Mike Daniels stood at his locker with his back to a semicircle of lights, cameras and microphones. He pulled on his jeans and stretched a black T-shirt over his thick, tattooed frame, before turning around and speaking in low, measured tones.
It was 11:35 p.m. and Daniels was admittedly beat.
“It’s past my bed time, so that might have something to do with it,” he said with a laugh. “At 7:30, I’m kind of getting my kids ready for bed, about to finish watching my film, then get in bed myself, my wife and I. But 7:30 tonight I’m about to play in an NFL game against a tough team, so you’re already working with a little less in the tank than you normally would, but when the lights come on, it takes you back to when you’re little. When the lights come on, it’s something special. “
But if Daniels’ wife let the kids stay up a little later than normal, they got to see their daddy doing his best to turn the lights out on the Kansas City Chiefs' offense. The Packers' 6-foot, 310 pound defensive tackle blew by left guard Ben Grubbs on the Chiefs’ second offensive series and planted running back Jamaal Charles into the ground for a 3-yard loss.
A play can only be said to set the tone when what follows is more of the same. As it turned out, Daniels and his teammates were just getting started on a rainy Monday night at Lambeau Field that saw Green Bay improve to 3-0 after a 38-28 win that lasted nearly three-and-a-half hours and featured seven sacks by six players.
The Packers' defense was nothing short of dominant for the first two-and-a-half quarters, as Green Bay jumped out to a 31-7 lead. While Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers continued to redefine the position, Green Bay’s defense forced Kansas City into six three -and-outs, including three straight in the first quarter, sacked Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith five times – including 1.5 by Daniels – and held down Charles, one of the league’s most dangerous runners, to just 38 yards, with a long of 13, and one score. Another Chiefs drive ended with a Sam Shields interception.
Daniels also had a forced fumble, knocking the ball out of Smith’s grasp on his third-quarter sack. While Chiefs right tackle Eric Fisher recovered, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews dropped Smith on the very next play. It was one of two sacks by Matthews – one from the inside position, where the Packers desperately need him to help stop the run, and one from the outside, where he remains one of the game’s elite pass rushers.
“Obviously, I get a dose of being around the ball on the inside but anytime you get back out there at a position you played for a long time, it’s fun to get after the quarterback,” Matthews said. “Fortunately, all of us were able to get after the quarterback and make him uncomfortable in the pocket.”
Following the back-to-back sacks, Smith found a bit of a comfort zone, hooking up with Jeremy Maclin for 31 yards and again on a 5-yard touchdown to pull within 31-14. That first catch by Maclin came with 2:31 left in the third quarter. He’d finish as the game’s leading receiver with eight grabs for 141 yards, as Kansas City refused to go quietly into the night, pulling within 38-28 with less than 2 minutes remaining. But a failed two-point pass on the third of Charles' touchdown runs and unsuccessful onside kick let Green Bay run out the clock.
“It was good that we got up early,” Matthews said. “Obviously, we need to finish a little better, we kind of let up. But that was a really good team, a high-powered offense that we pretty much kept in check for the whole game. So we’re going to enjoy this victory at 3-0, then on to San Francisco.
“It was pretty close to a complete game. Unfortunately, we gave up a few of those big plays that put them in scoring contention, but other than that I thought we did a great job going three-and-out and forcing them to punt. That first half was pretty boring on the sideline. But, like I said, hopefully it’s just an indication of where we’re heading as a defense.”
Six players hitting home on the opposing quarterback is one key indicator. Keeping a high-powered running game in check is another. And the theme among the players on the Packers' defense after the game was that it’s not just the guys in the other jerseys they’re competing against – it’s also each other.
"We're all hungry and we all want to get there and make plays, and we did an excellent job today," said outside linebacker Nick Perry, who took down Smith for the seventh and final sack of the evening. "We're always competing against each other. If one gets one, everybody wants one, and we put ourselves in position to make those plays. We're all 'alphas." We all can play out there. We're not taking nothing from anyone. Whoever goes out there is able to make those plays and we're able to produce -- so that's what we like to do."
Daniels echoes those thoughts: “We’re competing. I’ll meet you at the quarterback, I’ll meet you in the backfield at the running back. We’re all getting there. Eleven hats to the ball … all those sayings. But they’re sayings for a reason -- because they’re true. And we just have to continue to take the steps forward we need to take.”