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Packers' defense stands tall at the goal line

Green Bay holds its ground on Christian McCaffrey draw play


GREEN BAY – Four seconds left. Two yards to go. One play to settle everything.

With snow swirling around Lambeau Field and suspense building after back-to-back timeouts, the Packers' defense stepped to the line of scrimmage needing to make one stop to put away the Carolina Panthers and ensure an 8-2 record heading into next week's bye.

Clinging to a 24-16 lead, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine chose to leave his dime personnel on the field with a single defensive lineman (Kenny Clark) partnered with outside linebackers Kyler Fackrell, Preston and Za'Darius Smith, and inside linebacker Blake Martinez lurking behind.

The Panthers, as they have all season, put the ball in the hands of MVP candidate Christian McCaffrey on a draw play. With Fackrell darting through the A-gap, McCaffrey was delayed enough for Preston Smith to wrap up the third-year running back at the legs and stop him shy of the end zone to seal the victory.

"I think everybody was locked in," Preston Smith said. "(It) motivated us to finish the game off, get some stops and secure the win. That's what we came here for, man – for big moments like that, to go out and play in those big moments and execute and get a win for our team."

While an automatic booth review inside two minutes delayed the celebration, there was no doubt in the minds of Smith or the rest of Green Bay's defense that they'd stopped McCaffrey.

After the Panthers didn't connect on a pass the play before, Green Bay's defense felt fairly confident they would give the ball to McCaffrey, who has 1,385 total yards and 14 touchdowns through only nine games this year.

Clark said film study provided a few hints the Panthers were thinking run. He was trying to relay that to his fellow linemen at the time QB Kyle Allen snapped the ball. Martinez had a sense of that, too, repositioning Fackrell pre-snap into a lane opposite the left guard that McCaffrey ultimately ran towards.

Martinez also was a part of the wave of defenders pushing back against McCaffrey and right guard Greg Van Roten, who tried to pull his running back into the end zone. From his vantage point, Martinez didn't think his former Stanford teammate got in.

"One hundred percent. I was right there," Martinez said. "I was like, 'Hey, yeah, this is not good,' so hopefully they don't call it good."

The stand ended a lengthy 18-play drive that started at the Carolina 11 with 2 minutes, 25 seconds remaining. The Packers nearly had a pick on the second play when Za'Darius Smith pressured an ill-advised throw from Allen that was nearly picked off by cornerback Jaire Alexander.

Green Bay also had Carolina in two fourth-down predicaments but Allen escaped the pocket to find receiver D.J. Moore on fourth-and-10 at the Green Bay 25 before an offside penalty on Preston Smith wiped out an incompletion on fourth-and-1 from the Packers' 4.

Although Allen threw for 307 yards and McCaffrey produced 141 total yards, Green Bay's defense rose to the occasion like it has all season when the chips were down late.

Lambeau Field hosted a Week 10 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Carolina Panthers.

"It was big-time by our guys," said cornerback Tramon Williams, who was lined up in the slot on the final play. "We knew this was going to be a tough team coming in, and it came down to the last second. Guys made the stop that we needed to make. Obviously, they went with their guy, which is Christian McCaffrey, and we went with our guys. Our guys made the stop that we needed to make."

Williams was responsible for one of two takeaways the Packers forced Sunday, intercepting Allen inside Green Bay's red zone after safety Adrian Amos deflected a pass intended for Jarius Wright with 7 minutes, 17 seconds left in the third quarter.

A big reason for the Packers' 8-2 start has been the defense producing big plays at key times and making timely stops inside Green Bay's red zone, including key end-zone interceptions against Chicago, Minnesota and Oakland.

That's not the way the Packers intend to play the final six regular-season games after the bye week, but Sunday was another reminder of how this particular group doesn't waver during crunch time.

"You don't want every game coming down to that. We've got to put games like that away," said Clark, who finished with four tackles (one for a loss). "It shows the heart of our guys, it shows the character of our guys, and we've got to just get some stuff fixed and come back ready to roll."