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Falcons pack wallop

NFC WILD CARD: FALCONS 27, PACKERS 7: Atlanta shatters the Lambeau mystique and Green Bay.

[AP photo]
Brett Favre, who fumbled on this play in the fourth quarter, saw his win streak in cold weather come to an end against the Falcons.

By KEVIN KELLY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 5, 2003

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When the cold didn't work, the snow began to fall.

And when the snow failed to disrupt quarterback Michael Vick's uncanny athleticism or slow his Falcons at Lambeau Field, the Packers' perfect record in home playoff games and their season ended with a thud.

Atlanta, which lost in overtime to the Packers in Week 1, scored on its first drive Saturday and never was in danger during the remainder of a 27-7 NFC wild-card win.

The Falcons dropped three of their last four regular-season games but advanced to play at Philadelphia next weekend. They'll try to become the seventh team to win three games to advance to the Super Bowl.

What's so confounding about the injury-ravaged Packers is this: A week after they could have taken the No. 1 seed from the Eagles, gained a first-round bye and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, their season is done.

Green Bay won 12 times this season but was outscored 69-24 in losses to the Jets on Dec. 29 and Falcons Saturday before a record 65,358 at Lambeau Field. Saturday's loss marked the Packers' first in 14 home playoff games overall and 12 at Lambeau Field. The loss also ended quarterback Brett Favre's streak of 35 home wins when the temperature was 34 degrees or below.

Vick showcased his ability by throwing for 209 yards, running for 72 and accounting for two touchdowns in a Week 1 loss to the Packers.

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

In his first playoff game, Vick recaptured his early-season magic and outdueled three-time MVP Favre. Vick kept multiple plays alive by staying on his feet and accounted for 181 total yards and one touchdown. Favre threw for 247 yards but was intercepted twice.

"He was pretty much being an escape artist," Packers defensive tackle Steve Warren said. "We had him several times, had him on the sidelines and he'd escape and make plays with his legs. That's what we had to stop today. We didn't get that done. We let him make plays."

Vick gained 64 yards on 10 carries and former Bucs running back Warrick Dunn gained 64 on 15 carries. T.J. Duckett added 45 yards and a touchdown on 17 rushes.

Showing no effects of playing in 31-degree weather at kickoff, Atlanta dominated the first half and left bundled-up Packer fans livid with their team's performance.

The Falcons not only scored on their first drive but further stunned the Packers when they blocked a punt, recovered and returned 1 yard for a touchdown, then scored after recovering a fumbled punt to make it 21-0.

They led 24-0 at halftime.

"That's probably the worst half of football that we've played ... ever," Packers right guard Marco Rivera said.

Vick flashed the mobility and strength that has impressed everyone in the league this season, and Dunn provided the support as Atlanta went 76 yards in 10 plays to take a 7-0 lead. Vick threw a 10-yard pass to receiver Shawn Jefferson with 9:17 remaining in the first quarter.

Atlanta's defense followed by intercepting Favre.

On the Packers' second possession, Falcons linebacker Mark Simoneau blocked a punt that teammate Artie Ulmer recovered to give Atlanta a 14-0 lead with 6:38 left in the quarter.

The Packers didn't get a first down until nearly 10 minutes in and wasted a drive that lasted 5:35 when kicker Ryan Longwell missed a 47-yard field goal with :58 remaining.

A second Packer special-teams blunder helped the Falcons score for the third time in the half. Green Bay returner Eric Metcalf fumbled a punt when teammate Mike McKenzie was pushed into him by Kevin McCadam.

The Falcons scored 2:36 later on a 6-yard run by Duckett and added a field goal as time expired in the half to make it 24-0.

A Packers' win would have sent them to Tampa to play the Bucs next weekend at Raymond James Stadium.

Favre is 0-5 at RJS.

Instead, Tampa Bay hosts the winner of today's 49ers-Giants game in San Francisco.

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