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Scoreless first half keys defense's gritty performance

Clay Matthews ready to play inside or outside moving forward


GREEN BAY — The Packers know it takes defense to win in December.

With snow-globe conditions inside Lambeau Field, the Packers' defense took the field Sunday afternoon with the intention of setting the tone in its first home game in a month.

That's exactly what it did on the opening series against Houston with cornerback LaDarius Gunter forcing a fumble of Texans tight end Ryan Griffin, which safety Morgan Burnett returned 35 yards to the Houston 24-yard line.

It was one big play among a litany of others that paved the way to the Packers' 21-13 win over Houston, the second consecutive week the defense held an opponent to only 13 points.

"That's just something we've been doing since training camp, just pursue to the football," said Burnett of the recovery. "You never know what happens. That was just a prime example of running to the ball and the ball popped out. I was trying to basically get as many yards as I could."

The turnover set the table for the defense's stifling performance in the first half. The Texans amassed only 107 yards in the first two quarters and were held scoreless on their first six possessions.

In addition to Burnett's recovery, the Packers' defense forced three first-half punts, made a critical stop on fourth down and halted another Houston drive before halftime.

It took a gritty performance to get it done. Along with the weather conditions, several players were battling injury. Nick Perry played the second half with a large cast on his left hand, while linebackers Jake Ryan (ankle) and Clay Matthews (shoulder) were each limited with injuries of their own.

In their stead, the contributions came from across the board for the defense. In the same quarter rookie fourth-round pick Dean Lowry had his first NFL sack, veteran Julius Peppers moved into sole possession of fifth place in league history with 142½.

"Dean, from the get-go, had some pretty good plays in the limited role he was playing," Matthews said. "Julius has been a model of consistency with what he's been able to do in Year 15 now. I've always kept track as far as where he's at statistically and it's good to see him show up week-in and week-out, and year-in and year-out. I'm happy to see him take hold of that fifth spot and pass up Hall of Famers left and right."

The Packers conceded touchdowns at the start of the second half and at the end of the game, but they also forced two more Shane Lechler punts to enable the offense to pull Green Bay ahead.

The Packers' defense hopes to build upon its back-to-back stingy outings against Philadelphia and Houston when it welcomes Seattle to Lambeau Field next Sunday.

"The main thing is just winning," Burnett said. "Any way that you can get a win, that's what we're looking for at this point. Things like that come along the way and that's great, but the most important part is just winning. That's two in a row and now we're just trying to keep this thing rolling."

Inside man: Clay Matthews had a pretty good idea he'd be working inside again this week with Blake Martinez out with a knee injury and Ryan still nursing an ankle injury.

The Pro Bowl linebacker is fully prepared to do double-duty going forward depending on how things unfold in the final four games of the regular season.

"I think it was really predicated on how thin we were on the inside with Blake and Jake not being available last week," Matthews said.

"It was good to have Jake back with what I'm dealing with in my shoulder and Blake still being down, and I know (Ryan) still dealing with his ankle. He kind of fought through that. I'll probably be mixing it up inside and outside moving forward."

Matthews was limited in practice this week after injuring the shoulder on a hit from former Packers offensive lineman Allen Barbre during Monday night's game against Philadelphia.

He wore added padding on the shoulder, but it still hurt when making contact. Matthews felt the good news is he wasn't any "worse for wear" after the game.

"It was getting better each and every day," Matthews said. "I was excited about the improvement it was making. I'd be lying if I said I didn't expect it to be that painful or not operative. I was a little disappointed in that. It was tough out there really rushing and playing with one arm. … So hopefully next week it's that much better."

Running men: Six different ball carriers factored into the Packers rushing for 109 yards and a touchdown against the Texans.

Converted receiver Ty Montgomery led the Packers with six carries for 40 yards. All but five of those yards came in the second half, including a 13-yard carry on third-and-1 in the third quarter to spark the Packers' 12-play, 98-yard scoring drive.

"Just communicating with the O-line, everyone did a great job blocking," said Montgomery of his production. "I had to kind of weave my way in there, be patient and have good vision, but those guys up front did a great job and I was able to find it and hit it the right way."

It was the third time this season Montgomery led the Packers in rushing and the fourth time he's surpassed 50 total yards.

"Ty's a big guy now," left tackle David Bakhtiari said. "Look at him – he's like (an) Under Armour model; just muscles on muscles."

Increased returns: The Packers' return units used the slippery conditions at Lambeau Field to their benefit with Randall Cobb, Jeff Janis and Montgomery all notching solid returns.

Cobb brought back two punts for 44 yards, while Montgomery (39 yards) and Janis (28 yards) made the most of their lone kickoff returns.

The Packers' average drive started at the 38-yard line thanks in part to the work of all three return men.

Cobb recently started returning punts again for the Packers after largely handling the role during his first two NFL seasons.

"Just more opportunities. Find a different way to get touches," Cobb said. "Just try to have an impact where I can for this team. They asked me to do it. We were going to do it a lot earlier but due to my hamstring, we had to push it back a little bit. Just trying to put us in the best position we can moving forward."

First-timers: Fullback Aaron Ripkowski, cornerback LaDarius Gunter, Montgomery and several Packers enjoyed their first ever football game in the snow Sunday at Lambeau Field.

"It's probably more exciting for me than other people because they've been around a few snow games," said Ripkowski, a native Texan who went to college at Oklahoma. "It was new to me and novelty brings excitement sometimes."

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