Silence of the Lambeau Jinx
The weather of Northern Wisconsin, the mystique of Lambeau Field and the magic of Brett Favre must clear out for a new phenomenon: the force of Michael Vick.
In his first playoff start, Vick led the Atlanta Falcons to a stunning, unprecedented victory over the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night, making it look just as easy as the 27-7 score would indicate.
It was the first time the Packers lost a home playoff game.
All of the elements, quite literally, were in place for the unbeaten streak to continue. The temperature at kickoff was 31 degrees, with a slight wind from the southeast. Snow coated the field by game’s end.
Although he is from Mississippi, Favre always seemed to be at his best in the cold. The Green Bay quarterback was 35-0 in homes games played in temperatures below 34 degrees.
“You look around and typically that’s Green Bay Packer weather,” Green Bay defensive end Vonnie Holiday said. “That’s when Brett Favre shines.
“They took a page out of our history book.”
Then they fed it through the shredder. Say goodbye to the undefeated playoff home record, a run of 13 games that included 11 at Lambeau Field.
“That was the thing we had been talking about all week -- the winning streak they had in the playoffs, and one day it had to come to an end,” said Vick, the Falcons’ second-year quarterback. “Why not let us be the team to do it? That’s the thing we got up for all week.”
Calmly efficient and occasionally spectacular, Vick completed 13 of 25 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown and ran 10 times for 64 yards. He didn’t amass big yardage as much as he made timely plays, necessary plays, and a few plays only he can make.
“He’s amazing,” Atlanta Coach Dan Reeves said. “It seems like the tougher the situation, the better he is.”
Take this situation: running out of room near the sideline, with the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila bearing down on him for a sack. Gbaja-Biamila, the Packers’ leader in sacks, grabbed Vick’s helmet. Vick managed to slip away, took a second to adjust his facemask, then sprinted back to the middle of a the field for a 14-yard gain on a third-and-three.
“Just another great play,” Vick said.
Indeed, he always seemed to have one in his bag of tricks whenever he appeared to be cornered, turning a sure loss into a gain. The Packers didn’t sack him once.
“He’s a talented player,” Gbaja-Biamila said. “I can’t explain what happened. I’m speechless. I have to watch film to see what we did wrong or what we could have done better.”
It wasn’t all Vick. Warrick Dunn rushed 15 times for 64 yards (a 4.3 average) and T.J. Duckett carried 17 times for 45 yard and a touchdown.
The defense came up with five turnovers and held the Packers to 56 rushing yards.
“I think we just went out there and were a better team than we were tonight,” Vick said. “We came out and we executed. On my behalf, I managed the game, and I was able to come up with some big plays when they were needed.”
The Falcons, who will face the Eagles at Philadelphia next weekend, moved crisply down the field on the opening possession, traveling 76 yards in 10 plays. Vick completed all three of his passes for 35 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown strike to Shawn Jefferson. It marked the first time all season they had scored on their first drive.
Green Bay seemed to fall apart in every facet.
“I’m very disappointed about the outcome of this football game and how little we did in any phase of the game,” Coach Mike Sherman said. “I expected us to play better than we did today and we didn’t. To say it is disappointing is as big an understatement as I could ever make.”
Favre didn’t have it. His second pass sailed straight down the middle and into the hands of Atlanta cornerback Keion Carpenter. Favre couldn’t move the Packers off their own five-yard line on their second possession, leading to a blocked punt that was recovered for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
Green Bay kicker Ryan Longwell missed a 30-yard field goal on their third possession. And the Packers were victimized by bad decisions -- both play-calling and execution -- on their fourth possession.
After moving to Atlanta’s one-yard line, the Packers tried a toss to Ahman Green on second down. He was chased down for a one-yard loss. Then Favre tried to throw a pass through a defender and was lucky it wasn’t intercepted. On fourth down, rather than keep the ball in Favre’s hands, Green was stuffed for a loss.
At halftime, the snow wasn’t coming down nearly as hard as the boos from the Green Bay record crowd of 65,358.
The other problem for Green Bay was injuries. They were without Pro Bowl free safety Darren Sharper, and by the second half they didn’t have Green, both starting receivers (Donald Driver and Terry Glenn) and starting nose tackle Gilbert Brown.
By the end, they didn’t even have a stadium full of fans, as some of the crowd left early. Watching the home team lose was a new experience for them as well.
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Before Saturday’s loss, Green Bay had been perfect at home in the playoffs:
*--* DATE GAME OPPONENT RESULT Dec. 10, 1939 NFL championship New York Giants* W, 27-0 Dec. 31, 1961 NFL championship New York Giants W, 37-0 Dec. 26, 1965 Western Conf. champ Baltimore Colts (OT) W, 13-10 Jan. 2, 1966 NFL championship Cleveland Browns W, 23-12 Dec. 23, 1967 Western Conf. champ Los Angeles Rams* W, 28-7 Dec. 31, 1967 NFL championship Dallas Cowboys W, 21-17 Jan. 8, 1983 First-round playoff St. Louis Cardinals W, 41-16 Dec. 31, 1994 NFC wild card playoff Detroit Lions W, 16-12 Dec. 31, 1995 NFC wild card playoff Atlanta Falcons W, 37-20 Jan. 4, 1997 NFC divisional playoff San Francisco 49ers W, 35-14 Jan 12, 1997 NFC championship Carolina Panthers W, 30-13 Jan 4, 1998 NFC divisional playoff Tampa Bay Buccaneers W, 21-10 Jan 13, 2002 NFC wild card playoff San Francisco 49ers W, 25-15 Jan. 4, 2003 NFC wild card playoff Atlanta Falcons L, 27-7 * at Milwaukee