Defense rebounds to keep Packers in playoff chase

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).

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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