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Defensive woes make Packers sweat it out

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It was supposed to be a building block, that defensive stand the Green Bay Packers made at Lambeau Field only eight days earlier against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to preserve their best win of the season. Surely, it was going to be what helped defensive coordinator Dom Capers' unit flourish down the stretch.

"And now, it's doomsday," linebacker Clay Matthews said, anticipating the line of questions that was coming after the Packers' 43-37 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night. "Write it. Put it in there so we have something to talk about, so that way we can overcome it and be like, 'I told you so.' Write it."

This story wrote itself.

Just when the Packers thought -- or at least hoped -- their defense had moved past the kind of slapdash performances that have come back to bite them in postseasons past, in walked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and star receiver Julio Jones.

Yes, the Packers got another stellar performance from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who threw three touchdowns without an interception in his 100th career start, and a strong, two-headed rushing attack from Eddie Lacy and James Starks, who combined to help the Packers to a season-best 179 yards rushing. And at 10-3, they kept their lead in the NFC North and remained tied for the best record in the NFC.

But it was no thanks to a defense that allowed Ryan to throw for 375 yards, most of them to Jones, who caught 11 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown despite being unable to finish the game because of a hip injury.

Never before had the Packers allowed a receiver to pile up that many yards against them. Jones bettered Calvin Johnson's 244-yard performance against the Packers in the regular-season finale of 2011. Guess who comes back to Green Bay in three weeks for another Week 17 game? Johnson and the Detroit Lions.

Between now and then, the Packers' defense best figure out what went wrong against the Falcons.

"Coming off the field, I think that it's definitely a bitter taste," said Packers safety Micah Hyde, who allowed one of Ryan's four touchdown passes. "We definitely don't want to finish like that, but at the same time, those good teams win ugly games. You get a win in the NFL, especially the 10th one, you've got to be happy about that."

Capers relied heavily on zone coverages, and Jones easily found the soft spots. Of his 259 yards, 212 came on throws that traveled more than 10 yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"I just think we did everything on the back end wrong," Hyde said. "We're going to have to watch film to know exactly what they were doing, but they were scheming our zones, scheming our man calls. They were just getting him the ball, and I don't think that we did anything right in the second half."

Jones opened the second half with a 79-yard catch on the first play from scrimmage, wiping out all the positive vibes the Packers had from their 31-7 halftime lead. The Packers knew then this was not going to be another one of those Lambeau Field blowouts.

"We've got to play the whole game," Packers linebacker Julius Peppers said. "We can't play one half or three quarters or anything like that. We have to play the whole game out regardless of how big of a lead we have. We've got to finish games."

The defense did just that against the Patriots one game ago, when it sacked Brady on his final third-down play and handed the game over to Rodgers, who secured a victory that made the Packers the popular Super Bowl pick.

And yet now, there are once again questions about whether the Packers have a championship defense to go along with their MVP-caliber quarterback and his array of offensive playmakers.

"We made Matt Ryan look like Matty Ice again out there," Matthews said. "He was fantastic tonight. More power to him, but a lot of that was our doing. We've got to get better, and we will."