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Packers' defense determined to avoid letting up even with big leads

GREEN BAY - As much as there was to like about the defensive performance against the Chicago Bears last week, the way the unit softened at the end of each half was another negative mark against it this season.

The Packers dominated the first half and were up 27-3 with 3 minutes to go when they allowed the Bears to drive 87 yards in 14 plays for a touchdown.

Most embarrassing was receiver Allen Robinson’s 1-yard touchdown catch in which it appeared cornerback Chandon Sullivan lined up on the wrong side of the field and forced safety Adrian Amos to try to cover two guys.

Later, Robinson scored on a 6-yard touchdown reception in which an area of the field was vacated completely, leaving the veteran receiver wide open over the middle. It came at the end of a 13-play, 65-yard drive.

“If it’s in the red zone, a small mistake turns into a touchdown and those are the lapses we had late in the game where we’re already up a lot,” Amos said. “And I think that was our message to each other and the coaches from just games past, ‘when we’re up like that, let’s just finish strong, let’s lock in and finish strong and don’t have certain small mental lapses.’

“When you have mistakes on plays that you’ve played 100 times, that’s just something of a lack of a focus.”

Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said he thought the defense lost focus once the Packers were up big. They led 41-10 at the start of the fourth quarter and gave up two long touchdowns to make the final margin 16 points.

Packers free safety Darnell Savage (26) intercepts a pass to the end zone Sunday against the Bears

Pettine said it’s something that can happen in one-sided games.

“I just think it’s human nature and it's hard to guard against when you get that type of lead,” he said. “We really have to fight against those lapses.”

A game in which they were dominating statistically and causing back-breaking turnovers concluded in passive form with very little blitzing and mostly zone defense aimed at making sure the Bears didn’t get any big plays.

Chicago had to dink and dunk its way down the field, but it also gave embattled quarterback Mitch Trubisky time to gain some confidence.

This week, the Packers are facing another teetering quarterback in Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz and while the defense probably won’t play as soft as it did with the big lead against Chicago, it has yet to make an opponent cry uncle in any of the Packers' eight victories.

Coach Matt LaFleur said earlier in the week that he has talked to Pettine about when to be more aggressive in the way he calls the defense and that might have been one of those times.

“I know we threw a couple blitzes at them within the drive,” LaFleur said. “I just think when a team starts getting momentum, it's not a bad idea to maybe mix something up and throw in pressure, whatever it may be.

“But I think all-in-all, I was pretty pleased with our defensive performance. Obviously, you'd like to close it out at the end of the game. There's no doubt about it.”

Taking offense

The Bears did not like it when backup quarterback Tim Boyle stepped forward during the final two kneel downs to avoid taking a statistical loss on the play.

It’s something Boyle has done before, but not something starter Aaron Rodgers normally does when he has to kneel down at the end of games. The second time Boyle did it, the Bears lined all their players up at the line of scrimmage and inside linebacker Roquan Smith knocked down rookie guard Jon Runyan, causing some pushing and shoving.

“It’s an old QB thing,” quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy said. “I did it when I was a player back in 2003 or whatever it was. Quarterback coaches hate negative plays and so we always try to take a zero-yard gain on a knee. Otherwise, you just keep on getting negative plays.

“It wasn’t just that game. Tim has done it all year. I don’t know exactly what happened, but someone didn’t like it, I guess.”

LaFleur took the blame for it happening and seemed to indicate it wouldn’t happen again.

“We’ll do a better job with that moving forward,” he said.

Injury report

Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith was added with an ankle injury and was listed as a limited participant.

Smith has been dealing with a right ankle injury since training camp and occasionally aggravates. He had been off the injury report since the beginning of November but may have hurt it in practice Wednesday.

Tight end Marcedes Lewis (knee) took his usual day of rest.

Center Corey Linsley (knee) remained out and guard Lucas Patrick (toe) was limited but did some work in pads outside. Safety Darnell Savage (back), who didn’t finish the Bears game, was limited for a second straight day.

Linebacker Krys Barnes, who was activated off the COVID-19 list Wednesday, is listed as having a calf injury. He has been limited both days.

Mystery QB

Getsy said the Packers have a plan if all three of their quarterbacks were to be sidelined due to positive COVID-19 tests or close contact with someone with COVID-19.

But he said he didn’t think it would come to that because the Packers have followed the protocols very closely and take them very seriously.

“We’re not even touching the line, we’re not even in the gray,” he said. “We know exactly what the rules are and what we’re supposed to do and we adhere to them.”