FLOWERY BRANCH – I’ve been in constant contact this week with my old posse, Bob McGinn and Tom Silverstein, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
We did it real big covering the Packers together in the 1990s. We made sure Brett Favre didn’t break curfew and were in New Orleans for Mike Holmgren and Reggie White’s Super Bowl title. We fought through Ray Rhodes’s one season together. I left shortly after the start of the Mike Sherman era of under-achievement.
Our editors have even been exchanging copy. We ran a few stories from my old pal Lori Nickel (we won an award together for best feature story on Milwaukee native Latrell Sprewell, after he choked P.J. Carlisemo. He was the Citizen of Year as voted on by the coaches in High School. What happened?)
But y’all want to read about the game. Enough with my walk down memory lane.
The Packers will board a plane later today as a confident little bunch. The Packers are going to feel at home when they see the snow remnants. If they stop at a QuikTrip and see that they are now selling Johnsonville Brats, they will really feel at home.
McGinn, through the writer’s notes exchange, shared some intel on the mood of the squad. (If you’re a real football fan, I’m sure you already have his book: The Ultimate Super Bowl Book: A Complete Reference to the Stats, Stars, and Stories Behind Football’s Biggest Game – and Why the Best Team Won.)
While the Falcons are 2-point favorites, the Packers think “2″ is just a number.
“We know we’re a good team,” defensive end Cullen Jenkins said. “We’re right where we want to be now. It doesn’t matter where we’re ranked. If we keep winning, our goal is right in front of us.”
From 2000-’04, the No. 1 seeds were 9-1 at the divisional level. In the last five years, the No. 1 seeds were 5-5.
“They’re rested,” said safety Charlie Peprah, who was cut by the Falcons and starts for the Packers. “We’ve got our work cut out for us. It will be another close one. We’re two evenly matched teams.”
McGinn noted that Packers dropped six games by a total of 20 points and that they outgained the Falcons by 124 yards on Nov. 28.
“They’re very disciplined and very efficient at what they do,” linebacker Desmond Bishop said. “Both sides of the ball.”
The Pack clearly doesn’t think too much of the Falcons
“They don’t have the fastest or the strongest,” Bishop said. “They’re tough, disciplined and effective. That’s what wins. That’s who they are. We have to exceed everything they do. It’ll be tough.”
In his film review, McGinn counted 12 missed tackles as Michael Turner powered for 110 yards on 23 carries.
“We tackled horrible,” nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “That running back is as tough as they come. Their quarterback (Matt Ryan) makes great decisions. They don’t have turnovers, which goes back to the quarterback and Turner holding on to the ball.”
Statistically, the Falcons are a middle of the pack team. They finished 16th overall in both offense and defense. However, they were the only team in the league to finish in the top five in points and points allowed.
Again, the Packers are not impressed.
“We’re the underdogs,” said Jenkins. “We don’t have that much respect. It’s partially our fault. We didn’t finish games.”
The Falcons slapped the Packers around inside the five, twice. They got a fumble and forced a field goal.
“They played very physical and we did not play good situational football or third down or red zone,” fullback John Kuhn said. “In the playoffs, we’ve got to win third down, penalties, turnovers, red zone. That will be key next week.”
Again, the Packers are a confident bunch. Even the kid who dropped the touchdown pass last week against Philadelphia is confident.
“We feel like we can beat anyone anywhere,” wide receiver James Jones said. “We’ve got confidence.”
–D. Orlando Ledbetter