Grant and Packers clinch NFC North

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

The Green Bay Packers are going back to the playoffs.

And maybe they're bringing a running game with them.

Green Bay didn't need Brett Favre to throw the ball all over the field to clinch the NFC North on Sunday, relying on the rushing of Ryan Grant and a pair of special teams touchdowns from Will Blackmon in a 38-7 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

The Packers (11-2) ensured an end to their two-year absence from the postseason with three games left.

"I don't know if too many people gave us a shot to be at this position," Favre said. "It says a lot about this team. I'm feeling good about my decision to come back, obviously."

Grant's hard running and sharp cutbacks came in handy on a day when Favre's aching right elbow and left shoulder hindered the Packers' passing game. Favre left last week's loss at Dallas because of the injuries and was limited in practice this week, but still made his 250th straight start.

Grant, who was acquired in a trade with the New York Giants just before the season and took over as the starter last month, rushed for a career-high 156 yards and a touchdown. It was his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season. Grant's presence has boosted what had been one of the league's worst rushing offenses.

"I can't say enough about Ryan Grant," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "I think he's really coming into his own."

Just at the right time -- as the weather turns colder in Green Bay.

Raiders coach Lane Kiffin said the chilly 18-degree conditions didn't affect his team. The Raiders (4-9) trailed only 14-7 at halftime despite struggling on offense, only to unravel in the second half.

"I don't think the cold didn't tackle today," Kiffin said. "I don't think the cold threw incompletions today. I don't think the cold had nine penalties. We did."

Raiders quarterback Josh McCown, starting in place of the injured Daunte Culpepper, was 7-of-15 for 110 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions before he was replaced by Andrew Walter early in the fourth quarter.

McCown woke up with a stomach virus and took intravenous fluids before the game.

"I battled as much as I could," McCown said. "It is what it is. It's unfortunate."

Raiders running back Justin Fargas also left the game in the fourth quarter with a bruised rib. He had only 57 yards on 15 carries.

"You expect to be in every game," said Fargas, who didn't think he would miss any time because of the injury. "You expect to win every game. But we didn't play well today as a team and they were the better team today."

Oakland held Green Bay's offense scoreless through the first quarter. But a short punt by Shane Lechler gave the Packers the ball near midfield early in the second quarter, and Favre directed an 11-play drive that ended with Grant's 6-yard touchdown run.

Oakland went backward on its next possession, as two long completions by McCown were undone by penalties, and the Raiders had to punt. Blackmon fielded the ball and immediately squirted through a gap to run for a touchdown, putting the Packers ahead 14-0.

It was the first punt returned for a touchdown against Lechler in his eight-year career.

Raiders lineman Warren Sapp wanted to see a replay because he thought Blackmon stepped out of bounds.

"I don't think Shane has ever had a punt return for a TD, and the dude stepped out of bounds on that one," Sapp said. "Everybody was against us today; that's why we got 38 points put up on us."

The Raiders scored just before halftime on a 25-yard pass from McCown that slipped out of cornerback Al Harris' hands in the end zone and was caught by Jerry Porter.

But the Packers scored on their first two possessions of the second half, as Mason Crosby hit a 44-yard field goal and Favre heaved a deep pass to Greg Jennings that went for an 80-yard touchdown to put Green Bay ahead 24-7.

The Packers finally punted late in the third quarter -- and even managed to score on that.

Tim Dwight fielded the ball inside the 10-yard line and lost it after he was wrapped up by Green Bay's Jason Hunter. The ball bounced into the end zone, where Blackmon pounced on it.

Dwight originally was ruled down by contact, but a replay review awarded the touchdown to the Packers. It was the first time the Packers have scored twice on special teams in a game since 1986.

Favre had a relatively quiet day after easing his way back into practice this week, but still completed 15-of-23 passes for 266 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

Favre, no stranger to chilly conditions at Lambeau Field, conceded that the cold bothered him.

"My elbow was not 100 percent, so I knew going into the game that I was not able to throw it with a lot of velocity," Favre said. "And what little bit I had thrown during the week was not in cold weather."


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