Packers’ defense keeps its swagger in face of adversity

LB Za'Darius Smith
LB Za'Darius Smith

GREEN BAY – Adversity finally found the Packers’ defense on Sunday afternoon.

Three explosive plays all generated points for the Minnesota Vikings between the second and third quarters, and challenged the mental toughness of a Green Bay defense that dominated wire-to-wire in Week 1 against Chicago.

In that moment, when everything could have come apart at the seams, the Packers went back to doing what they’ve done best in the early portion of the 2019 slate – they didn’t budge.

Confident as ever, Green Bay clamped down to hold Minnesota scoreless during the final 1½ quarters to preserve a 21-16 victory at Lambeau Field, forcing three stops and two turnovers in the process.

“We're young and we're talented,” said linebacker Za’Darius Smith, who had six tackles and a quarterback hit. “We've got a lot of guys on this team that want to have fun and do their job. To come into work every day having every guy smiling is the No. 1 reason we're out here doing what we're doing.”

The defense started the game with two first-half takeaways off a Kenny Clark strip-sack that led to a Dean Lowry fumble recovery and then a Preston Smith interception off a Darnell Savage breakup.

The Vikings countered with a Dalvin Cook 75-yard touchdown run and a 61-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to Chad Beebe that set up a 31-yard Dan Bailey field goal to cut the Packers’ lead to 21-10 at halftime.

Coming out of the break, Cousins hit receiver Stefon Diggs for a 45-yard touchdown that Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander nearly picked off, bringing Minnesota within a score.

Those were the last points Green Bay would concede, forcing back-to-back punts before Lowry pressured Cousins into throwing an interception to Packers cornerback Kevin King in the corner of Green Bay’s end zone.

King, who dropped a pick last week in Chicago, left no doubt on his second chance at his second NFL pick.

“Just weather the storm,” said King of the key to the defense rebounding. “They’re going to make plays, but, hey, we could live with that. We’ve got to tweak some things about it, but they’re going to have one big play. We can’t let that deteriorate what we’ve got going.”

Aside from Cook’s big run and three Cousins throws for 136 yards, the Packers held the Vikings’ offense in check. Besides that, Cousins completed only 11-of-29 passes for 94 yards.

From a personnel perspective, the Packers had to overcome the loss of hybrid safety Raven Greene to an ankle injury on the first play of the second half. It caused Adrian Amos to drop into the box in the sub-packages, with Will Redmond entering the game next to rookie safety Darnell Savage.

The Packers’ defense has allowed only 19 points through the first two games of the season, its fewest since the 2001 unit conceded only six points to start the season.

As the offense looks to settle in, the defense has had no problem in the early-going keeping the opposition off the scoreboard.

“Shoot, we got that swag, we got that energy, we got that juice. we got it all,” said Alexander, who had two passes defensed and nearly had another pick late. “We’re trying to go to the Super Bowl. That's our mentality.”

Lambeau Field hosted a Week 2 game between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings.

A “huge” review: The Packers were beneficiaries of one unexpected outcome of the NFL’s new replay rules when the booth took a look at what had been ruled a 3-yard touchdown catch for Diggs in the second quarter.

The New York office determined Dalvin Cook had committed offensive pass interference on what’s commonly referred to as a “pick play.” The Vikings were penalized 10 yards and eventually settled for Bailey’s 31-yard field goal.

“I’m glad they are (looking at it) because when you get in the red zone like that, things happen so fast,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “You get a lot of pick routes, you get a lot of those things happening. In previous years, there’s not much you could do about it because it happens so fast and you don’t need but a little space. To able to review that and see that, it’s huge.”

The Adams factor: Aaron Rodgers made a statement on the first play of the game when he found receiver Davante Adams downfield for a 39-yard pass on the first play of the game.

Although the offense had its ups and downs Sunday, Rodgers routinely went back to his two-time Pro Bowl receiver in several key moments. Of Green Bay’s five third-down conversions, three of them came courtesy of Adams.

His final catch for seven yards converted a critical second-and-6 and forced Minnesota to use its second-to-last timeout. Adams finished with seven catches for 106 yards and also picked up a 25-yard defensive pass interference penalty in the second quarter.

Partnered with Aaron Jones’ 150 total yards, Adams’ production helped propel the Packers to their first 2-0 start in the NFC North since 2013.

“The division is everything,” Adams said. “We’ve got to control the North and make sure we bring the North back home, so to start off 2-0 that’s definitely where we want to be right now.”

Get Loud Lambeau: The Packers unveiled several new game entertainment elements during Sunday’s game with the Vikings to promote and encourage the Lambeau Field crowd to be as loud and boisterous as possible when the defense is on the field.

Encouraged by various players on the video boards, the 78,416 in attendance gave the Packers exactly what they needed in several key third-down situations.

“It was great. The whole entire game,” Clark said. “I got back to the sidelines and coaches asked me what (Vikings center Garrett) Bradbury was saying on the field. I couldn’t even tell him what he was saying. I couldn’t hear none of the offensive line calls or any of that. The crowd was great today.”

A special day: The loudest cheer of the afternoon came before kickoff when Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre accompanied Cherry Starr through the tunnel to honor her late husband, legendary Packers quarterback Bart Starr.

During halftime, Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy and Commissioner Roger Goodell presented Cherry with an authentic 1960s Packers helmet with a commemorative No. 15 sticker. The ceremony concluded with a special video package revisiting Starr’s time with the organization.

“Even though most of you weren’t born when Bart and I came to Green Bay in 1956, for 63 years you’ve loved and embraced us, and supported us, and I am so grateful,” Cherry said to the crowd. “You’ll always have a special place in my heart.”

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