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Mike Spofford

Mike Spofford has worked as a sportswriter in Wisconsin since 1995 and has been a packers.com staff writer since 2006. He has covered the Packers' last two Super Bowl appearances, XXXII and XLV.

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Defense holds on at crunch time

Posted Nov 6, 2011

SAN DIEGO – It was another day of celebration and frustration for the Packers defense.

It made some big plays, and it gave up a lot of big plays in the 45-38 victory over the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday. That seems to be the story of the season on that side of the ball.

Three big plays were ultimately the difference. Safety Charlie Peprah and cornerback Tramon Williams returned interceptions for touchdowns on back-to-back possessions in the first quarter, and then Peprah came up with the game-saving interception in the final 30 seconds after the Chargers twice reached Green Bay territory in the fourth quarter with a chance to wipe out a 21-point deficit.

“Obviously it goes without saying I don’t think we’d be in this game without those plays,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “Fortunately we were able to make those big plays, but we gave up too many. It seems to be a constant theme that we need to address.”

San Diego’s big plays were too numerous as the Chargers rolled up 460 yards. Here’s the list the players won’t want to see in the film room this coming week: 23, 23, 38, 27, 20, 31, 29. There were a few 19-yarders in there too.

Most of those came in the fourth quarter when San Diego used the help of a successful onside kick to rally, and the performance left one of the Packers’ defensive leaders feeling pretty sour about the effort.

“I’ll always be happy with a win but the way we went out and played defense today was disappointing in a lot of aspects,” said cornerback Charles Woodson, who was flagged a few times and seemed none to happy about it. “Just a lot of bad football.”

It seemed the Packers’ defense was in for a turnaround day with the consecutive pick-sixes by Peprah and Williams. Peprah benefited from a deflection by linebacker Desmond Bishop on a pass intended for tight end Antonio Gates, and Peprah did some nifty weaving and running to find the end zone from 40 yards away.

Williams then timed his break on the ball perfectly, cutting in front of receiver Patrick Crayton on a simple out route, snagging the ball with two hands and finding no one in his way. He went 43 yards to paydirt.

“I was playing a soft coverage, and I saw the guy going out to the flat,” Williams said. “I was off like I was playing man-to-man, and I saw it the whole time. If you played that coverage, it would be the ideal way to play it and it worked out perfectly.”

It marked the second time in four years the Packers recorded interceptions for touchdowns on back-to-back drives. Woodson and safety Nick Collins turned that trick in 2008 in Detroit in the fourth quarter to seal a runaway win.

These two scores put the Packers ahead 21-7 early, and when the Chargers trailed 45-24 with 10 minutes left, all looked good. But the defense started hemorrhaging those big plays again, as San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers threw for 164 of his 385 yards in the fourth quarter.

Woodson emphasized that the lack of a pass-rush is making things too difficult on the entire defensive unit.

“We have to find ways to get Clay to the quarterback, whatever that may be,” Woodson said of Matthews, who has only three sacks on the season and had none Sunday. “Draw some things up for him and just let him do his thing.

“We can’t continue to allow him to be stuck on the side and double-teamed every time he gets upfield. For us, we have to find ways to get him to be the ‘Clay-maker,’ which he is.”

Still, the defense came up with two key stops down the stretch. The first came with just over three minutes left when Rivers, under pressure for once, committed a costly intentional grounding penalty with the Chargers on the Green Bay 32.

That eventually led to a fourth-and-17, forcing a punt.

San Diego got one more shot with 1:05 left and got to the Green Bay 41, but Rivers’ deep pass for Vincent Jackson floated too far and into Peprah’s arms to finally end all the drama.

“The confidence on the field was amazing to me,” Peprah said. “Even though we blew a three-score lead, we had the feeling we knew we were going to win the game, at least that’s the attitude we took.

“We made the comment, ‘Why do we have to make it so hard on ourselves?’ But we stayed confident that somebody was going to make a play to get us off the field, and thankfully it was me.”

Thankfully, yes. That’s a good word. The defense has been in that situation a lot this year and come through at crunch time, and that’s ultimately what matters.

“I wouldn’t trade a perfect defensive game for a win,” Peprah said. “So I’ll take the ‘W’ and we’ll clean up the other things later.”

Additional coverage - Nov. 6

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