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Goal-line stand highlights stout Packers defense

Posted Oct 13, 2013

Late fourth-quarter breakdown only real blemish in strong performance minus Clay Matthews


BALTIMORE—The hiccup toward the end on fourth-and-21 almost ruined the day, but don’t let the way the Packers defense performed on Sunday get lost in one momentary lapse.

Without star linebacker and pass rusher Clay Matthews, the Packers thoroughly frustrated the Ravens through three quarters on Sunday, setting the stage for the 19-17 victory at M&T Bank Stadium.

A rugged, run-first team, Baltimore simply couldn’t run the ball, gaining just 47 yards on 22 carries, a paltry 2.1-yard average. Running back Ray Rice had just 18 yards through three periods before getting loose for his longest run of the day, an 11-yarder early in the fourth.

“We’re getting better, man,” defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. “Our defense is growing. It all starts with stopping the run, and we’ve been able to stop the run this whole year.”

The stout run defense made a monumental goal-line stand in the second quarter that kept the Packers ahead, 3-0.

Rice tried three straight runs from the 4-yard line and in, reaching only the 1. The Ravens then eschewed the chip-shot field goal and went for it, only to have Bernard Pierce stuffed short of the end zone.

“We were tired and worn out, but we pride ourselves on keeping rushing touchdowns out of the end zone, and we were fortunate to come away from that,” lineman B.J. Raji said.

It was as big a statement as the Packers could make about their defense with two starters in their front seven – Matthews and inside linebacker Brad Jones – sidelined by injuries.

The defense did it again in the third quarter, stopping the Ravens after it was first-and-goal at the 6. That time, Baltimore didn’t even try to run, but three passes gained just one yard and the Ravens settled for three with 4:34 left in the third quarter, their first points of the game.

The Packers’ dominance was impressive. Not including five sacks of Ravens QB Joe Flacco, Green Bay’s defense made six tackles behind the line of scrimmage and five others for no gain. That’s 16 plays of zero or negative yards, not counting incomplete passes. Jones’ replacement, Jamari Lattimore, made at least two of those plays behind the line.

Other highlights included forcing eight three-and-outs, holding speedy playmaker Torrey Smith to one reception for 12 yards and allowing the Ravens to convert only two of 14 third-down chances.

“We’re tough, we’re tough,” Pickett said. “I think we’re real tough. We’re tough physically and mentally.”

One of the sacks, by linebacker Nick Perry, forced a fumble in the waning seconds of the first half that defensive end Datone Jones returned 20 yards to set up a field goal as the half expired.

Linebacker A.J. Hawk had three of the other four sacks on blitzes up the middle that the Ravens had trouble picking up all day. It was Hawk’s third career multi-sack game and his first three-sack performance.

“I give a lot of credit to the D-line up there,” Hawk said. “I don’t come free very often and I did today a few times. That was nice.”

It only got shaky in the fourth quarter, when the Ravens got their first touchdown on a pass to Jacoby Jones to get within 16-10.

After the Packers added a field goal to restore a two-score lead, Hawk’s third sack helped force a fourth-and-21 from Baltimore’s 19-yard line. But safety Jerron McMillian fell down as receiver Tandon Doss ran past him for a 63-yard reception, and Flacco hit tight end Dallas Clark for an 18-yard TD over McMillian on the very next snap.

Players admitted the offense bailed them out with the clock-killing drive to seal the game, which was the missing piece in a similar though higher-scoring game three weeks ago in Cincinnati.

“That’s why it’s the ultimate team sport,” Raji said. “They got us out of the hole.”

But the defense also deserves credit for how it played the bulk of the game, particularly without Matthews. The finish is all that’s left to master.

“We’re definitely not a great defense yet but we’re trying to get there,” Hawk said. “You can’t call yourself great until you’re holding teams consistently under 13, 14 points, I think.

“We played pretty well today, but it’s a long season. We’re only 3-2.”

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