MIAMI – Rasul Douglas and the Packers' defensive backs heard Jerry Gray loud and clear.
After Green Bay fell behind Miami in the first half due in large part to explosive plays allowed, the team's venerable defensive pass game coordinator/secondary coach delivered an impassioned halftime speech to his players that soon became a rallying cry.
"You've got to watch everybody's face when OG starts yelling. Everybody was like," said Douglas, showing stunned, nervous expression. "'We really got in trouble. We really got in trouble.' Because OG talks, but it's more like football stuff. He's always like a calm, chill person. When he's mad, stuff's gotta change."
And it did.
With the Packers' season practically on the line, the secondary and defense came together to shut down Tua Tagovailoa and generated three fourth-quarter interceptions to lift Green Bay to a badly needed 26-20 Christmas Day win over the Dolphins in front of 66,328 at Hard Rock Stadium.
Tagovailoa, who entered Sunday as the NFL leader in passer rating, got the Dolphins off to a fast start. He not only connected with Jaylen Waddle on an 84-yard touchdown to spark the offense in first quarter but also hit Tyreek Hill on a 52-yard completion early in the second. Running back Jeff Wilson punched it in on the next play.
To make matters worse, Green Bay also lost nickel cornerback/returner Keisean Nixon to a groin injury. While Jarran Reed forced and recovered a Raheem Mostert fumble to set up a Mason Crosby 46-yard field goal before halftime, the Packers still went into the break trailing 20-13 – and Gray let his guys hear about it.
"That woke us up for sure," cornerback Jaire Alexander said. "He doesn't really yell, but he was yelling at us then. And you see the results. He probably needed to yell at us at the beginning of the game."
Even before the flurry of fourth-quarter interceptions, the Packers did a better job of locking down Hill and Waddle. All told, the defense allowed just 105 total yards and no points in the second half. Of Miami's 294 passing yards, just 81 came in the final two quarters.
Waddle had just one catch for 17 yards in the second half, while Hill had three for 47.
"We kept the top on the defense. We eliminated the big plays," Amos said. "They had two big plays in the first half that led to their points. Other than that, make them drive the rest of the field. We started playing them better."
The Packers' fourth-quarter rally began with Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander intercepting an overthrown pass across the middle intended for Tyreek Hill. His timing couldn't have been better, either, as Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers had just been intercepted on the previous play in Miami's end zone.
Before Kader Kohou picked off the pass, there appeared to be contact on the play between the Dolphins cornerback and Packers receiver Allen Lazard but it went uncalled. What could have been a big momentum swing for Miami turned into Green Bay ball at the Miami 14 thanks to Alexander. Green Bay wasn't able to punch it in, but Crosby drilled a 28-yard field goal to give the Packers their first lead of the game.
On the next series, it was De'Vondre Campbell ending a potential Miami scoring drive when he picked off Tagovailoa at the Packers' 22 and returned it 14 yards. Green Bay's offense then engineered a nine-play, 56-yard drive that culminated in another Crosby field goal with a little more than two minutes left.
"They start coming. That's how it is," Douglas said. "You get one pick, more are going to come. Keep catching those and you keep getting them."
Leave it to Douglas to be the one to finish the job. On the second play of the Dolphins' final drive, Campbell baited Tagovailoa into throwing an ill-advised pass that Douglas nabbed for his fourth INT of the year, and with no timeouts remaining, the Packers were able to kneel out their seventh win of the season.
See scenes from the Christmas Day matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on Dec. 25, 2022.
Prior to Sunday, Tagovailoa had thrown just five picks on the entire season.
"He reminded me of Rasul last year," said Alexander, alluding to Douglas' team-high five INTs in 2021, including two on Christmas. "I called him primetime last year, because he was always making primetime plays. He did it again tonight. So, he was primetime, and then we celebrated in the end zone."
It turned out to be a perfect weekend for the Packers, who are now just a half game behind Washington (7-7-1) in pursuit of the seventh seed in the NFC playoffs. For a defense that took its lumps early, you couldn't have scripted a better ending.
"This team is so resilient, man," defensive lineman Kenny Clark said. "We just came out in the second half, and we knew they had two big plays in the first half. We were telling ourselves we can't give them the big play. We can't give up the big play. We did that for the most part in the second half."