Indeed, the Packers had turned the ball over 13 times after seven games, well off the pace of a year ago when the team established a new franchise-low with just 16 giveaways for the entire regular season.
But a big part in Green Bay’s current winning streak, which continued Sunday with a dominant 31-3 victory at Minnesota, has been the way the offense has protected the ball. The Packers didn’t turn it over on Sunday for the third straight contest, the first time since 1963 that they’ve accomplished that feat.
“That’s one thing we’ve talked about all season long -- if we don’t turn the ball over, then we’ll win the majority of the games,” said receiver Donald Driver, who returned to action from his quadriceps injury and had four catches for 31 yards.
“To go three games where we haven’t turned the ball over, that’s tremendous. Now we have to continue that streak. If we can continue that streak throughout the rest of the year, you don’t know where we can go.”
Dating back to Week 7, the Packers’ last turnover was an interception Aaron Rodgers threw in the end zone in the second quarter against the Vikings at Lambeau Field. That means Green Bay has gone 3½ games, or 14 quarters, without a giveaway.
“That’s how we’re going to win,” Rodgers said. “When we’re doing those kind of things, we’re tough to beat.”
Rodgers did come close to breaking the streak, though. In the second quarter, with the Packers in the red zone and threatening to score, Rodgers and receiver Greg Jennings weren’t on the same page on a short route over the middle and the throw was off target. It sailed toward the goal line, where Vikings safety Husain Abdullah had a great chance to pick it off, but it bounced off his chest and was incomplete.
Rodgers took advantage of the reprieve and found Jennings for an 11-yard touchdown pass on the very next play, giving the Packers a 10-3 lead they would not relinquish the rest of the day.
During this stretch with the offense not turning the ball over, the defense has snagged 12 takeaways. At halftime of the first Minnesota game, the Packers for the season were minus-4 in the turnover ratio and are now plus-8, an incredible turnaround in less than a quarter of a season. Last year, the Packers led the league at plus-24.
Cheap, but it counts
If you’re going to lead the league in sacks, it helps to get some breaks along the way, and Packers linebacker Clay Matthews got one on Sunday.
In the first quarter, Vikings quarterback Brett Favre scrambled away from pressure and headed toward the sideline. Unable to find anyone open, Favre gave himself up and slid down 1 yard behind the line of scrimmage. Matthews was the closest Green Bay defender to him and was the first one to touch him, which counted as a sack, giving Matthews 11.5 sacks on the season.
“I’ll take them how I can get them,” Matthews said. “It seems like sometimes when you beat your guy clean, you can’t get them, and other times you fall into some. It’s part of the game and I’ll take it.”
That was the Packers’ only official sack of Favre on the day, but they pressured and hurried him quite a bit. The press box statistics credited the Packers with seven quarterback hits, led by Matthews with two.
Last season, cornerback Charles Woodson put on a clinic when it came to stripping the ball, forcing a team-high four fumbles, which tied his career high.
Well, Woodson got another one on Sunday and has matched his total from last year with six games yet to go.
On the second snap of the second quarter, Minnesota faced third-and-8 on its own 46-yard line. Favre hit rookie running back Toby Gerhart over the middle for a 10-yard gain to pick up the first down, but as Woodson crashed in from Gerhart’s right side to make the tackle, he swatted the ball out and linebacker A.J. Hawk recovered to thwart the scoring threat.
“I saw an opening, and one thing I’m going to do is I’m always going to try to take a shot at the ball, and I was able to get it out,” Woodson said.
Minnesota would have had a first down in Green Bay territory. Instead, the Packers took over on their own 35 and trailed only 3-0.
Better than half
In their last game, against the Cowboys, the Packers converted 10-of-15 third downs for their most efficient day on third downs in five years. On Sunday, they followed that up with a solid 8-of-15 showing (53 percent) to convert more than half of their third downs for the second straight game.
That’s the first time the Packers have topped the 50-percent conversion mark in consecutive games this season. Twice last season, the Packers converted better than 50 percent on third downs in back-to-back games. First was against San Francisco (10-of-18) and Detroit (9-of-16) in Weeks 11-12, and then again against Pittsburgh (10-of-16) and Seattle (8-of-14) in Weeks 15-16. The Packers went 3-1 in those four games.
Over these past two games, the Packers have improved their third-down conversion rate for the season from 35.1 percent prior to the Dallas game to 41.1 percent now.
Getting his feet wet
The Packers finally got running back Dimitri Nance involved in the offense. Acquired following Ryan Grant’s season-ending injury in Week 1, Nance had seen only sporadic snaps until Sunday, when he got the call early in the game on a third-and-1 running play and converted with a nice second effort.
He went on to rip off an 11-yard run in the third quarter and then was the primary ballcarrier in the fourth quarter when the offense rested several starters. He finished the game with 12 carries for 37 yards, leading the team in both categories.
The Packers went with Nance as the No. 2 running back on Sunday ahead of John Kuhn, who did not have any carries with regular fullback Korey Hall sidelined. Quinn Johnson and Kuhn handled all the fullback responsibilities.
Rookie James Starks is still waiting in the wings as well, having returned from his hamstring injury, but Starks was not active for Sunday’s game.
“Dimitri has earned this opportunity,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “It was time really to get him going and give him some opportunities. He’s a fine young running back and it was great to give him some carries and we need to continue to grow with him and Brandon (Jackson), so I was pleased to finally get that rotation going.”
Backup safety and special teamer Anthony Smith had an ankle injury and did not return to the game, though X-rays were negative. Fellow safety Atari Bigby left the game with a hamstring injury.
Cornerback Pat Lee left briefly with a knee injury but returned to the game.