QB Brett Favre made a triumphant return to the city where his distinguished pro career started 14 years ago, albeit only for a season as a backup before Atlanta traded him to Green Bay for a first-round draft pick. Favre put up some of his bigger numbers of the season across the board with 26 completions on 39 attempts for 252 yards. He distributed the football to eight members of his short-handed supporting cast, with an emphasis placed on quicker, shorter throws.
Donald Driver responded with a season-high 10 catches for 114 yards. No other wide receiver, however, had more than two receptions, and Favre's only touchdown was a 1-yard shovel pass to HB Samkon Gado. Favre had a pass intercepted for the seventh game this season, leading to a Falcons touchdown. Although Favre was only 5-of-12 in converting third downs, his biggest play of the game was perhaps avoiding a sack by Rod Coleman and flipping a pass to Driver for an 8-yard completion on third-and-5 late in the fourth quarter. The Packers went on to kick a field goal to gain some breathing room with a 26-17 lead.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus
It's only one game, but the likable Samkon Gado became the feel-good story of an otherwise sour season. The undrafted rookie out of Division I-AA Liberty, signed less than four weeks earlier to the practice squad, powered his way to 103 yards and two rushing touchdowns on 25 carries in his starting debut. On his 23rd birthday, no less. Team personnel couldn't have envisioned such a breakthrough performance, but Gado's relentless straight-ahead running temporarily made observers forget about the season-ending losses of Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport and the indefinite absence of Tony Fisher.
Gado, the fifth starter at the halfback position in this injury-marred season, became the first Packer to reach the 100-yard plateau since Davenport did it in late November last season. Primarily running to the left side behind newly inserted guard Scott Wells, Gado had his pick of gaping holes to hit hard. His coming-out party was dampened, though, by two fumbles that teammates recovered.
PASS DEFENSE: B-plus
The Packers allowed Michael Vick to have a second straight week of throwing the football with proficiency -- 209 yards and two touchdowns on 20-of-30 accuracy for a 108.9 passer rating. That's all Vick could crow about, however, because defensive coordinator Jim Bates with his unorthodox game plan did a number in confounding and harassing the game's most electrifying quarterback. Vick was out of sorts in the face of constant blitzing, compounded by being frequently shadowed by a spying linebacker or defensive back. He was sacked three times and fumbled the football three times, one of which was turned over. The Packers netted three takeaways, all on aggressive open-field strips in passing situations.
Middle linebacker Nick Barnett was the big beneficiary with two recoveries, the latter of which he returned 20 yards to set up a 2-yard TD run by Gado to effectively put the game away. The downfall for the defense was the troubling play of cornerback Ahmad Carroll. He committed another pass-interference penalty, which set up a score-tying touchdown by Vick in the second quarter. Carroll also was beat for a TD pass from Vick to Roddy White late in the game. Shortly before that, Carroll soured his well-executed strip of the ball from White by taunting the Falcons sideline as Barnett ran with the football.
RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus
Check out Vick's ho-hum stat line of seven carries for 24 yards, and enough can be deciphered to know the Packers had the upper hand on the league's top-rated rushing offense. The Falcons mustered only 133 yards on the ground, more than 50 below their season average. Their per-carry average of 4.6 yards also was lower than the season clip of 5.2. Warrick Dunn wasn't much of a factor with 17 carries for 76 yards. Defensive ends Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Aaron Kampman held their ground on the outside and didn't get sucked into the multitude of misdirections spawning from Vick's bootlegs. The bruising T.J. Duckett hurt the defense with a couple of big runs and averaged 7.8 yards but was utilized only four times, which worked in the Packers' favor as they needed only to concentrate on stopping Vick and Dunn.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus
Yet another breakdown in the kicking game, as B.J. Sander couldn't cover up for a high snap from Rob Davis and get the ball placed on what would have been a 51-yard field-goal attempt by Ryan Longwell in the third quarter. Then, early in the fourth quarter, ex-Packer Allen Rossum rips off a 29-yard punt return deep into Green Bay territory, leading to a field goal that kept the Falcons within striking distance.
Other than those two mishaps, everything went unusually right for the facet of the team that's been much maligned this season. Thanks to Longwell connecting on all four of the field-goal kicks he did take, highlighted by boots of 53 and 51 yards in the second half, the snap-and-hold breakdown didn't cost the Packers a victory this time. Longwell also used the controlled climate indoors to his advantage by getting exceptional distance on his kickoffs, allowing cover guys such as Brady Poppinga, Jeremy Thornburg and Marviel Underwood to make big tackles. Atlanta started five possessions following kickoffs at its 20-yard line and deeper.
The utter 52-3 annihilation of a New Orleans team that had no business being on the field Oct. 9 notwithstanding, the Packers' second win came with their most complete performance of the season. Coach Mike Sherman, a man of deep religious conviction, made a leap of faith on three pivotal fronts. A week after he benched starting halfback ReShard Lee because of a fumble on his second carry, Sherman stuck with newcomer Gado despite two fumbles, which the Packers recovered. Gado rewarded his coach's trust with three touchdowns and the team's first 100-yard performance on the ground this season.
After watching with disgust another faulty field-goal attempt, Sherman went right back to Davis, Sander and Longwell on the next series late in the third quarter for a 53-yard try that went off without a hitch and between the uprights. Finally, Sherman let Bates, his first-year defensive coordinator, roll with an exotic scheme heavy on blitzing that could have backfired had Vick slipped through a few cracks into uncovered territory downfield.