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Monday, December 9, 2013
Finally, a strong defensive stand

By Rob Demovsky

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers still have plenty of questions on defense, but they might have one fewer now that they figured out a way to finish off a game.

Finally on Sunday, they showed they can close out a game with their defense, which played a significant part in their 22-21 comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons at Lambeau Field.

And big plays were the difference.

In the fourth quarter alone, the Packers got a strip-sack from Mike Neal and the subsequent fumble recovery by Johnny Jolly, a fourth-down pass breakup by Jarrett Bush and finally a game-clinching interception by Bush.

It marked only the second time this season that the Packers held an opponent scoreless in the fourth quarter.

“It's kind of a reverse of the way we've been all year,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Monday. “I would say the majority of the year, we've played our best football in the first half, [and] you know, haven't played as well in the second half. And I thought it was just the opposite yesterday.”

Going into the game, the Packers had allowed more fourth-quarter points (107) and more fourth-quarter touchdowns (14) than any team in the NFL.

So it was with good reason that many in the Lambeau Field crowd, which booed the Packers as they left the field at halftime, should have been nervous when the Falcons had two chances in the final two minutes and 43 seconds. After Bush's fourth-down pass breakup, the offense couldn't gain a first down needed to run out the clock and put the game back in the hands of Capers' troops.

“We played a lot better in the second half than we did in the first half, and that's something we've been emphasizing,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “So it was great to finish the game the way that we did.”

Perhaps nothing pleased Capers and McCarthy more than the improved tackling. By Capers' count, the Packers missed 15 tackles on defense in their 40-10 Thanksgiving loss at the Detroit Lions. His review of the Falcons' game showed only two missed tackles.

“It was our best tackling performance of the season,” Capers said.

That doesn't mean all the issues on defense are solved. Capers wouldn't commit to a starting free safety after benching M.D. Jennings in favor of Sean Richardson late in the second quarter on Sunday. He also wasn't sure of the availability of inside linebackers Brad Jones (ankle) and Jamari Lattimore (knee) for this week's game at the Dallas Cowboys. Neither finished Sunday's game, leaving him with no choice but to play only his dime package on the last series and a half because he had only one available inside linebacker, A.J. Hawk.