Defense Hangs Tough Early, Battles Injuries Throughout

DETROIT - The Packers’ defense might not have had its best day on Thursday, with players dropping out with injuries and substitutions needed. But the unit held together remarkably well, no better than in the first half when several key stops kept the Lions out of the end zone until the offense got on track. - More Audio | Video | Packers-Lions Game Center


DETROIT - The Green Bay Packers' defense might not have had its best day on Thursday, with players dropping out with injuries and substitutions having to be made liberally.

But the unit held together remarkably well, no better than in the first half when several key stops kept the Lions out of the end zone and the Packers in the game until the offense got on track in what became a 37-26 Thanksgiving victory at Ford Field.

"We just keep continuing to work and scratch and claw and come out with a victory," middle linebacker Nick Barnett said. "We have great confidence right now."

That confidence was needed for the defense to rise up and forced three field goals by the Lions in the first half when the results could have been much worse for Green Bay. The Lions will lament the missed opportunities as perhaps what cost them the game, but give the Packers defense credit for making some key plays at big times.

On its opening possession, Detroit marched all the way inside the Green Bay 10-yard line, and a pass to Shaun McDonald appeared to give the Lions a first-and-goal at the 1. But Detroit center Dominic Raiola was called for a chop block on Aaron Kampman, who was already engaged with another lineman when Raiola dove at his legs.

The 15-yard penalty set up third-and-long, and Kampman capitalized with a 6-yard sack of Jon Kitna, forcing a long field goal.

That may have been a fortunate break, with the penalty on Raiola that appeared to be a block he didn't need to throw anyway. But the defense stood tall on several other occasions in the first half as well.

"We didn't start the way we wanted to with that long drive, giving up that first drive, but after that we rebounded well," Kampman said. "It was huge for us (to hold Detroit to a field goal). As a defense we just kind of regrouped and said all right, let's just keep playing, we know we're a good football team, we know we're a good defensive team, let's go out and try to dominate."

The defense was put on the spot again right away. Immediately after the opening field goal, the Packers fumbled the ball back to the Lions when Brett Favre stepped on left guard Daryn Colledge's foot while trying to hand the ball off to Ryan Grant.

Detroit's Jared DeVries recovered at the Green Bay 25, but the defense held the Lions to just 2 yards in three plays, forcing another field goal. The key was good coverage by Jarrett Bush on a deep pass to Calvin Johnson, breaking it up near the goal line on second down.

"That's not the way you want to start, but our defense kept us in it at that point," Favre said. "We were a touchdown away from leading."

The Packers got that touchdown thanks to an interception and 34-yard return by rookie Aaron Rouse that set the offense up at the 11-yard line.

But Detroit was in field-goal range again on its next possession, poised to re-take the lead and facing third-and-3 at the Green Bay 32. But Kampman notched his second sack of the game, bull-rushing third-string right tackle Blaine Saipaia, who had just entered the game when backup Jonathan Scott went down with a hamstring injury. Saipaia, who's actually the Lions' backup center, proved to be no match for Kampman on the outside, and the 6-yard loss pushed Detroit out of scoring range and forced a punt.

Detroit's third field goal of the first half came after the offense had tremendous field position once again. Aveion Cason's 74-yard kickoff return put the ball on the Green Bay 24, but the defense didn't allow a first down, and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila's 6-yard sack on third down forced another field goal.

"I don't know exactly what our percentage is in the red zone, but it's been mentioned that we're one of the top teams in the league keeping people out of the end zone," said Kampman, whose two sacks give him 11 on the season, tops in the NFL pending the weekend's games. "And we take a lot of pride in that."

Two other Detroit possessions in the first half reached Green Bay territory, but both times the defense got the third-down stop and forced a punt. Another Detroit drive early in the third quarter was bogged down by penalties and resulted in a fourth Jason Hanson field goal.

All this was going on while the Packers were shuffling players in and out to compensate for injuries.

{sportsad300}Defensive tackle Ryan Pickett left the game briefly in the first quarter with an unspecified injury but returned shortly. Starting cornerback Charles Woodson left the game for good in the second quarter with a toe injury, forcing the secondary to elevate Jarrett Bush, Frank Walker and Tramon Williams into more prominent roles.

In addition, Gbaja-Biamila hurt an ankle on his sack and fellow defensive lineman Colin Cole went down with a forearm fracture, which led to more playing time for reserve defensive ends Jason Hunter and Michael Montgomery. And safety Aaron Rouse left the game for a period in the second half with a knee injury and was replaced by Charlie Peprah.

The experience gained by those further down the depth chart could prove valuable both in the short term and the long term, but most importantly they found a way to hang in there.

"It was a true gut check for our football team," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said.

The defense didn't hold out forever, allowing two touchdown drives by the Lions in the fourth quarter that pulled them within 34-26, but that only heightened the importance of those early stops when Detroit could have taken control of the game.

"Just the resiliency," Kampman said of what the defense showed on Thursday. "We just continue to find ways to win, and I keep mentioning this, but I think it's going to help us in the long run. When the games keep getting higher and higher stakes, I think it's going to really pay off for us that we've handled this much adversity and continued to find ways to win."

No game will have higher stakes in the regular season than next Thursday's in Dallas, and as long as the defense's health isn't too compromised, this Thanksgiving win gives the unit a lot to draw on.

"That's the good thing is we're not a finished product," Kampman said. "There are still some things we can continue to work on, and it's probably a good thing we continue to grow and keep peaking.

"This is a special season. We've got a special group of guys, and we're out to accomplish special things. We just have to stay focused and see what happens this next week."

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