GREEN BAY—A year ago at this time, Dom Capers wasn't singing the praises of his defense. It was 31st-ranked and going down. What a difference a year makes.
"I thought it was our best game of the season from a situational standpoint," the Packers defensive coordinator told reporters on Monday, as Capers surveyed the happy details of a 21-13 win in Chicago that clinched a second consecutive NFC North title for the Packers.
"It was one of our best days winning the first down. We had a very good goal-line stop. We had an adversity situation after the (punt return play) and forced a field goal," Capers said, ticking off his unit's successes, which included an interception of Jay Cutler with a minute-and-a-half to play in the first half, and stopping two Bears possessions inside four minutes to play in the game. It was that late-first half interception of Cutler that turned the game decidedly in the Packers' favor.
"I thought our pressure on the quarterback was good," Capers added, referring to four sacks that leave the Packers with the fifth most sacks in the league.
With two games to play, the Packers defense is 14th overall, up 17 spots from this time a year ago. The unit's meteoric rise has allowed the Packers to win with an offense that's 17th overall and hasn't played at last year's torrid pace. Now, there's evidence the offense is beginning to hit its stride.
"I think we're playing better," Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements said. "We're improving each week. We're playing more consistently, so we're performing better overall."
It's what every head coach wants, which is to have his offense and his defense approaching peak performance as the playoffs near.
"We're running the ball better, so defenses can't just rush the passer. If you have time back there, it makes it easier," Clements said.
It also helps an offense to know it has a defense that can overcome mistakes and misfortune. The Packers defense did that yesterday, as it overcame two missed field goal attempts and a fumble on a punt-return trick play that threatened an 11-point lead with eight minutes to play in the game.
"I thought our guys rose to the occasion and played one of our better football games," Capers said.
"With the number of rookies we've been playing, you hope they can gain experience. We've played 18 games (including preseason). Not one of these rookies has played these many games. I think they understand the sense of urgency we have to play with now. It's all about momentum."
The Packers appear to have it. Additional coverage - Dec. 17