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Packers Don't Miss A Beat With Davenport Carrying The Load


Monday may have been "Brett Favre Day" in Wisconsin, but it certainly will be one that Najeh Davenport remembers for a very long time, too.

The third-year running back made his first career start and it's safe to say he made the most of it. With Ahman Green unable to play because of a rib injury, Davenport took over the reins and the Packers didn't miss a beat. They had little trouble in their 45-17 blowout over the St. Louis Rams and much of that was due to Davenport's career performance.

Davenport finished with 178 yards on 19 carries capped by a 40-yard touchdown in his most extensive action in his NFL career. What makes Davenport's night even more remarkable is the fact that he had two sore hamstrings and until late last week his availability for the game was still up in the air.

Whatever pain he was going through, Davenport did a masterful job of hiding it. He finished off runs and he played like a man who wanted to make the most of his opportunities. After all, when a star like Green is on the scene, there are only so many carries to go around.

Despite the intensity of a Monday Night Football game and his first start, Davenport looked like a seasoned veteran throughout the night. He used his 250-pound frame to his advantage early and often and eventually wore down the Rams defense with his downhill running style.

Davenport acknowledged that he had big shoes to fill, but the pressure never got to him.

"I don't feel pressure," Davenport explained. "There was pressure on the whole team to come up with a win. We're tied with Minnesota for first place in the NFC North. That's the only amount of pressure I had.

"I didn't really have any (individual) pressure. I know what I can do. It's just more about winning."

Well, Davenport held up his end of the deal on that account, but he thinks his performance may have been even more impressive had he been completely healthy. He estimated that he could only go about 80-85%.

"There were a couple runs I had that I wanted to turn it on, but I really wanted to finish playing the rest of the game," Davenport said. "I really didn't want to try it out so I just kept it in third or fourth gear and I went from there."

Still, Davenport was surprised that people may have doubted his ability.

"I'm faster than a lot of guys," Davenport explained. "I'm may be like the sixth or seventh fastest guy on this team. I wanted to turn it on.

"A couple times I could have ran away, but I didn't really want to turn it to that next gear. I just wanted to play longer. I didn't want to pull it and have a setback."

When asked how he came through with such a breakout game, Davenport again pointed to his speed.

"I can run," Davenport said with a straight face. "I'm a fast dude. I'm like 80%. I have two bad hamstrings and I was having problems with my ribs. Right now my hamstrings are hurting, but I just have to make due."

GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman admitted he was counting on the services of Davenport in a big way.

"I thought Najeh's performance - as well as (Tony) Fisher's - was significant," Sherman said. "They did a great job. When you lose a back like Ahman Green, a difference maker, and Najeh who is coming off two hamstrings, the way he performed tonight certainly tells you the type of player he is.

"I remember going to him during the week and I said, 'You've got to get ready, you've got to play,' and he did."

Although Davenport turned in a stellar showing, he clearly had help. The offensive line turned in another workman-like performance and went about their usual business of creating running lanes and protecting Brett Favre.

"A lot of credit goes to the offensive line," Davenport said. "I just dotted the I's and ran the ball hard."

Favre echoed the sentiments of the bruising back.

"I can't say enough about the way we played," Favre explained. "Our offensive line has just been...I don't know if dominating is a fair enough word for those guys.

"When they know you are going to run it and you still are able to run the football the way we did and to not give up another sack...I know there is a lot of football left, but I have to give those guys a great deal of credit."

Favre - who had a tremendous night of his own with three touchdown passes - admitted that for Davenport, there would be no substitute for game action.

"There's no way to go through practice and treat it like a game," Favre said. "It's just impossible. You can try as much as you want, but it's different when guys start chasing you for real.

"I heard Najeh was like 80 or 85% and maybe he was. If he was, that's scary. Once the lights turn on and we hand it to him for real, you don't know until that happens."

In the end, Favre had nothing to worry about. After all, he's surrounded by a good supporting cast.

"We have a one-two punch that's as good as any in football," Favre said. "We really do. But it all starts with the guys up front. I think Fisher is one of the unsung heroes, but Najeh-he's a load now. He's pretty darn good."

Davenport said he's really only operating in third or fourth gear, but when you are as powerful as a Mack truck, that's more than enough speed.

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