The Green Bay Packers have some legitimate momentum.
With their 31-14 victory Sunday over the Arizona Cardinals, the Packers took another major step in their recovery from a 1-4 start and in the growth of the 2006 edition of the Green and Gold.
The Packers not only got their first home victory of the season in front of 70,809 fans at Lambeau Field, but they also notched back-to-back wins for the first time since 2004 and, at 3-4, have put themselves in position to get back to .500 at the midway point of the season if they can win at Buffalo next week.
"I think last week we started the ball rolling, and we're continuing to keep the ball going downhill now," defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "Now we go over to New York and face a Buffalo team coming off a bye, so we'll have our work cut out for us there. But hopefully we can keep that going.
"A lot of people out there had us written off. 'They're this, they're young, they're the youngest team ...' We've seen what's going on here, and we know what we can do. I think we've just touched the tip of the iceberg and hopefully we can continue to build off it."
A solid performance on both sides of the ball prevented the Packers from ever being seriously threatened by the Cardinals.
While the offense put together four long touchdown marches of 88, 70, 87 and 74 yards, the defense surrendered only two drives of any consequence and the Packers dominated in total yardage, 383-218.
The offense was especially productive on the ground, rolling up more than 200 yards rushing as Ahman Green (21 carries, 106 yards) and Vernand Morency (11-101) became the first pair of Packer running backs to crack the century mark in the same game in 21 years.
"We have great backs, and our linemen are really starting to find their groove," fullback and lead blocker Brandon Miree said. "They're looking like some of the best linemen in the NFL.
"We really felt confident coming out of Miami that we could build upon what we did in the second half down there, and we felt we did."
That second half in Miami produced 117 rushing yards for a game total of 155. This week was the best four-quarter performance in the zone-blocking scheme, producing the first game this season with multiple rushing touchdowns (two by Green, one by Brett Favre).
"To get over 150 last week was a big step, and to come in this week and get over 200 was another big step," center Scott Wells said. "We're slowly heading in the right direction. It seems like we're picking up steam now."
Perhaps the defense is as well. All week players said they felt the unit improved against Miami despite remaining one of the lowest-ranked defenses in the league, and they showed it early against Arizona.
The Packers held the Cardinals to just 34 yards on their first four possessions and benefited from the offense sustaining those long drives in building a 21-0 lead in the second quarter.
The Cardinals scored 29 seconds before halftime to get within 21-7, but when the Packers came out and put together a 13-play drive to start the second half, they stayed in control. Favre's 1-yard TD run on a scramble capped that drive to make it 28-7, and after a second Arizona score late in the third quarter, Dave Rayner's 42-yard field goal midway through the fourth sealed the win.
"We refer to it all the time - playing downhill," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "I thought we played downhill all day today, and that's the way we want to play."
Meanwhile Arizona was fighting uphill to get any consistency offensively. The Packers defense held rookie quarterback Matt Leinart (14 of 35, 157 yards) without a completion until the second quarter (0 for his first 6), sacked him four times, and intercepted him once when Charles Woodson stepped in front of Bryant Johnson late in the fourth.
Running back Edgerrin James also was held in check, gaining 84 yards on 24 carries (3.5 avg.) with a long run of just nine.
"He runs hard, you have to gang-tackle him, and I think we did a good job," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "He found a couple creases in our defense, but we did a good job overall slowing him down."
Now, the Packers hope they'll be tough to slow down. While back-to-back wins over two struggling teams won't make anyone overconfident, this team prevented itself from falling by the wayside after starting 1-4 and has put those struggles in the past. All eyes are now focused forward, at both the next game, and the big picture.
"Right now we're looking at the NFC and we're close," receiver Donald Driver said. "We're 3-4 and a lot of teams are 4-3, 4-4, it's going back and forth. We're still in the hunt. A lot of people ruled us out, but it's not over yet."