In one of the most dominating defensive performances seen from the guys with the “G” on the yellow helmets in years, the Green Bay Packers smothered the Buccaneers 20-3 on Sunday. It took the Buccaneers more than 25 minutes to permanently move past 0 yards of total offense and more than 26 minutes to get their first first down. And they were short of 100 yards for the game until a third-down conversion on the first play after the two-minute warning.
“Defense was unbelievable,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It started up front with stopping the run, making them one-dimensional, the sacks, the constant pressure. Probably one of our best defensive performances.”
Green Bay feasted on a Tampa Bay offense that hadn’t scored more than 17 points in a home game all season. The Packers forced as many three-and-out possessions as they yielded first downs with six apiece. One of those three-and-outs came after Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ first-quarter fumble. On first down, linebacker Sam Barrington almost sacked Josh McCown but forced an incompletion. On second down, safety Morgan Burnett and defensive lineman Mike Daniels shared a sack. On third down, linebacker Clay Matthews batted down a pass.
The defense never stepped off the gas. The Packers, who entered the week ranked 23rd with 365.7 yards allowed per game and 18th with 23.2 points allowed per game, had moved up to 13th in yards (348.6) and 14th in points (21.9) with only the Sunday night and Monday night games to be played.
It started, as it always does, with stopping the run. The Buccaneers entered the game ranked 29th in rushing while the Packers, who ranked in the bottom of the league in run defense for five weeks, were 26th. The Packers dominated, holding Tampa Bay to 16 yards on 14 carries. In the last seven games, they’ve yielded only 82.9 rushing yards per game and 3.4 per carry.
“It was just all effort. There was nothing special, no magic to it,” Daniels said.
Green Bay tore to shreds to Tampa Bay’s offensive line. McCown was sacked seven times and absorbed 12 hits, according to the NFL’s statistical gamebook.
“I thought they had about 15, actually,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “I thought they had about 15. That’s the type of pressure that I felt they were getting. That’s a good sign when feel that defensively. It was big and it was fun.”
The ringleaders were Matthews and Julius Peppers. Matthews had 2.5 sacks to give him 10 for the season. Since becoming a hybrid inside-outside linebacker at the bye, Matthews has 7.5 sacks in seven games, including 5.5 in the last three games. Peppers, the newly minted captain, broke a five-game streak without a sack in a big way with two sacks, including one that forced a fumble. His four forced fumbles lead all NFL outside linebackers and trail only St. Louis’ Robert Quinn (five) among front-seven defenders.
“When you've got two of the greatest that's ever done it that stuff, it's only a matter of time before you see that kind of magic with those kind of guys, Daniels said. “It's an incredible honor and a blessing to be able to play with him.”
The Packers haven’t allowed a defensive touchdown in the last two weeks. Of course, neither the Bills nor Buccaneers are going to be setting any scoring records, but it’s a noteworthy fact. That those shutdown performances came on the road is noteworthy, too, given the offense’s struggles away from Lambeau Field.
“I feel great about the defense,” Rodgers said. “It’s fun to watch. I just heard a stat that there was a little over 100 yards given up. That’s incredible. The way that they got after Josh and that offensive line was fun to watch. When Clay’s getting after it like that and obviously Pep and Mike Neal and Mike Daniels and those guys, that’s the greatest asset for the back end is when the front four can get pressure without having to bring extra guys.”
Now, can the Packers duplicate that success against Detroit? The Lions are No. 22 in scoring with 20.1 points per game but they’ve got plenty of big-name firepower with Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and Reggie Bush. If the defense can slam the door again, the Packers might very well be enjoying a week of vacation with an NFC North title and first-round bye.
“Absolutely crazy, man. I think that it says a lot,” linebacker Mike Neal said about the touchdown goose egg. “I think it’s just going out there every day and being consistent and being able to get on the same page. Once we do, you see how dominant our defense can be. The challenge for our defense is the next step. What can we do to be the same defense next week as we have been the last two weeks? We’ve just got to be able to do that. Consistency is they key.”
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