Offensive line powers Pack

GREEN BAY - When Green Bay running back Ahman Green rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, he showed his thanks by treating his offensive line to steak dinners.<p> But free meat won't be enough this year. Not after the line helped Green gain 125 yards and score a touchdown in Sunday's 17-7 win against the NFC Central Division arch rival Chicago Bears.<p>

"(Right guard) Marco Rivera told me that steak just ain't going to cut it this year," said Green, who surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season. "They have done a great, great job for the past two years. Our job becomes so easy when they play like they have been playing. All we need is a crack to get four, five yards. And when they knock someone on their butts, we can get those long gains."

Despite being battered by injuries and position changes, the line turned in a terrific performance against the Bears. They protected quarterback Brett Favre enough for him to pass for 207 yards and a touchdown. They opened enough holes so Green could be the first running back since last season to gain more than 100 yards against the Bears run defense, ranked first in the NFL. They even flashed some stylish ability by flawlessly executing several screen pass plays.

They seemed to do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted.

"Our front five basically controlled the game for us," said Favre, who completed 15 of 27 passes. "I was impressed by the way we were able to run the ball. On the first drive we go down and score. I know it wasn't going to be that easy, and we found that out after that. But we did some great things against them."

The line didn't look great coming into the game. Rivera broke his hand in practice on Thursday, and left tackle Chad Clifton was battling two injuries, plus he was coming off an awful performance against Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Tony Brackens last Monday.

"I challenged this group after last week's game, and I'm just so proud of what they did," said Packers head coach Mike Sherman.

Rivera started with a bulky cast on his hand. In the second quarter, though, Sherman moved starting right tackle Mark Tauscher to guard, and put veteran Earl Dotson at right tackle.

"Marco is so tough mentally that he can handle anything," Sherman said. I had a concern, number one, with the effectiveness of the cast. Tauscher's ability to move inside with limited reps and to be able to do what he did I thought was phenomenal."

Sherman wasn't the only one raving about the second-year Tauscher. "He's just such a tough football player," said center Mike Flanagan. "Every week he knocks someone down, and knocks them down hard. We know that guards and tackles work closely with each other, so we weren't worried about him moving. Tausch knows what to do, and Earl has years of experience."

And it's been about a year since Dotson, who missed almost the entire 2000 season after back surgery, saw extended action.

"I hadn't really given up on playing, but I felt a little rusty out there," Dotson said. "I was nervous on the first play, but after that, it was just the game. It felt to great to get back in there after so long."

Dotson said he felt the game's momentum switch after the Packers embarked on a 91-yard scoring drive in the middle of the third quarter. The Packers got the ball at their 9 with 7:42 left in the period. Favre completed passes of 20 yards to tight end Bubba Franks and 16 yards to Corey Bradford on third down. Green then ripped off a 29-yard run off right end to the Bears 24. Favre hit fullback William Henderson for nine yards, and Green scored two plays later on a nifty, 12-yard run around the left end. The score gave the Packers a 14-7 lead with 3:00 left in the quarter.

"I think that's what put us over the top," Dotson said. "That's when I felt like we took control. We felt like no one could stop us, and people starting making all sorts of plays."

Making plays Sunday helped make up for not making many plays last Monday night, when the Packers had to come from behind to beat Jacksonville 28-21.

"We felt like we didn't get the job done that game," Tauscher said. "And we knew that if we didn't win this game, we would be in a lot of trouble. It was very rewarding for us to bounce back like this, especially against the No. 1 defense against the run. People think our line isn't physical, but I think today we showed we are physical."

Indeed. The line attacked the Bears' massive defensive tackle tandem of 355-pound Ted Washington and 320-pound Keith Traylor. "A lot of teams seem scared to run inside against those big guys," Flanagan said. "But felt we could move them and get yards."

The line moved them, and Green darted around and past them. He finished with 125 yards, the most allowed on the ground by one runner by the Bears since Minnesota Vikings running back Robert Smith gained 170 yards on 23 carries on Oct. 15, 2000.

"We take a lot of pride in Ahman's success because my teammate is going out there and giving it 100 percent," said fullback William Henderson. "I'm giving 100 percent and the offensive line is giving 100 percent. Everyone is working together to make great things happen. We all take pride in that."

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