GREEN BAY – The Packers’ defense could not have started 2017 any better.
The unit that received so much attention for the way last season ended held the Seahawks without a touchdown all game long, fueling a 17-9 season-opening triumph on Sunday in front of 78,381 at Lambeau Field.
“Our defense really controlled it,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said moments after the Packers began the new year 1-0.
“They were the thermostat today.”
By any measure, the Packers were giving the Seahawks fits.
Seattle picked up only four first downs in the first half. Its running backs combined for just 50 yards on the ground, with 30 of them coming on one play. Quarterback Russell Wilson threw for a mere 158 yards and was harassed all day.
The defense made an early Rodgers interception moot by responding with a three-and-out, and rookie Justin Vogel’s booming 57-yard punt out of his own end zone helped the cause, too.
The first half would have ended scoreless had McCarthy’s decision to use two timeouts with Seattle backed up in the final minute not backfired. The Seahawks picked up a first down with 30 seconds left, and followed with a deep ball and Wilson scramble that covered 63 yards to set up a field goal at the first-half gun.
It didn’t prove to be much of a breakthrough for Seattle, though, as Green Bay’s defense pulled off the game-changer early in the third quarter. Defensive lineman Mike Daniels strip-sacked Wilson, popping free the ball that teammate Kyler Fackrell recovered at the Seattle 6-yard line.
Struggling on offense, in part due to rough field position, the Packers erased the zero from the scoreboard in one play. Running back Ty Montgomery bulled into the end zone for a 7-3 lead.
“Definitely the momentum turning point,” McCarthy said. “I thought Mike was dominant. The film will tell the whole story, but he seemed to be in the backfield all day.”
Two plays before the big turnover, Daniels shared a sack with Nick Perry, who also had 1½ sacks in the game. Daniels had four hits on the quarterback amongst seven total tackles.
The defense simply never gave in. Twice with the Seahawks playing catch-up, Green Bay stalled promising drives to force field goals. Standing tall after first-and-goal from the 3 with a 7-3 lead was just another example of the unit rising to the occasion.
“Our defense plays like that and we’re going to be tough to beat,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “To have a one-play touchdown drive when the offense was stalling, that kind of got everybody going.
“They were the stars of the game for sure.”
Rodgers put together the offense’s best drive after Seattle closed within 7-6. A 13-yard scramble converted on third-and-11, a 12-yard screen to Montgomery moved the chains again, and then Rodgers made the play of the game on third-and-2.
Catching the Seahawks with 12 men on the field, Rodgers fired deep over the middle to Jordy Nelson for a 32-yard touchdown, and the Packers were in control the rest of the way.
“Our offense just hung in there and fought through the up-and-down tempo,” McCarthy said.
Two more sustained drives in the fourth quarter, one for a field goal and a final one to kill the final 6:17 on the clock, sealed the victory.
For all the early hiccups, Rodgers still finished with 311 yards passing (28-of-42, 86.5 rating) and Montgomery piled up 93 yards from scrimmage (54 rushing, 39 receiving). Randall Cobb (nine catches, 85 yards) and Nelson (7-79) also had productive games.
Credit second-year right tackle Kyle Murphy for filling in admirably for the injured Bryan Bulaga (ankle) as well. In his first NFL start, against one of the league’s top defenses, Murphy wasn’t perfect but certainly held his own.
“He doesn’t break,” McCarthy said of the 2016 sixth-round pick out of Stanford. “His personality is perfect for this situation. We went five-man protection a bunch. It isn’t like we parked someone behind him all day, either. He had to play and he played big today.”
The strong finish allowed the Packers to produce a nearly 2-to-1 ratio in time of possession, 39:13 to 20:47. The final numbers in first downs (26 to 14), total yards (370 to 225) and third-down conversions (9-of-16 vs. 3-of-12) showed the Packers’ performance was better than the final score indicated.
“It feels good to be 1-0,” McCarthy said. “The first one is always the hardest to get each and every year.”
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