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Preston Smith's words lead Packers' defensive rebound

Veteran linebacker gave an impassioned halftime speech prior to two-sack second half

LB Preston Smith
LB Preston Smith

GREEN BAY – Preston Smith didn't like what he was seeing as the Packers went into the locker room at halftime, down by six, to the Chicago Bears Sunday night at Lambeau Field.

So, after quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Head Coach Matt LaFleur spoke their piece, Smith stepped forward and let everyone, in all three phases, know what Green Bay put on the field in the opening 30 minutes wasn't good enough.

"He was like, 'We don't play like that,'" cornerback Rasul Douglas said. "We've got to play better in all three phases. Most of the defensive guys, we play all special teams and defense. All the points came from that. He was just upset. We were all upset. This ain't it. We don't lose at home."

Smith's words resonated with his peers, as Green Bay's defense responded with a dominant second-half performance to pace the Packers in their eventual 45-30 victory over the Bears.

Proving there was substance in his halftime words, Smith led the way with a strip-sack of quarterback Justin Fields on the Bears' second play of the third quarter. It was a catalyst for the defense, with Rashan Gary recovering the loose ball at the Chicago 23.

On the very next play, Rodgers found running back Aaron Jones in the middle of the field for a 23-yard touchdown to extend Green Bay's lead to 35-27 at the time.

Chicago's next three possessions all ended in three-and-outs, as the Bears managed just 17 total yards of offense between the start of the third quarter and when Chicago received the ball back, down 45-27, with 4 minutes, 33 seconds left.

"What we put on tape in the first half was not a reflection of who we are as a team and it definitely wasn't who we were as a defense, especially," Smith said of his halftime message. "I just told them we gotta fix our stuff and get back to being us."

Smith wasn't alone in the playmaking category. Douglas put an early feather in the defense's cap when he picked off Fields and returned it for a 55-yard touchdown to give Green Bay its first lead of the game, 14-10, with 4:59 left in the first half.

Douglas also had an interception returned for a touchdown against the Rams before the bye week, making him only the second Packers player in team history to record pick-sixes in consecutive games, joining Herb Adderley, who did it in 1965.

The bigger issue early on was limiting the Bears' explosive plays. Jakeem Grant got Chicago going with a 46-yard touchdown in the first quarter and then broke 97-yard punt return for a touchdown before halftime.

In between, sixth-year receiver Damiere Byrd scored a 54-yard touchdown minutes after Douglas' pick-six to allow Chicago to retake the lead.

"We weren't playing sound football," Smith said. "We made a lot of mistakes and they were capitalizing on all our mistakes and it caused them to have great success on their end and put up some points. But I felt like we fixed those mistakes at halftime and made sure that we got back to playing football like we're known for playing football."

Lambeau Field hosted a Sunday night matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears on Dec. 12, 2021.

The second half was a different story. Defensive tackle Kenny Clark hit Fields three times, while De'Vondre Campbell posted a season-high 16 tackles after being activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list on Saturday.

Smith sacked Fields for a second time during the Bears' final possession, setting the table for Chandon Sullivan's INT on fourth down to seal the Packers' 10th win of the year.

Smith, who finished with four tackles, three quarterback hits and two sacks, now has five sacks in the Packers' last four games and leads Green Bay's defense with seven on the season.

It's welcomed production for a banged-up defense that's played most of the season without two-time Pro Bowler Za'Darius Smith. While Preston historically has conceded the media podium to his fellow Smith Bro., Preston insists he's been a vocal member of the defense since he arrived in 2019.

On Sunday, when his team needed him most, Smith hit all the right notes.

"He's the kind of guy, when he talks, he's respected," Rodgers said. "I just really love the guy. I think he's a good human, he's a great player and I love what he brings to the team from a leadership standpoint. He's stepped into that role even more this year and I'm very, very proud of him and proud to be his friend and proud to be his teammate."

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