Holding A Late Lead, Packers’ Defense is Dominant
Let’s forget about all the yards. Hell… let’s even forget about all the points the Green Bay Packers defense has given up this year. Instead let’s focus on the positive. When the Packers defense is on the field late and needs to protect a lead, they’ve been staggeringly effective for a really long time.
Think about it. Can you name the last time the Packers defense gave up a lead in the closing minutes of a game?
Let’s look at this season.
Week 9, San Diego: As Shawn pointed out in TiVo Time the Packers defense did what they needed to do exactly when they needed to do it. Although they did seem to do relatively little the rest of the game, you can’t argue with their performance late in the fourth quarter to hold on for the 45-38 win.
Week 7, Minnesota: The guys in purple got the ball with 5:26 left, down by six points. Christian Ponder and the Vikings marched from their own 2-yard line to the Packers’ 36. Green Bay’s defense was looking gassed and the crowd was going nuts. Coach Leslie Frazier took emotion out of the equation and made the mathematically correct decision to punt the ball. James Starks would go off and eventually convert on a 3rd and 7, allowing the Packers to kneel it and run out the clock.
Week 2, Carolina: With 7:20 left in the fourth quarter and trailing 23-16, the Panthers put together a nice drive that threatened the Packers’ lead. Facing 4th and four from the Packers’ 6 with 3:22 left, Clay Mathews made a huge tackle on a Cam Newton keeper, stopping the big QB for a gain of three. The teams would exchange late touchdowns and a Packers’ onside kick recovery with 37 seconds left ended it, 30-23.
Week 1, New Orleans: It irked me some how most of the mainstream media labeled this game as the Packers barely holding on. Rather, I would argue it was a largely improbable comeback that ended not only one yard short, but also a two-point conversion away from simply TYING the game. Once again, after Drew Brees had his way with the Packers in the fourth quarter, Green Bay’s defense kept their streak intact by securing the 42-34 win.
So how about last season?
Super Bowl XLV, Pittsburgh: Although I’m not proud to admit this, I was worried when the Steelers got the ball late in the Super Bowl. I was aware how many times the Packers defense had been in this situation and were successful, but dreaded the scenario of facing Ben Roethlisberger. His ability to engineer last-minute drives had me shaking, but the Packers defense refused to allow the situation to get even remotely dramatic and ended it quickly, needing not just one, but two kneel downs to ice it.
NFC Championship game, Chicago: What would have happened if Caleb Hanie finished that last drive with a TD? What if Sam Shields would have fumbled the game-clinching interception, giving the Bears another chance? Thankfully, we don’t have to wonder too much. The Packers defense did it again, late, to save the win in a 21-14 game in Chicago.
NFC Wild Card game, Philadelphia: Leading 21-16 with 1:45 remaining, Michael Vick & Co. put together a very nice drive. I recall seeing the season flash before my eyes when DeSean Jackson was running free on a pass from Vick. Out of nowhere, Desmond Bishop came and made a game-saving tackle. The Eagles would get to the Packers’ 27, when Vick decided to run a quick play instead of spiking it and regrouping. Tramon Williams’ interception and his pick six the following week at Atlanta began to make him a household name.
Week 17, Chicago: Although most of us suspected the Bears would phone it in, they decided to play their starters all the way through. Trailing 10-3 early in the fourth quarter, the Bears offense would get the ball three times with a chance to tie. They would get as close as the Packers’ 32, before Nick Collins picked off a sailing Jay Cutler pass in the final minute. In retrospect, maybe the Bears would have been fresher in the NFC Championship game had they phoned this game in.
Week 15, New England: Although one could argue this game ends the streak (or is where the streak starts), when the Patriots took the 31-27 lead there was still 7:14 left and the Packers offense got two possessions after that score. This, the Dan Connolly debacle, and Matt Flynn starting at QB makes this one an asterisk at best.
Week 8, New York Jets: The Packers shut the Jets out 9-0 in their crib when they were coming off the bye week. That’s not even on this list, but semi-cancels out the asterisk above.
Week 4, Detroit: The Shaun Hill-led Lions were worthy adversaries and the Packers held on, 28-26. The Lions would got only one possession the entire fourth quarter. With 11:34 left, they took the ball from their own 29 all the way to the Packers’ 37. Being just out of Jason Hanson’s field goal range on a windy day in Green Bay, the Lions punted with 6:39 remaining. The Packers proceeded to drive the ball down the Lions’ throat and ended it with a Rodgers’ knee on the Lions’ 14.
So let’s go back to 2009.
Week 15, Pittsburgh: Perhaps this is why I was concerned about the Super Bowl. It was this game, held on December 20th, 2009 at Heinz Field, when the Packers defense last gave up the lead to lose a game. It was an amazing game that could and likely will get replayed for many years to come. Big Ben marched the Steelers 86 yards in 2:06 and broke the hearts of Packers fans everywhere by hitting Mike Wallace in the end zone as time expired. Steelers 37, Packers 36.
Interestingly, while the Packers defense has been awesome at defending leads during this time period, the team lost all four games when the defense was required to buckle down and hold when the game was tied late — all of them in the 2010 regular season (Chicago, Miami, Washington, and Atlanta). However, other factors contributed to these loses — special teams breakdowns and one Aaron Rodgers’ interception led to short fields for the opposing offenses.
The long and short of it is the Packers have successfully defended leads late in games a remarkable nine times in a row!
I would rather the Packers blow teams out and not require the defense to come up with such crucial stops, but when it comes down to crunch time, take solace in the fact that your defense is about to show you what they’re truly made of.
In the meantime, let’s hope the Packers defense steps up their play earlier in the game and are never in a situation to add to this list. At least for a couple seasons or so, right?
Go Pack Go!
Andrew Chitko is a Packer fan who enjoys the mental and mathematical side of football just as much as the action and excitement on the field. "Cerebral Football" will focus on key coaching decisions, situational football, and other NFL-related topics deserving deeper analysis.