MIAMI - After some early trouble with Miami all-pro defensive end Jason Taylor, the Packers' young offensive line held up well on Sunday.
The Packers were forced to start three rookies up front because left tackle Chad Clifton missed the game with flu-like symptoms. Clifton had gotten seriously ill on Saturday night and felt no better on Sunday morning.
The coaches waited until the last possible minute before the inactive list was due to the officials, but having been already dehydrated from getting sick, Clifton was in no shape to play in the intense Miami heat and saw his string of 53 straight starts come to an end.
"At breakfast today we were hopeful that he would take a couple of IVs and be ready to go, but he came over on the second bus and that was not the case," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "He was very ill."
That moved Daryn Colledge from left guard over to left tackle to replace Clifton. Right guard Jason Spitz moved to left guard, and Tony Moll started at right guard. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it marked the first time since at least the 1970 merger that the Packers started three rookies on the offensive line.
Early on, Taylor was taking advantage of the apparent mismatch against the Colledge. In the first quarter, his sack of Brett Favre forced a fumble that set up Miami's first touchdown, and he forced aanother fumble on his second sack that Spitz recovered.
But to Colledge's credit, he didn't get rattled. He and his teammates kept Taylor quiet the rest of the day and Favre was not sacked again.
"They brought a little help my side to help slow him down, and late in the game you can lean on him a little more," Colledge said. "But he gave me a challenge all night, and I didn't play the game I wanted to. He got his two sacks in and that's two too many."
Still, after what looked to be a disaster at the beginning, the matchup of Colledge against Taylor didn't haunt Green Bay.
"Daryn did an excellent job," center Scott Wells said. "The first couple series were kind of hard for him, but he made those corrections, and the rest of the game I think he played like a veteran. That shows a lot of his character and maturity the way he's able to make those corrections."
The Packers made enough adjustments to keep Miami's pass rush from taking over after that rough first quarter. As has been done often this season, a tight end or running back was kept in for extra pass protection several times. Also, Favre ran more rollouts to both sides to keep the pocket moving and prevent the pass rushers from just charging straight ahead.
"I thought the adjustments that we made held up over the next three quarters," McCarthy said. "I'm very happy for the young guys particularly in the pass-protection unit and the run-blocking unit because of what they battled. They overcame adversity early and did a nice job for four quarters."
TD and yardage milestones
Donald Driver's spectacular 34-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter was the 30th TD catch of his career, making him only the 11th player to reach that figure in team history.
It was also Driver's 28th career TD from Favre, tying the No. 8 combination in team history of Boyd Dowler and Bart Starr. Driver and Favre are just one shy of the No. 7 duo of Don Hutson and Arnie Herber with 29.
Driver's 10 catches for 93 yards on Sunday also put him over 5,000 receiving yards in his career. He now has 5,070.
"I'm pretty happy about that," Driver said of the yardage milestone. "I've still got about 4,000 yards to catch the man, James Lofton, but I will catch him before my career is over."
Dave Rayner kicked two field goals in the final four seconds of the first half but neither one counted.
First, Rayner drilled a 55-yarder, but the whistle had blown due to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Dolphins, so the play didn't count and no time elapsed.
The penalty moved the Packers 15 yards closer, and Rayner proceeded to make his next try from 40 yards as the clock expired. But that was nullified by a facemask penalty on Michael Montgomery, and because a half cannot be extended by an offensive penalty, the half was over and the Packers did not get any points.
"I'm just glad we won by a margin larger than three," Rayner said.
The 55-yarder would have been a new franchise record for Green Bay by topping the 54-yarder Rayner hit earlier this season against Philadelphia. He shares that team record with Chris Jacke and Ryan Longwell.
Rayner knew immediately the long one was going through, which made hearing the official's whistle all the more frustrating.
"As soon as I hit it, like one in Philly, but I actually think I hit this one harder," Rayner said. "I had a little wind at my back, too."
As for the franchise record, Rayner thinks he may get it sooner rather than later, especially since kicks will become much more difficult from that distance in late-season cold weather.
"If they keep giving me shots at it, I've got to," he said.
First NFL catches
Green Bay's third and fourth receivers, Ruvell Martin and Chris Francies, both made their first NFL receptions on Sunday, and did so at pivotal moments.
Martin's first catch, for 6 yards, converted a fourth-and-1 with four seconds left in the first half, setting up the strange sequence of field goal tries that followed.
Then, with Greg Jennings out of the game due to an ankle injury, Martin and Francies both made grabs on the Packers' final touchdown drive that sealed the game.
Martin broke free on a shallow crossing route and his catch-and-run went for 19 yards to move the Packers across midfield.
"I feel like it does give me confidence, but that's something I always had," Martin said. "So hopefully now it gives confidence to my teammates that I can go out there and do what's asked of me."
Several plays later, Favre zipped a quick slant to Francies on third-and-1, and the rookie made his first NFL catch good for 12 yards and a first down at the Miami 13. On the next play, Favre hit David Martin for the touchdown that essentially clinched the win.
"It was a big-time catch down there in the red zone," Francies said. "I was fortunate to catch it and keep the drive alive."
Ruvell Martin and Francies may be called upon much more in the coming weeks.
One play before Martin's first reception, Jennings left the game after catching a 14-yard pass over the middle from Favre. He appeared to land or get tackled awkwardly, and his ankle was x-rayed at halftime.
He did not return to the game, and it's unclear how long he'll be out of action.
"We're down to three receivers now, but we just have to continue to push on, continue to get better with what we've got," Francies said. "There's only three of us, so we have to work a little bit harder."