GREEN BAY—When Aaron Rodgers sliced through the Panthers defense for 80 yards in six plays to open the game, the Packers defense had only one thought on its mind.
“Anytime the offense is rolling like that, as a defense you want to feed him,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “You want to get off the field on third downs, get the ball back to him as quick as possible, and obviously they showed what they can do today.”
In Sunday’s 38-17 victory at Lambeau Field, back-to-back three-and-outs by the Packers defense to start its day fed the beast that was Rodgers, and that was all she wrote.
The Packers led 21-0 by the time the Panthers had their inaugural first down, and even that was a pick-six by linebacker Clay Matthews off a deflection that was nullified by a pass interference penalty on Williams.
The commanding early lead rendered almost nil the concern for Carolina QB Cam Newton’s read-option runs, and the Packers never let the Panthers back in the game. The Panthers didn’t cross midfield until less than a minute remained in the first half as the Packers harassed and hurried Newton most of the day.
“We forced them to be one-dimensional, and as I’ve said all year, we’ve got some studs on the defensive side of the ball, especially in the pass rush aspect,” Matthews said. “We put pressure on him, got him uncomfortable.”
Newton was sacked just three times, but that didn’t tell the story of Green Bay’s pass rush. Only Newton’s size and scrambling ability avoided a huge sack day. The defense even managed to stone the 245-pound QB on a fourth-and-1 sneak to open the second half.
“We have a lot of guys that can rush the passer. That’s pretty much been the story all season,” Julius Peppers said. “We just have to keep sending fresh guys in, in waves, and keeping guys around the quarterback. So far it’s working.”
Nick Perry got Green Bay’s first sack and Julius Peppers was credited with 1½, sharing a sack with Matthews. The impact of the shared sack, however, was negated by a taunting penalty on Matthews for how he either stood or stepped over Newton after the play, the only minor letdown on the day as it led to a fourth-quarter TD by Carolina.
“You know how the game is nowadays. It’s unfortunate,” Matthews said. “I’m going to take that one on me, giving them the first down. My bad. He said it was ‘body posture.’ I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it.”
Cornerback Casey Hayward had his second interception in as many weeks as Newton was held to just a 72.6 passer rating, less than half of Rodgers’ 154.5.
After a lost second season due to a nagging hamstring injury, Hayward appears back to his ball-hawking ways from his rookie season of 2012, when he picked off six passes.
“Every opportunity I get out there, I want to make the best of it,” said Hayward, whose work combined with that of fellow cornerback Davon House more than made up for the absence of starter Sam Shields (knee). “When the ball comes to make, I’m going to continue to make plays, and hopefully I can continue to do it each and every week.”
The defense wanted to help its scoring average better than it did, but two touchdowns in garbage time weren’t the end of the world.
“Hopefully we’re getting better,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “We’ve played well at times, been a dominant defense at times, but we haven’t put a full game together. Today we got close.
“Hopefully we’re better as a defense now than we were last year, and hopefully we’re better as a defense than we were a week ago. We definitely haven’t played our best football yet. That’s encouraging moving forward.” COMPLETE GAME COVERAGE