressively on a shovel pass from Favre in which he was stopped two yards from the goal line, then on pure heart and effort, bulled his way into the end zone. 14-0 Packers.

At this point, I was almost in tears. The Packers were winning, yes. That's good enough. But the team was playing with HEART and passion. Some guys that we've been critical of, like KGB and Nick Barnett, were playing as if this were the Super Bowl.

The Packers continued defensive strength for a possession after that, ending a short Falcon drive with a smart shot by Al Harris on a seemingly lost Michael Vick, who was taking the time to wind up for a pass one foot from the sideline on third down. Luckily for Vick, the ensuing fumble landed right out of bounds, otherwise, the score would have been even further apart.

However, as we entered the second quarter, we entered a period we shall call "The Dark Ages" where suddenly the offense and defense reverted to 1-7 form.

Favre and Co. went three and out, then the Falcons generated a 52 yard drive, punctuated by a nasty catch and run by Warrick Dunn, who caught a short pass and made everyone miss, juking and jiving and even leaping over people in a single bound for a 21 yard TD.

Then, on the next GB possession, Brett Favre threw another batted-ball interception on a crossing pattern to Driver, in which it was evident that the two were not on the same page. Atlanta's Demarrio Williams made a great lunge for a ball that looked to be 5 yards away from him, then caught his own deflection for an interception.

At this point, the doubt begins draining into your stomach like liquid nitrogen, slowly freezing your insides and you pray "this doesn't happen again". Shades of the Viking game, just quicker.

On the next Atlanta drive, it was back to boxing-gloves-boy himself, AHmad Carroll's pass interference penalty that gave the Falcons 43 yards. When you consider they started on their own 38 yard line, that's quite a chunk of field to give up.

On the play, Carroll did not get his head turned back in time before he made contact with his hands. It looked as though he reached up and literally grabbed the reciever by his collar, then turned around and made a perfect deflection of the pass with his other hand. The touching was simply unnecessary, and while the announcers suggested that without the contact, he would have scored, I disagree. Soon, Ahmad Carroll has to trust his abilities to play the ball without grabbing a reciever. Otherwise, he made a brilliant-looking play on the ball.

A Warrick Dunn jaunt for 15 yards, and then Michael Vick made one of the best play-action handoffs I've ever seen. He literally relaxed his body for nearly a full second as the defense converged on Duckett, then broke for the sideline. Brady Poppinga made a heckuva run, but Vick never really bothered to run upfield...he just dove out of bounds with his left arm outstretched over the pylon, and wala, it was 14-14.

I'm breaking out in a cold sweat now. Please, please, please...not again...

The teams traded punts, then with the 2nd quarter winding down, the Packers generated a drive from their own 8 yard line to the Atlanta 17. On second and 4, Brett Favre went back to pass, scanned the field, and then ended up scampering away from Mark Tauscher's man, then two other rushers being chased by a red-faced Wil Whittaker. At this point in time, it would have been wise for Favre to toss it out of bounds and settle for 3rd and 4, but instead, evaded sack after sack until he could evade no more, and took a 12 yard loss.

However, Ryan Longwell came in and, with Sander holding, knocked in a 46 yard field goal for only the Packers' third halftime lead of the season.

The third quarter opened with the Packers getting the ball, and starting on their own 35, thanks to a nice runback by Rashaun Lee. Samkon Gado, like much of the second quarter, seemed a bit invisible on this drive, as Favre began chipping away at the Falcon defense with short swing passes and bullets over the middle for chunks of yards. Favre passed 8 times on the drive, completing 6 and ending up in another Ryan Longwell field goal, after the Falcon defense stiffened in the red zone.

Sidebar: watching Allan Rossum returning punts and kicks reminded me why I never liked him that much. He always gets up the tremendous speed, but it always seemed like someone would bump him, and he'd fall down. Then, once out of every 10 returns, he'd break one for 20-30 yards. With him on the other side of the field, I found I didn't miss it that much.

On the next play, Michael Vick appeared to be getting his running legs going, running for 5 yards when he was hit by Kenny Peterson, and the ball again came bouncing out of his arms. Nick Barnett, Johnnie-on-the-Spot, picked it up.

What do you think about that, eh? Another takeaway? COULD it be possible that with Brett Favre throwing interceptions, we could actually win the turnover battle? Unbelievable.

Well, this had better get this team going! I'm getting all excited, rubbing my hands and my Lucky Vince bobblehead, thinking...aha! The Packers will do something with this turnover. I can just feel it!!

Well, it was 3 and out. Well, not 3 and out, but 3 and field goal attempt. At least we'll make this a two-score game. Longwell's got it going. What can go wrong???

Oops. I remember watching that snap and waiting for the ball to appear where it should, and it didn't. It was like a magician holding something behind his back, waiting for that wonderful moment of timing to bring it out and say "TADA!". But this wasn't a magician, it was BJ Sander. And, he bobbled the snap (which did look a little low and behind Sander). So, what does he do? He picks it up and looks to pass!

NO! Shades of TJ Rubely!!! I can hear Frankie Winters now..."Don't do it, kid!"

Sander evades a rush from the right, then from the left, then breaks right and throws (NO!) and completes it (YES!) to Bubba Franks (YES!) who runs for 4 yards (YES!!!). However, it was 4th and 6 (CRAP!!).

BJ Sander, please prepare your spot under the bus. The silver lining is that you couldn't blame Longwell for that one, so he gets a week of building up some confidence.

The Falcons, however, didn't build any confidence, punting it back to the Packers.

The Packers then rediscovered Gado, who rushed 3 times for 16 yards, and Favre completed a great pass to Donald Driver, who rolled, and spun, and forced his way for another 7 yards after first contact. Once again, we're talking players playing with heart.

I found this particular play very similar to the play that Favre was intercepted on last week, where he came under criticism for throwing the ball too hard for Driver. On this play, I would say the ball was thrown even harder. Seriously, after it left his hand, it stayed on a line and never went above 6 feet off the ground. It was lower, and Driver not only caught it, but immediately continued to make a drive against would-be tacklers. He shook off three guys before running into a safety.

Heart.

The drive then stalled on the 35, but Ryan Longwell, with BJ Sander in tow, came out and kicked a beautiful 53 yard field goal. Seeing Longwell patting Sander on the side of the helmet was a class move.

Both teams then traded punts, but finally, Allen Rossum made an excellent return on a ball that had to be punted from deep in GB territory. His 29 yard return set the team up on the GB 26. It looked to be curtains for our big lead.

But, an error on the Falcons and a good play by Nick Barnett ended any touchdown threat. On third and 9 on the GB 19, a bad snap bobbled from the center and out of Vick's grip. This is often the kind of play Vick could make something happen from. However, Nick Barnett exploded through the line and made sure that the ball not only hit the turf, but wrestled Vick away from the ball so he had no chance to recover it. The center, McClure, fell on the ball, but by that time, that's all he could do, and it was fourth down.

A field goal cut the lead to 6, and again, those icy feelings in the stomach were returning.

However, the Packers again took the ensuing kickoff and made a nifty little drive out of it. With 10 minutes left in the game, the Packers needed to get a nice, long, time-consuming drive that would result in at least a field goal to make it a two score game again. On this drive, Gado started becoming a little inconsistent again, rushing 5 times for 16 yards (and, um, one of the rushes was for 15, so go figure the rest).

However, Favre completed two critical third downs, one to Chatman, and one to Driver before the drive stalled at the Atlanta 33. Enter Longwell for another 50+ field goal attempt, on 4th and 1. I found this a very interesting call, as one might suggest that they go for it. However, the field goal was necessary, but nowhere near a certainty.

Doubts aside. Longwell drained a 51 yarder. Again, heart shown by our kicker, who has spent more time making excuses and blaming others for his problems. Now, he's going out and being the old Longwell we remember, giving a thumbs up on a 60 yard attempt, if needed.

Now, with a nine point lead, the defense needed a major stop to hang on and put this one away. They got more than they expected, and from the most unlikely spot.

On second down, Vick completed a 10 yard curl to Roddy White, who turned upfield only to have the ball knocked out of his hands by....AHMAD CARROLL? Yes, the dimunutive cornerback made the critical play, and Nick Barnett picked up the ball and defied anyone to tackle him, rumbling and juking for 20 yards before being pushed out at the 2 yard line of Atlanta.

Mora threw the red flag, but we all knew better. We were going to win that replay, and win that game.

Gado took the ball and easily scored his third touchdown of the day, and the kid's smile was almost too big for his face. The fact that in a game of TO's and Chad Johnsons, seeing a kid hand the ball to the referee after a TD is one of the most heartwarming and inspiring sights you will see.

With the score 33-17, and 3:30 left, you pretty much could figure the game was over, right?

Wrong.

With the defense playing back and keeping the middle of the field open, Vick and Co. starting taking big chunks of yardage through the air and on the ground, at one point gaining 3 first downs in a row.

Ooooohhhh...that sick feeling. Where's my Tums?

Vick finished the drive with a jump ball that even Robert Ferguson couldn't miss. Roddy White got revenge on Ahmad Carroll by outjumping (okay, outstretching) Batman for the touchdown.

Suddenly, I realized that the Packers had been leading by 16. Ha ha, I had thought...that's a three score game!

Oh, wait...that's two TD's and two 2-point conversions. Crap.

Well, they won't do that, will they? But alas, instead of picking on Carroll, Vick picked on Horton, who didn't hear a who and didn't see the ball, either. Either way, Finneran caught it for 2 points and suddenly, we were looking at an 8 point game.

Now, it came down to an onside kick. They lined up, and using the double kicker formation I rued we never used when we had two punters on the roster, one faked a kick to draw the Packers offsides (which I have to admit, I was very proud they didn't), and the other popped it up to Nick Collins, who wisely stayed down with it despite not being touched, and waited until he was.

I thought that the onside kick was the epitome of everything our season hasn't been. We could have gotten outsmarted or out-disciplined on that kick, as we've done so many times this season, and we didn't. Hats off to what many people may have dismissed as just another onside kick recovery. When you're 1-7, nothing is easy, and a play like is especially worrisome.

The Packer ran out the clock and celebrated.

In all, the Packers went on the road against a 6-2 team, in a dome, coming off a bye, and did nothing less than beat them.

As was mentioned often by the television commentators, Mike Sherman may not be a lot of things, but one thing he hasn't done this season is lose his locker room. For whatever reason, the Green Bay Packers came out in the game they should have had the least chance to win, and executed on both sides of the ball.

But most of all, you saw something we haven't seen in weeks, and that was heart.


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