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Game notes: Barrage of INTs propels Packers' defense in win over Browns

Yosh Nijman passes another stiff test as offensive line pitches a sack shutout

Green Bay S Darnell Savage intercepts a pass in the Packers' 24-22 win over the Cleveland Browns on Saturday, Dec. 25.
Green Bay S Darnell Savage intercepts a pass in the Packers' 24-22 win over the Cleveland Browns on Saturday, Dec. 25.

GREEN BAY – As soon as Darnell Savage came down with a deep ball intended for Donovan Peoples-Jones in the first quarter, the Packers' secondary felt like this could be one of those games.

On what turned into a memorable night for both quarterback Aaron Rodgers and receiver Davante Adams, Green Bay's defensive backs made a little history of their own during a four-interception performance in Sunday's 24-22 win over the Cleveland Browns.

Savage's leaping first-quarter INT off Baker Mayfield started the Christmas Day festivities before Chandon Sullivan came back with another before the end of the first quarter.

Once Rasul Douglas picked off Mayfield after the two-minute warning before halftime, the Packers officially had registered a three-INT first half for the first time since Dec. 11, 2011, vs. Oakland.

All three turnovers triggered touchdown-producing drives for Green Bay's offense. The four total interceptions was a new season-best for the defense.

"We caught one early and then were like, 'Let's try to get more,'" Douglas said. "(We) caught another one and then it was kinda like, 'Who's next?' Everybody was just feeling like we could all get one."

The Packers' fourth INT, also by Douglas, was as important as any of their first-half takeaways, as it thwarted any hopes of a Browns comeback. It came on third-and-10 from midfield with 50 seconds remaining and the Browns down by two.

Mayfield targeted Peoples-Jones on an in-breaking route before Douglas stepped it front of the throw for his first career two-INT game. In the process, Douglas became the first player to post an INT in three straight games at Lambeau Field since three-time All-Pro safety Nick Collins in 2010.

The performance not only gave Green Bay its 12th win of the season but also extended the team's streak of having multiple takeaways to eight straight home games. The team also improved to 10-0 in the regular season under Head Coach Matt LaFleur when forcing three or more takeaways in a game.

There were some nail-biting moments for the defense, which conceded 219 rushing yards to Nick Chubb and Co. But when the game was on the line, Douglas and his teammates weren't fazed. They wanted to have the opportunity to finish things.

"We always want it to be on us as a defense," Douglas said. "That's what we pride ourselves on, getting that stop or that key turnover to change the game or end the game, however it needs to be. We pride ourselves on that.

"As soon as we saw the punt unit go out, everybody looked at each other and said, this is what we play football for. These moments are what we play football for. Let's get a stop. Win the game."

Another test: Yosh Nijman has seen some of the best edge rushers the NFL has to offer in his seven starts this year and continues to hold his own.

While standout edge rusher Myles Garrett was playing through a groin injury and several other key Browns starters were on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Green Bay also has been in a bit of a bind with four preferred starters currently out.

Still, Nijman and the rest of the Packers' makeshift offensive line continue to hold their own. In fact, it was the first time Rodgers wasn't sacked in a game this season.

Nijman, the third option at left tackle with Pro Bowlers David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins both injured, has been responsible for blocking the likes of Pittsburgh's T.J. Watt, Chicago's Robert Quinn, San Francisco's Nick Bosa and Cincinnati's Trey Hendrickson this season.

On Sunday, he contributed to Garrett finishing with just one quarterback hit.

"That's the beauty of football," said Rodgers of Nijman, an undrafted free agent out of Virginia Tech in 2019. "This game shows you something different all the time. It surprises you. There's stories that emerge every single season that warm your heart and make you feel good about what you're doing and how special this game is, and that's one of them. Yosh is one of them."

Nijman's impact could be felt when he briefly left the game early in the fourth quarter, with the offense going three-and-out, before he returned on the next series.

The Packers still hope to get Bakhtiari back soon, but if the past month has proven anything, it's that Nijman has what it takes.

"David told me a long time ago – he's always been a big Yosh fan – he said he's got incredible feet and if he learns the little intricacies of playing left tackle, he thought he could be a really great player," Rodgers said. "I think he's matched up his feet – obviously he's got great feet – (with) his punch and his confidence.

"You're talking about some of the best players in the league he's gone against. We've given him some help at times but there's been a lot of one-on-ones. I'm really proud of how he's played and love seeing him in the huddle and seeing his personality continue to come out and grow and shine, because he's a great human being."

Lambeau Field hosted the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns on Christmas Day.

Feeling good: After the game, Rodgers told reporters heading into Sunday was "the best I've felt in weeks" in regards to the fractured toe he's been playing with for more than a month.

While he did get his foot stepped on a couple times against Cleveland, Rodgers said he hopes that he didn't suffer any additional setbacks.

"I did walk-through stuff this week, almost practiced on the Thursday, which was like a Friday; felt amazing," Rodgers said. "We're over six weeks past this now, so we're hoping that it wasn't a major setback tonight. It feels OK right now sitting here, but it was a good week and fun to be out there and feel a lot better with my toe."

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