GREEN BAY — The big play finally came for the Packers’ defense on Monday night and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was right there to capitalize on it.
The Packers’ third-year safety snagged his third interception of the season to open the second half against Philadelphia, generating a much-needed turnover that turned the tide for the defense in a 27-13 win over the Eagles.
It was the first turnover the defense had generated since Clinton-Dix’s two interceptions in the first half against Indianapolis earlier this month and his timing couldn’t have been better.
Prior to the pick, Philadelphia had a chance to potentially pull ahead after a Caleb Sturgis 48-yard field goal brought the Eagles within one score of the lead, 14-10, at halftime.
After moving the ball in the first half, Philadelphia managed only three points and 91 total yards on its next three series after Clinton-Dix’s turnover.
“That was definitely big,” safety Morgan Burnett said. “Our offense was rolling and hot tonight so anytime you can just get a takeaway, that’s a plus.
“I always say anytime you can get a takeaway, it’s always a turning point because you’re taking points away from that team and if your offense goes down and scores, you turn that into a momentum swing.”
A secondary that’s been ravaged by injury received some relief with the return of second-year cornerback Damarious Randall, who missed the previous five games with a groin injury.
After admittedly giving up too many big plays recently, the Packers’ defense held speedster Darren Sproles in check and didn’t allow a gain of more than 25 yards to any Eagle.
The extra bodies in the secondary allowed defensive coordinator Dom Capers to mix-and-match his weapons a little more, especially when Burnett needed to step in for Clay Matthews at inside linebacker after he briefly exited with a shoulder injury.
Matthews made his first start inside of the season with both starters, Jake Ryan (ankle) and Blake Martinez (knee), out with injury. After getting cleared with his shoulder, Matthews returned to help power the Packers’ pass rush on rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, who finished with a 75.5 passer rating.
The offense’s ability to jump out to an early lead also went a long way to the Packers’ defense being able to set the tone.
“Fortunately we had a lead early enough in the game where they could bring me a little bit more and I didn’t have to sit there and play a true traditional inside ’backer,” said Matthews, who had four tackles and a sack. “I feel like that’s when I’m at my best inside. I played it for a year and a half. So going back inside, there was a little rust but for the most part I feel like I read my keys.”
While Wentz guided the Eagles to a touchdown on their opening series, the Packers’ defense made it difficult on the second-overall pick with four sacks and eight quarterback hits.
The constant pressure reached a crescendo in the fourth quarter with back-to-back sacks from Julius Peppers and Nick Perry helping seal the victory.
It was exactly how the defense was looking to bounce back after giving up more than 40 points against Tennessee and Washington in recent weeks.
“It’s just a good feeling,” Burnett said. “No one likes to lose. We’re all competitors in here so just to get that win today, that’s what you want. Now, only thing is it’s on a Monday night so we have to flush it away quickly and get ready for Houston.”
Holding the line: A Packers’ offensive line down two starters in center JC Tretter and right guard T.J. Lang pitched a near-perfect game against the Eagles.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was hit only twice on 39 passing attempts without being sacked once despite having rookie second-round pick Jason Spriggs making his first NFL start at right guard.
In his postgame news conference, Rodgers praised Spriggs, tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, left guard Lane Taylor and center Corey Linsley for allowing him ample time to operate.
Spriggs, who played left tackle at Indiana, was actually Plan C at right guard with Don Barclay exiting last Sunday’s game against the Titans with a shoulder injury.
“Spriggs, I thought did a good job,” Linsley said. “The biggest thing you could say about him is he’s a very receptive, not an easily agitated guy. If we have an issue on a play, you can talk to him and he’s like, ‘All right, I got it.’ He’s going to work through it.”
First touchdown: Fullback Aaron Ripkowski recorded his first NFL touchdown with his goal-line carry at the start of the fourth quarter, which gave Green Bay a 24-13 lead at the time.
It also happened to be the first rushing touchdown by a Green Bay running back this season.
Ripkowski didn’t have a touchdown celebration planned, but powerfully spiked the ball at his teammates’ request.
“Oh, it was great. It was awesome,” said Ripkowski, who also caught two passes for 15 yards. “They actually told me to do that. It wasn’t my idea. Somebody was saying, ‘Spike it. Spike it.’”
Pinning them back: Jake Schum’s gut wrenched at first when his 43-yard punt bounced microscopically-close to the Eagles’ goal line midway through the second quarter.
At first, the Packers punter thought the ball might have hit the line for a touchback, but it was when he looked up at the replay that he saw it died perfectly at the 1-yard line.
While Eagles coach Doug Pederson initially challenged the ruling on the field, officials determined linebacker Jayrone Elliott’s contact with the goal line did not occur while he was touching the ball.
“It’s that bounce you always want,” Schum said. “I had that nice, slow rotation on that backspin and felt like I made really good contact. Our guys got down there and made a hell of a play to keep that ball in.”
Spofford: Packers finally regain that winning feeling
Hodkiewicz: Playmakers shine in win over Eagles
Spofford: Clock-eating, fourth-quarter drive slams door for Packers