Woodson Shines As Defense Stays Strong

DETROIT - The early returns on the Packers’ defense without Al Harris and Aaron Kampman were pretty good on Thursday. Charles Woodson made sure of that. - More Packers-Lions Game Center

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CB Charles Woodson returns an interception 38 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter on Thursday in Detroit.

DETROIT - The early returns on the Packers' defense without Al Harris and Aaron Kampman were pretty good on Thursday.

Charles Woodson made sure of that.

Woodson led an impressive defensive effort, picking off two passes, forcing and recovering a fumble, recording a sack, and rendering Detroit's most potent offensive weapon nearly invisible in Green Bay's 34-12 Thanksgiving victory at Ford Field.

In the middle of a dynamic season, it was seemingly just another day at the office for the veteran cornerback. But on a day the Packers were testing their defense for the first time without two Pro Bowlers, Woodson gave the team a huge lift.

"He did what he does," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "Charles Woodson played a great game, and he does that. You don't expect anything less from Charles Woodson.

"He's the Heisman trophy winner. How many defensive players do you know are Heisman trophy winners?"

Woodson reminded all the fans in the state of his alma mater, Michigan, of his 1997 Heisman. He struck the pose in the end zone after his 38-yard interception return for a score that provided the game's final points. He made the play by stepping in front of Johnson, the Lions' big-play wideout whom Woodson was matched up with most of the game.

Johnson got an early 1-yard TD pass on a back-shoulder throw from quarterback Matthew Stafford, but the rest of the game had only one more catch. His finished with two receptions for just 10 yards, even though 12 passes were thrown his way.

Normally Harris would have drawn the assignment of guarding Johnson, who played through knee and hand injuries that made his availability questionable. But on Thursday, Woodson played the role of shutdown corner while still finding ways to make other plays.

He blitzed just once, but got home and buried Stafford for a 6-yard loss when the Lions were creeping close to field-goal range late in the first half. He got his first interception of the game in the third quarter, in the flat while covering Bryant Johnson. And then late in the game he stripped tight end Casey FitzSimmons after a reception and recovered the fumble, getting due credit after the Packers challenged the original ruling that FitzSimmons was down.

"I don't know who is playing better football than Charles Woodson around the National Football League," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "He had a huge day for us.

"I hope he keeps surprising me because his level of play is the highest I've been around as far as productivity for a defensive player. The ability to anticipate, recognize, the versatility of playing a number of different positions, he's productive, tough, instinctive. He's playing at an extremely high level for us."

In the end it was almost a storybook day for Woodson, whose $2 million donation to the new University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital and Women's Hospital was made public during the FOX pre-game show.

The gift will help the campaign to build a new hospital, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2012. The lobby of the new facility will be named in Woodson's honor. The gift also will establish the Charles Woodson Children's Clinical Research Fund, which will support research to advance the most innovative and novel treatment ideas for a wide range of children's diseases, including cancer, heart disease, kidney disorders and autism.

Woodson has visited sick children at the hospital in the past, and he became a father for the first time earlier this year, which he conceded has changed his perspective on things. Woodson also has been involved in hospital efforts in the past. He has joined two former Michigan teammates for the annual Champions for Children's Hearts golf outing that benefits the facility, and he has spoken on behalf of the hospital at a number of engagements.

"We're just trying to make a difference the best way we can, and I think we'll be able to do it," Woodson said. "There's many people who have done a lot more. I feel like I'm just doing my part. No matter what the amount of money is, ... we did the 2 million, but our goal is not to stop at 2 million. We look to raise a lot more money."

The Packers also will look to continue this kind of defensive effort during the season's home stretch.

{sportsad300}Green Bay allowed Detroit just 125 yards through the first three quarters to enter the fourth with a 20-point lead.

Then in the final period the Packers turned the Lions away twice inside the Green Bay 5-yard line.

A 47-yard pass play to Dennis Northcutt - one of the few mistakes new nickelback Jarrett Bush made on the day - helped get the Lions close. But the defense forced three incomplete passes from the 1-yard line to get a turnover on downs and keep the score 27-7.

Then later another Detroit drive stalled at the 4, and the Lions decided to kick a field goal. The stop kept the Packers ahead by two touchdowns at 27-12.

"It's always tough when you lose two Pro Bowl-caliber players, but at the same time we have guys waiting for an opportunity to make their presence felt," said rookie linebacker Clay Matthews, who had a sack. "It's really time for the young guys to step up and show their skills."

And time for the old guy to keep doing his thing. Woodson's interception return for a score was his sixth as a member of the Packers, which moves him into sole possession of second place on the franchise's all-time list in that category. Breaking a previous tie at five with Bobby Dillon and Darren Sharper, Woodson now trails only Herb Adderley, who had seven.

Nick Collins and Tramon Williams also had interceptions in the game, giving the Packers' defense five turnovers in all and putting the team's season total at 27, second in the league heading into this weekend's games. Woodson, of course, singlehandedly had three of the turnovers and now has seven interceptions on the season, just one shy of his career high, set with Green Bay in 2006.

"He's a special player, and he does that week after week," Williams said. "I can't say enough about the guy. I'll put my vote in for defensive MVP right now. The guy is great."

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