Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, left, argues an pass interference call against him late in the fourth quarter at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011. Woodson interfered with Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, right. Packers cornerback Sam Shields is at center. Corey Wilson/Press-Gazette
SAN DIEGO — They forced turnovers again, this time three of them in the form of interceptions.
They brought back two of them for touchdowns, the first time they’ve done that in the same game in more than three years.
Yet there was Charlie Peprah, the safety who had two of the interceptions — one that he returned 40 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and the other in the final half-minute that sealed Sunday’s 45-38 victory at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium; and cornerback Tramon Williams, who had the other interception return for a touchdown; and cornerback Charles Woodson, all of them as downtrodden as anyone could have possibly imagined after a win that kept the Green Bay Packers undefeated at the halfway point of their regular season.
“A lot of bad football,” a somber Woodson said in the corner of the locker room. “I don’t know what it was. Just chalk it up to bad football.”
The team that came into Week 9 ranked 28th out of the NFL’s 32 teams in yards allowed per game and next-to-last in passing yards allowed per game did itself no favors, giving up 460 total net yards, including 385 yards passing to Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
But just as it has done throughout the first half of this season, it came up with enough big plays to offset all the missed tackles, miscommunications and blown assignments that might have been fatal to most teams.
“We like to think that we have a lot of playmakers on defense, especially in the back end,” Woodson said. “We feel like if the ball is in the air, we’ll come up with our fair share, certainly. But how many times are you going to have two interceptions for a touchdown?”
To be exact, the Packers have done it just 10 times in their long history, and this was the first time since Oct. 19, 2008 against Indianapolis. They have done it five times in the last six seasons, but before that it hadn’t happened at all between 1974 and 2004.
Like Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Rivers threw four touchdown passes and took advantage of shoddy coverage against tight end Antonio Gates (eight catches for 96 yards and one touchdown) and receiver Vincent Jackson (seven catches for 141 yards and three touchdowns).
When told of Woodson’s “bad football” assessment, Williams said: “I feel the same way. We gave up too many big plays, obviously, again. We made the plays to win the game, but it’s hard to keep coming in here week after week, and guys are putting up yards on you. We’ve always been a turnover team, and it helps us out. But for guys to consistently put up yards on us like that, we’ve got to go soul searching and get it together. Whether it’s players or coaches, we’ve got to get together and do this. We’re 8-0, but we’re fortunate to be that.”
Peprah, who for the second straight season is a fill-in starter, did his best Nick Collins impersonation when he intercepted a ball intended for Gates that linebacker Desmond Bishop broke up. Like Collins, who is out for the season with a neck injury, did in Super Bowl XLV, Peprah weaved his way through the defense and scored from 40 yards out.
“Bishop played the ball well,” Peprah said. “He was underneath it and tried to go for the pick. I was in position, and he tipped it to me. He wants credit for the touchdown, but I said I had to work for that on my way. But he gets credit for the pick.”
On the Chargers’ next possession, Williams read an out route for Patrick Crayton and jumped it. He intercepted the ball in stride and had an cakewalk of a 43-yard touchdown return. Both interception returns were on third-down plays.
“It played out perfectly,” Williams said. “I saw the guy coming to the flat, but I still I had my depth as I was in man to man. It played out perfect. I saw it the whole time.”
Finally, after the Chargers had come back from 21 points down to within a touchdown and had the ball at their 31-yard line with 1:05 to play, they got to the Packers’ 41 with 33 seconds to play, when Rivers badly underthrew a go route for Jackson, and Peprah picked it off.
“I don’t think we win this game without those plays,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “Fortunately we were able to make some big plays. Not to take anything away from this victory or the performance we had at the end of this game, but we also gave up too many. That seems to be a constant these that we need to address.”
Woodson said: “Everything is correctable. I just think we’re better than what we’re showing out there on the field. It’s everyone. It’s on everybody’s shoulders. The question is, is it correctable? Yeah, but you have to go out and do it. So, today is frustrating.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.