It’s about one thing – winning the Super Bowl – and adding to the Green Bay Packers’ record total of 13 NFL championships.
To do that, the Packers really don’t need blowout victories in October and November, as their 2011 edition commonly registered. What they need at this time of year is to be tested, to persevere and to win.
Since Ron Wolf turned around the franchise a generation ago, the Packers have been built to play their best in cold weather.
It’s games like Sunday, a rare noon kickoff at Lambeau Field with the temperature in the low 70s and fans in shirtsleeves, that the Packers traditionally have been at their most vulnerable.
Twenty years ago last month, a St. Louis Rams club that ended up 7-9 upset a Packers team bound for 11-5 and elimination in the NFC Championship Game on the same field, 17-14.
The fact that the Packers (5-0) were able to repulse the determined, talented Rams of coach Jeff Fisher, 24-10, not only protected their unbeaten record but, more importantly, suggested a firmness of purpose throughout the player and coaching ranks.
“That’s the key,” said Les Snead, the Rams’ general manager. “They know how to win.”
Seven times the Rams (2-3) advanced inside the Packers’ 35-yard line. Their inability to proceed much further was the story of the game.
Dom Capers’ defensive crew either sacked or hit Nick Foles on 12 of his 33 dropbacks. Rookie Todd Gurley pounded away 30 times for 159 yards on the ground, but the ability of the defense to render null and void the St. Louis passing game, both with rush and coverage, carried the day.
“Definitely our defense was outstanding,” said coach Mike McCarthy. “Particularly in taking the football away. They were on the field way too long but they kept answering the bell.
“I thought the front did a heck of a job in the pass rush. Clay Matthews is just all over the field. I can’t say enough about our defense.
“We were up and down as a football team, but we fought through it.”
Already missing four starters, the Packers lost two more (NT B.J. Raji and RG T.J. Lang) plus a key situational substitute (OLB Nick Perry) by early in the third quarter.
Again, it wasn’t pretty, as it so often was four years ago during the franchise’s 13-0 start. But backups such as guard Josh Walker and nose tackle Mike Pennel held the fort, enabling the Packers to increase their home winning streak to 12.
“Being a team that’s lived through losing some starters to injury, hey, to stack wins is (impressive),” Snead said. “If 12 (Aaron Rodgers) is ever going to have an off day, it might have been today. Their defense was a big part of winning that game.”
Another part of the winning formula was the crowd of 78,432. Fisher acknowledged noise caused some early communication snafus, and Foles’ four interceptions and 23.8 passer rating probably were a byproduct as well.
“In the NFL it is,” Rams nickel back Lamarcus Joyner replied when asked if Lambeau was the loudest stadium he’d played in.
Reminded that he played at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field last year as a rookie, Joyner said, “Seattle is loud, too. But they’ve got a great support system here.”
Despite yielding 334 yards to the NFL’s last-place team in offense, the Packers seldom yielded when it mattered.
In the first quarter, the Rams reached the Green Bay 33 before a joint sack by Nick Perry and Matthews forced a punt.
Not long after the Rams’ closed an 80-yard march with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Tavon Austin, a series that started from the Green Bay 33 following the second of Rodgers’ two interceptions died at the 19 on Sam Shields’ exceptional end-zone pass breakup.
In the third quarter, the Rams moved to the Green Bay 32 before Letroy Guion tackled Gurley for no gain and Foles was pressured into an incompletion by Mike Daniels and Julius Peppers.
When Rodgers lost his first fumble of the year, the Rams got to the Green Bay 29 before Mike Neal tumbled into Gurley on a carry for minus-3 and Peppers recorded a strip-sack.
And then, in the fourth quarter, St. Louis charged to the Green Bay 7 twice after Gurley bolted off tackle for 55 and Stedman Bailey beat Quinten Rollins on a corner route for 68.
But the Rams just couldn’t score, undone the first time by Joe Thomas’ wonderful tip of a pass that was picked by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and the second time by Rollins’ second easy interception of a ball thrown directly to him.
“Credit their defense,” said Fisher. “They’re an outstanding defense. Disappointed … we had a run game going and our defense played OK … we just couldn’t stay in it.”
Of the 24 teams that have played five games, only the Denver Broncos, with 79, have allowed fewer points than Green Bay’s 81. The Packers haven’t given up fewer points five games into a season since 2001 (50).
St. Louis lost despite outgaining the Packers (334-322), extracting three turnovers from a team that had just one in Weeks 1-4 and piling up a 7 ½-minute margin in time of possession.
“We gave them our best shot,” said Rams left tackle Greg Robinson, a run-blocking force where Gurley usually ran. “I’m pretty sure they have a real big shot at it (Super Bowl). Aaron Rodgers probably is one of the best to play the game, and we had a chance to beat him.”
For the third time this season the Packers’ first-series script resulted in an extended touchdown drive. They never trailed, but as Rodgers put it, “We’ve been struggling the last couple weeks. We’re used to putting those things (short fields) in the end zone.”
Probably the most lackluster part of the offense was the running game. Three running backs gained just 47 yards in 19 carries (2.5) even though defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had the audacity to play virtually the entire game with safety Mark Barron at linebacker in the nickel replacing injured Alec Ogletree.
“I’m about 215,” said Barron. “I might be smaller but I can still play the run just as well as any linebacker.”
The Rams emphasized press-man coverage outside while almost always rushing just four. The protection was more than adequate against one of the league’s elite defensive lines, but other than touchdown strikes of 31 yards to Ty Montgomery and 65 to James Jones the passing game was marginal.
Rodgers’ home-field streak without an interception, counting playoffs, ended at 586 on a pass batted by Barron and picked by James Laurinaitis.
Then, after Rodgers followed a hitch to Randall Cobb for 10 with another to Jones, cornerback Trumaine Johnson broke forward and intercepted another.
Joyner insisted the Rams didn’t squat on a corps of wide receivers clearly missing the vertical dimension of Jordy Nelson. The Packers also miss Davante Adams (ankle), according to the quarterback.
“Davante Adams, I think, is a Pro Bowl-caliber player,” Rodgers said. “We didn’t run it very well. They kind of challenged us in the box and then challenged us outside, and we didn’t get open enough and didn’t throw it well enough.
“We got bailed out by our defense.”
Until the Rams had to pass at the end, they ran on an astronomical 23 of their first 25 first-down plays. It was old-fashioned football, to say the least, and the Packers weathered the storm.
“I think the Packers hung in there,” said Snead. “We kept pounding away, and our guy (Gurley) is a special talent and he broke one, but they kept us out of the end zone. I do think, especially early, they were pretty solid in their gaps.
“Obviously, our passing game struggled. Obviously, they got pressure, but from upstairs it would seem to me their guys were covering well.”
The Packers have scored 137 points, well off the pace of their offensive juggernaut that put up 173 at this point four years ago.
That squad, however, had no staying power. We shall see if this one does.
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