GREEN BAY – It's impossible to overstate just how much the Packers' defense impacted Sunday's victory over the Broncos.
Two stops in Green Bay territory at different times while holding a one-score lead. Three turnovers, two of which led to touchdowns. Six sacks, all by players not wearing Packers uniforms last year, throwbacks or otherwise.
Sure there were some lapses on defense and Green Bay's offense still hasn't reached the level it would like to, but a 27-16 triumph has the Packers at 3-0 with Game 4 just four days away.
"That was a pretty good team win right there," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said.
It started with the offense scoring right away, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers caught Broncos defensive end Von Miller jumping offside. He took advantage of the free play to find Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 40-yard touchdown pass just five snaps and less than three minutes into the game.
From there it was the defense's show, with big moments in each period.
First quarter: A 60-yard kickoff return by Denver's Diontae Spencer gave the Broncos a chance to answer quickly, but a three-and-out with a Preston Smith sack on third down thwarted that chance.
Second quarter: With the score tied at 10, Smith got his second sack, deep in Denver territory, and rookie Rashan Gary recovered Joe Flacco's fumble at the 5-yard line. Two snaps later, Aaron Jones ran it into the end zone to make it 17-10.
Third quarter: Opening possession, Flacco found rookie tight end Noah Fant on third-and-short, but cornerback Jaire Alexander took the ball away from Fant while pulling him to the ground for another turnover. Rodgers' 27-yard completion to fullback Danny Vitale on a wheel route set up Jones' second rushing TD, and suddenly it was 24-10.
Then, after the Broncos pulled within 24-16 on Phillip Lindsay's second-effort, fourth-and-goal run and then converted a third down with a 52-yard pass to Cortland Sutton, rookie safety Darnell Savage made a diving interception at the Green Bay 28-yard line.
Fourth quarter: Three more stops, the last two ending on Preston Smith's third sack of the game and Za'Darius Smith's second. Their five combined with Gary's first career sack for a cool half-dozen in all by the three new outside linebackers brought in to revamp the pass rush.
"It's nice watching those guys get after the passer knowing we don't have to play against them," Rodgers said.
The six sacks and three takeaways relegated Flacco to a 75.8 passer rating (20-of-29, 213 yards, one INT) and helped overcome a combined 144 rushing yards by Lindsay (21-81, two TDs) and Royce Freeman (15-63).
Lambeau Field hosted a Week 3 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Denver Broncos.
The takeaway by Alexander perhaps epitomized most what this Packers' defense is all about. LaFleur, along with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and his staff, have preached ball awareness since the spring, and Alexander's heads-up theft is exactly the way this defense wants to force the issue.
"That's a textbook example," LaFleur said. "I can't say enough about Jaire and the energy and effort he plays with every game. It's contagious. Everyone really feeds off his energy. It's awesome to see, when you stress something and he makes it comes to life.
"That was just a great play and a big play in the game."
The offense had one more piece to take care of, shaking off another lull in the second half to put together an 11-play, 51-yard drive that milked more than half the fourth-quarter clock (7:41). Mason Crosby's 41-yard field goal made it a two-score game, and the rest was academic.
Rodgers and the offense did just enough, as the quarterback posted a 96.2 passer rating (17-of-29, 235 yards, one TD), Valdes-Scantling finished with six catches for 99 yards despite a couple of drops, and running back Jamaal Williams gained 86 yards from scrimmage (59 rushing, 27 receiving).
Most important, the Packers didn't turn the ball over, winning the turnover battle 3-0 and putting Green Bay at plus-6 on the season.
"It's complementary football," LaFleur said. "As long as we take care of the football, and do a good job of creating turnovers, that is a pretty good recipe of success, typically, in this league.
"Now, I don't think anybody's satisfied in this locker room. I know I'm not satisfied. There's a lot more out there for us."
The Packers will look for more with less prep time, as the Eagles visit Lambeau on Thursday night. An unblemished first quarter of the season is within reach.
"I've already wiped it," LaFleur said. "It's on to Philly right now."