GREEN BAY, Wis. - Compared to what awaits them tonight, the Atlanta Falcons might remember last week's visit to Cleveland as a balmy day trip off the gentle waters of Lake Erie.
The forecast at Lambeau Field calls for a kickoff temperature in the high 20s with a 50 percent chance of snow.
Such conditions seem ideal for the Green Bay Packers and quarterback Brett Favre. The Packers are 11-0 in playoff games at home, and Favre has never lost in 35 starts at Lambeau when temperatures are 34 and colder.
Falcons receiver Shawn Jefferson, who will suit up for his first postseason game with Atlanta and 13th overall, isn't fazed.
"We aren't playing the weather," Jefferson said. "We aren't going to play the crowd. We aren't facing one quarterback. We're playing the Green Bay Packers, and anyone that thinks we are just going to show up and let them win is mistaken. Sadly mistaken."
Jefferson has his finger on the pulse of the Falcons, whose locker room was buzzing with excitement Thursday afternoon after their final practice.
Why such an upbeat mood? Consider that the Falcons' highlight of 2001 was a 23-20 victory at Lambeau. No visiting team has won there since.
Also, some players draw confidence from the season opener, when Atlanta took the Packers to overtime before losing 37-34.
"I expect that same kind of vibe up in Green Bay, but probably times 50, times 100," said defensive end Brady Smith, who will make his postseason debut after seven NFL seasons. "I'm definitely excited for it. I really relish the challenge of playing those guys in their house and coming out of there with a win."
The two offensive players most responsible for the Falcons' seventh playoff appearance in 37 years are the same ones who've had difficulties down the stretch.
Quarterback Michael Vick, who hasn't rushed for a touchdown in four games, completed only 47.9 percent of his passes in December, a decrease of almost 10 points from the completion percentage he posted in his first 10 games.
"The last couple of weeks, I wouldn't say it's gone well," Vick said. "The thing I have to do is get back and set my feet every time I throw and get rid of the football on time."
Vick wants to see his teammates take the same approach in other parts of the game that they've shown in the two-minute drill. In seven of his 15 games, the 22-year-old Vick has put the Falcons in position to win or tie in the final seconds. Their last victory in such circumstances came five weeks ago at Minnesota when he ran for a 46-yard touchdown.
Running back Warrick Dunn struggled against two of the league's worst rushing defenses. Seattle held him to 17 yards in the second half of the Seahawks' six-point win at the Georgia Dome three weeks ago. The Browns stuffed him twice in the final minute as Dunn tried to score a 1-yard touchdown with a run up the middle.
Dunn, who signed with the Falcons in March, has answered questions about Green Bay's weather since Tampa Bay drafted him in the first round of 1997. The Buccaneers were notorious for saving some of their worst performances for games at Lambeau.
Insisting he has long purged memories of Tampa Bay's problems from his mind, Dunn thinks the Falcons just need to remember they're the same players who fashioned an eight-game unbeaten streak through the first week of December.
"I think we're a confident football team getting down to the 20," Dunn said. "It just seems like when get to the 10 we can't score a touchdown. I think right now we're just trying to put more emphasis on executing."
As for Atlanta's defense, opposing teams have scored 11 touchdowns and two field goals in their past 14 trips to the red zone.
"There's going to be a lot of adversity out there," cornerback Ashley Ambrose said. "We've just got to find a way to get through it all."
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