Packers tame Panthers, 31-17

Another game, another victory for the Green Bay Packers. The surprising Packers avoided any trap of overlooking the reeling Carolina Panthers and improved to 9-1, Green Bay's best start since the 1962 season, with their fifth straight victory Sunday afternoon before 70,805 fans at Lambeau Field.

Brett Favre threw for 218 yards and three touchdowns, and Tramon Williams ignited the Packers early on with a 94-yard punt return for a touchdown as the Packers handed the reeling Panthers (4-6) their fourth straight loss.

The Packers now head to Detroit for a NFC North Division showdown against the Lions on Thanksgiving Day (11:30 a.m. CT). The Lions (6-4) lost their second straight game and fell three games behind the Packers in the division by losing 16-10 to the New York Giants at Ford Field.

The 1962 Packers won their first 10 games before losing their only game of the season to the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day. Coach Mike McCarthy is pleased with his team's success, but also had his assistants hand out DVD's of the Lions for players to take home with them and study after the game today.

"No disrespect to history, 9-1 is impressive, but you have to keep focus on the next opponent," said McCarthy. "We beat a good football team today, a football team and a football coach that I have a lot of respect for. They've won a lot of football games during John Fox's tenure down there so we knew this game would be a challenge for us. I thought we played well in all three areas. With a short week, we don't have much time to enjoy 9-1 because it is time to move on to Detroit, which will be a big division battle on Thanksgiving. I'm pleased with the progress of our football team because I think we made progress again this week. Minnesota last week was the first game where you can say we played well in all three phases. We were positive in all three phases again today. There are some things that we need to clean up. We'll do that tomorrow. But we need to move on and get ready for Detroit."

Coming off a 34-0 thrashing of the Minnesota Vikings a week ago, the Packers dominated an opponent that they were expected to beat. Green Bay, favored by 10 1/2 points entering the game, took control early on by forcing two of Carolina's three turnovers for the game, and sacking 44-year-old quarterback Vinny Testaverde twice.

Testaverde and Favre, 38, formed the oldest starting quarterbacks duo in NFL history, but Favre and the Packers dominated. Though the Packers started somewhat slow against the Panthers, they gave no indication that they were about to fall into a trap, looking ahead to upcoming games against Detroit and Dallas on Nov. 29.

"It all starts with Coach McCarthy and him telling us what's going on," said defensive end Aaron Kampman. "That's kind of what Mike does. He does a great job of helping us stay in reality. The good things, the ugly things, the great things. We look at them all. When you really look at that for what it is, you stay in reality and you don't have trap games. … We knew Carolina was a good football team, had the ability to come in here and perform well. We came out and did what we needed to do to get the win."

The Packers took a 21-3 halftime lead, then stretched it to 28-3 on Favre's 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Donald Lee early in the third quarter. Koren Robinson's 67-yard kickoff return to open the second half helped set up the touchdown drive.

From that point on, the game was never in doubt for the Packers, who improved to 5-1 at Lambeau Field this season. Though the defense gave up two second-half touchdowns, the Panthers never got closer than 11 points the rest of the way.

"When you're up 28-3 we're just in a different situation," said McCarthy. "Football is all about situations, whether it's four-minute situations, two-minute situations, red zone, they're all parts of your training that come up. Four-minute offense is something you'd like to be in a lot. We need to do a better job of finishing the games. When you're up 28-3, we can learn from that experience to put the opponent away. There was some sloppiness in our play down the stretch that we can learn from. 28-3 to me is just another situation that you're involved in."

Greg Jennings led Green Bay's receivers with seven catches for 48 yards, including his team-high seventh touchdown of the season. Tight end Donald Lee finished with five catches for 49 yards and two touchdowns, his first multiple touchdown game of his career. Donald Driver also had five catches for 83 yards.

Favre enjoyed his 62nd career game with at least three touchdown passes, tying yet another of Dan Marino's records.

The Packers surpassed the 100-yard mark for the second straight game rushing the ball with 103. Running back Ryan Grant led the way with 88 yards on 20 carries (4.4 avg) before leaving the game with a twisted ankle. Grant told afterward that he'll be ready to play against Detroit.

"I'm just trying to keep it going," said Grant, who rushed for 119 yards against the Vikings. "Hopefully we'll build momentum and some consistency. We're trying to improve across the board and that (the running game) is very important."

Testaverde threw for 258 yards, completing 19 of 37 passes, and two touchdowns. Playing without Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith (shin), the Panthers relied on wide receivers Keary Colbert (six receptions for 33 yards) and Drew Carter (five receptions for 132 yards and one touchdown).

Using their effective five-wide receiver formation with an empty backfield, Favre threw his second touchdown pass of the game by finding Lee over the middle for a 26-yard touchdown late in the first half for a 21-3 lead. Favre completed the 73-yard drive by completing four straight passes for 55 yards.

Favre finished the game by completing 22 of 30 passes for a passer rating of 126.8, his second-best passer rating of the season.

"Mismatches vs. time is what we're playing against," said Favre on his success with the five-wide receiver formation. "For me it's been a big challenge to handle the style of offense that we're running week in and week out. I think I've risen to the challenge. I'll probably study film tonight on Detroit. Each week presents its own set of problems. That's what they expect out of me and that's what I expect out of myself. Anyone of our guys can be the guy. … The confidence I have in those guys is at an all-time high."

The Packers helped the Panthers move to the Packers' 7 with 16 seconds left in the first half with a pair of costly penalties. Linebacker Nick Barnett was flagged for unnecessary roughness while pushing Testaverde out of bounds, giving the Panthers the ball on Green Bay's 46. Three plays later cornerback Jarrett Bush's 25-yard pass interference penalty put the Panthers on the 7. After a lengthy replay review, which upheld the interference penalty, defensive tackle Corey Williams forced Testaverde to fumble the ball away and Kampman pounced on it as the Packers entered the intermission with a 21-3 lead.

The Panthers closed to 28-17 on Testaverde's 5-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Carter with 4:22 left in the fourth quarter, but the Packers answered by recovering an onside kick. Mason Crosby, who missed twice from 49 yards earlier in the game, made a 47-yard attempt with 2:41 left in the game to make it 31-17.

"I didn't think today was easy," McCarthy said. "There were parts of that game that we were a little sloppy in. They had the big play early in the game to take the lead. That's a good football (team), a lot of veteran football players that have won a lot of games. You can't always get caught up in the score. We need to clean those things up. We have work to do. We need to move on and get ready for Detroit."

Jennings curled into an open area in Carolina's zone defense in the end zone where Favre, off a play-action fake, found him for a 14-3 Packers lead early in the second quarter. Favre's 47-yard bomb to Driver, who breezed past cornerback Chris Gamble to get open on the first play of the drive, put the Packers on Carolina's 24. Favre's 13-yard pass to wide receiver James Jones moved Green Bay to the 5, and two plays later Favre found Jennings.

Williams returned a punt off a fake field goal attempt 94 yards, giving the Packers a 7-0 lead with 7:54 left in the first quarter. Williams fielded John Kasey's pooch punt as the ball bounced at the 6 yard line, got a key block from Johnny Jolly on Carolina center Justin Hartwig and raced along the Packers sideline for the second longest punt return in team history. Only Steve Odom's 95-yard punt return against the Chicago Bears is longer. It also marked Green Bay's first punt return for a touchdown since Antonio Chatman's 85-yard return for a touchdown against Chicago on Dec. 25, 2005.

"They actually did that (their) last game," said Williams about Carolina's pooch punt. "We observed it and put it in for this week in case they tried it again."

Carolina, however, struck back when Testaverde found Carter wide open on a post pattern against safety Atari Bigby for a 48-yard pickup to Green Bay's 14. The Packers defense, which entered the game ranked 10th overall in the league, forced the Panthers to settle for Kasay's 26-yard field goal when linebacker A.J. Hawk broke up a third-down pass in the end zone intended for tight end Jeff King.

Safety Aaron Rouse made his first career interception on Carolina's third play from scrimmage, but the Packers were unable to capitalize when Crosby's 49-yard field goal attempt was blocked by defensive end Julius Peppers.

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