Packer pressure cages rival Bears
Posted: Monday, January 24, 2011 5:07 pm
By: By RICK GANO, AP Sports Writer
CHICAGO (AP) — Clay Matthews was fairly low-key considering the occasion and the emotion he brings to the field as the long-haired star of the Green Bay defense.
But the hard-hitting and fast-charging linebacker had this very astute observation after the Packers reached the Super Bowl for the first time since 1998.
“We keep playing defense the way we know how and it’s going to be tough for teams to beat us,” Matthews said following Sunday’s 21-14 win over the rival Chicago Bears.
Green Bay kept up the pressure throughout the game, got three interceptions, including one returned 18 yards for a TD by tackle B.J. Raji in the fourth quarter.
And they dealt with three different Bears quarterbacks — starter Jay Cutler, who left with a knee injury, and backups Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie.
“How fitting is it to be a Green Bay Packer and win the championship with defense? That sums it up right there,” said the 337-pound Raji, who picked off Hanie for a TD that put Green Bay up 21-7.
Hanie did OK, leading a pair of TD drives in the final quarter, but Sam Shields made an interception — his second of the game — to seal the victory in the final minute.
“It’s not just about me, man,” Raji said in a jubilant Packers locker room, as he sported a championship cap. “A lot of guys made some plays today. I just happened to make a play for a touchdown. Guys were making plays all season.”
Raji’s interception gave the Packers a quick two-touchdown lead that didn’t last long because Hanie came right back and passed to Earl Bennett for a score and made it a one-TD game.
That made Raji’s pick even bigger.
“I was like, ‘Wow, he threw it,”’ Raji said. “It was my job to catch it, and I caught it. ... You like to think pressure usually rattles a quarterback and this guy hadn’t had much experience all year in the game, so we knew eventually we’d get our shot.”
Earlier, Shields, an undrafted rookie, knocked the ball out of Cutler’s hand on a blitz — the Bears recovered — and made a nice interception at the end of the half to keep the Packers up by two touchdowns.
“They’re always teaching us to stay on top and that’s what I did and got my head around,” said Shields. “Go to the highest point. Once before I was a receiver and that’s what we were taught — go to the highest point and grab the ball.”
And now the Packers are one win away from going to the highest point in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers has been the major factor, but so has a defense under coordinator Dom Capers that mixed it up Sunday.
The Packers made a miserable day for Cutler, who completed only 6-of-14 passes for 80 yards and left after one series in third quarter.
Matthews, Cullen Jenkins, Ryan Pickett and Raji kept up the pressure throughout the game, and the Packers forced a hurried Hanie into an intentional grounding call on the final series.
The Packers scored on their first drive of the game and led 14-0 at the half.
“Going up two scores on anybody really lets our defense roll through their calls,” said Rodgers, who made a big tackle of his own, bringing down Chicago’s Brian Urlacher on an interception return.
“They can bring their pressures. They can play their coverages. They can kind of let Clay, let Cullen go and let Charles Woodson come on blitzes and stuff,” Rodgers added.
Asked if Cutler was confused by the Packers’ schemes, Matthews said he didn’t notice.
“I looked out there and they had a new quarterback, so kind of wish they would have had Jay in there the whole time the way things were going,” he said.
Until Johnny Knox got free on a 32-yarder from Hanie in the fourth quarter to set up a TD, Green Bay’s pass coverage seldom cracked and the Packers were pitching a shutout.
“When you play a team three times, you have to be able to mix it up a little to see if it presents new problems, and I think we were able to do that for the most part,” Matthews said. “Presenting new schemes and lining up players at different positions and trying to throw them off real quick.”
Green Bay had 15 players land on injured reserve this season, including several key members of the defense. But now the Packers have won road games against the Eagles, Falcons and Bears. Not too shabby.
“It was easy for people to write us off with all the injuries. But Dom does a great job of putting us in the right position and obviously we bought into it,” Matthews said. “Here we are shutting down great quarterbacks and great offenses. ... We keep playing defense the way we know how and it’s going to be tough for teams to beat us.”