Upset victory a confidence booster

As the final seconds ticked down during Green Bay's surprising victory over the Atlanta Falcons, Packers coach Mike Sherman had to be thinking about what could have been this season. With seven games remaining and his team four games behind the division-leading Chicago Bears, the Packers have a very little chance of making the playoffs. If only the Packers would have played like they did against Atlanta against other teams earlier this season.

By whipping the Falcons, 33-25, in the Georgia Dome, the Packers looked more like a playoff contender than a contender for the top pick in next April's NFL draft. Green Bay put it all together in every area of the game for its sweetest victory on the road since beating the then-defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in 2002.

Green Bay had a dream game against the Falcons, whom most felt would run right past the Packers. However, it came amidst a nightmare of a season. When the Packers come back down to earth, or at least when their plane lands in Green Bay later tonight, they'll still be 2-7 with seven games left on the schedule.

Sitting four games behind Chicago in the basement of the division, another NFC North title is probably going to be just out of reach. The Packers would have to win all seven of their remaining games and that's not realistic because of the injury situation and their recent history of screwing up.

The Packers have only themselves to blame. They've been competitive and have been in position to win nearly every game this season that they've lost, but they've hurt themselves with turnovers and penalties. The mistakes coupled with a loss of talent at two skill positions - running back and wide receiver - have worked against the Packers throughout the season.

Still, Green Bay's win over Atlanta is big and will go a long way for this young, banged-up team for a couple of reasons. First, it should ignite the Packers toward a strong second-half finish. Second, if the Packers can finish strong in the second half, there will be more optimism than ever heading into the 2006 season.

In a sense, the 2006 training camp is under way in Green Bay. Samkon Gado, along with other younger players, have taken full advantage of the precious game reps to solidify a roster spot for next year. Gado rushed for 103 yards against the Falcons, averaging just over 4 yards per carry. Like he did a week earlier against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Gado has a burst, acceleration and instincts that will only help him receive more playing time this season.

Second-year offensive lineman Scott Wells took over for the ineffective Adrian Klemm at left guard and helped create many of the running lanes for Gado. Wells did nothing to hurt his chances of starting again next week when the Packers play at home on Monday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings. Wells helped spark an anemic Packers running attack against a formidable Falcons defense.

The defensive line had one of its best performances of the season. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Aaron Kampman, Colin Cole, Cullen Jenkins and Grady Jackson contained Michael Vick and stuffed Atlanta's top-ranked rushing game. Blitzing linebackers and cornerbacks forced Vick to make mistakes and fumble the ball.

Rookie safety Nick Collins has been solid all season long. Rookie safety Marviel Underwood also has been getting more playing time because of the season-ending injury to Earl Little.

Green Bay's linebackers, behind Nick Barnett, have been doing exactly what they're supposed to do in Jim Bates' scheme, especially Barnett. The middle linebacker is getting to quarterbacks and plugging the gaps against the run.

Green Bay's win Sunday could be the start of something big. It's not like the Packers beat the Falcons on a few fluke plays. They out-played Atlanta from start to finish and earned the win.

Over the next few weeks, the Packers will get some of their walking wounded players back, like wide receiver Robert Ferguson, tight end David Martin, and running back Tony Fisher. Up and coming cornerback Mike Hawkins wasn't able to suit up today because of an ankle injury.

There is hope on the horizon for the Packers. They got a good glimpse of it against the Falcons.


Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at packrepted@aol.com.


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