TOM SIL­VER­STEIN

De­fense did enough to win, but op­por­tu­nity was lost

Packer Plus - - News - Tom Sil­ver­stein

Los An­ge­les — If the Green Bay Pack­ers are go­ing to fill the empti­ness they felt walk­ing away from a 29-27 loss to the Los An­ge­les Rams, it will have to come from the seeds they planted at the Memo­rial Coli­seum on Sun­day af­ter­noon.

Over the next four weeks or so, there must be growth or the in­spired ef­fort they put to­gether against the NFL’s only un­de­feated team will prove to be the re­sult of noth­ing more than tim­ing and cir­cum­stance.

How many times do you get two weeks to pre­pare for the most com­plex of­fense in the NFL? How many times do you play on the road in a 75,000-seat sta­dium in which half the fans are your own?

How many times dur­ing a sea­son do you get to play with a full ros­ter, not a sin­gle player lim­ited be­cause of in­jury?

Maybe one of those things might hap­pen dur­ing a sea­son, but for all of them to hap­pen at the same time turned out to be a great ad­van­tage for a team des­per­ately want­ing to get off on the right foot at the start of an im­pos­si­ble five-game stretch.

“I think we came out and hit them in their mouth,” de­fen­sive tackle Mike Daniels said. “We played foot­ball the way we were sup­posed to play. We just didn’t main­tain it. We didn’t have it in some crit­i­cal mo­ments.

“When you’re play­ing against a 7-0 team and you have them on the ropes, you have to knock them out. You can’t let them stick around. We let them stick around and we lost.”

The de­fense, de­spite Daniels’ as­sess­ment, did enough to win. It held the Rams to six points in the first half and lim­ited them to two field goals on three fourth-quar­ter drives, the last a con­ces­sion on the Rams’ part that it wasn’t go­ing to be easy to score a touch­down from the Pack­ers’ 13-yard line and it was bet­ter to just run it and wind down the clock.

De­spite sur­ren­der­ing the lead on Greg Zuer­lein’s 34-yard field goal, the Pack­ers had left quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers 2 min­utes, 5 sec­onds to win the game. An of­fense can’t re­ally ask for much more than that.

But it never hap­pened be­cause run­ning back Ty Mont­gomery, de­fy­ing or­ders to take a knee on the en­su­ing kick­off, fum­bled away the re­turn and the de­fense had noth­ing left when it needed to stop the Rams from get­ting a game­clinch­ing first down.

“It’s re­ally dis­ap­point­ing,” line­backer Clay Matthews said. “You think as a de­fense we only hold them to those three points. We’re only down two. We’re go­ing to go down and win. That’s the con­fi­dence we have in ‘12’ and our of­fense.

“It’s re­ally frus­trat­ing be­cause of that. Feel like we bat­tled in that locker room, we in­vested so much time com­ing out here early and to end up on the short side of it is a ter­ri­ble feel­ing.”

That was prob­a­bly why nu­mer­ous play­ers said af­ter the game they hope there is a re­match in the play­offs. Bar­ring the 8-0 Rams’ to­tal col­lapse, the game would be at the Coli­seum where the fan ra­tio might be the same.

It’s all pos­si­ble, but it won’t hap­pen un­less the de­fense that lim­ited the Rams to its low­est num­ber of yards (416) and fewest com­ple­tions in a home game this sea­son, plays with the same ag­gres­sive­ness, en­ergy and de­sire to get to the quar­ter­back that it showed against the Rams.

“I felt like we knew we could play with them,” cor­ner­back Kevin King said. “In this league, you never want to give away games like that, games where you could have won. You al­ways want to be on the ‘W’ side.

“But there are learn­ing things from ev­ery game.”

What made this game dif­fer­ent than any other the de­fense has played was that co­or­di­na­tor Mike Pet­tine’s unit came out de­ter­mined to stop NFL lead­ing rusher Todd Gur­ley and pres­sure quar­ter­back Jared Goff with ev­ery­thing it had on third down.

What made it dif­fer­ent was that rookie cor­ner­back Jaire Alexan­der gave the de­fense a huge lift with his out­stand­ing man-to-man cov­er­age, bat­tling one of the fastest re­ceivers in the game, Brandin Cooks, down af­ter down. Alexan­der fin­ished third on the team in tack­les with seven and broke up five passes.

It was his first per­for­mance since in­jur­ing his groin against Buf­falo on Sept. 30.

“I didn’t know what film they’re watch­ing to make them throw at him that many times,” King said. “He’s com- ing off the in­jury and they might have thought he was a step slower. Shoot, that brings the dog out in you, right there. That brought it out of him. “Just learn how to stack it.” The pres­ence of three solid man-to­man cor­ners seemed to change ev­ery­thing for Pet­tine, who moved all of the cor­ners around, in­clud­ing putting vet­eran Tra­mon Wil­liams in the slot. It al­lowed Wil­liams to blitz Goff, some­thing he had not shown in pre­vi­ous games and it kept the Rams quar­ter­back guess­ing.

On most pass­ing third downs, Pet­tine stacked seven guys at the line of scrim­mage and made Goff guess which ones were com­ing. Early on, he brought in­side line­backer Blake Mar­tinez and safety Jer­maine White­head. Later, he brought Wil­liams and safety Ha Ha Clin­ton-Dix.

While all of that was oc­cur­ring, de­fen­sive line­men Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels and Dean Lowry were push­ing the pocket and mak­ing Goff dodge pass rush­ers. Matthews played one of his best games, fin­ish­ing with seven tack­les, a sack, a quar­ter­back hit and sev­eral pres­sures.

Asked about Pet­tine’s plan, coach Mike Mc­Carthy said, “I thought Mike, I thought the de­fen­sive coaches, play­ers, I thought they had a hell of a plan.”

The only thing that was miss­ing was the vic­tory.

“We put ev­ery­thing into this game,” line­backer Nick Perry said. “Noth­ing changes now. We have a tough sched­ule ahead of us. We’ve got to get back and cor­rect what we did wrong and con­tinue to push for­ward. “It’s got to be a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.” And it won’t mean a whole lot if this game doesn’t lead to greater things in the very near fu­ture.

“It bet­ter be­cause that’s the best team in the NFL and we hung toe to toe with them and had a chance at the end to win it,” Matthews said. “We’ve got to take that mov­ing for­ward. I know we lost, but we’ve got to take that ca­pa­bil­ity and move it for­ward.

“We’ve got New Eng­land next week and we know that they’re one of the best, if not the best AFC team. So we’re go­ing to have to show up again next week and this time get the win.”

JIM MATTHEWS / USA TO­DAY NET­WORK-WIS­CON­SIN

Pack­ers line­backer Clay Matthews stops Rams quar­ter­back Jared Goff on a key third down on Sun­day.

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