In losing three of their last four games by a total of 11 points, the Packers have generated only three takeaways on defense, and their impact was minimal. Nick Collins’ interception against San Francisco came in the final two minutes with the game well in hand, and only one of the two interceptions at Detroit – Tramon Williams’ in the end zone in the first quarter – was of any consequence. In close losses to Atlanta and New England, the Packers didn’t get a single turnover.
Contrast that with the previous four games, all of which the Packers won. Green Bay posted 12 takeaways in those four wins, including eight interceptions, and flipped the team’s turnover ratio on the season from minus-2 to plus-8 in that span. They also scored 45 points off of those takeaways, but the touchdown following Williams’ interception at the Metrodome in the second Minnesota game provided the last points the Packers have scored off turnovers this year.
“We’re going to keep going at it,” Williams said. “I think the guys in this (locker) room are going to be around the ball to make plays, so hopefully we make those plays and kind of get on a winning streak.”
That winning streak could have started last week at New England if not for the goose egg in the turnover category, which wasn’t for a lack of opportunities.
In the first quarter, cornerback Charles Woodson undercut a deep out route by tight end Rob Gronkowski and saw quarterback Tom Brady’s pass come right to him, only to have it bounce off his hands. Woodson had a fair amount of open space in front of him, which psychologically may have contributed to him dropping the ball.
“If ‘Wood’ makes that one, I think he’s going to have a real good shot going up that sideline,” Capers said. “I would like to have taken our chances on that one.”
Then early in the second quarter with the Patriots in their own territory, linebacker Desmond Bishop got a free run at Brady on a blitz up the middle and sacked him, knocking the ball out. But Bishop couldn’t locate the fumble and Brady was able to corral it in time, preventing the Packers from gaining possession around the New England 20.
Finally, early in the fourth quarter, the Patriots faced third-and-8 from the Green Bay 20 when Brady’s pass was deflected up into the air. Linebacker Erik Walden had a shot to snag it near the goal line and dove, but the ball went right through his outstretched arms.
The worst part about those missed chances was what followed. After Woodson’s drop, the Patriots scored a touchdown two plays later for a 7-3 lead. After Walden’s, they kicked a field goal to climb within 27-24.
“That’s 10 points,” Capers said. “Those are the kind of plays you have to make to win games like (Sunday) night. We’ve got to find a way to come up with those, especially starting this week.
“Any one of those could have really made a difference in the game.”
Especially Woodson’s. His gaffe was particularly perplexing because he has probably the best pair of hands in the Green Bay secondary, if not across the league. He rarely if ever failed to capitalize on a turnover opportunity a year ago in winning NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors, and he was instrumental in the Packers’ 7-1 run over the second half of the season to earn a playoff berth.
In those eight games, the Packers’ defense generated 22 turnovers, with Woodson having a hand via interception or forced fumble in eight of those takeaways. The only game without a turnover was the lone loss during that stretch, Week 15 at Pittsburgh.
Woodson knows he’s counted on to make those types of plays, which made the aftermath of the close loss to the Patriots all the more frustrating for him.
“It changes the complexion of the game if I get that play,” he said. “Who knows, maybe I score, and it’s a 14-point swing at that point. Yeah, I beat myself up about it, but at the same time we’ve got another opportunity. If you get that again, you’ve got to make the play. That’s the way I look at it.”
The Packers are also looking at an opposing offense that just might give them those opportunities this week. The New York Giants have committed a whopping 35 turnovers in 14 games, tied for the league high.
While the Giants have mitigated the damage from those giveaways by posting a league-best 34 takeaways, putting them at just a minus-1 ratio for the season, they’re the only one of the five NFC teams with 30 or more turnovers to have a winning record.
“If that’s their M.O., that they’re giving the ball up, then it’s our job to go out there and take advantage of it,” Woodson said. “That’s the way we’ll look at it. We’ve got to get back in the turnover race as far as the defense is concerned and get the ball. If we have those opportunities, we have to come up with them.”
The Giants’ 15 giveaways via fumble are tied for second most in the league, and even more startling, they’ve had nine additional fumbles they have recovered. Giants quarterback Eli Manning has thrown 20 interceptions, tied for second most in the league, and he’s thrown multiple interceptions seven times, or half of the games.
Brady ended up extending his streak of consecutive passes without an interception to 292 last week, but the Packers had as much to do with that as Brady. Green Bay simply can’t let those plays slip through their fingers anymore.
“That’s the difference, making a couple of those interceptions, coming up with that ball when we get the sack,” Capers said. “It’s going to come down to who makes a play or two.”
Or a bunch.
“Those turnovers, they come and they go,” Williams said. “Obviously the last couple weeks, we had the opportunities but we haven’t capitalized. But they’ll come. They’ll come.
“Hopefully they’ll come now.”
Additional coverage - Dec. 24