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Young Packers, McCarthy stay poised despite big hole early

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Never mind that Mike McCarthy was short on postseason experience. The Packers coach and his youthful team never lost their composure on Saturday.

Down 14-0 just over four minutes into their NFC playoff game against Seattle, the Packers resisted wilting despite two costly turnovers and a recent playoff history that wasn't on their side in a 42-20 victory over the Seahawks.

"I really wasn't worried about it because it was really nothing I could control," McCarthy said. "Our guys weren't going to grow up any faster during the course of the week. I didn't even address it with the football team. We are who we are. We're here for a reason. We're a good football team that continues to improve.

"I think we put our best foot forward today. That's what you want to do in the playoffs."

This playoff game was certainly better than the last one at Lambeau Field, which turned out to be brutal for the Cheesehead faithful. Green Bay fell behind 17-0 to the Minnesota Vikings in a 2004 NFC wild-card game that left Randy Moss pretending to moon the crowd.

Right tackle Mark Tauscher said the situation on Saturday was very different.

"We have a different makeup. We have a lot of playmakers," he said. "Things aren't always going to go the way you expect. You have to be able to bounce back from that. I think that's kind of a test to the character of this team."

Veteran tight end Bubba Franks said the sideline was quiet when Green Bay was down 14-0, but no one panicked.

"Nobody really ever said nothing," Franks said. "That's a tribute to this young team coming back and responding like that. It's unbelievable."

After falling behind early, the Packers scored on their next six drives with a certain symmetry - Brett Favre threw three touchdown passes and Ryan Grant ran for three more - as Green Bay gained 408 yards of offense.

McCarthy, who took over after general manager Ted Thompson fired Mike Sherman following the 2005 season, turned a group trained to look for Favre to make big plays - and often saw him make costly interceptions - into a team that moved the ball efficiently and effectively.

Forget that the Packers didn't find their running back until Grant emerged in midseason, didn't have a tested wide receiver beyond Donald Driver, and had an unhappy Favre bemoaning Thompson's reluctance to make a trade for Moss in the offseason.

McCarthy, Favre's quarterbacks coach in 1999 after six years with the Chiefs, moved on to New Orleans as the offensive coordinator, then spent a year in San Francisco working with No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith.

Still, his resume was hardly full of experience when he took over in Green Bay.

He didn't get off to a fast start, either, sinking to 4-8 before winning four straight to end last season. But since then, McCarthy has kept winning, off to the best coaching start in Packers history through 25 games, with the team matching a franchise-record with 13 wins this season.

Now he's got his first postseason win, too, and kept his title dreams alive in his second year, something it took Vince Lombardi three seasons to accomplish.

"Everybody wants to talk about inexperience, but this is a very confident football team. You could see it building throughout the year. They believe that they're going to win the Super Bowl. This is their first step and the second step is the NFC championship," McCarthy said.

McCarthy did it by suppressing Favre's itch to force the deep ball while working on a consistent running game that finally came around.

Thompson, meanwhile, built a deep, young and explosive defense through the draft and bolstered it with long-term signings at key positions, including linebacker Nick Barnett, Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Kampman and Pro Bowl cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson.

That experience paid off against the Seahawks, who had 10 starters who also started in the Super Bowl two years ago. Seattle managed 28 yards rushing and 200 yards of offense as the receivers dropped passes at the worst moments, notably when Marcus Pollard let one slip through his hands in the end zone.

Those mistakes were more than enough for the Packers, who kept building momentum with touchdowns on every drive. They let the defense tee off with Atari Bigby and fellow safety Nick Collins making big hits while Harris and Woodson shut down the Seahawks' top receivers.

"Our young guys, they just love to play," Woodson said. "Whether we're down 14-0 or up 14-0, they just want to go out and play football. They leave it all on the field, no matter what the circumstances are."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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