A Streak But No Springboard For Defense

The Packers broke an NFL record that was almost 70 years old, but rather than a Game 8 defensive turnaround like last year, it was more of the same at San Diego. The defense scored two touchdowns but suffered through another game with ineffective blitzing and coverage gaffes.

The Green Bay Packers extended their winning streak to 14 games and, in the process, set an NFL record.

Not once during their streak have they trailed in the fourth quarter. That, according to research by ColdHardFootballFacts.com, snapped a tie with the Washington Redskins, who were final-quarter front-runners during their 13-game winning streak spanning the 1942 and 1943 seasons.

On Sunday at San Diego, the Packers led 31-24 after three quarters, extended the margin to 45-24 four-and-a-half minutes into the fourth quarter, then hung on for dear life.

"I wouldn't trade a perfect defensive game for a win," safety Charlie Peprah said after intercepting two passes. "I'll take the ‘W' and we'll clean up the other stuff later."

In preparations for this game, defensive coordinator Dom Capers had his talking points ready for a defensive unit that had given up a million yards but had been relatively frugal where it counted — the scoreboard.

Through seven games last season, the Packers had allowed 136 points. They wound up allowing 104 points over the final nine games, giving them a second-ranked season total of 240 points allowed. Through the first seven games of this season, the Packers had allowed 141 points.

With the bye, a healthy Sam Shields and a healthier Tramon Williams, there was optimism that this would be the week when the Packers' defense would regain something resembling its championship form. That this would be the week when some of the mental and technique errors would be cleaned up.

And the defense sure did that in the first quarter, with Peprah and Williams returning interceptions for touchdowns to put the Packers in front 21-7.

But then it was the same old story. Capers dialed up blitz after blitz, but more often than not, they ran into brick walls. Too often, a veteran secondary that played so air-tight last season let receivers run free.

"We've been talking as a team, this year's been a different challenge," Peprah said. "Teams know what we're doing, and they're gunning for us. They're going to try to scheme us, they're going to try to give us everything, and it's a different challenge than last year. Last year, we sent Wood (Charles Woodson) a lot and things like that. This year, people are blocking our stuff up, trying to put mismatches and doing stuff we haven't seen before."

With Rivers throwing for 385 yards and four touchdowns while throwing 23 of his 46 passes to his two remaining weapons — receiver Vincent Jackson and tight end Antonio Gates — the beat-up and slumping Chargers mounted a furious comeback.

Eventually, the defense did enough to win the game — like it's done on eight of the other victories during this 14-game streak. It thwarted the Chargers' second-to-last drive with a grounding penalty and a strong pass rush by Clay Matthews on third-and-long. And with the Chargers in position to force overtime on their final drive, Peprah struck again as Rivers forced a pass into double coverage during the final half-minute.

"The confidence on the field was kind of amazing to me," Peprah said. "Even though we blew a three-score lead, we just had the feeling we knew we were going to win the game. At least that's the attitude we took. We made the comments, ‘Why do we have to make it hard on ourselves? Let's get off the field.' Even though we were put in that situation, I think everybody stayed confident in what we could do and knew somebody was going to make a play to get off the field. Thankfully, it was me."

Still, facing a San Diego offense that was without its dynamic starting running back (Ryan Mathews), its solid No. 2 receiver (Malcom Floyd) and Pro Bowl left guard (Kris Dielman), the Packers wound up allowing 460 yards, 28 first downs and 38 points. Of San Diego's five touchdown drives, two covered 80 yards and another traversed 97 yards.

So, rather than this game mirroring the eighth game of last season — a 9-0 victory over the New York Jets — this one simply looked like the latest in a long line of troubling performances.

Fortunately, the defense scored two touchdowns early and made two stands late to keep the Packers' fourth-quarter streak intact.

"We like to think that we have a lot of playmakers on our defense, especially on the back end," Woodson said. "So, we feel like if the ball's in the air, then we'll come up with our fair share, certainly. But how many times are you going to have two interceptions for a touchdown and the late one by Charlie? Today, it played out big for us, but we have to be more sound as a defense throughout the whole game."

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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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