TOP DEFENSES & RISING ROOKIES TAKE THE FIELD IN PACKERS-RAVENS MONDAY NIGHT MATCHUP
The most famous native of Kiln, Mississippi aims to add to his legend as BRETT FAVRE, two of the NFL's hottest rookies, and a pair of defenses at the top of their game tee it up for fans in primetime on ABC's NFL Monday Night Football this week when the Green Bay Packers take to the road to face the Baltimore Ravens.
Green Bay travels to the Charm City for the first time in 23 years, when seven current Packers had yet to be born. The Ravens have won four of their past five games in M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore quarterback KYLE BOLLER is 11-4 as a starter at home, including a 2-0 mark against NFC opponents with six TD passes without an interception.
When the Packers' offense first takes the field, Favre will engineer the 2,500th drive of his career - and his first in Baltimore. Subtracting drives ended by the clock and including missed field-goal attempts, the NFL's only three-time MVP has put his team in position to score a whopping 40.3 percent of the time. A look at Favre's career drives:
FAVRE DRIVES: 2,499
FGs MADE: 320
FGs MISSED: 81
TOTAL POINTS: 4,792
PCT. TO SCORING POSITION: 40.3*
*Does not count drives ended by clock
On the Baltimore side, he's played in more than 200 fewer games than the Packers' QB, but Ravens rookie wide receiver MARK CLAYTON of Oklahoma also is turning heads. The club's top draft choice (No. 22 overall) has seven catches in each of the past two games, owns the franchise rookie record for receptions (34) and leads all 2005 rookies in that category.
Another rookie, Green Bay's SAMKON GADO, is among the league's brightest surprises of 2005. The Nigerian-born free agent from Liberty University surpassed the team's 34-year-old single-game rookie rushing record last week (JOHN BROCKINGTON, 149, 1971) with 171 yards in a Sunday primetime victory over Detroit. Gado, who leads all rookies with six rushing TDs, has complied 537 yards on the ground and needs eight more to surpass GERRY ELLIS (545, 1980) for the second most by a Packers rookie despite playing in only seven games (Green Bay rookie leader, Brockington; 1,105 in 1971).
Charged with shutting down Monday's offensive standouts is a pair of stout defenses. Last week in Denver, the Ravens' sixth-ranked defense limited the Broncos to 96 rushing yards - far below Denver's 162.8 average entering the game. Baltimore has allowed only one TD in the past eight quarters and has limited opponents to 15 points or less in four of their past five home games.
A unit beset with injuries, Baltimore has held strong with the play of linebackers TOMMY POLLEY, ADALIUS THOMAS and BART SCOTT. The past seven games have seen Polley - a Baltimore native -- notch 82 tackles, Thomas snare two interceptions with 3.0 sacks and six passes defensed, and Scott post 4.5 sacks with 77 tackles.
Green Bay, owners of the NFL's No. 1 pass defense that allows 163.3 yards per game, has not allowed a TD in its opponents' past seven goal-to-go possessions and stands as the league's fourth best goal-to-go defense, yielding 11 TDs in 20 such trips (.550). Opposing offenses have punched the ball in for six points only once in the past 11 quarters and just three times in the past 17.
Packers linebacker NICK BARNETT has 165 tackles on the season and needs 16 to surpass MIKE DOUGLASS' 180 in 1981, which is the most by a Green Bay player since the team's coaches began charting tackles in 1975. Defensive end AARON KAMPMAN, who leads the Pack with 6.5 sacks, needs one tackle to move past EZRA JOHNSON's total of 86 in 1983 for the most in a season by a Green Bay defensive lineman.
HOT WHEN IT'S COLD: The Packers' MIKE SHERMAN is the NFL's winningest active head coach in the last four games of the season (minimum 10 such games coached). Including last week's 16-13 win over Detroit, Sherman is 18-3 (.857) in the last four games on the schedule since taking the Packers' reins in 2000.
MONDAY NIGHT MUSINGS - GREEN BAY PACKERS AT BALTIMORE RAVENS
-This year marks the 10th anniversary of defensive end KABEER GBAJA-BIAMILA gracing the cover of Newsweek magazine (May 29, 1995) as a Crenshaw High School student in South Central Los Angeles.
The then-17-year-old was not featured for his football accomplishments, but for his community work. Gbaja-Biamila and his fellow students received Newsweek's "American Achievement Award."
Gbaja-Biamila had formed a company called "Food from the Hood" with the goal of providing organic produce of high quality to residents of his neighborhood. The company earned $600 in 1992 but increased its earnings to $50,000 in 1995.
Its main product was an Italian salad dressing called "Straight Out of the Garden" which is now sold throughout California. Proceeds are used to help youth from Gbaja-Biamila's old neighborhood pay for college.
"We were able to do something good in the community," says Gbaja-Biamila. "We believe we brought a positive outlook to L.A. and the people of Crenshaw."
-Ravens linebacker-defensive end ADALIUS THOMAS is an avid chess player who annually hosts 45 children from the Knights of Valor chess team at the club's facility in Owings Mills, Maryland.
The Knights of Valor is a mentoring program that promotes chess as a game that cultivates self-control, discipline and sportsmanship while instilling values such as honesty, integrity and courage.
"I like chess, and getting a chance to play against the kids is always a good moment," says Thomas.
IVY LEAGUE MATERIAL
-Ravens tight end DARNELL DINKINS was one of 30 players invited to an entrepreneurial workshop at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business this spring as part of an ongoing NFL-NFLPA initiative to assist athletes in preparing for their post-playing careers.
The Wharton program focused on personal investments as well as entrepreneurial opportunities for players transitioning from their football careers. The initiative offers follow-up with a year-long support program. The NFL-NFLPA program also conducted a similar series for NFL players at Harvard University this spring.
"Financial strength is important, especially for NFL players who receive a lump sum of money very fast," says Dinkins. "We need to know what to do with it. The University of Pennsylvania is one of the top schools in business. The classes and the teachers were informative, and they helped us immeasurably."
A LITTLE CHICAGO NIGHTLIFE IN GREEN BAY
-Some people may believe there is nothing to do in Green Bay but cheer for the Packers. That is far from the truth, thanks to Packers linebacker NICK BARNETT.
The third-year pro and his friend SHAMON JAMERSON have opened a club and restaurant called the "Five-Six Star Restaurant and Ultra Lounge" (56 is Barnett's uniform number) in downtown Green Bay. The theme of the restaurant is "downtown Chicago."
"The food and the night life is what this club is about," says Barnett. "It is a big-city atmosphere placed in a small town. Green Bay is a growing market, and I wanted to bring a big city feel to a small town."