When the Packers acquired big-ticket free agent Charles Woodson in the off-season to play cornerback opposite Al Harris, performances like Sunday's at Miami by the two veterans were exactly what the team had in mind.
While Woodson and Harris both had their moments during the season's first five games, their collective play at cornerback against the Dolphins was the most productive of 2006.
Woodson impact was felt in multi-faceted, as he recorded six tackles and a sack, broke up four passes and made the game's biggest defensive play, snagging an interception on the second play of the third quarter and returning it for a touchdown to give the Packers momentum they never really relinquished.
Meanwhile Harris wasn't as dynamic or noticeable, but he took his customary job of guarding the opponent's top receiving threat and dominated. He held Miami's explosive Chris Chambers without a catch for the first three quarters, and Chambers finished with just two catches for 29 yards.
"They've each had a lot of good plays here and there, but certainly (Sunday) together they were effective in the success that we had," defensive coordinator Bob Sanders said. "The playmaking ability that each of those guys has is what you want each and every week."
Woodson's breakout game was somewhat unexpected, only because he spent the previous two weeks recovering from a deep thigh bruise sustained against St. Louis on Oct. 8.
He missed all of the bye week practices and only returned to the practice field last Friday, the final workout before heading to Miami. But there was plenty of evidence the leg wasn't slowing him down any.
On his first-quarter sack, Woodson came on a blitz and fought through the block attempt of tight end Randy McMichael, who at 255 pounds outweighs Woodson by about 50. Then in the fourth quarter, he chased down running back Sammy Morris when Morris broke free for a 44-yard catch-and-run and stripped the ball from behind, only to see it roll out of bounds.
"He definitely played physical," Sanders said.
His big interception was a combination of being in great position and making a quick reaction.
McMichael slipped into the left flat with linebacker Nick Barnett right with him. Woodson read quarterback Joey Harrington and made a break toward McMichael, putting himself in position to make a sure tackle on the big tight end for little or no gain. But the pass bounced off McMichael's hands, Woodson grabbed it and sauntered untouched 23 yards for the score to give the Packers a 13-10 lead. Green Bay never trailed again.
"It was one of those things that could change the momentum of the game," Woodson said. "Coming out in the second half, we wanted to establish ourselves and make something happen. It just so happened I was able to come up with it."
It was his first interception for a touchdown since 1999 with the Raiders and the third of his career.
"A lot of people were saying he wasn't this or that," receiver Donald Driver said. "He showed he still has it."
So does Harris, who neutralized a Pro Bowl receiver and might have shut Chambers out had he not gotten a little greedy.
On the first play after Ahman Green's 70-yard touchdown run gave the Packers a 27-16 lead, Harris jumped a short out route to Chambers and gambled, trying to make an interception he likely would have returned the distance. He just missed the pick, and Chambers turned the short catch into a 23-yard gain.
Still, it was Chambers' first catch of the day, and he later added an inconsequential 6-yard reception.
"He just mixes it up, his techniques and so forth," defensive backs coach Kurt Schottenheimer said of how Harris is able to keep quality receiver so quiet. "He jams him sometimes, other times he plays a softer-type technique. The thing Al does is he recognizes and feels the top of routes very well, and he just competes so hard."
On Sunday, competing at that level was truly a physical and mental test, with on-field temperatures above 100 degrees and Harrington dropping back to pass 66 times (62 attempts, four sacks).
"Al Harris is a shutdown corner," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "When you lock up a guy like Chris Chambers for four quarters in this heat with that many attempts, that's tough duty."
Carrying out that level of duty is what the Packers need, and expect, from Harris and Woodson on a regular basis. It's a lot to ask, but the Packers hope their two star cornerbacks can keep it up, together, week after week.
"It's big, but at the same time we're 2-4, so we can't get too excited right now," Woodson said. "But it is a step in the right direction. We've got some games ahead of us that we can win, and if we're going to do it, we have to get this type of performance every day."