Game Review: Defense Propels Packers To 5-1

As the 2007 season continues to unfold, the Packers may look back on Sunday’s second half against the Washington Redskins as the moment their championship-caliber defense truly took root. - More Audio | Video | Packers-Redskins Game Center


DE Aaron Kampman gets one of his two sacks of Washington QB Jason Campbell in the fourth quarter on Sunday.

As the 2007 season continues to unfold, the Packers may look back on Sunday's second half against the Washington Redskins as the moment their championship-caliber defense truly took root.

Because the defense came up big seemingly countless times, including Charles Woodson's game-changing 57-yard fumble return for a touchdown, to foster an intense 17-14 victory that puts the Packers at 5-1 and tied for the best record in the NFC heading into their bye week.

"I thought our defense was outstanding," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "I thought they were the key to the victory today, particularly down the stretch. I thought they got stronger and stronger as the game went on."

That they did on a drizzly day in front of 70,761 at Lambeau Field, beginning with a momentous turnover late in the third quarter.

Just two plays after the Packers had pulled within 14-10 on a Mason Crosby field goal, the Redskins ran a reverse to speedy wide receiver Santana Moss. But Green Bay defensive lineman Corey Williams split two blockers to get a hand on the ball, stripping it from Moss.

"I saw the play developing, and the only thing I was trying to do was get outside to turn it back inside to the rest of the defense," Williams said. "He was carrying the ball kind of wide, and it would have been hard for me just to make the tackle, so I was going for the ball."

Woodson leaped over Moss to recover the ball and, having not been touched while on the ground, jumped up and raced 57 yards - with the help of an Al Harris block on quarterback Jason Campbell - for the go-ahead score.

"There's nothing like getting in the end zone," said Woodson, who scored his second touchdown as a Packer and fourth in his career. "Putting six points on the board to help you get a victory, that's what you live for."

The defense survived, if not thrived on, several big moments while protecting that three-point lead the rest of the way. The Redskins dropped a few passes to help out, including a deep one to an open Moss in the third quarter that could have been a huge gain, but nonetheless on each of the next three possessions, one key play was made.

--Safety Atari Bigby broke up a third-down pass deep over the middle to tight end Todd Yoder, forcing a punt on Washington's final drive of the third quarter.

--Bigby and linebacker Nick Barnett combined to stuff running back Clinton Portis (20 carries, 64 yards) on third-and-1 early in the fourth quarter.

--Bigby forced a Portis fumble that linebacker A.J. Hawk recovered, giving the Packers a first-and-goal, though the offense failed to score after a sack and missed field goal.

Then came crunch time.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Washington passed on a 51-yard field goal attempt and decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Green Bay 33. Running back Ladell Betts slipped into the left flat to catch a short pass from Jason Campbell (21-of-37, 217 yards), but Barnett ran him down and made the tackle at the line of scrimmage, thwarting Washington's most threatening second-half drive.

Barnett said he made the play strictly by instinct.

"I just saw him run, I took off, and I'm thinking, 'I've got to get on my horse to make sure he doesn't get a first down,'" said Barnett, who led the team with 12 total tackles (eight solo). "I just ran as fast as I could and tried to be as physical as I could at the point so he couldn't drive that ball one yard."

If Woodson's play turned out to be the game-winner, Barnett's was the game-saver.

"Fourth down is just as good as a turnover, if you can make that stop," Barnett said. "Just (think) how much momentum they would have had if they would have made that play on fourth down. We came up with those big plays, and that's the difference in the game."

{sportsad300}Thanks to Sean Taylor's second interception of Brett Favre (19-of-37, 188 yards) and a Green Bay punt, the defense needed two more stops down the stretch.

This time Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Kampman emerged, tackling Portis for a 4-yard loss on a short pass and then sacking Campbell on third down to force a punt. On Washington's final possession, Kampman sacked Campbell again on second down and then chased down Betts after an 11-yard reception on fourth-and-17, sealing the win.

"This is the defense we envisioned," linebacker Brady Poppinga said. "If the offense is sputtering a little bit, we can go and pick it up for them and win a game. That's the kind of defense you want to be."

The offense did sputter, gaining just 225 yards on the day. Sixty of them came on a nice catch-and-run by tight end Donald Lee on a Favre audible, setting up a 3-yard TD run by DeShawn Wynn (13 carries, 37 yards) to give the Packers an early 7-0 lead.

The Redskins countered with two long scoring drives in the first half, getting touchdowns on a 6-yard run by Campbell and a 14-yard pass to tight end Chris Cooley, who was Washington's offensive star with nine catches for 105 yards.

But from there the Packers' defense ruled the day. In pitching the second-half shutout, Green Bay yielded just 96 yards and four first downs. The Redskins were 0-for-7 on third downs in the second half.

"Every single play is critical," Kampman said. "I'm just so proud of the way our guys responded. We were called upon again to do that and that helps us continue to grow as a defense and be a dominant-type defense."

Added Barnett: "That's what we play for, those type of games where it's on our shoulders as a defense, and we come through."

The effort was particularly satisfying after last week's loss to the Bears, when the defense allowed a game-winning 79-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. When the Redskins drove 68 and 63 yards for their two first-half scores, locking them down the rest of the game didn't seem possible.

"You're wondering in the first half, ... you start thinking in the back of your head is that (Chicago) game carrying over here?" Poppinga said. "But I think we proved out there that it wasn't carrying over. We put that behind us, we proved that we moved on, and we're ready to start another roll."

The Packers will happily take a week off, though, just to catch their breath if nothing else.

"This was a tough game," Woodson said. "This was one of those grind-it-out games, but it just shows you how tough our team is."

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