Packers' patchwork defense impressive in victory
GREEN BAY The Green Bay Packers are focusing on the role reversal they'll face Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys after shutting out the New York Jets on the road as significant underdogs.
"For as confident that the football team that we beat yesterday was coming into the game, to go into their house, magnificent stadium, on the big stage and to win that game, that's definitely a big shot of confidence you can carry forward," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday.
The Packers (5-3) beat the Jets 9-0 and are suddenly front-runners in the NFC North with a half-game lead over Chicago, but McCarthy expects the Cowboys (1-6) will be very motivated back on national TV at Lambeau Field.
Dallas is off to its worst start since 1989 and appeared in disarray even before quarterback Tony Romo was hit and broke his left collarbone last week. The Cowboys lost at home to the Jaguars on Sunday.
Still, McCarthy is guarding against a letdown after emotional wins over Minnesota and New York. Another solid effort from his banged-up defense would go a long way to a third consecutive victory.
Green Bay is starting a third-string safety and two reserve linebackers. Projected starting cornerback Al Harris (knee) and safety Atari Bigby (ankle) have been sidelined all season, McCarthy said the Packers have until next Monday to decide whether to activate either player from the physically unable to perform list.
Green Bay has 10 players on injured reserve and seven starters were on last week's injury report. But the patchwork defense responded with the NFL's first shutout of the year and the Packers' first road shutout since 1991.
"The guys we got, man, you can't say enough about those guys stepping in, especially guys that haven't been here too often for stepping in and playing the way they did," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Sunday.
Wide receiver Donald Driver and cornerback Pat Lee are the latest additions to the injury report.
McCarthy said Driver would be questionable with his second quadriceps injury this season, while Lee likely would be out for the game against the Cowboys with a sprained left ankle. Rodgers also rolled his left ankle in the fourth quarter, but neither McCarthy or Rodgers were concerned.
"I'm more embarrassed than hurt about the fact that I'm not athletic enough, I hurt myself without anybody around me," Rodgers said.
The injuries haven't mattered for the Packers, who signed four defensive players last week to fill in gaps. The final one, nose tackle Howard Green, played significant snaps after one practice on Friday.
No matter, the defensive line held LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene to a combined 76 yards.
"We're a damn good run defense. We led the league in run defense last year. We've been working through some combinations because of the injuries up front," McCarthy said. "Our focus was to go into that game and stop their run game. We had a lot of respect for their run game coming into the game, and our players stepped up."
The Packers also forced three turnovers against the Jets, who had led the NFL in turnover margin. Green Bay didn't turn the ball over for the first time all season.
McCarthy also praised his punter, Tim Masthay, who pinned the Jets back with all eight of his kicks. The Jets finished without a yard on punt returns and never took over after a Masthay kick in better field position than their own 23.
"The finest punting performance that I've ever been a part of in all my years on both sides of the ball," McCarthy said.
While the defense and special teams were the difference, the Packers won't like what they see when they review the offensive film.
Rodgers finished 15 of 34 for 170 yards and failed to reach the end zone.
"We did not play to our standard on offense," McCarthy said. "It's something we can learn from. But it's an excellent, excellent win for us, and it's something that we can build on."