Members of the Green Bay Packers defense have been hearing for the better part of a year how bad they are.
They supposedly can’t rush the passer. They can’t cover. They can’t stop the run. They can’t tackle. They can’t get off the field.
If you believed all the insults, you would think the Packers defense was also responsible for the national debt, high gas prices and the sagging economy.
Never mind that the defense helped the Packers produce a 15-1 regular-season record last season — all anyone wanted to focus on was the Packers’ last-place ranking in yardage allowed. Not surprisingly, the defense received a lion’s share of blame for the Packers’ playoff loss to the New York Giants last January.
So when the defense gave up 30 points in the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday, the grumbling grew even louder.
With that giant chip on its shoulder, the Packers defense showed up at Lambeau Field Thursday night with something to prove.
And what the defense put on display was something to behold in the Packers’ 23-10 victory over the Chicago Bears. It rose up and all but shut down what had been considered an explosive Bears’ offense.
“We just wanted to come out and prove we’re not what everybody claims that we are,” said defensive lineman B.J. Raji.
While he attempted to tune out the critics, Raji couldn’t help but hear the naysayers.
“I mean, when you hear it every day it tends to get annoying,” said Raji. “But I learned from (when I was) a young kid you can’t worry about what people say about you. All you can do is what you can control. That’s my whole mindset.”
The Packers’ mindset was to stuff, smother, and suffocate the Bears’ offense into submission. They were successful on every level. The Packers collected seven sacks and picked off four passes. They held the Bears to an anemic 168 total yards.
“We kind of got tired of hearing everything,” said defensive lineman Ryan Pickett. “We know what kind of defense we can be. Last week we just made some mistakes. This week we just tightened up. We didn’t make mistakes. When we don’t make mistakes, that’s how the defense looks.”
The Bears put up 41 points last week against Indianapolis but in five first-half possessions against the Packers, they had this to show for their efforts: punt, punt, punt, punt, interception. The Packers built a 13-0 halftime lead on the strength of that ferocious defense. The Bears mustered just four first downs and 47 yards of total offense.
“That’s great, we love it,” said Pickett when informed of those numbers in the locker room after the game. “That’s what we play. We’re not shocked. I know what kind of players we have on our team. There’s no reason we can’t perform like that.”
The Bears’ highly touted passing combination of Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall was a non-factor. Marshall never caught a pass until the fourth quarter when the game was already decided.
“We knew we could do it all along, we just had to put it out there on the field,” said linebacker D.J. Smith. “In our defensive room we focus on us, we don’t let outside stuff influence what we have going on. We just play Packer defense.”
The Bears managed one meaningless touchdown in the fourth quarter following a Packers turnover. Other than that, they were helpless to get anything going.
If the Packers have their way, this is just the beginning for the defense.
“It’s Week 2, we’ve got a long ways to go,” said Pickett. “We’re not worried about the doubters. We’re going to keep getting better.”
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