Defense Delivers Golden Ticket to Playoffs

Just five plays into the game, Aaron Rodgers was wincing. We had learned he was under the weather heading into the game, but when he headed to the sidelines for treatment and Matt Flynn started to loosen up, well, I began to see the Packers' playoff chances slipping away.

But as Rodgers worked through what we later learned was a strained calf, the defense stepped right up and took charge, dominating an overmatched Josh McCown and his offensive line. The Bucs were held to 109 yards of total offense, gaining just 16 yards on the ground on 14 carries. While they didn't completely shut down the Bucs' large, gifted wide receivers, they made them basically irrelevant, since McCown was running for his life most of the day.

Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers combined for 4 1/2 of the Pack's seven sacks, and the hard charging Packers frustrated McCown into a passer rating of 48. The unit was strong from front to back--Morgan Burnett was all over the field, on his way to a team high 10 tackles.

As dominant as the Pack's defense was, it was an uncomfortable game well into the second half. The 10-3 half time lead held till late in the third quarter, thanks to a strong goal line stand where Green Bay came up empty after three tries from the one yard line. I have no issues with McCarthy eschewing the field goal there. The Pack settled for a field goal on its next drive early in the fourth quarter to extend the lead to 10 and at that point we could finally exhale. A nice 79 yard drive, punctuated by a one yard strike to Jordy Nelson provided the final margin. Nelson and Randall Cobb were their usual brilliant selves, combining for 20 catches and nearly 250 yards between them.

Eddie Lacy ran hard as usual and appeared unaffected by his contact lens issues. Some late game cramping was the only thing that kept him from a 100 yard game but he did cross the 1,000 yard mark and will be a huge factor against the Lions and beyond, especially if Rodgers is slowed at all by the calf injury.

The Pack heads home for the finale that will determine the NFC North champ. The added bonus is a first round bye to the winner, while the loser will likely get the sixth seed and a road game wildcard weekend in Dallas. We all know the Lions haven't won a game in Wisconsin since 1991, but let's not get too fat and happy. Their defensive blueprint has given the Pack problems all season: a strong front four and good corners. They looked less than impressive in Chicago and their offense can't seem to find a groove.

The Pack's defense will feed off the energy of the Lambeau crowd and we all know how well the team has played there this season since the fluky home opener. The Pack will be heavy favorites to win their fourth straight division title--but we'll all feel a lot better if Rodgers' calf settles down, loosens up and allows all of us to r-e-l-a-x.


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