Playoff rebound boosts already-confident Packers defense
After being backed into a corner by a pair of fumbles from running back Ryan Grant, the Green Bay Packers’ defense had given up two touchdowns in just a tick past the first 4 minutes of Saturday’s divisional playoff game against Seattle at Lambeau Field.
Much has been made of Grant’s comeback after the fumbles, as he finished with 201 yards rushing and three touchdowns. But lost in the shuffle of Green Bay’s dominant 42-20 victory was an equally impressive rally by the Packers’ defense, which held Seattle to a pair of field goals the rest of the way.
The rebound performance might provide a confidence boost for the Green Bay defense going into Sunday’s NFC Championship game against the New York Giants at Lambeau. But Packers defensive players weren’t exactly lacking confidence to begin with, and certainly weren’t going to let a couple of measly “cheap” touchdowns subdue their swagger.
“I don’t know what was said in the offensive huddle, but defensively, we were pretty confident – and I don’t want to sound cocky – that we were going to win the game,” cornerback Al Harris said afterward. “We didn’t panic, we just went out and played.”
Why didn’t the two quick scores make a difference?
“Just confidence, I guess,” safety Atari Bigby said. “My attitude was, ’OK, they scored two cheap ones.”’
Linebacker A.J. Hawk said the defense got an important lesson about momentum in the playoffs – mainly that it can be reversed.
“These are the types of games we need,” Hawk said. “We know in the playoffs the momentum can swing so fast. Yeah, we’re a young team, but this is a big step for us, coming through a game like this. It’s not like the game went as planned. We started off with some adversity. But coming out of it, I think really helped this team grow a little bit.”
The Packers got off to about as rough a start as could be imagined, as Grant fumbled on Green Bay’s first play from scrimmage and the Seahawks recovered the ball on the 1-yard line. With the defense standing in its own end zone in its first time on the field, running back Shaun Alexander scored on first-and-goal.
Grant fumbled again on the second play of the Packers’ second offensive series, giving the ball back to Seattle at the Packers 49. Soon after, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck found Bobby Engram for an 11-yard touchdown pass. Seahawks 14, Packers 0.
And don’t tell Packers defensive coordinator Bob Sanders that there wasn’t much his guys could do to stop the Seahawks on such a short field.
“Well, there were some adjustments to be made, because we don’t want them to ever score any time, irregardless of what happened,” Sanders said. “We made our adjustments, but like I said, we didn’t panic. We made our adjustments and moved on to the next play.”
The Packers’ offense answered with a touchdown, and the defense forced a punt on Seattle’s next series. Favre drove the Packers to another touchdown to tie the game, setting up one of the biggest defensive plays of the game.
“We took a tough shot early, but there was only a small amount of time off the clock,” cornerback Charles Woodson said. “We still had a whole game to play. Once our offense got going and put up some points, then the momentum shifted in our favor, and the defense started flying around.”
On the first play of the second quarter, Hasselbeck threw a short pass to tight end Marcus Pollard near the right sideline. With a running start of nearly 15 yards, Bigby launched himself into Pollard and jarred the ball loose, where it was recovered by defensive end Aaron Kampman.
It was one of several big hits by Bigby throughout the game.
“Receivers, they look for that,” Woodson said. “If they’re able to catch the ball and get yards after the catch and get down before they get hit, they feel good about their chances the whole day. But when you catch the ball and somebody’s immediately there – and not just tackling you and wrapping you up, but HITTING you – that’s in the back of your mind when you’re going across the middle or catching the ball. Bigby definitely set the tone early.”
Held down by a combination of physical play by the Packers and heavy snow showers, Seattle managed only six points the rest of the game. And linebacker Nick Barnett said the Packers got into Hasselbeck’s head – something they’ll certainly be trying to do to the Giants’ Eli Manning on Sunday.
“He was frustrated,” Barnett said. “As I was tackling a guy and he pushed me in the back, I was like, ’Hold on.’ That’s when I knew he was frustrated. Whatever. I think he was frustrated that they were losing. That just shows the good job by the defense. We played well.”