GREEN BAY – The Packers’ defense is playing at a playoff-caliber level.
The question is, will it need to play even better when the playoffs actually start?
In Sunday’s 20-13 loss to Minnesota at Lambeau Field, Green Bay’s defense allowed just one touchdown drive and 242 total yards. Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater passed for only 99 yards. Adrian Peterson was held to 67 yards and 3.5 yards per rush. Minnesota converted only two of 11 third downs.
The Packers will take that effort defensively next Sunday at Washington and for as long as they last in the playoffs, but it still wasn’t enough to win the Week 17 NFC North showdown.
Rather than lament another sluggish performance by their offensive teammates, though, Green Bay’s defenders are calling on themselves to find another level. Fair or not, there’s no satisfaction in losing, so there’s really no other approach.
“We’re playing all right. We’re playing decent,” cornerback Casey Hayward said. “But it’s not good enough. It’s not good enough to win the Super Bowl. But we have another week to pursue those goals.
“We don’t worry about what the offense does, we worry about what we do, and that’s to keep them from scoring. If we can keep them to zero points, we can win the game.”
That’s a bit much, but it’s easy to see Hayward’s point – control as much as can be controlled.
The special teams allowed a 41-yard run on a fake punt to set up the Vikings’ first field goal. Minnesota’s lone TD drive was just 58 yards after a shanked 29-yard punt. Green Bay’s offense was scored upon for the second straight week.
All that was out of the defense’s hands, yet the players say they aren’t feeling undue responsibility for their side of the ball to carry the team in the postseason.
“We don’t feel pressure,” Julius Peppers said. “We’ve just got to go out and play our game.”
A turnover binge could change things, and the defense is getting some chances there.
Micah Hyde’s acrobatic, one-handed interception gave Green Bay’s offense the ball in Minnesota territory midway through the third quarter and could have been the play that flipped a 13-3 game. Bridgewater made an ill-advised attempt to avoid a sack by flipping the ball left-handed, and Hyde impressively hauled it in.
“I thought we were going to get the sack, honestly,” Hyde said. “I was in good position. I figured there was no way he was going to throw it. Honestly, I don’t know how the hell I caught that. It was a big play for us.”
Unfortunately, for the second straight week, the offense responded to a huge takeaway with a turnover of its own. Even worse, this time, quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ fumble was returned 55 yards for a touchdown by Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, and the Packers were suddenly down 17 points.
Hyde insisted the defense still has confidence in the offense. No one is pointing fingers despite six losses in 10 games and two straight to end the regular season. It wouldn’t do any good anyway, so the mantra is to stick together and find a way, beginning next week.
“At the end of the day we’re a football team, and if we play well and they don’t, or if they play well, we don’t, we’re going to lose the game, so it’s not a good feeling,” Hyde said.
No, it’s not.
“I feel bad for those guys, because they’re playing their (tail) off, week in, week out, and we’re going out there and not doing our job,” said Josh Sitton, who filled in as an emergency left tackle, the first time he’s played that position since high school. “That part is definitely frustrating, letting your team down.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of injuries. It’d be (baloney) if I said that wasn’t part of it. But we just haven’t been the same offense we were. I don’t think injuries are the biggest factor. We’ve struggled in games we were healthy.”
The struggles were nothing new on Sunday night. The Packers had just three points on the board through three quarters, going six straight possessions without a point after an opening field goal.
The offense converted just two of 15 third downs and was forced to go for it on fourth down six times (converting three). Back-to-back fourth-quarter trips to the red zone included sacks and produced just three points total with the division title at stake.
“We’ve only got room to go up,” Sitton said.
“You know that movie? Stella? ‘How Stella Got Her Groove Back’? We need to rewrite the movie, ‘How the Packers Got Their Groove Back.’ That’s what we need to do.”
“It’s a week-to-week league, and if you don’t believe you can turn it around, then you’re in the wrong business,” safety Morgan Burnett said. “I have confidence in our team.”
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