The Green Bay Packers may have entered Sunday's contest versus the New Orleans Saints without a win, but they left little doubt of how great they can be if they just put all the pieces together.
After losing their previous three games by a combined six points, the Packers clearly were close to breaking out of their slump but it would have been difficult to predict a 52-3 rout of the Saints at Lambeau Field.
Nonetheless, the Packers caught fire early on and the momentum that had escaped them for a large portion of the season carried the team throughout the contest.
Despite holding the Packers to a three-and-out on their first possession and receiving a 33-yard field goal by John Carney with 8:51 left in the first quarter, the Saints found the going tough the rest of the way.
In fact, the 52 points accumulated by the Packers was their biggest offensive output since they notched a 55-14 win versus Tampa Bay in 1983. The 35 point first-half also was the most points they had scored in a half since 1992 against Detroit.
Though the offensive unit will get the lion's share of credit for the scoring explosion, the defense played a key role as well. On the day, the defense netted five turnovers, which led to 31 points.
Al Harris started the flurry of big plays when he intercepted an Aaron Brooks pass and ran untouched for a 22-yard score in the first quarter. Harris, the eight-year veteran out of Texas A&M Kingsville, notched his second interception of the day less than a minute later and the Packers were well on their way to a much needed win in front of 70,580 rowdy fans.
Head Coach Mike Sherman said earlier in the season that the Packers defense would start to pick it up in the turnover department and once they did the takeaways would come in bunches. That logic turned out to be prophetic on Sunday as the Packers, who entered the game with only two takeaways, came away with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
"If we had one or two of those turnovers in previous games we would have been 3-1 now," Sherman acknowledged. "I wish we would have used up our margin earlier in the season than we did today. They do come in bunches and hopefully it will continue.
Part of it was our guys did a great job of jumping on the ball. We've been catching the ball very well in practice, causing interceptions by the scout team, so it doesn't surprise me that we had takeaways, but the number does a little bit."
If Harris was the star of the defense, Nick Barnett certainly played a key supporting role as he came up with an interception of his own in the fourth quarter. Not to be outdone by Harris, Barnett lumbered 95 yards for the touchdown along the Saints sideline not only capping off the scoring, but also putting the icing of the cake for the defense. Barnett's big play turned out to be the second longest interception return for a score in team history, but it wasn't easy.
"It was already the fourth quarter and it was a nine-play drive before that so I was a little winded," Barnett admitted. "I'm not going to say I was tired, I got to the end zone. I got there, God blessed me with that, and I just took it."
Barnett didn't go as far as to say the turnovers were planned, but he said they didn't come by accident, either.
"We've worked all last week trying to get turnovers and finally today they came," Barnett explained. "When they come, they come. They came in a big manner today, and hopefully they keep coming."
Linebacker Paris Lenon, who teamed with rookie Roy Manning in filling in for the injured Na'il Diggs, echoed Barnett's sentiments.
"We worked on our techniques, fundamentals of defense, and being in the right position (last week)," Lenon said. "They (Saints) also are making some mistakes and the combination of all that leads to turnovers."
Besides the interceptions, the defense also did it's part in containing running back Deuce McAllister.The powerful back finished with only 31 yards and Aaron Brooks got benched midway through the third quarter after finishing with 146 yards passing on 9 of 22 attempts.
Although the defense played it's best game of the season, the offense was no slouch, either.
Brett Favre threw for three scores on the day and finished 19 of 27 for 215 yards. Robert Ferguson, Donald Lee, and David Martin-all backups at the beginning of the season- had one touchdown apiece through the air, and helped take some of the load off a banged up offensive unit.
Without Javon Walker, Ahman Green, Mike Flanagan, and Bubba Franks playing only in spot duty, one would surmise that the Packers certainly had their work cut for them going into the game. When you consider that tackles Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton were playing injured as well, things became even more difficult.
But just as the turnovers came in bunches in Sunday's win, the injuries seemingly have this season as well. Making matters worse, Najeh Davenport was added to the list of ailing Packers when he hurt his ankle near the end of the second quarter.
Davenport, who started for the injured Green, already had 54 yards on 12 carries before being knocked out of the game. His 24-yard rush in the second quarter was the longest run of the Packers season and his first touchdown on the day also marked the team's first rushing score on the season. It appeared that Davenport was on his way to a special day when he excited with two touchdowns, but unfortunately, the injury could be devastating.
Sherman said in his post game news conference that the 6-1, 250 pound Davenport may have suffered a fractured ankle, which would sideline him for the season.
The loss of Davenport was arguably the only negative for the offense, which certainly made the most of the opportunities that the defense presented them with.
According to Favre, it was just what the doctor ordered for the team to bust out with a big win.
"We've had chances in these four games leading up and we didn't make the plays," Favre admitted. "Today, we made the most of our opportunities. They made mistakes and we capitalized on them and it feels great.
I felt like this whole season we have been working hard and have not had breaks go our way. I just felt like it was a matter of time. To win it 52-3 or 3-0, it really doesn't matter, it's a win. It was nice to come out of that locker room and feel that, especially going into the bye week."
If the Packers continue to play as they did today, Favre and company will undoubtedly experience that special feeling of victory more often in weeks to come.