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Green Bay Packers' defense finally comes alive

By The Sports Xchange
Green Bay Packers inside linebacker Clay Matthews (52) gets a high-five after defeating the Washington Redskins 35-18 in their NFC Wild Card game at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, January 10, 2016. Photo by David Tulis/UPI
Green Bay Packers inside linebacker Clay Matthews (52) gets a high-five after defeating the Washington Redskins 35-18 in their NFC Wild Card game at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, January 10, 2016. Photo by David Tulis/UPI | License Photo

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers' defense has been their Achilles heel since their run to a Super Bowl title in the 2010 season. The Packers' defense got off to another shaky start this season, then faced Cincinnati Sunday without several key players.

Defensive end Mike Daniels, Green Bay's best defensive player, was out with a hip injury. Nick Perry, the Packers' top edge rusher, couldn't play after undergoing midweek hand surgery. And Davon House, arguably Green Bay's top cornerback, sat out Sunday's game against Cincinnati with a quadriceps injury.

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In addition, linebacker Jake Ryan (hamstring/concussion) and safety Kentrell Brice (groin) -- two important defensive pieces -- couldn't go.

But after an inconsistent first half, Green Bay's defense was outstanding after intermission and helped the Packers rally for a 27-24 overtime win.

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"We saw all the stuff they threw at us and I think at that point you just have to have play recognition," said Packers linebacker Blake Martinez, who had 11 tackles, including a tackle for loss. "And I give it up to our coaches making the adjustment at halftime to, kind of, not allow that to happen. We played what they called and we made the plays that we made and it got us the win."

The Packers hope they can duplicate their second-half defensive performance in Thursday night's home game against the Chicago Bears.

In the first half, Cincinnati had 192 net yards, 13 first downs and averaged 2.8 points per possession. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had a 140.8 passer rating, Cincinnati had 82 rushing yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

In the second half and overtime, though, the Bengals had just 109 net yards, eight first downs and averaged 0.60 points per possession. Dalton's passer rating after halftime was a respectable 90.5, but the Bengals ran for just 28 yards and averaged only 2.3 yards per rush.

After the Bengals converted 4 of 7 third downs in the first half (57.1 percent), they went 0-for-5 in the second half.

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"Obviously in the second half, we hunkered down," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. "They made some plays, but, for the most part, we were able to limit them to three points in the second half, which was huge. Eventually, our offense is going to get it going, and that's exactly what we did."

Rookie safety Josh Jones had the Packers' most spectacular defensive performance, finishing with a team-high 12 tackles, two sacks, two quarterback hurries and three tackles for loss.

"You know our room is a strong room," Jones said of the safety group. "All those guys can play. We all can play. No matter where our coach tells us to go and play, line up, man, we're all going to ball out. Everybody's dogs in the room."

Martinez had his most active game as a Packer. Veteran Ahmad Brooks, playing for the injured Perry, had a sack, a tackle for loss and two quarterback hits.

And rookie cornerback Kevin King shadowed Bengals six-time Pro Bowl wideout A.J. Green. Green did plenty of damage against King, finishing with 10 receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown. But King competed throughout and showed no fear.

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The Bengals took a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter after second-year cornerback William Jackson jumped in front of Packers wideout Jordy Nelson, intercepted an Aaron Rodgers floater and raced 75 yards for a touchdown.

From that point on, though, Green Bay's defense allowed just three points in the final 44 minutes.

"I thought they did a good job with their first 15 plays, the way they moved on the first drive there," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. "You know, they did a good job running the football, so, it was a chess match. But I thought our guys were consistent throughout the day and just kept battling."

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Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had been 0-7 in overtime games in his career prior to Sunday. In four of those games, Green Bay lost the coin toss and never had the ball.

But Rodgers capped a memorable day by recording his first-ever overtime win.

First, Rodgers engineered a 12-play, 71-yard touchdown drive in the closing moments of regulation to force overtime. Rodgers and second-year wideout Geronimo Allison then hooked up on a 72-yard pass play in overtime to set up kicker Mason Crosby with the game-winning field goal.

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"That was a desperate opponent (at) 0-2, not wanting to go to 0-3," Rodgers said of Cincinnati. "We spot 'em a lead and start picking up in the second half and making some more plays. And then obviously when we had to have it there in the fourth quarter and overtime, we made the plays."

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Geronimo Allison set a career high with 122 receiving yards on six catches. The former undrafted free agent missed Week 1 after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, but has quickly taken on a huge role in the offense.

"I've known Geronimo has been a player for a long time," Rodgers said. "He's a fantastic part of our offense, does a lot of things really, really well, he's a tough kid, a really tough competitor.

"I remember the first day I watched him at training camp, I said, 'How do you not get drafted?' I said this kid's fantastic. He's got a great attitude. I was ripping him a little bit Week 1 about him being suspended and missing him out there, but it's good having him back. He's a guy who can really help out."

Added Allison: "I feel good, I'm healthy, I feel more confidence with the offense and I feel good running around out there making plays."

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REPORT CARD VS. BENGALS

--PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Aaron Rodgers threw his first pick-six interception since Week 9, 2009, a string of 3,907 passes. But Rodgers bounced back and threw for 313 yards, giving him a franchise-record five straight games in which he eclipsed 300 yards. Rodgers was sacked six times, though, an area that must be cleaned up immediately.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: D-minus -- The Packers can't get running back Ty Montgomery going. Montgomery carried 12 times for 35 yards Sunday (2.9 yards per carry). And through three games, Montgomery has just 124 rushing yards on 41 carries (3.0)

--PASS DEFENSE: C -- The Packers used four safeties much of the game against Cincinnati. Rookie safety Josh Jones was a show-stopper, becoming the first rookie defensive back in team history to register two sacks in a game. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton did have a 124.1 passer rating, but that mark was 90.5 in the second half and overtime.

--RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Bengals ran for 82 first-half yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry. But the Packers held Cincinnati to 28 rushing yards and 2.3 yards per carry in the second half and overtime. "Obviously in the second half, we hunkered down," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said.

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--SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Green Bay return man Trevor Davis had a solid day, averaging 14.0 yards on his five punt returns. Kicker Mason Crosby also made his first game-winning field goal at Lambeau Field since Week 1 of 2007, which also was Crosby's first-ever NFL game.

--COACHING: C-plus -- Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has now defeated every NFL team, except Green Bay, of course. McCarthy was 0-2 against Cincinnati, and after a forgettable first half, appeared in trouble again. But McCarthy and the Packers got rolling in the second half and posted a thrilling win.

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