GREEN BAY – A team that's accustomed to winning with grace finds itself winning with grit, and Head Coach Mike McCarthy likes it.
"Offensively, we were up and down. We might not have handled things as we'd like. Scrappy, adversity, up and down; it's great to have those kinds of wins," McCarthy said following a 24-10 victory over the visiting St. Louis Rams on Sunday. It left the Packers 5-0 and needing only one more to win take an unblemished record into the bye week.
"I'm excited to be 5-0. The defense was clearly the key to our victory, the big plays and constant pressure. The turnovers were huge in the game," McCarthy added.
Defense, long a subject of criticism by Packers fans, is the star of this young season. In beating the Rams, the Packers defense dominated the visitors with a relentless, punishing and suffocating pass rush that sacked Nick Foles three times, hurried him 12 times, intercepted him four times and held him to 141 yards passing and a 23.8 passer rating.
Clay Matthews was the star of the defense, again, on Sunday. His stat line includes 1½ sacks, a tackle for a loss and four hurries. His stat line does not include a hit on Foles early in the game – it wasn't flagged – that set the tone and might've left Foles skittish for what was ahead.
Matthews was all over the field. It was a performance that might go a long way toward his candidacy for league defensive player of the year.
"We have a chance to be a really good defense but we're only five games into it," McCarthy said.
The Packers defense made stand after stand in the second half, denying the Rams yards and points following turnovers that could've cost the Packers a loss on a day when the offense wasn't itself.
"We were challenged today. The big challenge is how long we were on the field. We're getting better. We're playing a lot of people. We're banged up. We need to get some players healthy," McCarthy said.
The Rams dominated time of possession by nearly eight minutes, yet, the Rams were forced into four three-and-out possessions the first four times they had the ball.
"You have a day when the defense has to do it and they jump right up and do it," McCarthy said.
"They're playing great," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of the Packers defense. "It's been fun to watch the past couple of weeks. We've struggled on offense the past two weeks. It directly impacts the game taking points off the board."
Rodgers was speaking specifically of an interception in the end zone by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the fourth quarter; the ball was tipped by linebacker Joe Thomas. It followed a 55-yard run by rookie Todd Gurley, and stopped the Rams' threat to cut the Packers' lead to four points.
"Bringing Joe Thomas back has allowed us to do some things in the secondary," Rodgers added.
The Packers will turn their attention to the Chargers, who play on Monday and will be flying east two time zones on a short week. McCarthy was asked if he'll offer his players time-off carrots for a win against the Chargers.
"No carrots. We'll talk about that in a good way next Sunday evening," McCarthy said.
The Packers defense at least deserves an attaboy.