The Green Bay Packers, their front seven devastated by injuries, put together an all-time great defensive performance in a shocking 9-0 victory over the host New York Jets on Sunday.
The Jets crossed midfield six times but never scored.
The fifth of those occasions came on their possession that started with about six-and-a-half minutes remaining while facing a 6-0 deficit. On third-and-6, Mark Sanchez bought time, stepped up into the pocket and hit tight end Dustin Keller for 41 yards to the Packers' 37 over safety Nick Collins.
Sanchez rushed to the line – perhaps because he crossed the line of scrimmage on the pass – and snuck for 2 yards. On second down, Sanchez booted to his left but Jerricho Cotchery couldn't hang onto the ball at the sideline. On third-and-8, Sanchez went deep to Cotchery but Tramon Williams was in perfect position for the breakup. The Jets decided to go for it on fourth down, but safety Charlie Peprah crunched Cotchery and the ball fell incomplete.
Green Bay took over with 4:12 to go but went three-and-out, with the Jets burning all of their timeouts at the end of three runs that went nowhere. That gave them 3:50 to move the ball 77 yards but they failed to even get a first down. On second-and-5, Peprah again hit Cotchery to break up the pass. On third down, Clay Matthews used an inside spin to beat right tackle Damien Woody and drop Sanchez for a 6-yard loss. With no timeouts, the Jets were forced to go for it on fourth-and-11 from their 22 but Sanchez's throw up the sideline to Braylon Edwards was high and Collins knocked Edwards out of bounds anyway.
The Packers burned as much of the clock as they could, with Mason Crosby hitting from 40 yards for the clinching score with 27 seconds to go.
A diving save by Anthony Smith – and wise a replay challenge by coach Mike McCarthy -- thwarted a fake punt midway through the first quarter, setting up Crosby's 20-yard field goal. Charles Woodson's interception of a Sanchez midway through the fourth quarter set up Crosby's 41-yard field goal to make it 6-0 with 6:36 remaining.
New York outgained the Packers 360-237 but was doomed by the turnovers. The Jets' power running game was held to less than 100 yards until Sanchez's meaningless 20-yard scramble on the last play of the game.
The defense's performance saved the day, with Rodgers finishing a miserable 15-of-34 passing and the offense converting just 2-of-14 third downs. Their three scoring "drives" gained all of 69 yards.
The Jets had won five in a row and considered themselves the best team in the NFL. Green Bay, with its first road shutout since 1991, improves to 5-3 and assumes first place in the NFC North, with Chicago (4-3) having its bye. It hosts Dallas on Sunday night, with the Cowboys (1-6) off to their worst start since 1989.
For the second consecutive week, Clay Matthews was held in check but delivered a key play late. Against Minnesota, Matthews drew a 15-yard face mask that helped thwart the Vikings' final drive. Against the Jets, he dropped Sanchez for a sack on third-and-5. The Packers rushed just three but he dropped Sanchez with an incredible spin move. That forced fourth-and-long, which the Jets failed to convert.
For the last couple of weeks, it's been a foregone conclusion that safety Atari Bigby would go from the physically unable to perform list to the starting lineup. Not so fast. Peprah has been rock solid the last three games, and his two pass breakups in the final minutes helped preserve the victory.
3: The Jets entered the game with an NFL-best plus-10 turnover ratio while the Packers were minus-1. They reversed roles, though, with Green Bay winning the turnover battle 3-0.
Woodson, on beating the Jets, who were tied for the AFC's best record: "It just says that we're not out of this thing yet. A lot of people had written off the couple weeks before the Vikings game, and we've been able to put together a couple wins. Coming here, playing on the road against the Jets, which is a good team, winning a close game ... that's good for us."
-- Detroit got Matthew Stafford back from a separated shoulder and he threw four touchdown passes as the host Lions (2-5) beat Washington 37-25. Washington coach Mike Shanahan benched Donovan McNabb after a late interception, and replacement Rex Grossman fumbled when hit on his first play, which was recovered and returned to a touchdown by Ndamukong Suh. Brett Favre started for Minnesota at New England on Sunday afternoon.
-- The Bears (4-3) had their bye.
The other things you might have missed
-- For the second consecutive week, Donald Driver was held without a catch on three targeted passes. It appeared he aggravated his bruised quad in the second quarter, with Brett Swain (one catch, 12 yards) seeing ample playing time. Speaking of injuries, Rodgers suffered a sprained ankle when he hit the brakes while buying time on a throwaway midway through the fourth quarter. Pat Lee also injured an ankle; X-rays were negative but he did not return.
-- This marked the Packers' first win without a touchdown since a 9-7 home triumph over Minnesota on Dec. 21, 2006, their first road shutout since a 27-0 thrashing of the host Buccaneers on Oct. 27, 1991, and their first shutout overall since a 26-0 against Detroit on Oct. 18, 2009.
-- Among the inactives were starting defensive end Ryan Pickett. That meant Howard Green, who practiced only once since being signed off waivers from the Jets, got plenty of action. He finished with two tackles. Another player acquired this week, linebacker Erik Walden, played in some passing situations and also played special teams, finishing with three tackles.
-- Maligned punter Tim Masthay punted eight times for a 44.0-yard average. More importantly his net average was 41.5, he allowed no return average and hit five punts inside the 20-yard line.
-- In the battle of star cornerbacks, Woodson had three tackles (all solo), two passes defensed and an interception. The Jets' Darrelle Revis had three tackles (one solo) but no other stats.
-- James Jones, who made a couple huge catches last week, had no catches on five targeted passes, including a drop of a beautiful deep ball by Rodgers that would have gained at least 40 yards late in the third quarter.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.