A horrendous game was shaping up when rookie Daryn Colledge, sliding from left guard to left tackle to replace an ill Chad Clifton, was beat badly by Jason Taylor on successive series in the first quarter that resulted in two fumbles by Brett Favre.
The first blown protection cost Green Bay possession deep in its own territory, setting up an easy touchdown for the Dolphins. Colledge wasn't alone blocking Taylor after the dubious indoctrination, and the All-Pro end wasn't heard from again.
Somehow, Favre did his best work on a so-so passing day (19-of-35, 206 yards) in the second half despite having only Donald Driver as a reliable receiver after rookie standout Greg Jennings was lost to a sprained ankle. Favre made a questionable throw into double coverage, but Driver bailed him out by pulling the football away and holding on as he tumbled in the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown that put the Packers up 20-10 in the third quarter. A spent Driver had 10 catches for 93 yards in the stifling heat. Yet, it was a couple of the unknowns -- first-year Ruvell Martin and undrafted rookie Chris Francies -- who each made a big catch in the decisive 11-play, 80-yard drive that culminated with a 13-yard, shoestring touchdown catch by tight end David Martin to give the Packers breathing room at 34-24 late in the fourth quarter. Favre was cool under pressure in the series, completing six of seven passes for 63 yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B
One sensational run a stellar grade is not made. It was a big play, nevertheless. The Packers had been waiting almost two years to the day for Ahman Green to rip off a long run. His 70-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, which kept Green Bay in control on the scoreboard, was a testament to both the zone-blocking scheme finally paying a huge dividend and Green proving a point to the naysayers who have been pushing him out to pasture because of his age (29) and two sore legs. Green required intravenous fluids at halftime after cramping up.
Center Scott Wells and right guard Tony Moll made back-side blocks to a T on the zone stretch play that started to the left, giving Green an ample crease to turn the run back in and out to daylight. More impressive than the execution by the blockers was Green getting past and staying ahead of the secondary the last 50 yards. Still, that one play was the extent of the production for the running game. Green's other 17 carries amounted to just 48 yards. Vernand Morency and Noah Herron spelled him from time to time and mustered but 17 yards in nine totes. The only other runs of significance were incidentally by Favre on a 14-yard scramble and a 6-yard end-around by Driver on fourth-and-1 in the final scoring drive.
PASS DEFENSE: C-plus
Joey Harrington's career-high 414 yards can't be dismissed, even though the league's worst pass defense started to atone for its multitude of coverage breakdowns in the first five games. Harrington, who totaled a franchise-record 62 pass attempts, was compelled to throw at will after the Dolphins got down by two scores midway through the third quarter. That the Packers were in prevent mode against a hurry-up offense helped inflate the numbers. Before then, the defense benefited from silly drops by open receivers, including two off the hands of tight end Randy McMichael that landed in the awaiting hands of linebacker Nick Barnett and cornerback Charles Woodson. The latter, though, swung the game in the Packers' favor as Woodson made his first impact play since signing a monster contract in the off-season with a 23-yard return for a touchdown in the first minute of the third quarter.
Green Bay's three interceptions -- the first was on a badly thrown read by Harrington on a pass over the middle to linebacker Brady Poppinga -- equaled its season output before Sunday. Al Harris manhandled Chris Chambers, holding the Dolphins' top receiver to two catches, both in the fourth quarter.
The pressure up front was decent, underscored by four sacks of Harrington. Rookie linebacker A.J. Hawk had his best game to date with a game-high 12 tackles, a pass breakup and a sack of Harrington on a blitz.
RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus
With the Dolphins resigned to throwing for most of the second half, the Packers didn't have to contend with Ronnie Brown. He had only four carries in the final 30 minutes, picking up 22 yards. When Brown did get sufficient action out of the backfield in the first half, the Packers were generally stout. Brown's only significant run went for 15 yards when end Aaron Kampman was sealed off from reaching him at the line and Harris and Barnett missed tackles at the second level. Brown averaged only 3.9 yards in 15 carries.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus
What might have been? Dave Rayner had a 55-yard field goal, which would have been a club record, nullified by a blown whistle on a Dolphins alignment penalty. The sequence to end the first half became crazier when Rayner's subsequent make from 40 yards was wiped out by a facemask penalty on Mike Montgomery. The infraction ended the half and prevented Rayner from giving it another shot from 55. Rayner did connect on two other field goals that counted and still had deep range on his kickoffs.
Punter Jon Ryan wasn't lacking for opportunities and had a typical up-and-down performance. He averaged 43.7 yards, but his long boot of 56 yards reached the end zone.
The coverage units were mostly solid, but they were gashed by a 33-yard kickoff return from Wes Welker that gave Miami a favorable start in a drive that ended with a field goal. Morency took over for the suspended Koren Robinson on kickoff returns and was adequate with a 23.3-yard average in three runbacks. Woodson managed to handle the extra duty on punt returns despite a sore thigh and averaged 8 yards in three chances.
The gambler in Mike McCarthy put the finishing touch on the coaching staff's finest game thus far. Keeping the offense on the field for fourth-and-1 just past midfield while trying to protect a 27-24 lead with nine minutes to play and going so far as to call Driver's number on an end-around was a gutsy move that worked in the rookie coach's favor.
The Packers went on to get the clinching touchdown three minutes later. McCarthy exercised prudence in limiting Green to fewer than 20 carries after he missed two games with hamstring problems. He trusted Driver's emphatic plea in the third quarter to successfully challenge the ruling of an incomplete pass on the 34-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter.
A key in-game adjustment was made to give Colledge support after his early struggles in trying to keep Taylor away from Favre. The only knock, though, was McCarthy's bad time management at the end of the first half. With all three at his disposal, he didn't call a timeout after Hawk sacked Harrington following the two-minute warning on third down. The Dolphins ran off about 45 seconds before kicking a field goal. The offense should have had more time to move farther down field and give Rayner a more manageable field goal or perhaps get a touchdown, instead of enduring the penalty-filled debacle that ensued on the final play.