Two coaches fired in wake of Packers' routs

GREEN BAY (AP) -- Luckily for Mike Smith, the Atlanta Falcons are 8-2 and playing well entering their key NFC showdown with the Green Bay Packers at the Georgia Dome. Otherwise, the Falcons coach might be next on the Packers' hit list.

GREEN BAY (AP) -- Luckily for Mike Smith, the Atlanta Falcons are 8-2 and playing well entering their key NFC showdown with the Green Bay Packers at the Georgia Dome. Otherwise, the Falcons coach might be next on the Packers' hit list.

The Packers' back-to-back dominating performances -- a 45-7 rout of the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 7 and a 31-3 whipping of the archrival Vikings on Sunday -- have extended their winning streak to four games and improved their record to 7-3. They may have also helped two coaches fired.

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, who left the Metrodome in an angry, red-faced huff following his team's loss to the Packers, fired coach Brad Childress on Monday. And Dallas' Wade Phillips was fired on Nov. 8 by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, shortly after the Cowboys' embarrassing loss at Lambeau Field.

While Packers coach Mike McCarthy made it clear he didn't feel good about Childress' firing Monday -- "You never want to see that happen," McCarthy said -- he couldn't be more thrilled with the way his team is playing.

"We're doing what we're supposed to be doing the last month of the season," McCarthy said. "You want to play your best football in November and December."


That is exactly what the Packers are doing, in a variety of areas, since back-to-back overtime losses to Washington and Miami dropped them to 3-3 on Oct. 17.

Their turnover differential, which was at minus-2 after the loss to the Dolphins, is now at plus-8, with the offense having gone three straight games without a turnover while the defense has registered nine takeaways, including a fumble and Tramon Williams' game-turning interception against the Vikings.

Their penalties, after committing a franchise-record 18 in a Sept. 27 loss at Chicago, are down sharply during their four-game winning streak, with just eight penalties enforced against them over the four games, including just one against the Vikings.

Their defense, which has endured season-ending injuries to three starters and been without various other key contributors off-and-on, is now tied with Chicago for fewest points allowed (146) after holding the New York Jets, Cowboys and Vikings to a combined 10 points and only one touchdown the past three games.

And their offense, which struggled to find a rhythm following season-ending injuries to starting halfback Ryan Grant and ascending tight end Jermichael Finley early in the season, has in the past two games gained 789 yards while quarterback Aaron Rodgers has completed 49 of 65 passes for 590 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions (134.5 passer rating).

"We're right where we want to be," Rodgers said. "We're playing the way we feel we're capable of playing. We've started slow the last couple of years, but we're kind of hitting our stride now. We're 7-3, and the biggest thing offensively (is), we haven't turned the ball over the last three games, and that's how we're going to win. When we're doing those kind of things, we're tough to beat. And then you pair that with a defense that's playing extremely well the last three game ... we're not going to lose games when they're playing that well."

NOTES: McCarthy said safeties Atari Bigby (hamstring) and Anthony Smith (ankle) "will be challenged" to be able to play this week against the Falcons. Bigby, who was activated from the physically unable to perform list on Nov. 6, made a huge tackle on the opening kickoff after McCarthy chose to defer after winning the coin toss. Charlie Peprah started at safety with Bigby rotating in for six plays before the injury.... Wide receiver Greg Jennings, who caught seven passes for 152 yards and a career-best three touchdowns Sunday, has now caught 32 passes for 520 yards and six TDs over his past five games. In the first five games of the season, he caught only 14 passes for 183 yards and three TDs.

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