A potent offense featuring a solid balance between rushing and passing. A tenacious, pressuring defense. Four clutch field goals and decent kick return coverage on special teams. These winning ingredients were the result of a total team effort and a well-deserved victory by the Green Bay Packers over the Atlanta Falcons.
To top it off the Packers accomplished these things on the road in a loud, hostile dome and against one of the NFL's premier teams. Since I live in the Atlanta area, I had the opportunity to watch this game in the seats with the fans, and it was a real treat. There were plenty of Packer fans all around me in the Georgia Dome, and the way the Packers came out from the start really took the Falcons and their fans by surprise.
The Packers dominated, running the ball down the Falcons' throat, and that was something that the Packers hadn't been able to do this season. You have to give so much credit to the offensive line because they created some major holes for the doctor-in-waiting, Samkon Gado, who ran extremely hard all day. It was apparent that the Falcons had to respect the Packers' running game very early on because they started bringing seven and eight men in the box. Once they respected the run that much, the balance of the Packers' offense took over. The play-action pass, the misdirection plays and the quick rhythm passes were all much more effective than in games. The receivers were beating man-to-man coverage and I thought Green Bay mixed up its play calling extremely well. They executed their game plan to perfection.
Gado was amazing and he displayed good instincts, power and balance. He's an extremely hard runner and he looks a little bit like Ahman Green -- fast and powerful. What a great find for the team at this point in the season! The Packers had such a dire need for a running back, and Gado seems like such a professional young man who appreciates where he is. I understand he's studying day in and day out and anytime he has some extra time with running backs coach Edgar Bennett, and that may pay some very nice dividends down the road. You have to give Gado credit for studying as hard as he has and for picking up the system so quickly.
As I watched the play of the offensive line, I thought Scott Wells' play was a big difference maker for the Packers. The line really came off the ball fast in the running game, and Wells' effort at left guard seemed to pump new life into that phase of the Green Bay attack. The O-line produced its first 100-yard runner of the season and pass protected very well for Brett Favre. As a result Favre had a great game and he threw the ball very accurately and precisely. He was quick with his decisions and he continues to play at a very high level. When he has a little time to throw the ball, he's still one of the best in the game. It was nice to see the whole offense be on the same page for the entire game.
On defense I thought the Packers completely out-coached the Falcons. They did some things schematically that really threw the Falcons off their game. Michael Vick was clueless about the different blitzes from the Packers coming at him that he hadn't seen in previous games this year. The Packers didn't allow Vick to get into any type of comfort zone. He looked absolutely confused and didn't know how to read the blitzes or the coverages Green Bay threw at him. The Packers secondary covered very well, and the linemen were disciplined in their pass rush lanes. Vick didn't know if he should pass or run. That's a big credit to the defense and the coaching of Jim Bates.
The play of linebacker Nick Barnett really stood out. This is how he is supposed to play. Barnett was very effective in the blitz packages and he also made solid contributions as a run stopper. He covered well in the passing game and was opportunistic and alert enough to scoop up a big fumble and gather it in and return it to near the Atlanta goal line. The defense always needs one player to be "the guy," similar to a Ray Lewis in Baltimore. It was very evident that Barnett's teammates were really responding to the way he was playing. The Packers just played so aggressively they took Atlanta by surprise. Can they continue to play the same way the rest of the season? Other teams will have an advantage now by watching the tape of the Falcons game. So it's hard to say if these same blitzes can be as effective for the rest of the year.
While we need to keep this victory in its proper perspective -- it was only one game, and the Packers are still in a hole at 2-7 -- I think this game demonstrates how well this team has hung together despite all the injuries and adversity. The way the season has gone for this team and with the players and coaches under such scrutiny from the fans and media, you can't say enough about Mike Sherman and his coaching staff for their ability to keep this team believing that if they keep working hard and supporting each other, things will turn around eventually. It was evident that the players worked extremely hard in preparing for the Falcons, and Favre has done a nice job as a leader of this team, making sure that the young guys know that he needs to rely on them and they need to step their games up. To be able to keep the team in tact like that is a real credit to the entire coaching staff.
So where do the Packers go from here? Any time the Packers can go on the road and play a team as good as the Falcons the way they did, there's no reason they can't beat anybody else in this league. They are four games behind the Chicago Bears right now and asking them to make up that much ground in the last seven games is certainly a tall order. Yet, stranger things have happened in this game. The Packers can control some of their destiny because they play Chicago twice. They also have two more key divisional games starting Monday Night against the Minnesota Vikings.
All the Packers can do is take things one game at a time. Lambeau Field will be rocking next Monday Night!
Don "Majik" Majkowski was inducted into the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame earlier this year. His career for the Packers spanned six seasons (1987-92), including being named to the Pro Bowl in 1989 when he led the NFL in passing yards. In addition to his duties with Packers.com, Majik provides football analysis for WSSP-AM, SportsRadio 1250 in Milwaukee, WDUZ SportsRadio 107.5 & 1400 The Fan in Green Bay, WTSO - ESPN 1070 in Madison, WDEZ in Wausau, and WIZD in Stevens Point. Visit Majik's Web site, www.majiknetwork.net, for more information.