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Grant shakes off early fumbles to power Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It seemed like Ryan Grant came out of nowhere when he took over as the Green Bay Packers' featured running back in the middle of the season.

And after Grant's two early fumbles helped put Green Bay in a quick two-touchdown hole on Saturday, you'd figure Packers coach Mike McCarthy wanted to send him right back to wherever he came from.

But McCarthy said he never had the urge to send his big back to the lonely end of the bench, and Grant redeemed himself with one of the strongest rushing performances in playoff history. He ran for 201 yards and three touchdowns as the Packers beat the Seattle Seahawks 42-20 in a divisional playoff game at snow-streaked Lambeau Field.

"Redeemed? I hope so," Grant said. "It was unfortunate what happened, but I appreciate everybody backing me, backing me the whole time."

Grant broke Ahman Green's franchise playoff record of 156 yards rushing at Philadelphia in January 2004, with the seventh-best total in NFL postseason history. Eric Dickerson holds the single-game playoff rushing record with 248 yards for the Los Angeles Rams against Dallas in the NFC divisional round after the 1985 season.

Grant didn't take a single snap in his first two years in the league, and was acquired as an afterthought in a trade with the New York Giants just before the start of the regular season.

A sharp cutback runner with enough speed and size (6-1, 218) to break tackles, Grant has given the Packers' running game big-play ability. He reminds many folks in Green Bay of former back Dorsey Levens - he even wears the same number, 25.

Grant's day got off to an awful start on Saturday, though, losing two fumbles in the Packers' first three offensive plays.

After the second fumble, Brett Favre talked to Grant on the sideline.

"He was on the bench and I said 'Hey, you know what? Believe me, if there's one person that knows what it feels like to be in his shoes, it's me,"' Favre said. "I said, 'Forget about it. You're going to have plenty of opportunities.'

"He gave me the old, generic answer: 'Yeah, I know' - same thing I would have said. But I said, 'Go down swinging, man. Don't worry about it."'

Grant was frustrated, and wondered if McCarthy was going to take him out of the game. But he said he never let the fumbles get to him.

"I've been playing football for a long time and I understand there are ups and downs, and I've got to keep fighting no matter what," Grant said.

On their first play from scrimmage, Favre threw a swing pass to Grant on the right side, which the running back managed to haul in after bobbling the ball. Linebacker Leroy Hill stripped it and Lofa Tatupu recovered to give the Seahawks first-and-goal at the Green Bay 1, and Shaun Alexander ran in to put Seattle ahead 7-0.

The Packers kept feeding the ball to Grant on their next possession, and it cost them again when he was stripped by Brian Russell on the second play.

Jordan Babineaux recovered to give the ball back to the Seahawks offense and Matt Hasselbeck threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Bobby Engram to put Seattle ahead 14-0.

Grant fumbled only once in the regular season.

Did McCarthy think about sitting Grant down, at least for a series?

"Never one thought," McCarthy said.

Grant's big-play ability was just too important to the Packers' game plan.

"I know in the past I've pulled players for turnovers, but he was a big part of the way we approached this game," McCarthy said.

McCarthy sent Grant out on the field on the Packers' third possession, and he contributed a 4-yard run to a drive that ended with Favre's touchdown pass to Greg Jennings.

Then Grant really got going.

He broke runs of 7, 26 and 15 yards on Green Bay's next drive, then scored the tying touchdown from the 1-yard line.

Grant did most of the heavy lifting on another Packers scoring drive just before halftime, then scored his second touchdown of the game from the Seattle 3.

He had 91 yards and two touchdowns at the break.

Grant nearly scored on a 42-yard run near the end of the third quarter, then finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter.

Russell said it wasn't a surprise to see Grant come back and have a big game.

"He's been a good football player for them," Russell said.

"We knew in the playoffs you had to come up and make some strong, solid tackles and we created a couple of fumbles early. We were excited about that, and then we let it get away from us. I don't think we tackled very well at all - I didn't tackle very well at all today."

It was just the latest surprising performance by Grant, who got his chance in the Packers' Oct. 29 game at Denver, and responded with 104 yards rushing in a Green Bay victory - the first of five 100-yard performances in the regular season.

Grant rushed for 929 yards between Week 8 and the end of the regular season. Only San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson had more, with 947.

"When he got the opportunity, he made the most of it," Favre said. "It sure turned us from one-dimensional into something totally different."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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