GREEN BAY – Kenny Clark could feel the energy reverberate throughout Lambeau Field as more than 8,000 fans in attendance shouted and smacked their signs against the metal bleachers.
In that moment, as noise polluted the stadium bowl for practically the first time all season, it was almost like a little bit of diesel that had been missing was reinjected back into the D-Train.
In the end, a Packers defense that's been on the rise over the past two months responded with a statement in the waning moments of Saturday's 32-18 win over the Los Angeles Rams to advance to the NFC Championship Game.
The win didn't come without its moments of adversity, but the defense again succeeded at containing the run (96 yards allowed), eliminating explosive plays (two catches for more than 20 yards) and pressuring the quarterback (a season-high four sacks allowed of Jared Goff).
Afterward, there was no question in the mind of Clark and his fellow defenders where it all began.
"We were talking about that in the locker room. It was great to have the fans back, hitting the signs on the stands and just the noise period," said the fifth-year defensive lineman.
"Their snap count is a huge part of their game and I couldn't hear their snap count."
The Packers knew how critical it was going to be to not only stop rookie running back Cam Akers, but also not allow the Rams to get into an early rhythm. After all, Los Angeles is 37-0 all-time under Sean McVay when leading at halftime.
The Rams went three-and-out on their first possession, with Preston Smith batting a pass at the line of scrimmage on third-and-6, and again came up empty in the second quarter after Za'Darius Smith sacked Goff on second down.
LA still made its share of plays, including a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive before halftime and another lengthy series at the end of the third quarter to cut Green Bay's lead to seven.
Every time the defense needed a response, however, it found one, whether it was Clark and Rashan Gary combining for a sack on a three-and-out in the third quarter or Clark's solo sack of Goff early in the fourth that helped force a much-needed punt.
Fittingly, it was a sum of all the defensive parts that shut the door on the Rams in the final seven minutes of the game with All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander dropping Robert Woods for a 3-yard loss on a receiver screen on second-and-10. According to NFL NextGen stats, that screen pass to Woods was the only time Alexander was the nearest defender on a reception. He was targeted just three times.
After Preston Smith deflected another pass on third down, Gary then sacked Goff after the Rams' quarterback stepped up in the pocket, dropping him for a 4-yard loss to force turnover on downs.
"That's our game. That's what our defense is about," Clark said. "You gotta win. We gotta keep winning first down. When we do that, we get guys in long situations. When we're able to do that, we have guys who are able to rush and get after the quarterback."
Linebacker Krys Barnes exited briefly with a thumb injury but still led the defense with 10 tackles after returning with a cast on his left hand. Other than that, the Packers' defense appears to be as healthy and confident as can be heading into a showdown with either Tampa Bay or New Orleans next Sunday at Lambeau Field.
"We got either a dome team coming in here or a team that plays in 85-degree weather every day coming here," Clark said. "I know everybody's going to be excited to finally have a home game for one of these NFC Championship games. We gotta just give it everything we got. This is the big (one). We gotta get to the Super Bowl."
The O-line does it again: A Packers offensive line still looking to find its comfort zone without All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari earned another big feather in its cap against the Rams.
The Packers held the Rams' front at bay, preventing quarterback Aaron Rodgers from being sacked and paving the way to a 188-yard day on the ground for the running game.
In fact, the Packers became the first team in NFL playoff history to register 475-plus yards of total offense and 175-plus rushing yards with zero sacks allowed and zero turnovers in a game.
"Our guys came out physical, ready to play, ready for the challenge and I'm so proud of them," running back Aaron Jones said. "They accepted the challenge, they stood there and they did their thing and they did their job, kept A-Rod clean and kept the run lanes clean, as well."
'A scrappy dude': Elgton Jenkins had a coming-of-age moment in the second quarter when the Pro Bowl guard drew an unnecessary roughness penalty from a frustrated Aaron Donald.
Donald was flagged for putting his hands up on Jenkins' facemask after an Rodgers pass for Davante Adams fell incomplete. Instead of third-and-7 at the LA 36, the penalty made it first-and-10 at the 21.
Rodgers would later scramble in for a 1-yard touchdown to give the Packers a 16-3 lead. Donald, who was playing through a rib injury, had just one tackle in 39 defensive snaps.
"Dave (Bakhtiari) and I were just talking about that after the game," Linsley said. "We're very, very proud of Elgton because he's a scrappy dude.
For him to be able to restrain himself and exercise that level … we were proud of him. That was an awesome move by him, got us 15 yards and made a difference in that drive."
Lambeau Field hosted an NFC Divisional playoff matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021.
Toughing it out: It isn't just luck that's allowed Mason Crosby to play in 224 consecutive regular-season games. It also takes a lot of toughness to forge a streak that spans 14 NFL seasons.
That mentality was on full display after Crosby appeared to injure his shoulder after an aborted extra point in the second quarter. He stayed in the game, handling kickoffs and even making a 39-yard field goal before halftime.
"As far as Mason's shoulder is concerned, it showed a lot of grit and toughness to come back in the game," LaFleur said. "I know he's not 100%, but he came through and delivered big for us."