Davenport provides one-two punch

Najeh Davenport will be gone but not forgotten.

Not gone as in gone from the team, as was rumored during training camp when the Miami Dolphins were shopping for a running back to replace the retired Ricky Williams. Gone as in gone back to his reserve role behind Ahman Green.

Packers coach Mike Sherman anticipates Green being ready for Sunday's critical game at Philadelphia. Green was kept on the sideline Monday night against St. Louis due to the sprained rib cartilage suffered the week before at Houston.

"Well, there's always lingering concern because of the injury that occurred a little over a week ago. But he's going to practice on Wednesday," Sherman said of Green on Tuesday.

Davenport responded to his starting debut by rushing for 178 yards against the Rams, the fifth-highest total in team history. Assuming Green plays, Davenport will return to the bench but will see a larger role than he's received this season.

That formidable one-two punch is precisely the reason Sherman wouldn't listen to the Dolphins' lofty trade offers over the summer. Miami reportedly offered standout — but holdout — defensive end Adewale Ogunleye for Davenport. Ogunleye would have solved the Packers' pass-rush problems — he led the AFC with 15 sacks last season — but it's not certain how the team could have fit him under the salary cap. Besides, it would have messed up Green Bay's powerhouse running game.

"Well, it goes back to when those people had interest in Najeh in the preseason in regard to a possible trade," Sherman said. "I mean, I just wouldn't hear anything of it simply because I knew that we would need both of them ... once we hit November and December that they both would be a factor in our season."

Davenport certainly was a factor on Monday. Up until then, his season had been an injury-marred disappointment. Bothered by his right hamstring throughout training camp, Davenport felt it tighten up in the season opener against Carolina. Davenport tried to play through it but instead tore the muscle, sidelining him for the next four games.

When Davenport returned, the Packers were 1-4. In his first game back, Davenport rushed for 62 yards on just 10 rushes in a thumping of Detroit. That got the Packers started on their current six-game winning streak.

Not that Davenport had all that much to do with it. He carried 12 times for only 37 yards the next week against Dallas, then rushed just four times against Washington. Then came the Minnesota game, when Davenport said he felt the same tightness in his left hamstring that he felt in his right hamstring before suffering the tear at Carolina.

Figuring discretion is the better part of valor, Davenport took a seat for the rest of the Vikings game and then at Houston.

With Green unable to play, however, an "85 percent" healthy Davenport ran around, past and through the Rams. Not bad for keeping himself confined to "third or fourth gear" for most of the night as well as playing his way through bruised ribs suffered during his bulldozing 15-yard run early in the game.

"I'm faster than a lot of guys anticipate," said Davenport. "I wanted to turn it on. A couple of times I could have run away, but I wanted to play longer. I didn't want to pull it and have a setback."

He didn't, and neither did the Packers in their neck-and-neck race with the Vikings for NFC North supremacy.

Monday's eye-opening performance certainly supports Sherman's decision to hang onto his 250-pound backup halfback.

"I mean, we're committed to running the football and those guys take a bunch of hits. And you need two good ones," Sherman explained.

Sherman's got two good ones, and because of it, the Eagles' coronation as NFC champions has been put on hold.


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