Running back Najeh Davenport may have only played one half, but he earned a game ball for his efforts.
"He did an awesome job," fullback William Henderson said. "He did a fantastic job for us."
The Packers only had rushed 91 times for 295 yards, a 3.2 average, on the season until Davenport broke through for 54 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns during the Green Bay Packers' 52-3 romp against the New Orleans Saints.
But following his strong start, Davenport fractured his ankle with 2:56 remaining in the second quarter. The Packers probably will place him on injured reserve.
"More than likely the seriousness of this would take away his season this year," head coach Mike Sherman said. "That's very unfortunate."
The injury occurred as linebacker Courtney Watson tackled him after a two-yard-gain. Davenport's ankle buckled on the tackle.
"We have some tears in our heart," Henderson said. "The dude gave it up for us and ends up getting hurt."
Making his second career start, the 6-1, 247-pound Davenport used his power to bulldoze through tackles. He broke away from safety Dwight Smith on an off-tackle run for 24 yards, the longest Packers rush of the season. Two plays later he used his bulk and leg drive to score the Packers' first rushing touchdown from four yards out.
Few teams have a player who can simulate Davenport's power and speed during practice.
"Not too many people are prepared for how physical the guy is," running back Tony Fisher said. "He was going out there, running hard. That's Najeh's game."
Fisher contributed as well, stepping in as the starter when Davenport left the game in the second quarter. He ran for 19 yards on seven carries but proved his value in the passing game. Fisher led the team with six receptions and racked up 40 receiving yards.
"Me and Najeh were able to change the pace of the game," Fisher said.
Before the season, Sherman repeatedly praised the depth of his running backs. With five-time 1,000-yard rusher Ahman Green inactive for Sunday's game because of a knee and quadriceps injury, the team proved those words ring true.
"We have a bunch of great backs," guard Adrian Klemm said. "Not a lot of teams have the luxury that we do where a Pro Bowl back goes down and we have someone who comes in who is a great runner himself."
Along with the skill of their running backs, the Packers' offensive line paved the way for an effective rushing game.
"Our offensive line opened up holes for Najeh," Fisher said. "They did what they were capable of doing."
Sherman knew the capability of the offensive line even with 2003 Pro Bowl center Mike Flanagan (hernia) inactive. The head coach attended offensive line meetings the last few weeks and pointed out how a simple adjustment in hand placement or holding a block for a half-second longer would lead to longer runs.
The line heeded his advice on Sunday.
"Guys take that to heart and try and finish every block," Klemm said. "We were getting after it."
Another factor was that Packers did not have to play from behind. Entering the game the Packers had led for only six minutes during the entire season. On Sunday the Packers trailed for just six minutes, 27 seconds against the Saints before scoring 52 unanswered points.
Playing with the lead allowed the Packers to rush 28 times for 94 yards and develop an effective play-action passing game.
"When you're not playing form behind," Klemm said. "The game mode you're in isn't dictated by the opposing team."
Although the Packers likely will not have the services of Davenport for the rest of the season, Green expects his leg to heal by the Minnesota Vikings game on Oct. 23. He will receive an extra week to rest because of the upcoming bye week.
"It's getting better every day," Green said. "It will give me more time to rehab, workout, get the leg back in shape."
While Green continues pool therapy and running, Davenport filled in admirably during his absence.
"Najeh was questioned and challenged there throughout the week to go out there and prove that he was the starter," Henderson said. "When challenged, he can rise up for the team."