The Jets came into Sunday’s matchup with a plus-10 turnover ratio in six games, including a plus-8 mark in three home contests this season at New Meadowlands Stadium. After posting a league-best plus-24 takeaway margin in 2009, Green Bay had seen its production drop in that category through its first seven games, with the Packers ranking tied for No. 16 in the league with a minus-1 ratio.
That changed on Sunday afternoon, with Green Bay’s defense coming up with three takeaways and the offense not turning the ball over for just the second time this season. It was the Packers’ first plus-3 turnover performance of the season, and the first since they registered plus-4 against Seattle in Week 16 last season.
“They come in bunches,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “It’s a big part of our philosophy, taking the ball away. We just think it gives you the best chance of winning football games. We’ve got some guys on our team that can take the ball away. We have just got to keep doing it.
“It’s part of being a good team. For us to come back and overcome those close games that we lost earlier, we’ve got to find a way to take the ball away and give our offense good field position and maybe come up with a defensive score.”
Green Bay’s takeaways didn’t put points on the board, but they factored in heavily when it came to keeping the Jets out of the end zone. After New York failed to get the ball out past its own 29-yard line on the first three possessions, the Jets drove into Green Bay territory for the first time early in the second quarter. Quarterback Mark Sanchez connected with wide receiver Santonio Holmes twice to convert third downs, the second one picking up 18 yards over the middle down to the Green Bay 36 on third-and-10.
Two plays later, the Jets ran with wide receiver Brad Smith out of the Wildcat formation for the first time on the afternoon, but linebacker Frank Zombo forced him to fumble on the run around left end. Cornerback Tramon Williams scooped up the ball at the Green Bay 29 and returned it 5 yards. The Jets challenged the ruling on the field, but the ruling was upheld, and their best scoring opportunity to that point was extinguished.
Later in the quarter, it was Williams again who put a halt to a New York drive. Facing third-and-11 at the Green Bay 43, Sanchez found wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery on a quick slant for 3 yards, but Williams wrestled the ball away from him for the interception. Once again, New York challenged the ruling, but the play was upheld.
“We were battling for it initially,” said Williams, who also forced a fumble in the second quarter that the Jets recovered. “We battled for it, but I felt that I had control of it. Going to the ground, I kind of took control of it.
“I think (the turnovers) were very big. I think it took points off the board at the point in time. We knew we could get the ball off (Sanchez). He has done a good job with controlling the ball throughout the season, but from what we watched on film we felt like we could still get the ball off of him. So we went in and the plan worked I guess.”
Sanchez entered the game having thrown just two interceptions all season, and the defense added another pick off of him early in the fourth quarter. With the Packers still protecting just a 3-0 lead, the Jets moved into Green Bay territory behind a 32-yard pass from Sanchez to wide receiver Braylon Edwards. After running back Shonn Greene picked up 2 yards to convert a third-and-1 at the Packers’ 39, tight end Dustin Keller was flagged for holding on the next play to push the ball back to the Green Bay 48. Sanchez went to Keller on the next play for a short gain, but once again a cornerback wrestled the ball away from him, with veteran Charles Woodson doing the honors this time.
Keller was going to the ground when Woodson ripped the ball out, and it was a play that the Jets would most likely have thrown a challenge flag on, only they didn’t have any left after losing out on the pair of challenges in the second quarter.
“I was just able to wrestle it away from him before he got down with the ball,” Woodson said. “He fumbled with it a little bit, and I was able to get it out of there and come up with it.
“We were in a Cover-2 situation, and my guy went out, so I could turn my eyes elsewhere. I was able to get my eyes back and pick up the ball. The receiver was falling and what not, but the ball might have been behind him and I was able to get in there and wrestle it away from him and come up with the interception.”
Although the Packers did a great job of taking the ball away on Sunday, the offense wasn’t able to capitalize like it has become accustomed to this season. Green Bay entered the game ranked No. 2 in the league with 56 points off of 12 takeaways, but were only able to generate three points from the opportunities provided by the defense against the Jets.
“If you win the turnover battle, most of the time you are going to win the game, but we’ve got to turn them into points,” Woodson said. “To have as many turnovers as we did today, taking away momentum when they were driving on a couple of occasions, we’ve got to put points up on the board. It was big for us to come up with those things, but we feel like we left some points out there on the field today.”
It was the second straight week that takeaways loomed large in Green Bay’s win. The Packers intercepted quarterback Brett Favre three times last Sunday in the 28-24 win over the Vikings, all of them coming in the second half. With the win against the Jets, Green Bay is now 32-6 (.842) under Head Coach Mike McCarthy when it wins the takeaway battle, and the momentum swing those turnovers can provide was evident on Sunday.
“To come here in their stadium and find a way to win the game, it was going to be a game where we were going to have to make some plays,” Capers said. “I think our guys showed that last week in the second half and they certainly showed it today in terms of making some real key plays.
“All of a sudden when they get started moving, you’ve got to do something to break that momentum. It’s a game of momentum, and had we not had those, it might have been a little different story.”