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Timely Takeaway Keys Dominant Defensive Effort

MINNEAPOLIS - With Green Bay leading 10-3 late in the second quarter, the Vikings appeared poised to swing the momentum back before the half as they drove deep into Packers’ territory. But a defense that has thrived on turnovers of late came up with another at just the right time.


Minnesota had quickly moved down the field with a 17-yard pass from quarterback Brett Favre to wide receiver Sidney Rice and a 16-yard run by wide receiver Percy Harvin, the latter converting a second-and-14 for the Vikings to put the ball at the Green Bay 25.

On the next play, Favre threw a slant to Harvin, but cornerback Tramon Williams jumped the route for an interception at the 18-yard line, and his 14-yard return plus a 15-yard low-block penalty on Vikings wide receiver Greg Camarillo gave the Green Bay offense possession at the Packers' 47 with 1:03 left and three timeouts remaining. It was the Packers' 12th takeaway in 12 quarters.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers quickly moved the offense down the field, capping the drive off with a throw to wide receiver James Jones in the back of the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown and a 17-3 halftime advantage. It was quite the swing after the Vikings seemed to be ready to cut into the 10-3 deficit just a minute earlier.

"It felt good for the simple fact that it was a timely play," Williams said. "They were in scoring range and it was a play to stop their momentum. The offense came out and scored and probably pretty much changed the game.

"Once the offense came out in the second half and scored, I think that pretty much took the air out of the crowd. As a defense, we just kept pounding away and we kept them out of the end zone."

Williams said he was able to read Minnesota's formation on the play, and once he saw the pattern that tight end Visanthe Shiancoe was running, he knew where the ball was going and was able to react.

"I read the No. 2 receiver (Shiancoe)," Williams said. "He did an out route, so I knew the slant was coming. I was just playing off and not going too fast ... but when he threw it I just broke on it.

"It was a timing route. Timing routes usually come out either/or if someone is covering it, so it was just an opportunity to make a play."

Williams' interception wasn't the only takeaway by Green Bay's defense in the first half, with fellow cornerback Charles Woodson coming up with a key play to squelch another potential Minnesota scoring drive earlier in the second quarter.

With the Vikings facing a third-and-8 at their own 46, Favre found running back Toby Gerhart on a short pass over the middle, and he made linebacker Brandon Chillar miss to pick up the first down. But at the end of the play, Woodson came in and chopped the ball out of Gerhart's hands, and linebacker A.J. Hawk recovered at the Green Bay 35 to keep the Vikings' lead at 3-0.

"It doesn't matter where you get it or who has momentum, when you get a turnover it is demoralizing to the other team," Woodson said. "In that case they did have a drive going. They picked up yardage on that particular play, and I saw an opening.

"One thing I am going to do, I am always going to try to take a shot at the ball."

The two second-quarter takeaways provided a spark for a defense that posted three second-half interceptions of Favre in the first meeting this season. It was just one aspect of the defense that improved markedly from last year's matchups against Minnesota, with Green Bay also getting to Favre throughout the afternoon on Sunday.

Linebacker Clay Matthews got the only sack of the day, which pushed his season total to a league-high 11½, but Favre was under considerable pressure from a multitude of directions. Six different players were credited with hits on Favre on his way to a 51.2 passer rating (17-of-38, 208 yards, one interception).

"We just moved around real fast and guys were where they were supposed to be," Woodson said. "Last year in this game, (we) were just out of position a lot of times and they came up with some big plays. This year was much different. We were able to get to him this year. Last year I remember a play where he had eight seconds or something like that back there to throw the ball. This year was not going to be like that.

"We put the pressure that we needed to get on him, move him around in the pocket, and then stay tight in the secondary. Let our linebackers run around and make plays and make tackles, and we came up big today."

It wasn't just Sunday that the defense has done that as it has allowed just 10 total points over the past three games. That total is the lowest by the Packers since they gave up the same number in a three-game stretch in 1974 (Nov. 10-24). The three points allowed on Sunday by the defense matched the franchise record for the fewest given up at Minnesota, tying the mark set by Green Bay on Nov. 14, 1971, in the Packers' 3-0 loss at Metropolitan Stadium.

The Packers moved into a tie with the division-rival Chicago Bears for the top scoring defense in the league at 14.6 points per game, but the tests keep on coming. Next week it arrives in the form of an  Atlanta Falcons team that sits atop the NFC at 8-2 and is tied for the best home record in the league since 2008 at 18-3 (.857).

"We still have a long way to go, but we are on a little roll right now," Matthews said. "We feel good about this team. It is really jelling and coming together. We know what type of talent we have. It's very similar to last year. Hopefully we can keep this going, but there is always room for growth.

"We are going to see a great team next week, so we have got to keep preparing and getting ready and hopefully we can get another victory and move forward."

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