GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With all the focus on quarterback Aaron Rodgers' remarkable performance despite his strained left calf and Dez Bryant's catch that wasn't a catch, it's easy to overlook the role the Green Bay Packers' defense played in Sunday's 26-21 win over the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field in the NFC divisional playoff round.
"Very pleased with the way the defense played," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
Here are a few things from the defense that should not be forgotten as the Packers prepare for the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at the Seattle Seahawks:
Welcome back, Julius: Other than his two-sack game against the woeful Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 16, it had been a while since Julius Peppers had a major impact on a game. But he did against the Cowboys, with a sack and two forced fumbles. His strip-sack of Tony Romo on the game's opening series ended that drive and helped set up the Packers' first touchdown. In the third quarter, he stripped the ball from running back DeMarco Murray, and Datone Jones recovered. That led to a field goal that got the Packers within one, at 14-13. "Pep really had a great game, especially in limited reps rushing the passer," Clay Matthews said. Peppers had gone without a sack in six of his past seven regular-season games.
Pressure on Romo: In addition to four sacks, the Packers were credited for eight quarterback hits on Romo. Nick Perry, who had just three sacks all season, had 1.5 on Sunday. And they came on consecutive plays -- the last of the third quarter and the first of the fourth. He shared the second one with Mike Daniels. Seven players recorded quarterback hits. Said Matthews: "You look at the guys when they're moving around, you have me moving inside, outside, playing coverage as well as Nick Perry, Mike Neal and Julius being able to rush from the inside as well as drop into coverage. It definitely shows the versatility of the 3-4 defense."
Solid coverage: Yes, Tramon Williams missed a tackle that led to Terrance Williams’ 38-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the second quarter and was called for two pass-interference penalties, but the Packers' secondary held up well against Romo's top weapons. The Packers held Bryant to just three catches for 38 yards. Terrance Williams didn't have another catch, other than his touchdown. Tight end Jason Witten was the Cowboys' leading receiver, with six catches for 71 yards. "When I looked at the scoreboard, I didn't see any receivers [with big numbers]," cornerback Jarrett Bush said.
Run defense: This remains an area of concern, after Murray rushed for 123 yards on 25 carries (a 4.9-yard average). He was the best running back the Packers faced since Marshawn Lynch in Week 1. Now, they have to go back to Seattle and deal with Lynch in Sunday's NFC Championship Game. Lynch ran for 110 yards on 20 carries and scored two touchdowns in the Seahawks' 36-16 win over the Packers in the opener. "As long as we're all on the same page, we'll be able to handle anybody," Perry said of stopping the run.