In one corner, Mike Montgomery was lining up with the No. 1 defense, preparing for the first start of his NFL career. In the other corner, Justin Harrell was running, still 12 days from being eligible to join the active roster from the physically unable to perform list.
The Packers' defensive line, shorthanded to begin with, suffered a massive blow when defensive end Cullen Jenkins was placed on season-ending injured reserve this week.
The Packers, coming off of two consecutive losses and owning one of the NFL's worst run defenses, need help up front, but Harrell, last year's first-round draft pick who endured his second round of back surgery in late August, can't help. Not until after Week 6 is in the books, at the earliest.
So, into the gaping hole left by Jenkins steps Montgomery. He doesn't have Jenkins' size or pass-rushing skill. Nor does he have Harrell's first-round pedigree — Montgomery was merely a sixth-round draft pick in 2005 — but he's a body. And while there's no truth to the rumor the Packers will be scouting tailgate parties on Sunday in search of beefy young men, being a healthy body is good enough.
"I'm excited to get my turn and just show everybody I can play," Montgomery said Thursday. "Unfortunately, Cullen Jenkins went down and it's my time to come up, so I'm excited to play."
Montgomery, a former Texas A&M standout, hasn't started a game since the Aggies faced Texas at the end of the 2004 season. But he's played 36 games in his three-plus seasons in Green Bay, so he's not exactly inexperienced.
"The only thing that's different is I'm going to be starting," Montgomery said. "I'm going to be playing the first play. Over my years, I've been playing in the rotation, so it's not a big difference for me. It's just, I'm playing the first play. That's all it is."
While Montgomery prepares for his first start and the challenge of plugging Green Bay's leaky run defense in time for Atlanta's top-ranked running attack, Harrell labors in obscurity. He's barely seen by his teammates and never by reporters. Harrell's day of rehab and cardio work is over while his teammates labor on the practice field.
Maybe it's just as well.
The Packers figured Harrell would develop into a key performer this season, so they traded Corey Williams to Cleveland. But while players like Jenkins busted their tails, Harrell arrived for organized team activities out of shape, which played a role in his back injury. So, even before Jenkins went down, the defensive line rotation was short on depth and got worn down in losses to Dallas and Tampa Bay.
For all the problems on offense the last two weeks, it can be argued that with an able-bodied Harrell, the Packers might be 3-1 and riding high instead of 2-2 and in desperate need of a win.
So, the Packers are in the dicey predicament of having to survive these next two games, then having to count on Harrell to be healthy and productive. Of course, Harrell has yet to stay healthy or produce for the Packers.
Maybe Harrell will return a changed man. Maybe a double dose of back surgery has sapped whatever potential was in his 6-foot-4 frame. Whichever it is will play a big role in determining the fate of this once-promising season.
Bill Huber is editor of Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org