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Defense rebounds to keep Packers in playoff chase

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP)

Lineman Johnny Jolly performed a little dance on the frozen turf after recovering a fumble. Back Jarrett Bush clutched the ball tightly in his left arm after his game-sealing interception, then pumped his chest with his other arm and let out a yell.

They gave the Packers' defense a jolt of energy, just in time to stay in the playoff chase.

After five mostly miserable weeks, Green Bay pitched a second-half shutout on the Atlanta Falcons and came up with late-game turnovers in a 22-21 win. The Packers clamped down on the run, especially after halftime. For the most part, they corrected a season-long problem with missed tackles.

''It was a huge game for us and I think it was something that we needed to get the confidence back, get the swagger back and play Green Bay Packer football,'' Bush said Sunday.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Monday he thought it was the team's best tackling performance of the season. By his count, the defense missed just two tackles against Atlanta, including one by safety M.D. Jennings that led to Drew Davis' 36-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.

Otherwise, a much better showing than the 15-to-20 missed tackles the coaching staff estimated occurred in the 40-10 loss on Thanksgiving Day to the Detroit Lions.

Maybe that was the low point of the season for the D.

''We played a lot better in the second half than we did in the first half, and that's something that we've been emphasizing,'' coach Mike McCarthy said. ''Excellent win. A lot of good video. The defensive grades were very good.''

Green Bay (6-6-1) stands a half-game behind the Lions for the NFC North lead, a rather remarkable position given the defense's five-game slump that ended with the Falcons win. That 0-4-1 stretch also coincides with the left collarbone injury to franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers is getting better, but he's still not medically cleared. He'll work out Tuesday and be evaluated by the team doctor Wednesday morning.

''He's progressing. I think the biggest thing is strength - strength and comfort,'' McCarthy said.

For now, they're putting a game plan together for next week's road contest against the Cowboys as if backup Matt Flynn will make a third straight start. Of course, finding room for Rodgers won't be a big deal if he's ready.

''As far as what would be in or not be in, there wouldn't be any problem making adjustments,'' offensive coordinator Tom Clements said.

Especially not with the Packers likely needing to win their three remaining games to get into the playoffs - and that the Lions and Bears stumble. Carolina and San Francisco both have a three-game lead in the win column over Green Bay in the wild-card race.

On defense, the Packers adjusted Sunday by playing safety Sean Richardson more in the second half. Activated from the physically unable-to-perform list less than three weeks ago, Richardson played well.

Without inside linebackers Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore because of injuries, the Packers could only effectively play dime coverage late in the game. Bush came up with two critical plays, in defending Tony Gonzalez on a fourth-down pass, then coming up with an interception with 4 seconds left to seal victory.

Richardson aided in run support. Up front, Jolly filled gaps and separated from blocks for a couple negative-yardage plays, Capers noted.

After giving up at least 232 yards rushing in their previous two games, the Packers surrendered just 83 on Sunday. That's more akin to Green Bay's early-season form as one of the league's best run defenses.

''Everyone was jumping around and we just had fun,'' Jolly said.

Notes: RB Eddie Lacy sprained an ankle after running on the last play of the first half in the Falcons game but returned. McCarthy said he was undergoing rehab Monday. He was unsure yet what the prognosis was for Lacy and Lattimore (knee), though he noted it was early in the week. ... McCarthy was optimistic, though, about the health of Jones (ankle).

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP

Tagged: Packers, Falcons, Lions, Aaron Rodgers, Johnny Jolly, Jarrett Bush, Sean Richardson

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