Insider: Thumbs up to run defense
THE BIG PICTURE
The Packers cleared a psychological hurdle by gaining a measure of revenge against the Seahawks, who had beaten them three straight times (including the collapse in last season’s NFC title game, which the Packers now can put behind them). With a home game coming up against the Kansas City Chiefs next Monday night, followed by a winnable road game at mediocre San Francisco and then two more home games against the St. Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers, the Packers are positioned to get off to the kind of fast start that coach Mike McCarthy emphasized.
After an impressive opening drive gave the Packers a quick 7-0 lead, the Seahawks’ defense stiffened. When Packers running back Eddie Lacy exited with an ankle injury in the first quarter, the Green Bay offense became more one-dimensional and the heat was turned up on Aaron Rodgers. The momentum shifted to the Seahawks midway through the third quarter when Russell Wilson hit Doug Baldwin on a 13-yard TD pass to give Seattle its first lead at 17-13. But the Packers’ defense forced a punt on the Seahawks' next possession, and Rodgers engineered a 10-play, 80-yard drive early in the fourth quarter that culminated in a 5-yard TD pass to Richard Rogers and gave Green Bay a 24-17 lead after a two-point conversion pass to his tight end. Jayrone Elliott snuffed out Seattle’s next drive by intercepting a Wilson pass on the Seahawks 37, which set up the Packers' final field goal.
All eyes were on the Packers’ run defense after its difficulties against the Bears, and the unit rose to the challenge against the Seahawks’ vaunted ground game. Linebacker Nick Perry saved a touchdown by tripping up Marshawn Lynch in the first quarter when there was nothing but wide-open space in front of him. On Seattle’s first three possessions, Lynch was held to three yards on six carries. On a key third-and-three play just after the two-minute warning, Mike Daniels and Clay Matthews stopped Lynch for no gain. Through three quarters, Lynch gained only 28 yards on 13 carries and for the game finished with 41 yards on 15. The defense also kept Wilson in check early, corralling him on a second-quarter scramble to force a punt. Wilson carried twice for 13 yards in the half, but broke loose in the third quarter for 48 yards on five carries.
The injury bug continued to bite key Packers performers, with Lacy and wide receiver Davante Adams being carted to the locker room with ankle injuries in the first half. Lacy was ruled out for the game; Adams returned in the second half. Reserve defensive lineman Josh Boyd had to be carted off the field with an apparently serious right ankle injury. The Packers already were without right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee injury), who could miss up to six weeks, as well as wide receiver Jordy Nelson (knee) and linebacker Sam Barrington (foot), who are out for the season. James Starks replaced him and fumbled away a second-quarter pass reception. Other than a 35-yard burst in the third quarter, Starks was unable to give the Packers’ ground game the kind of juice it lacked after Lacy was injured.
RANTS & RAVES
RAVE: No one reads the field better than Rodgers. The Packers quarterback recognized that the Seahawks had too many men on the field and called for a quick snap on a third-and-one play on the game’s opening drive. A pass fell incomplete, but the Packers challenged the call and kept the ball when it was confirmed that Seattle had 12 defenders. The Packers scored when Rodgers got Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett to jump offsides, giving him a free play in which he hit James Jones for a 29-yard TD. On the Packers’ final drive of the first half, Rodgers recognized he had a free play due to an offsides and heaved a long pass for Ty Montgomery that resulted in a 52-yard pass-interference penalty against cornerback Richard Sherman. That drive ended with an 18-yard Mason Crosby field goal for a 13-3 halftime lead.
RANT: Reminiscent of their NFC Championship Game loss, the Packers were forced to settle for three points despite having a first-and-goal just before halftime. A pass to Randall Cobb put the ball at the 1-yard line with 13 seconds remaining, but the Packers already had burned their three timeouts. A pass to Jones that originally was called a touchdown was ruled incomplete after review, and after Rodgers failed to connect on a pass to tight end Rodgers, the Packers chose to kick an 18-yard field goal rather than risk getting no points.
RAVE: A regular-season record crowd of 78,433 at Lambeau Field did its best to emulate the Seahawks’ “12th man” fervor. Driven by scoreboard demands to “Get Loud Lambeau” (a campaign the Packers pushed all week, complete with T-shirts), the fans were roaring from the start, particularly when the Packers were on defense. The noise likely contributed to the Seahawks using a timeout before a third-and-12 play on their first possession. Seattle went three-and-out. A false-start penalty on Seahawks tackle Russell Okung during an early second-quarter drive, which resulted in a punt two plays later, also could be credited to the crowd noise.
RANT: An offsides penalty on Packers defensive end Mike Neal negated an incomplete pass on third-and-goal from the Green Bay 10 on Seattle’s opening second-half drive. Instead of kicking a field goal, the Seahawks got a touchdown when Wilson hit running back Fred Jackson on a five-yard scoring toss. The Packers defense failed to mount pressure on Wilson throughout the 10-play, 80-yard drive.
RAVE: Kicker Mason Crosby scored 13 points (four field goals and an extra point) Sunday to surpass Ryan Longwell as the Packers’ all-time leading scorer with 1,057 points.
DID YOU NOTICE?
» If the Seahawks looked familiar, maybe it’s because Green Bay now has faced Seattle eight times (including playoffs) since 2006, the most games against any non-division opponent during that time.
» The Packers improved to 7-1 in home openers with Rodgers as their starting quarterback. Rodgers’ streak of throwing for 300 or more yards in home openers ended at four (he threw for 249).
» Under McCarthy, the Packers now are 8-2 in home openers. When the home opener came in Week 2 (as it did Sunday), the Packers are a perfect 4-0 under McCarthy.
» Cobb extended his streak of regular-season games with at least one reception to 43 with a 22-yard catch on the game’s first drive.
» With an average age of 25.23 years, the Packers are the second-youngest team in the NFL. Only the Arizona Cardinals (24.96) have a younger roster.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Stucourt.