Report card vs. Saints

Packers get best grades of season after rout over New Orleans

Picking up where he left off from leading a spectacular fourth-quarter comeback that came up just short the previous week at Carolina, Brett Favre was razor-sharp while playing only the first three quarters of the lopsided game. He completed 19-of-27 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns. He also avoided throwing an interception, which hounded him eight times in the first four games. Consequently, his passer rating was a season-high 130.9. Favre admittedly wanted to take one pass back -- a deep throw in front of Donald Driver that could have been intercepted by ex-Packer Mike McKenzie.

Favre had lots of time to set up and throw because an injury-ravaged offensive line held up against the Saints' stout defensive front and didn't allow a sack.

What might have been? Najeh Davenport, filling in for an injured Ahman Green, was on pace for the first 100-yard game by a Packers running back since Davenport ran for a career-high 178 yards in a fill-in role against St. Louis last Nov. 29. The powerful back bulled his way to 54 yards in only 12 carries, highlighted by a 24-yard scamper off tackle. However, in the closing minutes of the second quarter, a short completion on a screen pass resulted in Davenport suffering a season-ending broken right ankle. Tony Fisher and ReShard Lee, signed last week, carried the load the rest of the way, but totaled only 26 yards on 14 carries.

Cornerback Al Harris had perhaps the best game of his eight-year career, picking off two Aaron Brooks passes late in the first quarter that swung the momentum in the Packers' favor for good. With Joe Horn out because of a hamstring injury, the Saints turned to Donte Stallworth, which proved to be a mistake with Harris on his side. Brooks telegraphed a pass in the flat that a darting Harris easily plucked in front of Stallworth for a 22-yard touchdown. Middle linebacker Nick Barnett cemented the victory by intercepting a Todd Bouman pass and returning it for a 95-yard TD in the fourth quarter. A good amount of pressure was applied by the defensive front, which recorded three of the team's four sacks. Tackle Cullen Jenkins forced a fumble by Bouman with a hit in the pocket. Rookie safety Nick Collins jarred the ball loose on a pass play for another take-away. However, cornerbacks Ahmad Carroll and Joey Thomas struggled at times in coverage with Az-Zahir Hakim, who had five catches for 108 yards.

The linchpin of the ever-improving defense under first-year coordinator Jim Bates continued to be a dominating force. Saints standout Deuce McAllister was hemmed in for all of 31 yards on 11 carries before leaving the game with a torn ACL in his right knee in the third quarter. It marked the fourth time in the first five games the Packers haven't allowed a 100-yard game by a running back. McAllister's longest run was just 11 yards.

He was stopped three times for losses. As a team, the Saints mustered only 95 yards on the ground. Tackles Cullen Jenkins and one-time Saint Grady Jackson occasionally busted through the middle of the Saints' line with no resistance. The Packers have yielded an average of 100.6 yards on the ground, down significantly from last year's mark of 117.4.

With the inept Saints held to an early field goal, there was little opportunity for the Packers to get a read on their new kickoff-return tandem of ReShard Lee and Jamal Jones, who was promoted from the practice squad last week after fellow receiver Terrence Murphy suffered a season-ending neck injury. Jones had the only return, for 25 yards. Meanwhile, Antonio Chatman continued to be unspectacular on punt returns, averaging but 5.5 yards in four runs.

Punter B.J. Sander also struggled, averaging 37.8 yards in six kicks with a season-worst net average of 34.5. He shanked a 29-yard punt out of bounds in the fourth quarter. Ryan Longwell benefited from the touchdown explosion by the offense and the defense, tying his career high with seven extra points. Led by Lee and rookie Brady Poppinga, the coverage units didn't give up significant chunks of yardage.

At long last, the Packers not only garnered their first victory of the season, but played with a purpose and had their heads on straight; not committing the stupid mistakes that sealed their fate in the previous four games.

Perhaps incredibly, Mike Sherman and his assistants pulled what was left of the injury-depleted team together and made sure it didn't limp into the bye week with an unfathomable 0-5 record. Sherman, the primary play caller for the offense, relied on what Favre referred to as "the simplest game plan" implemented going back to before last season. By not taking big risks and overextending the patchwork unit, the Packers played turnover-free football for the first time. Conversely, an opportunistic defense that seems to be finally catching on to Bates' simple, but technically sound schemes produced five take-aways, three more than its total from the first four games.

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