Pack grinds down Panthers in 24-14 win

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Green Bay's punishing ground game bulldozed one of the league's best defensive fronts en route to a convincing 24-14 win over the defending NFC Champion Carolina Panthers in the Monday Night Football season opener at Bank of America Stadium.<P>

Green Bay's Ahman Green picked up where he left off last season, rushing for 119 yards on 33 carries and two touchdowns. Green put the icing on the victory with a 3-yard TD catch late in the third quarter.

"We stuck with our plan and it worked," Green Bay head coach Mike Sherman said. "We stuck with our running game. Carolina has one of the best defensive fronts in football. We didn't get a lot of explosive runs against them, we had to grind it out. "

The numbers underscore the fact that the Packer offense was more fight than fireworks. Green scored on runs of 3 and 6 yards and his TD catch went for 3 yards. Likewise, Tony Fisher added another dimension to the ground attack with 32 yards on nine carries. The Packers held on to the ball nearly twice as long as their hosts as Green Bay simply wore out the Panther defense, which gave up only four individual 100-yard rushing games in 2003.

The win not only gave the Packers' a 1-0 start, it also answered a lot of questions raised in the several months since last season's abrupt ending. The offensive line fell into their routine, Bryan Barker punted as the steady if unsensational veteran the Packers need, and new defensive coordinator Bob Slowik's defense put on a prime time performance.

All Packer fans hopes were pinned on an o-line which, due to Mike Flanagan's injury, had precious little time to prepare for the opener. There was no rust to be seen.

"On offense we're hitting on all cylinders," tackle Chad Clifton said. "We did it against a really, really good defensive front. We've been together for four years, so we know what's going on."

The line not only protected Favre and paved the way for the winning game plan, they also contributed in unexpected ways. When Bubba Franks picked up an Ahman green fumble after a nine-yard gain, Wahle noticed that no one had touched the tight end. Mike Wahle kept the Panthers at bay and alerted Franks to get up and run, which he did for 11 additional yards. The play put the Packers in Carolina territory and led to Green Bay's first score - a 41-yard field goal with 3:28 remaining in the first quarter.

"I can't say enough about (Mike) Flanagan and (Mike) Wahle, and especially coming off the injury," Sherman said. "They did a wonderful job, as did the wohle offensive line. We responded to the challenge of playing against a very good defense." New defensive coordinator Bob Slowik's defense showed resolve and results. Aaron Kampman recovered Delhomme's third-quarter fumble, while Nick Barnett made a big play The Panthers took their only lead midway through the second quarter. Jake Delhomme's 1-yard pass to Brad Hoover put the Panthers up 7-3 midway through the second quarter. The drive was helped along by two 15-yard face mask penalties against the Packers. One of those gave the Panthers new life on the drive, which otherwise would have ended with an 11-yard sack loss on third-and-14.

Green Bay answered with a 10-play, 72-yard drive leading to Green's first touchdown. An 8-yard catch in the red zone by Donald Driver set up Green's TD run.

"Those were hard-earned runs and our passes were effective enough to keep us moving," said Favre, who finished the day . That was our strategy. It worked to perfection. I can't say enough about our offensive line. They faced a huge challenge today and they answered. Third down - we made plays, it's as simple as that. There are plays to be made week in and week out.

Favre finished the night with 15-of-22 for 143 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions for a QB rating of 101.1. Donald Driver was his favorite target, catching three passes for 39 yards.

"I love to pass, and I love to win. I'd much rather win than pile up the statistics," Favre said.

The Packer defense under new defensive coordinator Bob Slowik showed grit, coming up with big plays or coming back from near misses. Most importantly, they came up with two turnovers and the offense converted both into touchdowns. Aaron Kampman recovered a Jake Delhomme fumble, while Nick Barnett picked off a deflection. Both Michael Hawthorne and Ahmad Carroll had golden opportunites for interceptions that they just couldn't close.

As good as Green Bay's ground game was, the Packer D was equally effective in stopping the run. Stephen Davis, who ran for a career-best 1,444 yards last year, was held to 26 yards and the Panthers had a total of just 38 on the ground - all but four yards came in the first half.

"I thought our defense played with aggression and passion and created turnovers," Sherman said. "I said if we didn't turn the ball over and came up with one we had a great chance to win. Fortunately for us we were able to do that.

"Bob did a good job of blending the blitz in with the zone coverage," Sherman said. The Panthers added a touchdown late on a 30-yard touchdown pass to Muhammad.

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