GREEN BAY—The defensive turnaround by the Packers on Sunday was borderline stunning, given how the game started.
It was also desperately needed or the rally from an 18-point deficit for a 31-24 victory over the Jets at Lambeau Field doesn’t come close to happening.
“I think it was a character win for us,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “Obviously you come out and get down (21-3), things can easily go the other way, but everyone stuck together on the sideline. You have that feeling that it’s going to click anytime now.”
It sure wasn’t clicking early, as the Jets took advantage of an early Packers turnover and short field for a quick TD. Right after that, the Green Bay defense surrendered TD drives of 84 and 80 yards. The Jets had converted six of seven third downs in three drives, with the only failure leading to a fourth-down pickup. New York appeared on its way to repeating Seattle’s 200-plus rushing yards and 400-plus total yards of 10 days ago.
Then, it all changed. Mike Daniels said the defense “just played football.” Mike Neal chalked it up to “getting the tempo down,” with the Jets not as effective when they weren’t “pressing the pedal.” Julius Peppers liked the way the unit “fought through adversity” and “the highs and lows of a game.”
Whatever it was, it worked. After the Jets piled up 180 yards and 10 first downs on those first three possessions, they gained just 132 yards and nine first downs on their final eight drives (not including a kneel-down to end the first half).
The two-headed backfield of Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory was held to just 64 yards on 25 carries for the game, a collective 2.6-yard average. Most important, the Jets scored just three more points.
“You never lose confidence,” safety Morgan Burnett said. “We knew we had to stay together as a group. Our team showed grit today. We knew it was going to be a 60-minute ballgame.”
There were plenty to share in the heroism.
Burnett’s pass breakup on a third-down crossing route to receiver Jeremy Kerley gave the defense its first stop, with 4:31 left in the second quarter.
The Packers then stood tall after a failed onside kick gave the Jets another chance to score, with Daniels hitting QB Geno Smith as he threw, and the flutterball was picked off by Williams near the goal line.
The second half featured a couple of three-and-outs, with Davon House breaking up a pass for Eric Decker on third down and Daniels making up for an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty with a sack on the ensuing snap.
Peppers got in on the act, too, dropping into coverage and breaking up a wheel-route throw to Johnson out of the backfield, then tipping a pass at the line of scrimmage right after.
“We did it,” Williams said. “We ended up coming out the second half and showing what we can do. That’s what we expect out of our guys.”
It wasn’t without two big breaks, though. First, early in the third quarter, Decker got behind rookie safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Smith’s monster throw on the run was just out of Decker’s reach.
Then, the really big break. On fourth-and-4 from the Green Bay 36-yard line with five minutes left, the Jets called timeout just before the snap, negating a leaping TD grab by Kerley over Williams that would have tied the game.
The timeout was called by a Jets assistant coach on the sideline and shouldn’t have been allowed, because other than players on the field, only the head coach can call a timeout. But the Packers will take it.
“I actually heard the whistle. It was simultaneously right before the snap,” Williams said. “You’re taught to keep playing, but throughout the play it might have blew about four or five more times. I knew the play didn’t count once I got up.
“It was good that it didn’t count. The guy made a good catch.”
The Jets proceeded to convert that fourth down on the re-try but faced another three snaps later from the 28. The Packers sent a blitz that hurried Smith into a deep throw to Kerley, who was bracketed by Burnett and cornerback Sam Shields in the end zone. Incomplete. Lead protected.
“It was just good, solid team football, and we just have to carry it over to next week,” Daniels said. “We’ve got the Lions coming up. This game is over.”
COMPLETE GAME COVERAGE