-- More snow and a touch of fog enveloped this town today, matching the gloomy mood of citizens who had watched their football team lose a playoff game at Lambeau Field for the first time.
Michael Vick showed up on Saturday night to lead the Atlanta Falcons, a seven-point underdog, to a 27-7 victory over the Green Bay Packers that stopped the stadium streak at 11. Vick led his team into a conference semifinal game in Philadelphia next Saturday night against the NFC East champion Eagles.
"This is the thing we've been talking about all week -- the [Packers] winning streak in the playoffs and one day it had to come to an end," Vick said afterward. "So why not have us to be the team to do it?"
Said veteran cornerback Ray Buchanan: "Everybody was telling us that history wasn't going to be made. Everybody picked Green Bay to win the game, but records are made to be broken. This team didn't get discouraged. It's a tough place to play, but we came in and beat the big bully."
Packers fans had seen Vick's act -- now you see him, now you don't -- once before this season. He performed brilliantly on a sweltering September afternoon, running for one touchdown and throwing for another before the Packers pulled out a 37-34 overtime victory in the teams' season opener.
But four months later, both franchises had undergone significant transformations. Though the Falcons had lost three of their final four games of the regular season, they were mostly healthy and seemingly brimming with confidence. During the week, in fact, Vick had said: "It's like the weather in Green Bay. If you allow all of that stuff to affect you, it will."
"There was a certain air in our locker room, I felt it before the game," said veteran receiver Shawn Jefferson, who opened the scoring on a 10-yard touchdown reception with a rocket pass from on Atlanta's first possession. "When we were on the field, man, it just exploded. We dominated the game from the start."
The Falcons also got a break with the elements, what Coach Dan Reeves called "perfect football weather." With the temperature at kickoff at 31 degrees, the field was firm and actually fast, with solid footing throughout most of the first half until snow flurries hit just before halftime.
All of that gave Vick, possibly the swiftest quarterback who has played the game, a huge advantage and, by halftime, he had taken his team to a 24-0 lead against a Packers team missing all manner of important players.
The most significant loss was free safety Darren Sharper, who was inactive with a sprained knee ligament. He was hurt two weeks ago when he tried to return an interception from five yards deep in the end zone Dec. 22 against Buffalo, a move that did not sit well with Packers Coach Mike Sherman then, and especially now.
Without Sharper, as deft an open field tackler as there is in the league, Vick was able to elude Packers defenders all night, especially in crucial situations. On his team's opening touchdown drive, on third and two from the Packers 20, he dashed four yards out of a shotgun formation to pick up a vital first down, then passed 10 yards to Jefferson three plays later, the Falcons' first touchdown on their first possession all season.
His most remarkable feat came late in the first half. On third and three at the Packers 39, Vick took the ball and rolled to his left, where Packers defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila seemingly had him trapped at the sidelines. In fact, he nearly ripped Vick's helmet off, but Vick escaped his grasp, planted his foot inches from the sideline, then veered back toward the middle of the field, slashing his way for an 11-yard gain and a first down. That set up Jay Feely's 22-yard field goal for a 24-0 lead. After the Packers showed signs of life by opening the second half with their only touchdown, Vick quickly directed the Falcons to another field goal.
Vick led his team with 64 yards rushing on 10 carries, and the Falcons outrushed the Packers 192 yards to 56. Just as significantly, all those drives only allowed Packers quarterback Brett Favre to have the ball for 23 minutes, and he was always playing from behind.
The Packers had five turnovers in all, including two interceptions and a fumble by Favre, and continuing a season-long trend, their special teams were dreadful, allowing one blocked punt for a touchdown and a controversial muffed punt that may have been the pivotal play.
It came early in the second quarter with the Falcons leading 14-0. Packers return man Eric Metcalf was signaling for a fair catch when Falcons defender Kevin McAdam blocked Tyrone Williams back into Metcalf. Replays indicated the flying football hit McAdam, but game officials ruled it had touched a Packer first, and allowed a recovery by the Falcons' George Lane at the Green Bay 21.
Sherman decided not to ask for a replay review, claiming afterward his coaches up in a press box booth had not seen a replay in time for him to signal a stoppage of play. If the ball did hit McAdam first, by rule the ball would have been declared dead at that spot and the Packers would have taken over. Instead, five plays layer, T.J. Duckett scored on a six-yard touchdown run for a 21-0 lead.
Sherman told an ABC interviewer at halftime that the officials told him the play could not be reviewed. But in his postgame news conference, he seemed to admit he never directly asked the question.
The official, he said, "told me we got overpowered [while blocking] and that the ball hit our guy and it was their [Atlanta] ball," he said. "That's where it stood. We did not have the replay up in the booth for me to look any further at that."
Referee Bernie Kukar told a pool reporter that no official told Sherman the play could not be reviewed. And NFL supervisor of officials Mike Pereira confirmed that today, saying, "no official told Sherman the play was not reversible."