The Packer defense provided convincing evidence that they've completed their own "extreme makeover" with an impressive performance in Green Bay's 20-10 win over San Francisco at Lambeau Field Sunday.
Green Bay allowed just 10 points and kept the Niners out of the end zone until the end of the third quarter. Despite losing three starters to injury at various points, the D also held San Francisco to 192 total yards.
"It's our best performance against a quality offense," Green Bay defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said. "This was a big game for both teams. They're an excellent running team and our guys responded. We're happy with the effort. Our offense also did a great job. Those guys ran the football great and that helps (the defense) get that done."
While Edwards' pick set up the Packers to run out the clock and win the game, it was what the defense did with their own offense's miscues that gave this game to Green Bay.
Brett Favre threw two interceptions deep in Packer territory within a five-minute span in the first half. Both times, the Niners came up empty.
The first came late in the first quarter when Zach Bronson intercepted a pass intended for tight end Bubba Franks at the Packer 42 and ran it back 22 yards to the threshold of the red zone. Although SF quickly forged a 1st-and-goal from the 8, a false-start penalty gave the Green Bay defense the spark it needed. The Niners' next two plays netted 3 yards, then a sack by Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila slammed the door on the end zone. A 28-yard field goal attempt by Todd Peterson was no good, hitting the left upright and extending San Francisco's season-long kicking woes.
On the first play of the second quarter, another pass intended for Franks was intercepted by Tony Parrish and returned 11 yards to the Packer 22 before he was pulled down by Najeh Davenport. This time Green Bay's defense didn't even allow the 49ers the two yards they needed to get into the red zone. Three incomplete passes, a penalty and an ineffective running play later, San Francisco had to punt the ball back to Green Bay.
According to Donatell, those interceptions are the ultimate "lemons-to-lemonade" situation for his ‘D.'
"I love sudden-change," Donatell said. "If you look at our defense, we're excited. We were jacked up for that. That's an opportunity to do something for this football team and we responded. I couldn't feel better about our guys, the way they did (respond). That's your job as a defense. It's going to happen at times. It doesn't happen very much with our offense, they're so dependable, but it's a team effort."
A third interception, this one in Niners territory in the second half, did end in San Francisco's only touchdown of the game and only extended drive of the second half.
Tim Rattay, who had been successful at home in relief of the injured Jeff Garcia, saw his luck run out on a road trip to Lambeau. Rattay was 14-30 for 142 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He was sacked four times as the Packers' pass attack got back on track. Na'il Diggs, Gbaja-Biamila, Antuan Edwards and Cletidus Hunt got in on the fun.
"We knew in the game plan we had to keep pressure in his face," Diggs said of Rattay. "He doesn't have a whole lot of experience, so we tried to mix things up as far as pressuring his throws. It really wasn't so much of (sacking him), but just hitting him and getting pressure on him that was the biggest factor. We got him a little out of his rhythm and the defense did a good job as a whole of getting pressure on him."
After the game, members of the defense shared the sentiment that their unit is finally coming together.
"The unit is learning to play with each other, play as one group, and it's starting to show," linebacker Hannibal Navies said. "We're out there playing as one team instead of 11 players and it's starting to show on the field."
Added Diggs: "I think we're coming into our own on defense and we're playing like it. Everybody is gelling and getting together. Right now, health is really key for us. We've all got to stay healthy and get out there."
Coach Mike Sherman assessed Barnett's injury after the game:
"Nick Barnett sprained his ankle in the game; he returned to actually play some base downs, but was hampered a little bit," Sherman said. "We taped it up on the sidelines and we will have to wait and see tomorrow to see how he turns out. Obviously with a short week there is concern there.
Despite the injury concerns, Sherman definitely likes the way his revamped defense is shaping up.
"When you have transition like we had it takes a while for guys to get used to one another; how they are going to fit in to certain schemes and how if we play certain things, and that was a big part of that," Sherman said. "I do think, however, that several new faces have brought some chemistry to our defense as well and has been well received by our guys and I think they have helped us. But the guys who have been here are stepping up and making plays on a pretty consistent basis, at least they have for the last three or four weeks."