Pretenders to Contenders

The dominating victory over Dallas serves notice that the Packers are championship contenders again. Green Bay's defense has played 10 brilliant quarters in a row while the offense finally broke out of its funk by moving the chains and scoring points.

Look out: Here come the Green Bay Packers.

The Packers' 45-7 thumping of the downtrodden Dallas Cowboys served notice that they might be the team to beat in the NFC – and maybe the entire NFL.

In the middle of what was seen as a defining stretch of games, the Packers survived against Minnesota and scratched and clawed past the Jets before finally playing a complete game in crushing the Cowboys on Sunday night.

That Dallas has gone from Super Bowl contenders to 1-7 is beside the point. This is the NFL, where the phrase "any given Sunday" is much more than a movie title. The Browns, of all teams, have walloped the defending Super Bowl champion Saints at their place and crushed AFC powerhouse New England in the last three weeks. The Rams and Seahawks, of all people, are tied for the NFC West lead. Perennial laughingstocks Kansas City and Oakland are atop of the AFC West.

So, don't poo-poo Sunday night's victory. The Cowboys, with nine players who made the Pro Bowl last year, have as much talent as anyone. It's just that the Packers kicked the life right out of them on the third snap of the game, when Charles Woodson blitzed off the slot and teamed with Ryan Pickett to stuff Marion Barber on third-and-1.

From there, the rout was on in the type of all-around victory that many envisioned the Packers would earn on a weekly basis.

"Great week to go to the bye," Woodson said. "Great game, defensively, offensively and special teams-wise. It's fun when all phases are clicking. That's the way it's supposed to look."

What's exciting is that the Packers are an ascending team. In the span of just a few weeks, they've gone from a team that can't win a close game to a team that has no killer instinct to a team that flashed its killer instinct during a 28-point second-quarter shellacking of the Cowboys.

The defense has grown into a championship-caliber unit during the last 10 quarters. It started by keeping Minnesota out of the end zone during the final moments a couple weeks ago to single-handedly winning the game at New York last week. The Dallas game was just a continuation.

Over those 10 quarters, the Packers' defense has stepped on the field 28 times. The results: eight takeaways (seven interceptions) and two touchdowns allowed. The run defense was impenetrable against the Jets and Cowboys, and the pass defense features arguably the best secondary in the NFL (tied with Tampa Bay for league-high 14 interceptions) and perhaps the defensive player of the year in Clay Matthews (league-high 10.5 sacks).

With that hot streak, the Packers potentially could boast the NFL's top-ranked scoring defense by the end of Monday night. Green Bay ranks second with 15.9 points allowed per game, with Pittsburgh topping the charts at 14.6.

"We definitely haven't maxed out," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "We still have a ton of potential that we can hit and we can get there. We're definitely taking steps in the right direction. It's up to us to keep it going."

The offense, which was the starting point for this team entering the season, showed signs of breaking out of a six-week funk. The offense hadn't scored more than 21 points since the Week 2 win over Buffalo but destroyed Dallas' defense forward, backward and sideways.

"I wish I had a good answer for you," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said when asked where that production had been. "I would tell you that the staff believes in execution. I think our players do, as well. This is a tough league. There's a lot of good players on the other side of the ball. If you don't do your job consistently well enough with all 11 guys, it's hard to move the ball and it's hard to score points. Some of those weeks, unfortunately, the film will tell you we weren't doing it consistently well enough to be more productive. I wish I could sit here and tell you we're going to get 26 first downs and score 31 points offensively every week. That's why we play the games. I'm confident we have the talent. We've got ability. It's going to be fun to see us hopefully put this whole thing together."

The whole thing was put together against Dallas. Aaron Rodgers finished 27-of-34 passing, with a couple drops and a couple throwaways accounting for more than half of his seven incompletions. Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn combined for 26 carries and 92 yards. An offense that was among the league's worst on third down (35.1 percent before the game) was 10-of-12 before James Jones dropped a potential touchdown pass on third-and-goal early in the fourth quarter and the reserves failed to convert twice later in the period. For the second week in a row, there were no giveaways. There was only one offensive penalty, a false start on Josh Sitton that preceded Jones' drop.

Being the best team in football in September doesn't mean a whole lot, so that Green Bay sputtered out of the gate was a source of far too much concern. The goal is to be the best in December and January and the first week of February. Viewed like that, the Packers are in a great spot at the bye. They're in first place and some beat-up bodies will come back refreshed from the bye.

Now comes the hard part, a two-game stretch that could mean everything come the first week of January. After the bye, they're at Minnesota (3-5) and Atlanta (6-2) — two talented teams who feed off their domefield advantage. Brett Favre is 11-1 at Mall of America Field since joining the Vikings, who probably don't need any motivation to face the Packers but might be energized by their rousing rally against Arizona. Matt Ryan has won 13 in a row for the Falcons, who are tied with the Giants for the NFC's best record.

The challenge is daunting, but if Sunday night's performance means anything, it's a challenge they'll be ready to tackle.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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