Letroy Guion sat practically motionless at his locker, still in full pads, 15 minutes after the Green Bay Packers were upset by the Indianapolis Colts.
No more than 15 feet away, Julius Peppers answered questions with steely calm.
A little while later, Mike Daniels went on a brief, expletive-filled tirade by the showers.
Before the season, the Packers’ defenders spoke boldly and confidently. This might be Aaron Rodgers’ team, but the defense wasn’t going to play second-fiddle to the MVP quarterback anymore. The Packers would win because of their defense, not in spite of it.
Through the first half of the season, that hasn’t been the case. And the players on that side of the ball were having a hard time coming to grips with that harsh reality.
Green Bay is 4-4. It’s 1-3 in its last four games, with the lone win coming against Chicago and its third-string quarterback. Green Bay ranks 18th in point allowed. It’s allowed 95-plus-yard touchdown drives just before halftime at home against the Cowboys and Colts. The run defense remains a juggernaut but the pass defense is awful. In damning fashion, the defense failed to slam the door on the Falcons last week and couldn’t give the offense a final chance on Sunday against the Colts.
Daniels’ emotions boiled over.
“I didn’t think you guys heard me,” Daniels said on Monday. “Some things in the locker room ought to stay amongst us as peers but it got out. Yeah, of course, I’m pissed, you know? There’s no other way around it. Everybody is — coaches, players. We’ve got to come together and figure this thing out.”
More than anything, what has to be figured out is how to have this defense come through in the game’s biggest moments. That has been an ongoing problem.
The defense dominated most of the NFC Championship Game at Seattle in 2014 but fell apart late and gave up a long touchdown pass in overtime. The defense played great for most of last year’s playoff loss at Arizona but gave up a long pass in overtime.
This year, it’s failed to make the winning play the last two weeks.
“The first thing you have to do is get in position to make them,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday. “I think we were in position to make them, but the next step is making them. That’s the difference in the NFL. Winning teams make those plays, so we just have to find a way to make them at critical times. And I think we will.”
If this team is going to go anywhere, it will be up to the defense to make those winning plays to rescue a chronically inconsistent offense.
Peppers is confident that will happen.
“There’s nothing to be low about,” he said after the game. “Obviously, we’re disappointed we lost the football game but we’re still 4-4, still have all of our goals in front of us. We’re going to keep working. That’s all we know how to do.”
On the outside, Daniels was a picture of calm on Monday. On the inside, the emotion was still coursing through his veins.
“I agree with him. I agree with him,” Daniels said of Peppers’ confidence. “But it has to be a conscious effort every minute of every day. Nobody in this locker room should go home and have a good night's rest tonight or for the rest of this week. That's flat out. And if you do then, I mean, I don't know how much you care. I feel like we have people in this locker room, this whole locker room, that nobody's going to be getting any good sleep tonight.”
Daniels said a “violent” response was necessary as the Packers embark on a three-game road trip that starts at Tennessee. It will be a defining series of games. If the Packers are going to get their act together, this is the time.
“It has to be noticeable, like this team is pissed off,” Daniels said. “They're angry. Somebody pissed in their Cheerios this morning, you know what I mean?”
Will those be just empty words? Or will his teammates follow his lead? The disappointment was evident in Guion’s body language after the game. But he shared Peppers’ belief that the defense will play to their lofty preseason expectations.
“Because we’re Green Bay and we’ll get it together,” he said. “We’re not out of it. We’ve just got to keep pushing. Got to start games faster, finish them stronger. We start doing that, we’ll turn this wheel.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.