GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -The Green Bay Packers' run to respectability began in the basement. In late October, they were averaging a league-worst 65 yards rushing per game.
By December, they were capable of gaining more than that in a single play - a 66-yard touchdown run in an otherwise forgettable game in Chicago.
Sure, Green Bay's offensive line got better at run blocking as the season progressed. But going into Saturday's divisional playoff game against Seattle at Lambeau Field, there's no mistaking the man who has powered the Packers' rushing resurgence.
``The biggest difference you'd have to say is Ryan Grant,'' Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. ``Clearly, he's a big part of our success running the football.''
Despite not taking over as the Packers' top running back until the seventh game of the season, Grant had 11 runs of 20 yards or more - tying him with Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook for third-most in the league.
Grant also had four touchdown runs of 20 yards or more - tying him with Tomlinson and trailing only Minnesota's high-impact rookie, Peterson, with six.
That's pretty heady company for Grant, who 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.
But Grant also had 22 rushes for negative yards this season, 16th-most in the league.
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. But they still need to get more consistent.
``Certainly the one thing you have to be happy about is we've had more explosive plays - long, explosive plays,'' Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. ``But I think the consistency of the running game, there's still too many negative-yardage plays.''
The Packers built their 13-3 regular-season record relying heavily on a pass-first offense that puts wide receivers in perfect position to run wild after the catch. Grant gives opposing defenses a moment of pause, because the next 20-yard run could be a play away.
But if the Packers can start running the ball consistently, they'll be that much harder to stop.
``It's important every weekend,'' Grant said of the Packers' developing running game. ``It's more important in the playoffs, because you want to get consistent, you want to establish a tempo for the game. And that's what our motto's been all season.''
The Packers are struggling with injuries on the offensive line, but running backs coach Edgar Bennett believes the team can get better in the playoffs.
``We saw how it's supposed to look, and how it's supposed to be done,'' said Bennett, the Packers' top running back in their 1996 championship season. ``We've been getting better and better as the season has continued, so I think we've just got to keep heading that direction. Obviously, when you enter the playoffs, it goes up a notch.''
Grant reminds folks in Green Bay of former Packers back Dorsey Levens - he even wears the same number, 25. But Bennett said Grant is establishing his own identity.
``He's becoming more and more 'Ryan Grant,' building a case for his own name,'' Bennett said. ``He's starting his own legacy, and that's certainly something we're excited about. We've talked about the difference between the regular season and the playoffs, and I think this is when he can become even more 'Ryan Grant' and make a name for himself.''
Despite not being featured in the Packers' offense until the middle of the season, Grant might have gained 1,000 yards rushing if not for a minor stinger he sustained in the Packers' regular-season finale against Detroit. He credits his offensive line, fullbacks and even wide receivers for his sudden success.
``Up front, they're doing a hell of a job,'' Grant said. ``Guys at the second level are blocking for me, making it really easy.''
While the focus will likely be on Brett Favre in the playoffs, Philbin said it is critical for the Packers to run the ball consistently.
``Early in the season, we were calling runs and ending up in second-and-9, second-and-10, those types of things,'' Philbin said. ``You just kind of lose your rhythm. But we've got to continue to keep developing. There's still a lot of room for improvement, but we certainly have made some strides.''

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