Tired Defense Musters Energy

Perhaps just as important as the four interceptions was forcing the Bears to kick a field goal late in the game. A worn-out and short-handed defensive line rose to the occasion.

Four turnovers will get the headlines.

But for the Packers' defense, perhaps their crowning moment came at the end of the Bears' go-ahead, 14-play scoring drive.

Green Bay's 13-12 lead was evaporating and the clock was tick-tick-ticking away. On third-and-9, cornerback Al Harris was flagged for illegal contact, giving the Bears 5 yards and a first down. On third-and-2, Brady Poppinga bit on Jay Cutler's play-fake, leaving fullback Jason McKie open for an 8-yard gain. On third-and-short, Matt Forte got the requisite 1 yard, giving Chicago a first-and-goal from the 8 with about 4 minutes remaining.

For a team that stumbled and bumbled and bungled their way through a half-season's worth of close games last year, Sunday night's game was on course to be, as Yogi Berra would say, déjà vu all over again.

But rather than the same old story, the defense penned an alternative ending.

"The game plan was to win. That was the game plan," safety Nick Collins said.

On first-and-goal from the 5, Forte rushed for 2 yards before being hauled down by worn-out defensive linemen Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly. On second-and-goal, Forte went nowhere on a run to the left, with Pickett and Jenkins making the stop. On third-and-goal, with the game on the line, Cutler rolled to the right but couldn't connect with standout tight end Greg Olsen in the end zone.

Robbie Gould's short field goal gave the Bears a 15-13 lead, but the defense had done its job. Rather than the offense having to drive 72 yards for a winning touchdown in the final 2:28 – mind you, it gained only 27 yards in the entire second half at this point -- it needed only about 35 yards to at least give kicker Mason Crosby a chance at a winning field goal.

"It was great," said Jolly, who tied for team-high honors with eight tackles as well as an interception. "Everyone came out and executed the defense and got a stop and gave the offense another chance to get down the field. We knew the offense had to score sometime, and they came out and executed.

In the end, the Packers got all 72 yards with Aaron Rodgers hitting Greg Jennings for a 50-yard, game-winning touchdown. But had the Packers needed a touchdown, the Bears almost certainly wouldn't have sold out to stop the run and allowed Jennings to beat cornerback Nathan Vasher with no safety help.

"It was huge to be able to get a stop there," said Jenkins, who had three tackles for losses and a sack among his six tackles. "I thought it was a key part of the game because it gave our offense the option to go for the touchdown or the field goal to take back the lead. It was huge, and the offense was able to get the touchdown, which kind of limited what they could do on their last drive because they had to go for the touchdown."

Jolly, the starter at left defensive end, and Jenkins, the starter at right defensive end, played a ton of snaps because they were also the top tandem when the Packers use only two defensive linemen in nickel situations. With first-round pick B.J. Raji deactivated because of an ankle injury, the only reserves behind Jolly, Jenkins and nose tackle Ryan Pickett were defensive ends Michael Montgomery (broken hand) and Jarius Wynn (rookie). They played sparingly, and with Pickett not a factor in the nickel, Jolly and Jenkins played valiantly.

"Yeah, I was tired. I'm not even going to lie," Jenkins said. "It started to take a toll on me toward the end, but I haven't played like that in almost a full year (because of last year's torn pectoral). It was a lot of mental toughness. You're going to be tired. I try to tell that to my daughter. I teach her, ‘You're going to be tired, but it's how you perform when you're tired.' So, we were able to go out there and stay tough, even though we were tired and we were able to pull it out."

By pulling it out, the Packers earned a huge home win against what figures to be a chief challenger for the NFC North title and broke through in the type of close games that doomed them throughout last season.

"This is what good teams do. You find ways to win games," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We talk about it as a team that our defense is the thermostat of our football team. They do a great job of keeping our good games closer to our not-so-good games, and that was evident tonight."


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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. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.


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