Grant could hold key

Packers will have to rely on running back for big plays in icy conditions

A former New York Giant may hold the key to the Green Bay Packers' chances of winning the NFC Championship Game, when the Packers host the Giants on Sunday night.

That former Giant is Packers running back Ryan Grant, who started the season in the "Big Apple" before being acquired in a trade days before the regular season opened. The Packers, who also inquired about rookie Ahmad Bradshaw, but were denied a chance to trade for him, traded a sixth-round pick and settled for Grant, who finished the regular season 44 yards shy of 1,000 yards, despite starting just nine games.

Nice way to settle, huh?

Grant's run into the spotlight this season could never have been forecasted by anybody, not even Grant. Fortunately, when the Packers traded for him he was going to a team that had only questions at his position and no answers.

Grant had to bide his time, and based how rookies Brandon Jackson and DeShawyn Wynn were faring, you felt his chance would come. It did and Grant appears to be the Packers' answer at running back beyond this season.

Before looking into the future, Grant has something to take care of Sunday — help his team beat his former team. Last week, in a NFC Divisional playoff win over Seattle, Grant lost fumbles on the first two possessions, which put the Packers in a 14-0 hole.

No problem. Grant responded with a franchise playoff-record 201 rushing yards and three touchdowns as the Packers pounded the Seahawks, 42-20. If there were playoff jitters last week, Grant should be more at home Sunday.

Usually a game of this magnitude is enough motivation for Grant, but does he draw from the fact his former team will be trying to stop him?

"Not really," said Grant, who said he has many friends on the Giants. "A little bit but to be honest with you just the game itself, the level and the stage itself of what we're trying to accomplish is enough energy and enough impact on the game."

Grant will never say anything alarming to draw your attention. He usually leaves that to the field, where he finds cutback lanes and gashes defenses.

But his presence Sunday could be the difference in the game. Assuming the temperatures are near zero, with a wind chill below zero, it's possible the passing games could be limited. Ever try to throw a football when it's zero degrees?

I haven't, but I know from covering and watching football over the seasons, the colder it gets, the less feeling you have in your hands, which translates into errant throws. Furthermore, the ball feels like a rock.

If the passing game is limited, the Packers may try to ride the shoulders of Grant, who in last week's snowstorm — after he got the fumbles out of the way — seemed right at home in a blizzard.

"The conditions weren't that bad from a sense of what I had to do," Grant said. "We work on that pre-game warm-up, preparing yourself for the conditions, preparing yourself for the footing. You've got to know how to cut, make a little softer cuts, not as hard when you plant, but it really wasn't that big."

This week, instead of a winter wonderland, it may be something like football on ice. The running game should have a better chance to work, assuming the field isn't a hockey rink, meaning the footing is terrible.

One person in Grant's corner who has helped him this season is Packers running back coach Edgar Bennett, who thrived in inclement weather during the 1990s with the Packers and became known as a "mudder." Grant is faster and a better cut-back runner, but Bennett has seen every condition possible in Green Bay, which is of great use to Grant.

Based off his performances this season, Grant has made an impact on Bennett.

"Coach Bennett said I've officially made the mudder club, but whatever the conditions are we've got to step it up," Grant said. The conditions may be ripe for another record-setting performance from Grant. Surely, he's not worried about gaining 200-plus yards Sunday, but he likely knows his two feet could carry the key for the Packers' chances to make their fifth Super Bowl.

When asked about Sunday, Grant said, "We're playing in the NFC Championship. That's about as cool as you can get."

Sunday, at about 9 p.m. Lambeau Field time, Grant could be the reason his season got even cooler.

Doug Ritchay is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at dritchay@sbcglobal.net.


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