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Behind Vick, Falcons end Pack's home playoff rule

1/5/2003

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- It looked so perfect for Green Bay. Snow
falling. Packers in green and gold. Lambeau Field in January.

Only it wasn't Brett Favre making all the plays.

It was Michael Vick who looked right at home.

Undaunted by the storied stadium where his own coach lost in the
"Ice Bowl'' 35 years ago, Vick made history of his own Saturday
night.

The 22-year-old improvisational genius led the Atlanta Falcons
to a shocking 27-7 upset of the Packers in a wild-card playoff
before a record crowd of 65,358 stunned souls.

"We were underdogs. We wanted to show 'em we had the potential
to come out and make history,'' Vick said after his first NFL
playoff game.

The Packers (12-5) were the only team to go unbeaten at home
during the regular season. And they had never lost a home playoff
game since the NFL instituted a postseason in 1933 in going 13-0 --
11 of the wins coming at Lambeau and two more in Milwaukee.

"That's what we were talking about all week, the winning streak
in the playoffs. It had to come to an end,'' Vick said.

The closest the Packers had come to losing in the land of
Lombardi was on New Year's Eve 1967, when Bart Starr knifed into
the end zone with 13 seconds left to give Green Bay a 21-17 victory
over Dallas in the coldest game in NFL history.

Falcons coach Dan Reeves threw a 50-yard touchdown pass on a
halfback option that gave the Cowboys a 17-14 fourth-quarter lead
in that game.

"Thirty-five years ago and they're still showing that. And all
I did was complete one little old pass,'' Reeves said. "To be the
first team to win a game up here, they'll be showing this for a
long time.''

Favre had built a reputation as the game's greatest cold-weather
quarterback, winning all 35 of his starts at home in which the
temperature was 34 or below.

And what did Favre think of his second straight thumping in the
playoffs?

Who knows.

For the first time in his career, he bolted without a word.

It was an unseasonably warm 31 degrees at kickoff. By the time
snow began falling at halftime, the Falcons had an astonishing 24-0
lead.

Favre was without Pro Bowl running back Ahman Green (knee) and
leading receivers Donald Driver (shoulder) and Terry Glenn
(concussion) in a futile second-half comeback attempt.

Vick's numbers weren't great -- 117 yards passing, 64 rushing --
but he was his usual phenomenal self. Over and over, he turned
broken plays into big ones.

"He's amazing,'' Reeves said. "It seems the tougher the
situation the better he is.''

The Falcons (10-6-1), who had backed into the playoffs after
losing three of four in December, will travel to Philadelphia for a
divisional playoff next weekend.

The Packers, who just one week ago still had a shot at the
home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, began their
offseason much sooner than anyone expected.

"To say this is disappointing is as big an understatement as I
could ever make,'' an incensed Packers coach Mike Sherman said.

"Michael Vick's a great player, he made some great plays, we
couldn't tackle him,'' Sherman said. "But their whole team played
well. It wasn't just Michael Vick.''

Still deflated from their 42-17 defeat to the New York Jets last
week that cost them a first-round bye, the Packers received a
series of rapid-fire jolts in the first night playoff game in their
history.

First, Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper (knee) was unable to play,
leaving the Packers without their fastest defender to help contain
Vick.

Their next best bet was a snowstorm, but it arrived too late.

"We were expecting bad weather, and it didn't happen,'' Vick
said.

Atlanta, which hadn't reached the end zone on its opening drive
all season, went 76 yards in 10 plays, the payoff coming on Shawn
Jefferson's 10-yard touchdown catch.

Falcons linebacker Mark Simoneau beat Matt Bowen and blocked
Josh Bidwell's punt out of Green Bay's end zone and Artie Ulmer
smothered the loose ball for another Atlanta touchdown and a 14-0
lead.

Then, Kevin McCadam pushed Tyrone Williams into Green Bay punt
returner Eric Metcalf, and Falcons fullback George Layne recovered
the muffed punt at the Packers 21.

Sherman didn't challenge the call -- and a review would have
given Green Bay possession because the punted ball clearly bounced
off McCadam's left shoulder.

Sherman said he spoke with an official on the field, "but he
(mistakenly) led me to believe it would not be reviewable.''

Four plays later, the Falcons made it 21-0 when T.J. Duckett
carried the pile 6 yards into the end zone as a shocked Sherman
crouched on the sideline.

The fervent Falcons then stopped the Packers with a goal-line
stand with nose tackle Ellis Johnson dumping Green for a 4-yard
loss on fourth down. Over Favre's career, the Packers had scored 48
touchdowns and one field goal when they had faced first-and-goal.

As the much-awaited snow began falling, the exhilarated Falcons
didn't flinch. Vick led them 90 yards in 16 plays for Jay Feely's
22-yard field goal on the final play of the first half for a 24-0
lead.

Favre, who had two interceptions and a fumble, hit Driver with a
14-yard touchdown on the first drive after halftime, but Driver
re-injured his dislocated shoulder on the play and the Packers were
done.

"We did a lot of things right this year in the regular
season,'' Sherman said. "We didn't do them right in the
postseason.''

Game notes
The Falcons' victory was their first in the playoffs since
they upset Minnesota in the 1998 NFC title game. ... Packers NT
Gilbert Brown injured a hip. ... The Falcons had no injuries of
note.

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