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Defense’s resurgence plays major role in getting Packers into postseason

Defense’s resurgence plays major role in getting Packers into postseason


GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Green Bay’s beleaguered defense stepped up just in the nick of time to help the Packers make a surprising push into the postseason.

Now comes the biggest test of all.

A defense that allowed Tommy DeVito, Baker Mayfield and Bryce Young to move the ball at will in December has allowed just one touchdown over its past two games. It’s a stunning transformation for a unit that had struggled so much that coach Matt LaFleur was fielding questions last month about the possibility of firing defensive coordinator Joe Barry before the end of the season.

“Joe B’s been dialing it up,” outside linebacker Preston Smith said Sunday after the Packers’ 17-9 victory over the Chicago Bears. “He gets a lot of hell in the media. But we’ve come together. We play for Joe B. just like he comes every day to coach us. He comes with the energy that no matter what’s going on, we’ve got this together and we are all together.”

The Packers (9-8) have their playoff opener Sunday at Dallas. The NFC East champion Cowboys (12-5) scored a league-high 29.9 points per game during the regular season.

Green Bay’s defense must not revert to its December form.

The Packers gave up 29.3 points per game during a 1-2 stretch last month. The defense hit bottom on Christmas Eve as the Packers blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead before eking out a 33-30 victory over the Carolina Panthers, who didn’t score a single point the rest of the season.

But they’ve allowed a total of 19 points in two games since, with the win over the Bears following a 33-10 blowout at Minnesota. The only touchdown they’ve given up in those two games came after the Vikings recovered a fumbled punt at the Green Bay 7-yard line.

Chicago reached Green Bay territory on six drives Sunday, but the Packers’ defense stiffened in each instance while sacking Justin Fields five times.

“I think it’s always week to week in this league,” LaFleur said Monday. “We know that. You’re only as good as your last performance. You’ve got to make sure you stay up, on top of everything. I do know this. When we have all 11 doing their job and playing as one, there’s been some pretty good performances. It’s just when, whether it’s communication or somebody has a missed assignment, that’s when bad things happen.”


The offense performed well enough that the Packers didn’t punt all day. … Green Bay gained 4.6 yards per carry against a Chicago team that was leading the NFL in run defense heading into the game. The Packers outrushed the Bears 124-75. … The Packers limited Fields to 27 yards on eight carries. … Green Bay was penalized just once Sunday.


Green Bay reached the red zone three times in the first half, but had just seven points to show for it. The Packers missed a field goal after a third down sack on their opening drive, and they missed a shot at a field-goal attempt just before halftime when a completion near the sideline resulted in time expiring before they could run another play.


QB Jordan Love has thrown 18 touchdown passes and only one interception over his past eight games. … RB Aaron Jones has rushed for at least 111 yards in three straight games. … Wicks has three touchdown catches over his past two games. … WR Jayden Reed had four catches for a career-high 112 yards. The rookie second-round pick finished the regular season with 64 catches for 793 yards and 10 total touchdowns (8 receiving, 2 rushing). … DT Kenny Clark had a sack to increase his season total to a career-high 7½. … Green Bay’s offensive line has allowed one sack in the past two games.


K Anders Carlson made a 25-yard field goal but also sent a 41-yarder wide left. The rookie sixth-round pick is 4 of 8 on field-goal attempts from 40-49 yards.


WR Romeo Doubs left with a chest injury in the first half. LaFleur said Monday that Doubs went to the hospital Sunday but was released later that day. WR Christian Watson missed a fifth straight game with a hamstring injury. RB AJ Dillon (thumb/stinger) and LB Isaiah McDuffie (concussion/neck) also didn’t play.


25.58 — The average weighted age of the Packers’ roster, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Elias says this makes the Packers the fourth-youngest team to make the playoffs since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, behind only the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals (25.22), 1970 Miami Dolphins (25.44) and 1974 Buffalo Bills (25.56). Elias determines a team’s weighted age by factoring in how many games in which a player actually appeared, so that someone who played all 17 games is given more weight than someone who was on the roster for just one game.


The Packers dominated the Cowboys throughout Aaron Rodgers’ tenure as Green Bay’s quarterback and will see if that mastery carries over to the post-Rodgers era. The Packers have won nine of their past 10 meetings with the Cowboys and four straight, including a 31-28 overtime victory at Lambeau Field last season.

TOP PHOTO: FILE – Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields, left, is tackled by Green Bay Packers linebacker Quay Walker (7) during the second half of an NFL football game Dec. 4, 2022, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, File)

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