In some ways, this game was a bit of a throwback. A throwback to the old days of the Black and Blue Division featuring tough defense by both teams But in this latest knockdown, drag-out battle between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears, it was the Packers who were the last ones standing and, in large measure, it was because of a defensive effort in which everyone got into the act.
It took a relentless pass rush on Jay Cutler, sound communication in the secondary, fewer mental errors and contributions from several new faces. Together, the defense got the job done and the result is a 1-1 record and a major step toward righting the ship.
“It came together tonight,” said cornerback Sam Shields, who regained his starting position and played so well that his name doesn’t show up in the defensive stats. “Our main focus was getting off the field on third down and that’s what we were doing. It felt like 2010. All of us were swarming around on tackles like we preached all week, everybody getting to the ball, getting our arms around them and making the tackle. It felt great. There was no panic, just being patient and keep working.”
There was no panic with the rest of Shields’ defensive teammates, either, as they made life miserable for Cutler. Chicago managed just 11 first downs and converted only 5-of-15 third downs, a paltry 33 percent. Cutler was sacked seven times and harassed by Clay Matthews, who was credited with 3.5 sacks. Green Bay also got sacks from D.J. Smith and rookies Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels.
“It was great getting some help off the edge,” said Matthews. “Bringing in Erik (Walden) -- obviously the camp he had gave us a spark. He’s talented and will continue to help us out. (Dezman) Moses being an undrafted free agent came in and helped us out. The guys on the back end too, giving us coverage sacks. So, it was really an all-around team effort.”
“I think we had a good performance tonight, cutting down on mental errors,” said defensive tackle Ryan Pickett. “When we do that, we’re tough to beat. That’s the kind of defense we expect to have all year. We picked a good time to play well. Our backs were against the wall early in the season and this is a game we needed. We had to knock their running game out and make it a one-dimensional game. That was our game plan. We did a good job getting (Matt) Forte out of the game. They had a couple runs on third down but we did a good job on first down, making it third-and-long.”
When Cutler did get off his throws, they were generally hurried, allowing cornerback Tramon Williams to intercept the ball twice, the third time he’s done that in his career (including playoffs). Charles Woodson also joined the fun, registering his 55th career pick, and rookie Jerron McMillian’s fourth-quarter pick snuffed out Chicago’s last glimmer of hope.
“Well, we want to play great defense, obviously,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I had a conversation with B.J. Raji at the hotel last night and we’re talking about playing defense. He’s a Pro Bowl player and the team is noted for offense. I said, ‘Well, frankly, I’d rather be known for defense.’ And I’ve always stated that. We have a great quarterback and we have a very good defense. We feel like we’re building something special with this defense. I thought our younger players that got an opportunity to play today were very productive. I thought Clay was off the charts, just with the energy and the production he brought. That defense really flew around tonight. Like all of us, we got kicked in the butt four days ago and we were motivated to improve as a team. I felt like we did that today. It’s one win. It’s a division win, especially not playing division games until later in the season, we feel good about ourselves. Until midnight.”
“It was our best performance tonight and that’s what was important,” added Raji. “They are a good team and we’re going to see those guys again. They’re familiar with us and likewise. We knew what they were going to be about and we came out and just played hard. We wanted to make enough big plays to win it and we did that. I was impressed that we were able to shut them down the way we did, being that we’re so familiar with each other.”
Williams, who continues to improve after playing with a shoulder injury last season, blanketed Chicago’s deep threat Brandon Marshall. Cutler threw his way only five times, with Marshall catching two passes against other defenders for 24 yards.
Aside from Marshall’s big drop in the end zone on a play in which Williams fell, the only real blemish was tight end Kellen Davis’ wide-open, 21-yard touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter against Smith. But for Chicago, it was too little, too late.
“We got the pressure that we needed and everything worked together,” said Williams. “As a defense, that’s what we’ve been trying to get and it finally clicked. We had focus. Last game, we didn’t make many mistakes but the mistakes we made, we paid for. Against a good team, you’ll pay for those things. I don’t think we made many errors tonight and if we did our front seven.”
As to snaring two interceptions, Williams took it in stride.
“I’m satisfied with the win. Obviously, I’m always satisfied with interceptions but when the win comes it makes it that much better.”
Summing up the feelings of his teammates, Matthews expressed some relief that Green Bay didn’t start out this season at 0-2.
“We’re 1-1,” said Matthews. “We feel good about this victory. Now we have some time off to go back, watch this film and make the necessary corrections. But ultimately, we played well tonight. Hopefully, we’ll keep improving.”