In a game that looked like it was played inside a snow globe, it was the Seahawks that first grabbed a hold of this playoff match-up and gave it a good shake. On Green Bay's first play from scrimmage, Favre dumped a swing pass off to Grant in the right flat. He bobbled it, pulled it in, then fell to the ground. As Grant scurried to get back up, he got drilled by hard-charging Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill. The ball squirted out and was picked up by Pro Bowl middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who made it down to the one. Seattle's Shaun Alexander punched it in the next play for the early lead.
A mere 17 ticks had come off the clock. Not exactly the way you want to start a game if you've got a roster full of playoff virgins and a second-year head coach facing a coach who has a street named after him in your town. As angry as Grant looked coming off the field, the normally-sure-handed back and his teammates couldn't have imagined what was about to happen.
Just two plays after getting the ball back, Grant burst up the middle for six yards and a first down, only to cough up the ball again when Seattle safety Brian Russell put the crown of his helmet squarely on the ball. Seven plays later, Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck connected with Bobby Engram for 11 yards and a 14-0 lead.
I don't know if there's a statistic about teams that go down 14-0 in the first four minutes of a playoff game, but I'd have to think it's something to the effect of -- they don't win too often. Fortunately for the Packers and 72,000-plus fans who had fallen silent under the slow swirling of snow, this team is too young, too determined, and as Seattle was about to find out, just too good to let something like a two touchdown deficit throw them off. Especially this early into the game.
If this were early in the regular season, Grant would've been planted on the bench. Maybe for a series. Maybe for a quarter. But it would've happened. This game, however, was the playoffs. And Grant, who had more yards rushing during the last nine games of the regular season than anyone not-named Tomlinson, had a lot to do with the Packers being in this position. So you ride the horse that got you there.
"He was a big part of our game plan," McCarthy said. "I know in the past I've pulled players for turnovers, but he was a big part of the way we approached this game."
Grant seemed calm enough in his post-game press conference. But his face told a different story following those early fumbles. And his body language said all their was to say with his next 24 carries. He wasn't going to be the guy that lost the game and ended this amazing run that the Packers were on. So after a brief chat with Packers' running backs coach Edgar Bennett about keeping his pad level down and a pep talk from quarterback Brett Favre, who said if anyone could relate to what Grant was feeling it would be him, it was back to business.
"Ryan's very talented. He's a young player and he's got so much will to improve and you just see that during the course of the year," McCarthy said. "He's very consistent and that's what I like about Ryan. He's the same player everyday. He works very hard. There's not a lot of variance and that's very useful as a coach when you put together a game plan. I think his consistency is the thing I like best."
By the end of the first quarter, Grant had 67 yards rushing on eight carries, including his first touchdown of the day. The Seattle backfield of Alexander and Maurice Morris had four yards on four carries. He added 24 more yards and another score by the end of the first half, as he out gained Seattle's backfield 91 yards to six. His final score of the day came at the end of a seven-play, 65-yard drive highlighted by his 43-yard burst around the left end after cutting back on a misdirection play.
Seahawks safety Jordan Babineaux ran him down on the play, but it only delayed the inevitable by a few more plays. Just for good measure, Grant would tack on a 28-yarder later in the fourth quarter to put him on the cusp of a two-bills rushing performance. It's fair to say he redeemed himself after those early turnovers.
"I hope so," Grant said with a laugh. "From the training staff to the players to the coaches, everyone just said, ‘stay with it, let it go.' We knew we could move the ball and everybody did a great job."
The success of Grant has been in direct correlation to the maturation and improvement of the offensive line and their ‘zone-blocking' scheme. But no one could've guessed that Grant -- an undrafted (yes, undrafted) player out of Notre Dame whom they pried away from the New York Giants for a sixth-round pick in next April's NFL draft would be churning out this kind of yardage.
"I think when you look to our season, especially the first few games, there was talk of being one dimensional and that the (running back) position was a question, or ‘iffy' or whatever you call it," Favre said.
"We pick up Grant and he kind of fell into the position when he got an opportunity and he's made the most of it. We sure turned from one dimensional into something totally different. He had two fumbles right away but you could see on the second drive that we could run the ball and have a productive day. The way he bounced back, the style of runner that he is and those conditions… it played out perfectly for us."
Some day the trade for Grant might be viewed in the same category as the fleecing of Atlanta for Favre or the trade of cornerback Fred Vinson to Seattle for All-Pro running back Ahman Green. But right now, the only thing in view for Grant, the Packers, and Cheesehead Nation is the NFC Championship Game. That works for now.