SAN DIEGO—Halfway through the season, the Packers’ record is their pure defense. It is the truth; everything else is a circumstance, as was a furious rally by the Chargers on Sunday that gave the Packers a major scare before safety Charlie Peprah secured a 45-38 win with his second interception of the day.
The defense turned in another 400-yard performance, as in having allowed the Chargers to gain 460 yards. Yeah, but the Packers are 8-0, the only undefeated team in the league and the defense got it done at crunch time.
Do the Packers need to improve on defense, Head Coach Mike McCarthy was asked?
“Absolutely,” he said. “We’re not going to turn a blind eye to the negatives. We’re 8-0. That’s a fact. Offensively, we scored some points. Special teams was a split. Our communication was not as sharp as it should be today. We were not as sharp as we need to be as a football team, but we won the game. We’re 8-0.”
They’re 8-0. It is the ultimate defense.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers turned in another passer rating gem, having completed 21 of 26 passes for 247 yards, four touchdowns and a 145.8 passer rating. His attempts and yardage were down only because the Chargers dominated time of possession by virtue of Philip Rivers’ three interceptions.
“His decision-making is the highest I’ve been a part of. We have the firepower to give him options. Aaron has earned the opportunity to run this offense,” McCarthy said of his quarterback, who has steered the Packers through this 14-game winning streak by overmatching the opponents’ quarterback.
This one should’ve been a cakewalk in the fourth quarter. It should’ve concluded with a victory formation. Instead, a 45-24 lead began to evaporate when Rivers pitched a short touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson, the Chargers recovered an onside kick and Rivers quickly pitched another touchdown pass to Jackson.
Game on with 6:25 to play.
Rodgers carefully milked the clock from deep in his own territory, aided by a drive-sustaining holding penalty against the Chargers. When the Packers had to punt, only 1:05 remained to be played, the Packers clinging to a seven-point lead.
It was all on the defense, a defense that was responsible for 14 of the Packers’ points, but also responsible for the Chargers’ 38. It was crunch time. It was a chance for the defense to redeem itself.
Peprah saved the day with an interception at the Packers 18 that he returned 76 yards. In the first quarter, Peprah took one back 40 yards for a touchdown and Tramon Williams followed five plays later by returning an interception 43 yards for a touchdown.
“We definitely have to get better,” linebacker Desmond Bishop said. “I can’t quite put my hand on it, but we definitely have to get better and play at the championship level.”
The Packers retain their two-game lead in the NFC North over Detroit, and will host division rival Minnesota on Monday Night Football next week. As they turn into the second half of the season, they are delighted by their record, but no doubt concerned by a defense that continues to surrender a lot of yards and points, and has been forced to save itself by forcing turnovers.
“Every game is not going to be peachy,” nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “We’re probably going to have some interesting meetings when we get back. Our stats won’t equal up to other defenses, but other defenses’ wins won’t equal up to our wins. I’d rather be on this side.” Additional coverage - Nov. 6