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AP Story: Sharper Runs Pick For TD In Packers' Win


Darren Sharper had flashbacks to his days as a punt returner at William & Mary -- until he started gasping for breath at about the 25-yard line.

"I was a lot younger then; I had a lot more energy," Sharper said after his 90-yard interception return for a touchdown sparked the Green Bay Packers' 19-14 exhibition victory against the New Orleans Saints.

Sharper hadn't been able to showcase his playmaking abilities since LeRoy Butler's last game in 2001, but he was turned loose with strong safety Mark Roman roaming deep for the Packers (1-1).

Roman, who signed a three-year contract in March after four years in Cincinnati, has been involved in a heated training camp fight with Marques Anderson for the starting job.

Roman made a good case to keep the job with his versatile play that allowed Sharper to play close to the line of scrimmage and create havoc.

Sharper was diplomatic, saying both Anderson and Roman are doing a great job, but he agreed Roman brings a new dimension to the Packers' revamped defense.

"He definitely plays with passion, he flies around to the ball, he has a good feel for the game," Sharper said. "He shows good range, good tackling. He's complete."

Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks aggravated his strained right thigh muscle while scrambling to the sideline to avoid former teammate Grady Jackson in the second quarter and was replaced by Todd Bouman.

Sharper picked off Bouman's first pass at his own 10-yard line, then zigzagged down the field and picked up a key block from rookie cornerback Joey Thomas that allowed him to score and give Green Bay a 10-0 halftime lead.

The Saints (1-1) committed four turnovers

Brett Favre completed 11 of 17 passes for 149 yards, including passes of 30 and 31 yards to Antonio Chatman, who sprained his right ankle on the second-half kickoff.

"For a small receiver (5-foot-9), he sure played big today," Favre said of Chatman.

Ryan Longwell had field goals of 30, 38, 42 and 32 yards for Green Bay.

Brooks, who sat out the Saints' preseason opener, completed 7 of 13 passes for 44 yards against a dizzying array of blitzes before hobbling off. On the next series, New Orleans backup running back Aaron Stecker left the game with a neck stinger when he was hit by linebacker Nick Barnett and fumbled.

It's unusual for a team to blitz so often in the preseason.

"They blitzed every snap," Saints coach Jim Haslett said.

At least it seemed that way.

"Well, I guess that's what their trademark is going to be this year, so that's going to be what they want to work on," Haslett said.

Sharper said new defensive coordinator Bob Slowik actually didn't show his hand that much.

"That's just a little spoonful of the soup," Sharper said.

Cornerbacks Ahmad Carroll and Thomas, the Packers' top two draft picks, were whistled for back-to-back pass-interference penalties of 39 and 28 yards, respectively, setting up Ki-Jana Carter's 1-yard dive that brought New Orleans within 13-7.

On the next series, Thomas was called for a 31-yard pass-interference penalty that put the Saints at the Packers 10. But Kenny Peterson pressured quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan into an early release on a screen pass, which defensive end Tyrone Rogers intercepted.

Thomas picked off O'Sullivan with five minutes left but he missed the tackle on Devery Henderson's 70-yard TD reception from O'Sullivan with 2:26 remaining.

Sharper said it wasn't rookie mistakes but the NFL's crackdown on tight coverage that caused all the pass-interference flags. He said even veteran holdout Mike McKenzie would have been whistled a lot.

"I don't care if Deion Sanders comes out of retirement, he's going to get called for those," Sharper said. "Because that's what they're trying to do now, they're trying to make it an offensive game."

And because of that, Sharper said that in his view, the rookie cornerbacks "didn't struggle at all."

There's no disputing the struggles of Green Bay's rookie punters, though.

Third-round draft pick B.J. Sander and Australian free agent Nathan Chapman took turns booting hideous punts, the worst of which were a 29-yarder and a 20-yarder by Sander.

Quarterback Tim Couch gave them plenty of chances to showcase their abilities with another poor performance: 6-for-17 for 64 yards.


  • The teams combined for 24 penalties covering 244 yards.
  • Packers OL Brennan Curtin might have torn a ligament in his right knee, coach Mike Sherman said.
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