TAMPA—"The Big Game" is at hand. We knew it would come to this. You might even say this season was dedicated to waiting for this, for when we'd finally know what kind of season it would be.
With a win over the Lions on Sunday, it will have been a very good season. You know the flip side.
"It's exciting. Last year, we had to go on the road to Chicago. This year, we have it at home. They're (Lions) playing really well," Aaron Rodgers said when asked to comment on "The Big Game."
Remember that game against the Patriots a few weeks ago? We thought it was a big game. It was, but it wasn't "The Big Game." The opener in Seattle? Mostly hype.
This one's no hype. This is the real deal. This is winner take all. That's a big game, "The Big Game."
Here's the good news: The Packers defense is playing its best football of the season as it heads into "The Big Game."
Remember that Packers defense you hated? The one that gave up rushing yards more easily than any other team in the league? The one whose defensive coordinator was assailed on a weekly basis?
Well, since the bye week, that defense has turned in only two bad quarters of football, in an after-the-fact win, for which it was heartily criticized. Now, heading into "The Big Game," that defense might be the Packers' greatest strength, for it's the defense that is playing at the highest level on a team known for offense.
"I feel great about the defense," said Aaron Rodgers, one of the game's foremost authorities on how to defeat a defense. "The way they got after Josh (McCown) was fun to watch. That's the greatest thing for the back end, that you don't have to bring extra guys."
The Packers' pass rush dropped McCown seven times. It also hurried him 12 times, one of those hurries having produced an interception.
Green Bay's defense was beyond dominant in the 20-3 win over the Bucs. It was suffocating. It was rabid. It was a wonderful example of scheme and execution meeting at the ball. Coordinator Dom Capers kept dialing up looks, and his players executed them to precision. They beat their man. They were unblockable.
The Packers will need a strong performance against the Lions next Sunday, because the Lions are likely to produce the same. They did in a Week 3 win over the Packers in Detroit.
This one isn't likely to resemble that 2011 season finale, when the Packers and Lions totaled more than a thousand yards of offense. Forget about that kind of football. Nothing was at stake for the Packers in that game, and the Lions were under different leadership. This one will be played as you would expect "The Big Game" to be played: Defense will define it; offense will win it.
"I think we have good balance. We've been working on that the last couple of weeks. The greatest jump we've seen since early in the season is the offensive line play," Rodgers said in a mini-preview/evaluation following the win over the Bucs.
Sunday, playing on one leg, Rodgers should've been a stationary target for the Bucs' pass rush, but he was sacked only once.
So, the Packers take into "The Big Game" a defense and an offensive line that are performing at their highest levels of the season. That's a very good combination to take into "The Big Game."
"It started and ended with defense," Coach Mike McCarthy said of Sunday's win over the Bucs. "Stopping the run and making them one-dimensional. Probably one of our best performances on defense."
Is your team on a roll heading into "The Big Game," coach?
"We've won six out of seven games. I would qualify that as playing a lot of good football. We'll clean some things up," McCarthy said.
Get ready for "The Big Game." COMPLETE GAME COVERAGE
Green Bay played its final road game of the regular season Sunday against the Buccaneers. Photos by Jim Biever, Packers.com.