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Jerry Gilbert
Think back to the first game against the Minnesota Vikings on September 30. Late in the game, the Green Bay Packers were leading and just needed to run out the clock. Reserve running back Ryan Grant entered the game and promptly fumbled away the easy victory. Fortunately, the defense held, and victory was secured, but Ryan Grant found himself on the far end of the bench. A week later, rookie receiver James Jones fumbled twice and he too was benched. Flash forward to the playoff game on Saturday, and two fumbles by Ryan Grant in the first four minutes. Many of his teammates, including quarterback Brett Favre, rushed over to tell him they still believed in him. Coach McCarthy said he never even considered yanking his star running back.

It was a question of timing. Grant's fumbles occurred after many games in which he had shown himself to be a dependable ball carrier. Everything he had shown in practice and on the field said that the problem would be corrected. The fumbles also occurred so early in the game, that a group of confident players could still have good reasons to believe that they could come back and win the game. Fifty-six minute of playing time remained, and the Packers had not yet begun to fight.

The Packers remained a confident group because these players believe in the system brought to Green Bay by Coach Mike McCarthy, and they believe in their ability to run it. They have a season of success, and four games at the end of last year, behind them. When the Mike Sherman teams made the playoffs, a disastrous opening four minutes to the game could have been the end of the story. Those teams were pretenders. At this point in time, early problems were an obstacle to be overcome, not a barrier that would defeat this team.

Brett Favre is a big part of the story. As he took the first snap down 14-0, every fan and commentator was wondering whether the gunslinger would compound the misery. This is a different time than when the "gunslinger" criticism was born. First, the offensive line has provided reliable pass protection in every game since the opener against Philadelphia. Second, the present receivers are far more likely to work themselves open, catch the ball and run after the catch, than any group since Dowler, Dale and McGee were helping to make Bart Starr a hall of fame quarterback. Knowing that, and trusting his coach to give them a chance to win, Brett Favre stayed within the game plan, and had the game tied by the end of the first quarter, and they were well ahead by half time.

Another major part of the story is the balanced offensive attack, which has been developing in the second half of the season. A pass first offense by necessity for much of the year, the Packers now, just in the nick of time, have a dependable running game as well. The game statistics show 173 yards passing and 171 yards rushing, a balanced offense. Ryan Grant, except for a fumble or two, is running as well as any back in the league, and Brandon Jackson looks like an adequate replacement if necessary. The offensive line dominated the Seattle defensive line, which for much of the season had been effective against the run.

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