OAKLAND – It was a superb start followed by a strong finish for the Packers defense on Sunday.
Two early interceptions – one returned for a TD – staked the Packers to an early 14-point lead, and the defense closed the door by not allowing the Raiders to cross midfield in the game's final 20 minutes of a 30-20 victory at O.co Coliseum in Oakland.
"It's huge," defensive back Micah Hyde said of the two first-quarter turnovers, one by him. "We came into this game trying to score on defense, and we did. That's big to get going on defense."
Hyde snagged and ran back Derek Carr's ill-advised throw over the middle for tight end Clive Walford to set up Green Bay's first score. Carr's very next pass sailed over receiver Seth Roberts' head and into the arms of rookie cornerback Damarious Randall, who ran untouched 43 yards to paydirt.
Two touchdowns in a span of 15 seconds put the Packers up, 14-0, and gave the defense some breathing room against the Raiders' big-play attack.
Randall's TD was the first of his career, joining fellow rookie corner Quinten Rollins with a pick-six this season. Randall punctuated his with what he called a "Gronk" spike.
"I was just as excited as him," said Rollins, who had a solid day himself, breaking up a pass in the end zone intended for receiver Michael Crabtree. "I wish I could have met him at the end zone a little quicker. But it was definitely a great play. He finished it off the way you're supposed to finish it off."
In a day-long battle of first-round draft picks, Raiders receiver Amari Cooper made his share of plays against Randall. Through the late second and early third quarters, Cooper's two TD catches gave Oakland its first lead.
Cooper finished with six catches (on nine targets) for 120 yards and drew a pass interference call on Randall on a long throw, but to Randall's credit, he hung tough. Over those final 20 minutes after the Packers got the lead back, Cooper had just one catch for six yards.
"That's a huge challenge," Hyde said. "He accepted the challenge coming in. We know what Randall is capable of doing. He's a big-time player. (Number) 89 is a big-time player, too, but Randall accepted the challenge and played his heart out."
Randall drew the duty of Cooper in part because Sam Shields missed the game with a concussion. That also put Rollins in the spotlight against Crabtree, who caught six passes for 70 yards but was targeted a game-high 11 times.
The Green Bay Packers returned to the road for a matchup in Oakland against the Raiders on Sunday. Photos by Jim Biever, Packers.com.
"This is the NFL," Randall said. "Week in and week out, guys are going to make plays. You just have to keep pushing forward and keep going to the next play."
The entire Green Bay defense stood tall down the stretch.
After the Packers responded to Cooper's second TD with a quick, three-play TD drive to regain the lead, the defense allowed just two first downs on Oakland's next three drives to keep Green Bay in control.
Julius Peppers got one of his 2 ½ sacks on the day by fighting through a holding call to bring down Carr. Peppers now leads the Packers with 9 ½ sacks on the season, and with 135 in his career, he moved past Lawrence Taylor, Leslie O'Neal, John Abraham and DeMarcus Ware into 10th place on the NFL's all-time sack list.
"That's the main objective every week is to get pressure on the quarterback, disrupt his game," Peppers said. "I thought we did that fairly decent and came away with a couple big plays."
Carr finished with a completion rate less than 50 percent (23 of 47). Two early red-zone stops by the defense that forced the Raiders to kick field goals proved big, too.'
But it was the bookends on the performance – the start and the finish – that carried the playoff-spot-clinching day.
"It was a great start. They fought back, as we expect all teams to do," Peppers said. "It was a grind out win for us, and that's the kind of guys we have in here. Grind it out, play four quarters."